Naaticharami, the inviolable marital promise


S. Ainavolu

2/9/2022 10 min read

Naaticharami, the inviolable marital promise – Revisiting the powerful vows which can make the world authentic

Dharmecha Arthecha Kaamecha Naaticharami” is perhaps the most known mantra among the common circles regarding the traditional marriage process. Here, the sacred fire serves as the witness to the process wherein the groom willingly takes the vow that he shall not violate the promise of “not walking away” without his spouse in matters of dharma (righteous deeds), artha (material pursuits) and kaama (the desire of all hues). Of late, by mistake of highest order, the mantra is wrongly “expanded” to include moksha (the liberation) as well, and is not correct. In other words, the version of “Dharmecha Arthecha Kaamecha Mokshecha Naaticharami” is not valid. The reason is logical and straightforward to appreciate. Of the four purusharthas (worth pursuing goals by the householder), we need authenticity and transparent conduct on the part of the grihasti (householder) to co-create the value with his spouse. Once one gets married, the aachamana water has to be poured by his wife into his right hand to say at the beginning of any deed with “keshavaya swaaha”. He can’t begin even the daily puja without his wife facilitating the aachamana. As a bachelor he was qualified to pursue his religious ritual all alone but having got married, he loses that right of pursuing it alone and hence the role of wife as facilitator. This is seen in case of any pitru karya (ancestoral offerings) as well, without spouse the husband is incapable of offering.

Joint venture and value creation

Partnership in traditional marriage is expected and was to be adhered. When it comes to artha, the matters of earning/spending similar transparent conduct is expected on the part of the husband. The sources of earning and means of earning have to be transparently shared with one’s wife. This transparency is along the lines of both quality and quantity. This stretches to spending as well. On that count, how much gets spent needs to be informed and discussed with one’s wife before one even psychologically “commits.” Similar logic gets extended to kaama (the quest for & pursuing desires of all hues). However, the fourth purushartha of moksha is qualitatively different and the quality one requires is that of “detachment” of the highest order. One has to untangle with all that is binding one, and this has to happen on all dimensions, personal (ego level), societal and family unit level. The ties have to go, and one must move on in a wholly untangled fashion. Here the pursuit of moksha is that of the individual soul, and one’s prarabdha (remnant fruits of action) holds one back. The japa/tapa/swadhyaya/sadhana, all one does have to happen to make one “free.” Thus, the promise of naaticharami around moksha is incorrect as it is an individual pursuit and hence can’t be together journey. It is the spirit of consciously moving to the higher orbits by leaving everything else, including the “desire for moksha.”

Family as an institution

The Vedas are said to be apourusheya (not given by individuals), meaning that it got revealed from higher planes. The rishi parampara we have is mostly that of grihasta (householder) tradition. Those in guru sthana life Brihaspati and Shukracharya were also householders. The rishis like Jamadagni, Vashishta, Agastya all are said to be householders, pursuing their purusharthas, and preparing the next generation for “taking over the baton”. In Mahabharata times too we come across gurus like Dronacharya who was a householder. Krishna’s guru Sandeepana was a householder too. Gurukula tradition is old and gets mention in our puranas. When Vishwamitra takes Rama & Lakshmana to Janaka’s court, the purohit there Shatananda enquires about his parents Ahilya & Gautama who were from the grihasta parampara of sages.

Marriage as a must practice (unless one takes up the Sanyaasa) gets mentioned strongly in Mahabharata. In the adiparva in that epic we have Jaratkaru story. In a family of pious Jaratkaru was born. Against the tradition he chose not to get married. It is mentioned that he was passing by the pitruloka and he finds few ancestors in turned down and tied condition. Upon enquiry they communicate to him that in our lineage one boy called Jaratkaru is not getting into marriage situation and hence we are suffering. He decided to get married to give relief and sadgati (better condition) to his ancestors. The naga Vasuki offers his sister Manasa who was also called Jaratkaru in marriage to eligible bachelor Jaratkaru.Their son was Astika. His name is most important one and we come across when Janamejaya was performing the sarpa yaaga (snake offerings). As nagas are his maternal side relatives, Astika logically convinces Janamejaya that his father was destined to go then and curse of the son of the sage (who was affronted) was only some reason for the worldly journey’s exist. The yagya got stopped.

Marriage and puranic evidences

In the Bhagavata purana, Krishna visits Vidarbha and gets Rukmini with him. In the battle that followed, Balarama and Krishna defeat other side. Later, when Krishna when gets the gold yielding shamantaka mani, king Satrajit offers his daughter Satyabhama to Krishna along with the mani. Krishna accepts wife and returns the mani to his father-in-law. When Krishna wins the physical fight of wrestling with Jambavan (the bear form from Ramayana), Jambavan offers the girl who was his adopted daughter. She was Jambavati whose son was Samba who reportedly married Duryodhana’s daughter.

Bhishma too pursues the rakshasa form of abducting princesses, for his younger brother Vichitraviraya. Here the subtle difference is Bhishma’s act was not for him but to get brides for his younger brother. First of the three sisters, Amba makes her wish to marry Salwa king clear to Bhishma. Bhishma sends her back but Salva named Salwa king refuses to accept her. Amba asks Bhishma to get her taken as bride as “he won her.” Bhishma refuses quoting his celibacy promise to the father of his step-mother. Ultimately Amba makes the guru of Bhishma, Parushuram fight with Bhishma in an undecided war. It gets mentioned that in the next life Amba kills Bhishma as Shikhandi in the Kurukshetra battle. The particular nuance is evident when marriage though was the compulsory institution, Bhishma is accepted as the role model of fulfilling his father’s desire even though he stayed single.

Multiple marriages and having multiple spouses were generally rare and was seen only among ruling Kshatriya class. Arjuna, in addition to Draupadi married the Naga princess Ulupi. They have Iravant as the son. Arjuna also married Gandharva princess Chitrangada and they both were blessed with Babruvahana, a great fighter. Subhadra was sister of Krishna whom Arjuna married. Abhimanyu, their son is a well known character in Mahabharata, a brave warrior who was killed in adharma yuddha by Kourava's side. Similarly, we see other pandavas too having spouses. Bhima’s son with Hidimbi is well known and he is Ghatotkacha, one who “consumes” Karna’s mighty arrow called Shakti.

Marriage was also a means of strengthening ties and achieving objectives, as per our puranas. An example from Mahabharata is when Arjuna defeats Drupada and makes him bow before Dronacharya (who incidentally was earlier classmate of Drupada who insults him), Drupada performed a yagya (havan). The sankalpa or the intent pronounced clearly was to get a daughter who shall marry Arjuna and additionally to get a son who shall kill Dronacharya. Droupadi (Krishna was her another name) was born and married Arjuna; Dhrushtadyumna was the son who ultimately killed Drona in the Kurukshetra battle.

Marriage through medieval ages

Marriage diplomacy or pre-emption may be seen in medieval times too. The Kakatiya queen Rudrama offered her daughter to Rashtrakuta prince to establish powerful ties between two kingdoms. The strategy worked well, and Rashtrakutas never allowed extraneous forces to move towards the current Warangal, which was the capital of Kakatiyas. Nellore king had the mother side relation with Pallavas, who always protected them when got invaded. Various sects entered India over a few centuries since the first century AD. These often got “integrated” into various Kshatriya clans through marriages. A marriage happening was often establishment of “equal status.”

Far off relations and long distance matches were not that uncommon. AP’s Vizhianagaram princess getting married to Prince of Rewa in current MP was more based on “equals” logic. Princess Gayatri Devi from Kooch Behar of modern Bangla marrying Jaipur raja is another long-distance relation building. Some of such marriages infuse new outlook in the other side too. In the process, the culture in the communities becomes richer and more inclusive.

Ashta varshet bhavet kanya

The quote we heard often was ashta varshet bhavet kanya. The girl shall be treated as kanya for puja purposes till the age of eight years. Larger comprehension of kanya is also as woman. Often the marriages got performed when girls were very young, say even less than eight. Boys too were not very grown-up. Even in recent times, in the case of Mahatma Gandhi too, they got married when both were around thirteen years. The Sharda act and subsequent legislation pushed up the marriageable age. Recent proposal furthers it to twenty-one. The hypothesis is that the educational process and participation in the employment market are supposed to increase with higher marriageable age.

Marriages in times when the younger generation was married off before knowing the meaning of marriage, had mixed effects. As the saying goes, it mainly was the marriage between two families than between two individuals. Sometimes in the present state of TS, the marriages were so cross-cultural that young brides from Tamil, Kannada and Marathi backgrounds got embedded into local families. During the formative years, each other gets exposed to the “other part of the family” and develops minimum tolerance and integrates best practices of both sides for further refined life. Subsequent “formed minds” getting married has down-side of properly understanding the nuances and culture of either side. Many a misunderstandings, mis-matching of the expectations may be attributable to this. A century ago there were many Balika vadhus, neither all of them were happy nor sad. This seeker’s grandmother Rukmini herself was a Balika vadhu of Krishna, the condition necessitated by the sudden exit of her mother in Gaya, on a Kashi Yatra, and kanyadan was quickly performed so that departed too shall get her share of the punya. She adapted very well, made friends with her husbands’ sister and cousin, and continued for over seven decades. In the entire neighbourhood eco-system around 1920-30 many such young daughter’s in law came in, they formed a buddy culture, a close knit friendships, that lasted till 1980-90s. They supported their spouses in their pursuit of Dharma/Artha/Kaama and led lives with all contentment by pursuing swadharma and swadhyaya. Their grand children and great grand children are reaping the benefits of their good karma.

Revisiting purusharthas

Current society is in a transition condition which may be referred as sandhi kaala. The known to “to be known” journey is painful. It is akin to larva to butterfly condition. The value system of the society has undergone a change. In a culture that preached trusteeship, the “owner” assuming the role of “custodian,” we have seen amassers of highest order. The morality of the generations may not be constant on an absolute scale. The reason for this is the dynamism that has to be observed and respected. For interpretation of texts we always refer, as per present “desha kaala stithi” meaning interpreted for current place/time/conditions. While one appreciates the moral fibre may undergo some change, drastically revisiting may not be proper and appreciable. The ethical frameworks do shift from place to place and time to time. Equally dynamic but probably with a lag are legal rules. These too shift across times and geographies at the same time. Including women in the electoral system or having universal franchise were only debated concepts a century ago. But changes have taken place, and in many cases for collective good.

Dharma glani was mentioned by Krishna in Bhagavadgita and he promised that I shall keep revisiting when such disturbance occurs. Materialism reaching high levels have impacted the planet adversely. Sustainability which is simply that “ability to sustain” is a “?” now. Lesser consumption levels by ever-growing mankind is the minimum one may appeal for. Frugal living and sustainable fashion can reduce the carbon footprint. Here the third purushartha of Kaama comes into play. Lower number of desires and the pressing urge to fulfil these have to be put in place.

The role of the better half through implementing naaticharami

Connecting back to the promise of the lifetime performed at the time of marriage, naaticharami, if implemented, can put authenticity back into lives and reduce the crises the planet facing to a greater extent. Once the consenting couples adopt a dharmic way of life, many bad things shall stop happening. Arishadvargas, the six enemies the scriptures mention kaama (urge for fulfilment) / krodha (anger)/ lobha (miserliness) / moha (desire) / mada (arrogance) / matsarya (envy) shall be “in check” if the timely advice and adherence happen in married life.

If the spouse is the co-traveller with whom good and bad aspects are openly discussed, we expect a better outcome. Probably there may be explanations along the lines that masculine aggressiveness gets moderated by the holistic feminine energies, and balance prevails.

In the society of current times do we have spouse power working against the dharma pursuit or for the dharma pursuit. Whether the materialism has pulled many down in terms of “by any means..” or still the underlying current is that of the righteousness. Whether ethical issues that arise in personal and family lives are getting resolved appropriately and appreciably or the issues are pushed down the carpet. Often guilt avoidance is more convenient than paying the price for properly pursuing!

What are the reasons for current times unrest? Why so many psychosomatic origin “diseases”? Why so much of talk around “life style triggered” problems? Does moderated existence by all have some potential in solving the current global, macro crises? Is it true that the trigger of many such crises is at family level? The unit of analysis can be drilled down from the planet to society and ultimately the family. Thus, family, as probably the appropriate unit of analysis, can resolve dilemmas. Unbridged consumption, amassment and aggrandizement are triggering the macro problems. Probably the source of such trouble exists at the family level. By resolving the family level conflicts by pursuing dharma, moderate artha and nuanced kaama, we as a mankind may lead more fulfilled lives. This is the hypotheses, easier to build but difficult to implement, even when it gets validated.

On a closing note

Marriage is one of the four ashramas of brahmacharya, vivaha, vanaprastha and sannyasa. Often the human life is assumed to be 120 years according to the astrological possibilities of sum of all nakshatra dashas being 120 years in Parashari and in Jaimini the twelve rashi dashas having ten year period each. Either way it adds up to a hundred and twenty years. Excluding the initial quarter of life span and negating the last quarter being too forward-paced but incapacitated, the middle two stages of grihastha and vanaprastha are important from “co-travelers” perspective. Typically, these two phases may account for forty to fifty years. By revisiting the naaticharami and recalibrating the life according to the dharmic way in a non-greedy manner, individuals may become happier, families contented, and finally, society a better place to live. The mother planet and the space ecosystem around shall “breathe” properly. Our prayers of “Prithvi shantihi Antariksham shantihi” shall come true through our authentic conduct. Our destination is fulfilled existence that leads to enlightenment which fulfils all our quests to such an extent that there is no quest left to pursue. This is a positively reinforcing condition that benefits the larger mankind. Tradition also taught us the prayer of “loka samasta sukhino bhavantu”, not only for humans but all living beings in all planes we wish well. The modern SDGs of caring for ‘life below water’ and ‘life on land’ reflect this inclusiveness spirit of wishing well for all beings. This alone can be the genuine desire as “the being in all beings is the ‘being’ness and once realized, one sees ‘being’ness in all beings.” Then our prayers can’t be any less than wholly inclusive. Then indeed we shall not indulge in any type of non-naaticharami, straying off and alone.