Child-marriage is another 'blessing' of the medieaval age and it
was born from the same compulsions that ; perpetuated Sati.
was not prevalent in ancient India. The most popular form of marriage was Swayamvara where
grooms assembled at the bride' s house and the bride selected her spouse. Svayam-vara can
be translated as self selection of one' s husband, Svayam = self, Vara = husband.
Instances of Swayamvara ceremony are found in our national epics, the Ramayana and
Mahabharata. Various types of marraiges were prevalant in ancient India Gandharva Vivaha
(love marriage), Asura Viviha (marriage by abduction) etc., But among these Bal-Viviha is
conspicuous in its absence.
There are many reasons to believe that this custom originated in the medieval
ages. As mentioned earlier in the turbulent atmosphere of the medieavel ages, law and
order was not yet a universal phenomenon and arbitrary powers were concentrated in the
hands of a hierarchy led by a despotic monarch. In India the Sultans of Delhi who held the
place of the despotic monarch, came from a different type of culture. They were orthodox
in their beliefs with a fanatical commitment to their religion and a ruthless method in
its propagation. Intolerant as they were to all forms of worship other than their own,
they also exercised contempt for members of other faiths. (See note at the end of this
Women as it is are at the receiving and during any war, arson, plunder, etc.
During the reign of the Delhi Sultans these were the order of the day and the worst
sufferers were Hindu women. During these dark days were spawned customs like
child-marriage and selection of women from the rest of the society, wearing of the Ghungat
(veil). This age also perpetuated customs like Sati and looking upon the birth of a female
baby as an ill omen, even killing newly born baby girls by drowning them in a tub of milk.
Amidst the feeling of insecurity, the presence of young unmarried girls was a potential
invitation for disaster.
The predatory Sarasenic feudal lords and princelings of Sarasenic origins who
stalked all over India in the middle ages were a source of constant threat . Hence parents
would seek to get over with the responsibilities of their daughters by getting them
married off before they reached the marriage age. The custom of child marriages with the
'bride' and 'groom' still in their cradles was a culmination of this tendency. This way
the danger to a growing girl's virginity was somewhat reduced.
Alongwith this principal reason, there were a few other reasons arising from the
nature of the feudal society which were conducive for the prevalence of this practice. In
a feudal society, qualities like rivalry, personal honour, hereditary friendship or enmity
are rated very highly. Because of this, military alliances play a very important role in
preserving or destroying the balance of power between the various kingdoms and fiefdoms.
To ensure that the military alliances entered into were observed by both parties,
practices like exchanging Juvenile members of the respective families who were educated
and brought up at each other's palaces were followed.
They were a sort of captives who were held to ensure that the military alliances
between the two kingdoms or clans were honoured. But a more lasting bond that could back
up military alliances were-matrimonial alliances between members of the two famlies . But
such matrimonial alliances could be worked out smoothly only if the bride and groom were
ready to accept each others Young men and women of marriageable age are bound to be
choosy. This difficulty could be avoided when the marriage was between two children or
babies where there was no question of their having any sense of choice as to who their
partners in life should be.
The caste hierarchy also perhaps had its role to play in perpetuating such a
system. Caste which is based on birth and heredity does not allow marriages between
members of different castes . But as youngsters whose emotions and passions could be ruled
by other considerations might violate this injunction. Out of the necessity to preserve
itself, the hereditary caste system could have helped in nourishing the practice of
Among other subsidiary considerations which could have helped to preserve this
custom might be the belief that adults (or adolescent) boys and girls would indulge in
loose moral practices. This consideration would have - been more relevant in the context
of the puritanical and orthodox environment of the bygone ages. The practice could also
have been perpetuated, especially among- the economically weaker sections, by the
consideration of keeping marriage expenses to a minimum. A child-marriage need not have
been as grand an affair as adult marriages.