Marriage in the Rig Veda

A Glimpse of the Loved One — Wikimedia Commons

Ṛg Veda Book 10 Verse 85 is commonly known as Sūryā’s Bridal Hymn or the Wedding Hymn.  In some Hindu families, this is one of the Vedic verses recited as part of the liturgy at Hindu marriage ceremonies.  It tells a metaphorical story of the wedding of Sūryā, seemingly the daughter of the sun-god, as bride, to soma, seemingly the moon, as bridegroom.  Some of the features of the wedding described continue to be features of Hindu weddings today

Although the presentation is rather convoluted from the perspective of the modern reader and some verses are hard to fathom, this article will attempt to pick out a few salient moments in possible sequential order.  At the same time, this being a cosmic wedding that unites sun and moon, the literal story seems to be used as a metaphor to describe the movements of these two celestial objects across the sky, as will be discussed.

The aśvins, or divine twins, about whom I have written a separate article, arrive at the home of Sūryā as representatives of the moon, with a proposal from him.  Pūṣan, seemingly the sun, that is, the father of the prospective bride, as well as others, agree to this proposal –

Aśvins, when you came on your three-wheeler to ask for the hand of Sūrya in marriage,
Then all the gods gave you consent; the Sun, a son, chose you to be fathers.

[Ṛg Veda 10.85:14; my own translation]

Based on such assent, Sūryā herself is sent to her new home with Soma, the moon. She is accompanied in this journey by her two female friends –

Raibhī was the bridesmaid; Nārāśaṃsī was her maidservant

[Ṛg Veda 10.85:6ab; my own translation]

They make the journey in a cosmic chariot of highly symbolic imagery, which develops the analogy between the movements of heavenly bodies and of human rituals and customs –

Mind was her vehicle; the heaven was her covering;
The two bright ones were the oxen, when Sūryā went to her [new] home
Those two oxen moved calmly, harnessed by the Ṛg and Sāma [verses].
Hearing [the Veda] was your two wheels; your path in heaven was leading you forward

[Ṛg Veda 10.85:10-11; my own translation]

Sūryā now arrives at the house and there is a touching picture of the comfortable domesticity of the Vedic household –

Go to [your new] home, to be the lady of the house;
Speak out with authority at the vidatha [gathering];
Prosper here, loved [and] with children;
In your home, watch over the household;
Join yourself with this husband;
You will address the vidatha even when you are old

[Ṛg Veda 10.85:26cd-27; my own translation]

Following this, the marriage is consummated, during which the virginity of the bride is established, which seemingly confirms the validity of the marriage, and gifts are given to Brahmins.  The verse ends with an exhortation to the bride to be gentle towards her husband, and a request for a blessing by the happy couple.

Without evil eye, without striking [your] husband, be kind to the cattle,
With positive mindset and positive energy,
Giving birth to heroes, loving the gods, gentle,
Be good to the two-footed and to the four-footed.

May all the gods, and also the waters, put together our two hearts.
May Mātariśvan, Dhātṛ, and Deṣṭrī support the two of us.

[Ṛg Veda 10.85:44,47; my own translation]

It is interesting to observe the very human perspective in which the authors of the Ṛg Veda interpreted and analogised the motions of celestial bodies.  The daily motion of the sun across the sky with respect to the moon may have prompted them to think of the movement of a chariot, such as that which carries a bride to the home of her new husband.  The exact motion of the sun relative to the moon, and the position of the moon in the sky at dawn and dusk may also have something to do with this.

For ancient peoples across the world, astrological events were of utmost fascination and were imbued with deep meaning, as evidenced by the detail with which they observed the motions of the planets and the mythological stories they told about the constellations.  Looking up at the movements of stars and planets in the sky, they felt that there must be a deep and intimate connection with the most important and meaningful events of human society on earth.  Further investigation could probably uncover many other instances of such astronomical symbolism in ancient literatures of India and other countries too.

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