Marriage and Ashram
Who is a seer according to the use of the term in the religious systems of the Aryas or indo-Aryans-- a Rishi? He is one of the intellectually great men given to the realisation of truths in their peculiar way, the propounding promulgating of their doctrines among mankind, thinking out and introducing reforms into the religious or social dogmas and practices according to their own light. They are the seers or originators of mantras or aphorisms in the Vedic literature. Sage Utathya became such a seer, the history of his attainment to such an eminence is interesting.
He is said to be the originator of marriage as a sacrament. Up to his time nature played the important part in the matter of fatherhood and motherhood among mankind whose life was highly cultured and civilised in other respects. The institution of marriage was not so defined and sacred as it came to be after his time. The mutual selection of the male and female was promiscuous and instinctive--not founded upon reason or considerations other than sex attraction, an animal propensity. The structure of society was not yet built up on any sound foundation. Sexual jealousy was rampant on all sides and the entire social fabric was loose, chaotic disorder reigning supreme in every walk of life. Fatherhood was uncertain and the unit of family was a dismembered entity. Conjugal attachment, parental love and final piety were, if not quite unknown, very rare and feeble. Such was the position of society in which was wounded the pride of the boy Utathya when before his very eyes and those of his aged father his mother was taken away for dalliance by a stranger. This sight cut him to the quick and he cursed this state of things and took an oath to eradicate the evil from the face of the world. He made it his life-work and after a strenuous life-long struggle was able to build up an edifice of social harmony. He 'Saw' or composed the nuptial mantras, at least several of them, and brought the situation under the control thereof. Thus it was that marriage rules came to find their place in the Vedic literature and the system of marriage was given an important position among the life of the Sanskaras or sacraments of the life of the higher orders.
After having attained the sanctity of a sacrament, the principles of marriage underwent further clarification until the climax was reached in the ideal of looking upon it as an indispensable element in the performance of religious rites The wife came to be regarded as the essential complement of one's entity, without which it was impossible to perform ritualistic ceremonies pertaining to the householder's period of a man's life.
One had perforce to pass through the householder's stage, as the second stage of life after that of studentship. The propagation of one's lineage was enjoyed as a bounden duty and one had to get married for that purpose. The eulogy of this second stage of life was so eloquently sung in the religious treatises that the other three came to have a secondary position assigned to them. People lost sight of the glory of a Brihadvratee's (vowed celibate's) life devoted to the untangled service of Godhead. They could not understand it in the whirl of the ritualistic routine of a householder which was so highly extolled in the pages of the Shastras and by the mouths of the priests.
MARRIAGE AS RITUAL
The system of marriage which was invented purely as a measure of social economy to prop the fabric of the community was given a ritualistic sanctity and it drove the other three stages of life to the background. Its importance cannot and should not be ignored as an extremely beneficial social measures and the sanctity allotted to it is perfectly right. But in usurping an all-important character and assigning inferior positions to the other three stages of life it has received a rude shock and a strong reaction has given it a set-back from which it has been too difficult for it to recoup its glory and regain its hold in the manner it should. We shall dwell on this loss of the supremacy of nuptial sanctity hereafter; here we want to confine ourselves to the other side of the shield, viz., the evil effects of its monopoly of all influence on society.
People, under the influence of the intoxication of nuptial supremacy, became blind to the instincts of life higher than mere enjoyment and they forgot that the system of marriage which was to put restraint on the pleasures of individuals for ensuring the safety of others' pleasures should not have been made to over-ride the ideals of non-enjoyment for the sake of the service of Godhead.
According to them, a human life must be divided according to a routine in which married life should play the most important part. Thus life-long celibacy of a true of a true devotee was denounced as a revolt against the routine and had little merit attached to it according to popular decision. Marriage, very useful in its own way, should not have been suffered to perpetrate the sin of decrying the superiority of devotional celibacy, in the rare instances that it is found, for which it has to pay a very heavy penalty. Notes of warning were issued by such authorities as Manu who has given Brihadvartees a very high place in the hierarchy of the holy people. The Srimad Bhagavat has explained the position clearly. It says somewhere that in this world sex instinct is natural, no one need receive any sastric injunction to find a woman for marriage. The marriage rules are only restraining measures, they should not be construed as making it the bounden duty of one to marry, even if one is fortunate enough to have gained the better of the sex-instinct by means of one's superior wisdom. The usefulness of the marriage rules lies in their formulating the canons of selecting and modes of marrying women where the propensity is strong, and in putting a restraint upon one's self to ensure the welfare of his own and his brethren. The rules do not aim at creating any desire for marriage where there is none or where it is already under control. By losing sight of this keynote of proper interpretation, society has now been crippled to a deformed condition and has lost its pristine health and glory.
Let us now consider the present position of our society. By attaching all glory to the second stage of life, viz., that of the house-holder (Grihastha Asram), the other three stages have been ignored, so much so that they are not to be met with except under exigencies of pecuniary economy. The rigour of the system of the student's life (Brahmacharya-Asram) remains only in name. It has become the training ground for the other three stages, which are thus non-existent in the true sense of the terms. The GrihasthaAsram itself has died a natural death; what we find as such is only its skeleton, nay in that too some bones have been replaced by extraneous substitutes. Very few, if any, true Grihasthas can now-a-days be traced observing the rules laid down for their guidance in the Shastras, whose lives, when married, are more of restraint that of enjoyment and with whom wives are more helpmates in religious observances than bed-mates. The other two Asramas too are more conspicuous by their absence than existence. The Sannyasins (mendicants--fourth stage men) that have grown abundantly like mushrooms are, with the honourable exception of a very few, only the creations of economic want. Of Banaprasthas (in the third stage) we find almost none. Those who have retired from active life, are still hankering after enjoyments of various types of and find very little time or inclination for devotional activities, which are essential in this stage, nay in all the stages in their purity. Where there is no devotion to Godhead, there is, as the Sreemad Bhagavatam has clearly pointed out, no Varna (caste), no Ashram (stage in man's life). Such a life is that of an Antiaja, (non-varnasramee-untouchable). Devotion to Godhead is the key-note of Varnasrama (classification of men into different classes and stages). If we analyse ourselves with an unbiased mind we see we are almost all Antiajas though the term is not at all pleasant to us. The Varnasrama has to be re-defined and re-established. The Sree Viswa Vaishnava Raj Sabha has undertaken this arduous task and has been encountering oppositions from all sides. But the Order is struggling undaunted to crown their efforts with success "with heart within and God overhead."