Swayamvara the Ancient Hindu Marriage Custom
Hindu marriage and Contests
Marriage is considered a sacred rite in Hinduism. From ancient times this form of marriage was accepted for the nobility as specified in the ancient Hindu texts like the Purana’s. Ancient texts of Hinduism specify many forms of marriages. One form of marriage was the Swayamvara. This form of marriage was very much prevalent until the advent of the Moslems. The Muslim-Hindu conflict started in the 9th century and by the 11th century, this form of marriage ceased to exist.
The marriage was a contest of skills among the prospective grooms who were invited to the bride’s house. The winner would have the chance of marrying the bride who would garland the winner as a token of her acceptance. The word swayamvara consists of two words Swayam and Vara which means self and choice or desire. Its origin is from Sanskrit, the ancient Hindu language.
Practice of Swayamvara
As a first step, the father of the girl would consult the astrologers for an auspicious time and venue. He would also consult other wise men including seers and Yogi’s. Once the time and venue were decided, the King would send his messengers to outside lands and other kings, informing them he would be conducting the swayamvara of his daughter. Commoners would spread the word among the local community.
On the day of the Swayamvara, all the suitors who desired to marry the princess assembled at the appointed place. The girl and her family would then organize games of skill like archery and swordsmanship. The man who bested all other suitors would be identified as the husband who could marry the princess. The marriage ceremony would then take place immediately and the prince would carry the princess to the nuptial chamber. There would also be much feasting and merriment with the losing suitors also taking part. In ancient India, this was the most popular form of marriage among the nobility, where the choice of the groom rested with the girl.
Examples of Swayamvara
There are many examples of swayamvara and the Ramayana records that God Ram himself won Sita in a swayamvara. Even as late as the 7th century King Ramchand of Kanauji held a swayamvara for his daughter Sanyogita. This girl, in reality, loved the enemy of her father Prithviraj Chauhan. During the swayamvara, the princess garlanded a statue of Prithviraj to the chagrin of all the contestants. Prithviraj who was hiding nearby now appeared and carried off the princess on his horse.
The practice of swayamvara continued for many centuries. However, with the advent of the Moslems, this marriage ritual died a natural death. But with the passage of time, we can look back at the practice of swayamvara and realize that during that period Indian society was way ahead of the modern world.