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  Volume 4 - Issue 07 JULY 2006



Previous Articles In The Same Series
Concerning the Vedas 01
Concerning the Vedas 02
Concerning the Vedas 03
Concerning the Vedas 04
Concerning the Vedas 05

Loving Sai Ram and greetings from Prashanti Nilayam.

The Stage Of The Householder

This is my sixth talk in the Veda Walkthrough series. Last time, I finally started on the Walkthrough in the way I had been planning all along, and took you up the stage where a young boy is admitted to the Ashram of an Acharya to learn the Vedas. We now cut to the time when the disciple leaves and prepares to enter life. He returns home, rejoins his family, and with the consent of his parents and relatives, marries and settles down to discharge his duties in life along with his wife, as ordained by the scriptures. I shall commence with some verses chanted during the marriage ceremony. But first, a few words of introduction about the concept of marriage in Vedic times.

It is remarkable that almost all societies, independently established the custom of marriage, whereby a man and a woman enter into a holy and life-long alliance, raise a family and try to enjoy a prosperous life. Invariably, in every community around the world, marriage was not merely a case of entering into a social contract, but also had a religious side to it, besides being an occasion for celebration and festivities. Marriage was the commencement of a new chapter in the long story of the sustenance of the human race.

These days, marriage is often seen as the culmination of a romance, with focus largely on the physical union. Indeed, the excessive stress on the physical has reached a point where, during the last few decades, marriage is no longer considered necessary. A couple come together and live together as long as they please without any concept of social responsibility or of sin. Concepts such as marriage are considered to be old-fashioned, irrelevant, and even meaningless. To ridicule tradition is regarded as being very progressive and modern.


Marriage In The Vedic Times

Things were very different in Vedic times. Humans did not see themselves as freewheeling individuals but as a vital part of a cosmic whole, in which everyone played a part as ordained, to sustain the wheel of life and Dharma. Dharma - that was the key word. The Brahmin, in particular, had not only to personally uphold Dharma to the best of his ability but also had the responsibility of guiding others in doing the same. In this task, the wife was his partner, and that is why the word used for wife was Sahadharmini, meaning ‘one who participated with equal right, in upholding Dharma’.

How did the couple uphold Dharma? Not merely by being truthful in all their actions but also by discharging their various duties. Maybe I shall come to that a bit later, but for the moment let us take it that in Vedic times, marriage was more than a matter of procreation and propagating the human race.

Swami has, in some of His Discourses, especially a memorable one given during the Summer Course of 1996, described the marriage of Rama and Sita. He said on that occasion, that this was no ordinary marriage – it was the coming together of Paramatma and Prakriti, meaning the coming together of Cosmic Consciousness as represented by Rama and Divine Shakti or Divine Energy as represented by Sita. In a sense, the union of a man and a woman in holy wedlock symbolises the coming together of complimentary parts, to make a whole.

A typical Hindu marriage

Turning to the marriage ceremony itself, it was a pretty elaborate affair, that included the father giving away the bride to the bridegroom. Here it is pertinent to recall what Swami said about the marriage of Rama and Sita. There was the holy and sacred fire and Mantras were being chanted both by Janaka the father of the bride and Rama, as appropriate, guided of course by celebrated Rishis like Viswamitra and Vasishta. At one point, Janaka says, here is my daughter Sita. Rama was expected to turn towards her and take a look at her. He did not. Emperor Janaka repeated the statement again; once more, Rama did not turn to look in the direction of Sita. When Janaka repeated that statement for the third time, Rama said to Janaka, “I am not yet formally married, and an unmarried man must not look at other women”. One might say that this was the limit, but that was how seriously the observance of code of conduct was taken in those days

Marriage Vows Made Before The Sacred Fire

One striking thing about the Vedic marriage is the central role played by the sacred fire. Agni, the Lord of fire, plays the role of a witness, and all declarations and promises are made with Agni as the witness. This is the equivalent of taking an oath placing one’s hand on the Bible or Quran or whatever. In the Vedic system, the entire marriage was performed with Agni as the witness. Once one swears by Agni, one is supposed to keep one’s promise, come what may.

Incidentally, Swami narrates an interesting incident that occurred during Rama’s wedding. One of the promises that the groom makes is that he would fulfil the wishes of his wife or something to that effect. When the priest chanted that Mantra, Rama was supposed to repeat it. He did not. The priest chanted a second time and once more Rama remained silent.

The priest then said, “Rama, you must chant the Mantra.” Rama said in reply, “I am sorry but I will not.” “Why?” asked the priest. Rama then said, “I belong to the royal family. One day, I would have to rule as a King. For a King, his subjects must always come first, and only then his wife. If I make this promise, then it would require me to give top priority to my wife, which would go against the Dharma of kings.” So you see, we have here yet another example of the primacy given to Dharma.

Turning to some of the rituals, the groom takes the hand of the bride, and this by the way is probably the first time he touches her. And as the bride gets up, she is supposed to step on a stone, placing the tip of her right foot. At that time, the groom says,


Come, step on the stone; be strong like a stone,
Resist enemies, overcome those who attack you.

 After this, the bridegroom pours some parched rice into the bride’s joined palms and says,

This grain I spill,
May it bring well-being to me,
And unite you to me.
May Agni hear us.

Agni is not only the witness but also a protector. After the bridegroom finishes saying those words, the bride pours the grain into the fire – perhaps, this is symbolic of conveying the appeal to Agni. The groom then continues:

This woman, scattering grain into the fire, prays:
Blessings on my husband.
May my relatives prosper.

The couple then walk around the fire with the groom chanting suitable Mantras symbolic of their union as man and wife.


After this comes the famous ritual of the seven steps, during which the bride takes step after step, while groom says:

One step for Vigour,
Two steps for Vitality,
Three steps for Prosperity,
Four steps for Happiness,
Five steps for Cattle,
Six steps for Seasons,
Seven steps for Friendship,
To my devoted.

After the seventh step, the bride remains still while the groom says:

With seven steps we become friends
Let me reach your friendship,
Let me not be severed from your friendship,
Let your friendship be not severed from me.

Next, touching the heart of the bride, the groom says,

I hold your heart in serving fellowship,
Your mind follows my mind,
In my word you rejoice with all your heart,
You are joined to me by the Lord of all creatures.

The couple then depart from the wedding site, the bride following the groom to his house, or rather the house of his parents. When they leave, they carry in an earthen pot a part of the sacred fire, which they are supposed to keep alive throughout their marriage. Fire thus becomes the constant witness in the lives of the couple. When the couple reach the house of the groom, he says,

Enter with your right foot,
Do not remain outside.

There the couple sit in silence till dusk falls and the stars become visible. The couple then go out when the husband points the pole star to the wife, saying,

You are firm, and I see you.
Be firm with me, O flourishing one!
Brihaspathi has given you to me,
To live with me a hundred years,
Bearing children by me, your husband.

I am not sure if I have given the flavour of the Vedic marriage rites but if I have managed to convey the cosmic view they had of marriage in those times, then I would have done my job.

What Is Our Dharma?

Let me get back to this Dharma business. Dharma is often translated as righteous conduct. To us with a so-called secular vision, right conduct might mean being truthful, not harming others and so on. Yes, all these do form a part of right conduct, but in those times, duty was the corner stone of right conduct. A man might never tell a lie, a man might never harm another person, but if he was not true to his duties, then he was straying away from Dharma.

In life, duty called for, among other things, the expression of gratitude. These days, seldom does one realise what one owes to others. After the end of the famous battle of Britain, Winston Churchill said in a tribute to the young men of the Royal Air Force, “Never have so many owed so much to so few.” In life, each of us owes so much, to so many, starting from God.

The Five Yajnas

In Vedic times, Yajna was one of the means by which various debts were discharged. Swami says,

There are five Yajnas prescribed as mandatory for every human being.

Let me now list these five Yajnas spelt out by Swami. They are

Rishi Yajna,
Pitru Yajna,
Deva Yajna,
Athithi Yajna,
Bhuta Yajna

I shall now explain what each of these Yajnas mean, starting with Rishi Yajna. It was the Rishis who gave the scriptures, especially the Vedas. One therefore owes an expression of gratitude to the sages of old. How does one thank them? Well, by remembering them for a minute and then studying the scriptures intently. One was not expected to just turn the pages but remind oneself of all the dictats mentioned therein.

Next, Pitru Yajna. Normally, the word Pitru means parents, but in Vedic times, Pitru also meant ancestors. We really do not realise how much we owe to our ancestors. Indeed, if today we are well off in many respects, it is in no small measure due to the sacrifice they made in their time.


Here I am reminded of a talk that late Mr. V.K.Narasimhan, then Editor, Sanathana Sarathi, gave to Swami’s students in the Divine presence in Trayee Brindavan. Mr. Narasimhan said, in his own inimitable style of course, “Many of you students dream of going to America because that seems like the land of milk and honey. But do you know that if America is prosperous today, it is because of the tremendous hard work and enormous sacrifices made by the immigrants of last century? You want to enjoy the benefits of their sacrifice but what about your own contribution? This country needs sacrifice, and you must stay here and do what the immigrants did in America a hundred years ago. If you did that, then this country too would become prosperous.”

Talking of America becoming rich, I am reminded of a nice story involving the famous film actor and comedian Danny Kaye, who was once the UNICEF Ambassador, bringing love and cheer to children all over the world, especially in countries where there was much suffering. Danny Kaye’s father came to America from Poland maybe in the very early part of the last century. As you perhaps know, hundreds of thousands of people from all parts of Europe poured then into America, seeking a better life. Danny Kaye’s father was one of them. After a few years, he returned to his hometown in Poland for a brief visit. His friends back home immediately surrounded him and plied him with all sorts of questions about America. One of them asked, “Is it true that in America the streets are paved with gold?” Danny Kaye’s father said in reply: “No, it is not true that the streets in America are paved with gold. In fact, most streets are not paved at all, even with stone. And do you know what my job is? Paving streets with stone!” So you see, there is no free lunch ever, and for whatever benefits we enjoy granted to us by Society, we have a duty to be thankful for it. In the Vedic age, the expression of gratitude formed an important part of one’s life.


OK. So far, I have dealt with two Yajnas. Now on to the third Yajna, the Deva Yajna. This meant offering reverential homage to the presiding deities, especially those associated with the forces of Nature. Why should one offer such homage? The ancients believed that if we have rain, we owe a duty to express thanks to the god of rain.

If we get sunshine, we owe a duty to the sun god, and so on. In this day and age, all this might seem amusing if not downright stupid, but I will put it this way. We need not exactly pray to this deity or that, but we could at least pray to God Almighty for the sun, the wind, rain and so forth, without which we would all be dead? Besides, do we not have an obligation to keep the elements of Nature pure, meaning not polluting, air, water, and land?

I cannot but recall here a Trayee session many years ago when I was privileged to be present, along with Swami’s students. Swami said that modern man ridicules the ancients as being superstitious and stupid. Modern man says, “Look at those fools. They worship the land, the water, the air, and even snakes. How idiotic!” Swami then said, “The ancients did not pollute the air, they did not pollute water, and they respected all the constituents of Nature, including all animals. But modern man, besides polluting heavily land, water and air, is also destroying entire forests, and wiping out many species of animals, without concern for eco- and bio-balance. Who is more stupid? Modern man who is wrecking all the gifts of God, or the ancients, who not only preserved what God gave them but also were thankful to God for the blessing?”

One cannot give a more powerful assessment of Vedic life and philosophy. Incidentally, this respect for ancestors and the environment is to be found in many traditional cultures, for example among the American Red Indians. Only, the Vedic seers saw the Universe in a much larger cosmic setting than did people of other cultures, as I shall perhaps explain in a later lecture.

A couple of words now about the remaining two Yajnas, namely the AthithiYajna and the Bhuta Yajna. The former involves offering cordial and loving hospitality to guests, while Bhuta Yajna means doing everything one can to sustain all components of the environment – plants, trees, fishes, birds and animals. The husband dutifully performed all these Yajnas, and the wife rendered all the support that was necessary.

Family Duty

Before I proceed further with the Vedic journey, I think it is worthwhile for me to pause for a moment and reflect on the above Yajnas, especially their relevance to modern times. To many, all these may appear to be an utter waste of time but instead of focussing on the procedures associated with Vedic rites, let us concentrate on the basic principles of Vedic life. The first thing is the concept of a family. The family is the atom of Society, and it has been so throughout history, in all places and all cultures. It is only in recent times, that the traditional concept of the family is being severely rocked with practices that seek to make marriage irrelevant, all in the name of personal freedom.

I recall reading, when I was the Vice Chancellor, a Convocation address given by a Canadian lady, an educationist, to one of our Universities. She said that a hundred and fifty to hundred years ago, most people in Canada lived on farms. Every farm was run by a family, and all the farm work had to be done by the members of the family – the father, the mother, the sons and daughters. Since all did more or less the same type of work, there was no question of gender bias and there automatically prevailed a sense of equality. The Canadian educationist then said that when Canada started getting industrialised and more and more people started moving to the cities, things changed suddenly and dramatically. Many men went to work in offices and their work took them on tours. They could then have a good time while on the road, drinking, spending time on the golf courses, visiting nightclubs, and so on. The women, on the other hand, slogged in the home, doing kitchen work, bringing up the children and so on. The lady said that was when feminist feelings started to rise and become strong.

The Importance Of Gratitude

What I am getting at is that when life strays away from duty, imbalance results. In Vedic Society, the focus was always on duty, responsibility, and the sustenance of Society as well as Nature. Analyse every Yajna that I mentioned, and you will find the undercurrent of duty. Let us take Rishi Yajna as an example. One may say, “Why should I be bothered? I don’t care for the Rishis.” The point is not being bothered about Rishis but that one moves forward on what we have been handed down. You know what Newton the great scientist said? He said, “If I have been able to look farther than others, it is because I was standing on the shoulders of others.” We do this all the time in Science. We can’t say, “This Galileo, he lived five hundred years ago. His is old stuff. Forget it!” We can’t do that. When we teach first year physics, we have to teach what Galileo, Newton and even Archimedes discovered. There is an essential continuity in knowledge, in all branches.


We can’t also say that “Newton is relevant but the Rishis are not.” Let me tell you that it was the ancients who gave us our first ideas about planetary motions etc. They it was who first made almanacs. In India, the neem is used for a hundred things on account of its wonderful medicinal properties. This knowledge, about the medicinal properties of neem, turmeric, etc., comes to us from very ancient times. We cannot scoff at them, can we?

In short, Rishi Yajna must be seen as an expression of gratitude to our ancients for everything they have given us from the discovery of fire and the invention of the wheel, to developing agriculture and metal forming. Expression of gratitude is a sign of refinement; ingratitude, on the other hand, is a sign of uncivilised behaviour.

As for Pitru Yajna, it does not mean performing some kind of rituals but remembrance of dead ancestors and, more important, being ready to perform any sacrifice for one’s parents. The compulsions of modern life have become such that people have been slowly conditioned to giving importance to their own personal security in terms of money, job, career and so on. Inevitably, parents slide down in priority, especially when they have fulfilled their role. The next thing is that they are seen to be as irrelevant and a nuisance. This is not a Western attitude but a global one.

I recall seeing two wonderful dramas staged in the Poornachandra Hall many years ago on the occasion of the Chinese New Year Day. In both, the theme was how in the present day, elderly parents are neglected or even abandoned. I learnt then, that this sort of thing happens not only in America and India but also in China. By the way, on both occasion, there was young Chinese boy who literally stole the show. He was a great hit, and Swami liked his acting very much.


A word now about Athithi Yajna. This had special relevance to ancient times, when Sannyasis wandered across the land. Sannyasis are, by definition, renunciates. They have no family, no home, no money, no nothing. They wander supposedly to visit holy shrines but during their wanderings, they always speak about God and spread the good word. In those days, when a Sannyasi came to a village, the people of the village would welcome him and offer hospitality. They considered it not only an honour but also a duty to do so, since that was what was commanded by the Vedas. Suppose the villagers had not done this, the Sannaysis could not have played their role and contributed to Society. The Vedic philosophers knew all about system management. If an institution was beneficial, it had to be sustained, and a procedure had to be devised for it.

The same goes for Bhuta Yajna. We have in India a festival called the Naga Panchami when the snake is worshipped. People are petrified when the very word snake is heard; yet, in those times, it was considered a duty to worship the snake. The Vedic seers might not have known all the details we know about ecological balance but this they certainly knew. Everything in the Universe has been created by God with a purpose. This applies to everything from the hydrogen atom to the black hole. We may or may not know about the purpose but a purpose there certainly is in the Divine Master Plan.

Today, the Green people and such others make a lot of noise about the environment. Very good and very necessary. But why this need? Because people have forgotten all about Bhuta Yajna. In Ecuador, they want to cut down pristine rain forests to drill for oil. In Alaska, the wilderness is being disturbed for oil. In China, huge dams are being built so that more electricity can be generated. A Chinese environmentalist was asked about these dams. She said that the dams were a disaster. She was then told, “But if dams are not built, then more coal would have to be mined. Mining is a dangerous activity and so many people are being killed. Moreover, coal-fired power stations will belch carbon dioxide. So, is it not better to generate electricity out of water from dams than from coal?” The environmentalist replied, “I think there is yet another alternative. It is to decrease our desires, our wants and our consumption. Then we would not need so much electricity. And when we do not need extra electricity, we do not have to build dams or mine more coal.”

So this lady has, by her own reasoning, come to the same conclusion that formed the basis of Vedic Society; only, the Vedic seers linked it all always to God.

Let me wrap up. Man married mainly to sustain Dharma, with his wife as an equal partner. He had his part to play and she had hers. Nothing was considered inferior and nothing was considered superior. Duty, responsibility and obligation formed the core of one’s life. The Vedic seers were firmly of the view that it was only when these virtues were given primacy, that there would be harmony in Society and human life could be sustained properly. Today, most virtues are summarily dismissed on one of two counts. Either one says it is irrelevant or one says it is not workable in this day and age. I believe both arguments are false and escapist.

What Is Freedom?

Duty, responsibility and obligations are often evaded in the name of freedom. What is this so-called freedom? People say freedom means one can do what one likes, in an unfettered manner. But seldom do people who talk like this realise that they are not really free but a slave to their senses and Mind. Who is the one who is really free? Swami says the one who is rid of attachments and the dictates of the body, the senses and the Mind is the one who is really free.

Why is there so much obsession with freedom to do what one likes? I heard an American author the other day on the radio. He put it like this. He said that these days, the Media, all owned by rich barons, want to deliver us lock stock and barrel to the big corporations, so that we buy what they want us to buy, and invest our money where they want us to invest. This is not as far fetched as it might seem. I shall not go into this topic here, but there is a strong empirical correlation between the growth of advertising, the craze for freedom, the growth of consumerism, etc.

All those who are swept by the glitter and glamour of so-called freedom, and all the joys it is supposed to confer, are totally oblivious to social costs. Those who want to grab wealth do so at the expense of individuals and Society. Ultimately, it is Society that pays, and pays heavily too. All this is well known of course, but ostrich-like, everyone wants to hide from the truth because it is so inconvenient.

Vedic Society was built on the concept that since Society and Nature are what sustain us all, they must receive primacy and not the individual. Marriage too was seen in this total framework, and not in terms of romance or sense gratification.


I am sorry I did not give as much details of the wedding Mantras as I would have liked, but I hope I can make amends when we manage to bring a vedic scholar to our studios. Next time, I shall take you a bit more along the Vedic path, giving glimpses of how Dharma was sustained in Society. Thank you. Jai Sai Ram.

Heart2Heart Team


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Vol 4 Issue 07 - JULY 2006
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