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Marriage binds man and woman together for a life. But in Hinduism what is the exact definition of Marriage and how it evolved?

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In Sanskrit there are a number of terms for marriage:– vivāha, pāṇigrahaṇa, udvāha etc.

The term vivāha is derived from the root VI which means special or specific and VĀHA which means to carry or to conduct. The meaning is that marriage is contracted for the specific duty of fulfilling the 5 debts which everyone incurs through birth. These are known as the Pancha Mahā Yajña.

Pitru ruṇa — debt to the parents and the ancestors.

Pitru Yajña — The fact of our birth, and the loving care, protection and nurturing of our parents obligates us to them and to our grandparents and all the other members of our family. This debt is discharged by primarily through marriage and procreation, by honoring our parents, seeking their guidance, supporting them, caring for them in their old age and by venerating them and our ancestors after they have died. Thereafter the performance of the annual śrāddha ceremonies to honour their memory.

Rishi Runa — debt to the sages

Brahma Yajña — Our sages (Rishis) have dedicated themselves to the path of enlightenment for the welfare of all beings. These magnanimous sages have performed intense austerities to realize the truth and have passed down their wisdom through their disciples in order that we too may spiritually develop, unfold and progress towards enlightenment. The debt that we owe them is called “brahma’ which means ‘immense’. It is discharged by taking the trouble to study their teachings daily, and to teach them to our children. Pursuit of a religious education or at the very least making the attempt at being culturally informed and passing on that cultural heritage to our children frees us from this intellectual debt.

Deva Runa — debt to the gods

Deva Yajña — The Devas are the cosmic forces which administer and govern the universe under the direction of the Supreme Being. All these forces of nature and cosmic principles are rewarded by making daily offerings to them to show our gratitude and to help us cultivate an awareness of the underlying cosmic consciousness behind all phenomenal appearances. In the Gīta Kṛṣṇa says that the one who enjoys the bounty of the gods without offering them anything in return is verily a thief! It is a duty of the householder to ensure that periodic offerings are made to the gods.

Manuṣya Runa — debt to society

Manuṣya yajña — We are by nature social animals and cannot live in isolation. Everything that we enjoy comes to us through the agency of other people. We are therefore indebted to our fellow humans and have the duty to ensure that they are at least clothed, fed and sheltered. By welcoming and offering hospitality to strangers and by caring for the poor and the needy whenever the occasion arises, we discharge this social debt. A householder should try to feed a stranger every day. There are three minimal requirements which must be offered to a guest; a seat, water to drink, and kind words.

Bhūta Runa — debts to the elements

Bhūta yajña — And lastly we are part of an environment which is made up of the five elements and consists of plant and animal life (bhūtas = elementals). This ecosystem is vital to our survival and thus it is our duty to continually protect it. This is done through tree planting programs, correct farming methods and protection of wildlife, decreasing our consumption of valuable resources. In our homes we can take the effort to limit the amount of water, gas and electricity consumed, by recycling and avoiding the use of plastic bags etc.

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