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July - September 2023

What kind of Vivaha was Rama’s? by Vidya Jayaraman

The place of dharma in Itihaasa

The central theme of the Valmiki Ramayana is dharma. Our itihasas feature situations full of human lessons. The characters uphold their dharma, face the consequences of abandoning dharma and face many subtle conundrums that test their ability to act as per dharma. They are thus a perennial lesson to us, with new insights emerging from them after every examination. We understand that dharma is often not obvious and has many subtle layers. The nature of dharma also changes from yuga to yuga. They are explicated through a layered hierarchy – Srutis, Smrtis, Puranas and most importantly the codes of behaviour of sishtas – the learned few who lead ideal lives and practice dharma. Whether it is Anasuya discussing with Sita or whether it is through the voice of Bhishma to Yudhishthira, it is the shishta who follows dharma who is the model that is looked up to.

Dharma in Valmiki Ramayana

Right from the beginning, when Maharshi Valmiki asks, “को;:qr�न् सा�तं लोके ” , being a knower of dharma “धम �rq”म्” is listed as the must-have quality of a Mahapurusha. Likewise, he is characterised as “रefrcता �� धम �”…. Other commentators gloss knower of dharma as one who knows the shrauta and smarta dharmas, one who not only does upadesha but also is an anushthata of the dharma taught. For acting as per dharma is the only means (sadhana) of spiritual liberation (alaukika nishresyasa). It is also because Rama knows samanya dharma (general rules), vishesha dharma (specific rules) and varnashrama dharma (rules regulating societal behavior) as prescribed in the shastras. It is easy to be a Pandita in the times of expounding to others, more so as a king. It is easy to instill in subjects the sense of dharma due to authority, but only the rare mighty kings follow them. It is for this that Rama was celebrated as a Dharmajna whether by realised Mahatmas such as Shuka or by Devatas such as Brahma or be it by Rishis.

परोपदेशे   सव”षj सुकरं नृणाम् धम” �ीयमनुSानं rचnु महाclनः ।।६२।।

Even a rakshasa such as Maricha knew this and praised Rama as “रामो f’वrहवान Alankarikas who wrote works on Sanskrit Poetics, such as Acharya Mammatabhatta in his Kavyaprakasha say “रामाfदवद्वf’त तo!Jं स धम ः रावणव7f वf’त तo!Jं सोऽधम ः establishing the purpose of dharma even in Kavyas.

The role of commentaries

For such a text, many commentaries exist. In the long line of commentaries, comes the Dharmakutam written by Trayambakaraya Makhi. Some commentaries expound on shlokas that are hard to explain (duranvaya pratipadanam), some attempt to resolve contradictions within the kavya (virodha samanvaya), Others have attempted to determine the supreme devata extolled therein (Shiva or Vishnu). Thus the learned author says that the goal of the Dharmakutam is to expound on the Ramayana from the standpoint of Dharmashastras, for no other commentator has done so. Let us take the example of Sita Kalyanam to understand the approach of Trayambakarayamakhi.

The narrative

The marriage of Sita and Rama along with the vivaha of Urmila-Lakshmana, Mandavi- Bharata and Shrutakirti-Shatrughna is outlined i n the Balakanda of the Ramayanam. The day of the Vivaha is fixed on Uttaraphalguni nakshtra. This is understood from Janaka’s saying to Vishvamitra Maharshi,

उnरे दवसे l�न् फ ुनी j मनीिषणः । वैवा हकं Rशंसr;,: भगो य Rजापrrतः ॥

The marriage is fixed for Uttaraphalguni nakshatram whose Devata is Prajapati.

Baudhayana mentions UttaraPhalguni along with a series of nakshatras including Rohini, Mrgashirsha Magha etc as appropriate nakshatras for Vivaha and Study.

Both Dasharatha and Janaka are described as knowers of dharma and kings who perform the kriyas expected of them appropriately. Dasharatha performs all the required karmas including shraddham and danam such as godanam before the Vivaha. He then requests Vasishta, his kulaguru to officiate the ceremony for the vivaha of Rama the delight of the world. Then at the appointed shubhamuhurta, named Vijaya, they all enter into the place with the sacrifical altar (yajnavatika) at the invitation of King Janaka and led by Bhagavan Vasishta and the other Rshis.

The agni for the homa is kindled and the yajnavatika is set up with auspicious things such as laja, pots of various shapes , conch- shaped vessels filled with water and vessels with turmeric all around. With the uttering of mantras, Janaka brings Sita decorated in ornaments. He then says facing Rama,”She Sita my daughter is your sahadharmachari. Accept her and hold her hand in yours”. Following this, he invites each couple to complete the Panigrahanam ritual. The description of the vivaha is not extensive.

It is here that our learned commentator poses the question,

“The Shastras name eight types of marriage, each of which is applicable to different varnas Based on the sparse description and also accounting for the fact that Rama who is dharmajna is getting married that too in the presence of two noble kings Dasharatha and Janaka who are themselves trained in not just state and warcraft but also in all the kriyas – rituals and dharma., he analyses as to what kind of shastriya vivaha SitaKalyanam falls under.

The various types of vivaham… As per Dharmashastra

Smrtis mention eight types of vivaha. Bhagavan Manu says: Brahma, Daiva, Arsha, Prajapatya, Asura, Gandharva, Rakshasa and Paishacha.

  1. Brahma Vivaha: The bride is given as danam to a groom who is shrutishilavaan – learned in the Vedas and of good character. आ�ा� चाच rयiqा .gुतशीलवते �यम् आह दानं  ाया lा�ो धम ः Rक’)rr 
  2. Daiva Vivaha: Here the bride is given as dakshina to the young Rtvik who conducts theय�े तु rrवतते स गृriqजे कम कु व ते । अलl.,  सुतादानं दैवं धम Rचaते ।
  3. Arsha Vivaha: This type of vivaham where the bride is given away after taking one or two cows dharmically from the groom.एकं गोrrमथुनं �े वा वरादादाय धम तः । ाRदानं rrवrधवदाष1 धम उu:ते
  4. Prajapatya Vivaha: In accordance with the rites, in a yagnashala, saying to the bride and the groom , “you both together take up the duties of grhasthashrama and doing the kanyadanam (and panigrahana) is known as Prajapatya Vivahaसहोभौ चरतj धम इrrत वाचानुभाlilJ क ाRदानं अ u: Rाजाप ो rrवrधः �ृतः
  5. Asura Vivaha: Giving wealth as per one’s capacity and giving the kanya is known as Asura�ाrrत rrवणं ायै चैव शr तः क ाRदानं �ा� �ादासुरो धम उu:ते
  6. Gandharva Vivaha:इ�या ो संयोगः ाया वर च । गा.efव स तु rrव�ेयो मैथु कामसंभवःThe type of vivaha born out of mutual desire of the kanya and vara is Gandharva Vivaha.
  7. Paishaca
  8. Rakshasa Vivaha : The last two are done by forceful means such as carrying the bride away and are always condemned as adharma. However when it comes to Kings, conquering lands there was the practice of taking away the bride by force. Hence these are accepted for certain specific situations and are condemned in most if not all. Thus each vivaha has restrictions and applies only to certain communities, and that too in specific situations.

Which among these was Rama’s Vivaha?

The commentator initially poses the question that Rama’s vivaha does not really fall into any of these eight types. This is not Brahma as a kshatriya is not invited and given dana. Nor is it Daiva as a Kshatriya cannot be the Dikshita / Rtvik of a Yajna. Nor is it Arsha as there is no dana of a pair of cows to the groom by the father of the bride. Nor can it really be Prajapatya as Janaka has stated the condition of breaking the bow and offers the kanya as a virya shulka. It is neither Asura as there is no acceptance of money in the transaction nor is it gandharva born out of the mutual union of the couple.The Vivaha does not occur under violent adharma means of Rakshasa and Paishacha either. What then would this wedding be classified under?

Then Trayambakarayamakhi says that this is a Prajapatya Vivaha and posits the reasons for the same. He quotes Gautama Smrti and Manu Smrti and says when the mantras are accompanied by the Vakya “Both of you walk in the path of Dharma”. Then the next difficulty arises. But the Prajapatya Vivaha is not applicable for Kshatriyas.

Then he discusses the applicability of each type of marriage to each community and elaborates on the opinion of various smrtikaras. Some say that for a brahmana, Brahma, Daiva, Arsha, Prajapatya and Asura are allowed with each preceding one being of more merit than the latter. (पूव पूव (ेयान् ), while others say that only four are applicable for a Brahmana. For a Kshatriya Asura, Gandharva, Rakshasa, Paishacha are applicable again in decreasing order of merit. Likewise for the remaining two varnas, Asura, Gandharva and Paishacha are applicable.

After evaluating various statements in the Smrtis, the commentator concludes that regardless of varna the last two are adharma due to the use of force. Similarly as per the text, Raghavanandiya the Prajapatya Vivaha can be considered as “sarva varna sadharana” (ie common for all varnas in the absence of other means). Further, even though shastra gives the provision of use of force or carrying away the bride, Ramachandra who is an embodiment of sarvabhutadaya ie compassion towards all would never ever choose adharma over dharma. Hence the vivaha of Ramachandra is Prajapatya.

On the term Viryashulka and its applicability

During the Dhanur yajna, Sita is declared the Virya shulka (reward as a test for heroism). Whoever can break Shiva’s bow receives her hand. Shastras, however, condemn this act of giving or receiving shulka, equating it to a father selling his own daughter.

Why then does the text use the word shulka? The author says that the word shulka is aupacharika figurative and should not be interpreted literally. Why so? Because where shulka is accepted or offered it is for the support of one’s livelihood or for the acceptance or receipt of transaction of money. Here there is none. The word Viryashulka merely is used to allude to the fact that Virya is the most excellent trait for a Kshatriya Prince and it is this Virya that is tested here by the challenge of breaking Shiva’s bow. No money or goods was exchanged. Janaka did not need any dravya to support himself.


Therefore this is a Prajapatya Vivaha and the entire sequence of events abides by shastra proving the adage, “Ramo Vigrahavaan Dharmaha”. We can see this continued sustenance and exemplary stress on Dharma in each step of their life including the segment where Sita and Rama discuss the role of violence. Sita advocates giving up arms and Rama convinces her of the necessity for a King even in Vanavasa to protect the subjects such as the Rishis.

Thus in conclusion, Rama’s Kodanda stands firm in protecting and establishing Dharma much like our Jagadguru’s danda stood and continues to stand for sustenance of dharma.