Even if it is not possible for us to celebrate a marriage according to the sastras in respect of the age of the bride, could we not be true to their tenets at least in the matter of expenses? As I have made it clear so often a marriage has nothing to do with questions of money in any sense. Even though we have neither the will nor the courage to act according to the sastras in all matters, we could at least see to it that marriages are not turned into what may be called an economic problem; in other words we could follow the canonical texts at least in conducting weddings more economically.
The marriage ceremony is in fact almost as inexpensive a rite as sandhyavandana. How much is to be spent on it? The newly-weds have to be presented with new clothes(cotton will do), a tirumangalyam (mangalasutra) with a piece of gold attached to it. Only a few close relatives need be fed. At the time of the muhurta an auspicious instrument must be played. This will cost you a small sum. The other expense is the daksina paid to the priest. All this is fully in accord with the sastras. Even a poorly paid clerk can perform his daughter's marriage in this simple manner.
If wealthy people make marriages so lavish or showy affair, it would be a bad example for others not so wealthy. The money they otherwise spend on a music or dance recital or on other items that add glitter to the wedding must be used for marriages in poor families. This means that money that is otherwise wasted is converted into dharmic currency. It should be possible for every affluent man to celebrate the marriage of his daughter economically and save money with which a poor girl can be married and made happy. "Mass marriages" may be conducted in the same way as "mass upanayana".
The rent charged for the pandal itself [or the " hall" or mandapa] takes up half the wedding expenses. You cannot hold a marriage ceremony in a flat even on a small scale. Philanthropists should join together to construct small mandapas in various localities for the marriage of the daughters of less fortunate people.
There was a time when girls blushed when the very word marriage was mentioned. Then came a time when young women waiting to be married pined away at home, cried their hearts out, wondering whether they would be married at all. Now things have come to such a pass that women are on their own, not married and working like men in offices. The very life-breath of our culture, stridharma is being stifled. We hear reports of unseemly incidents happening here and there.
What is particularly tragic is that no one seems to be concerned about finding a remedy for all the unhappy occurrences. What is worse, these happenings are sought to be justified in terms of psychology, this and that. Stories are written on the undesirable incidents and films produced based on them and encouragement given to wrong-doing. If we question the people who give encouragement they turn back and speak to us about freedom of imagination, freedom of art, and so on. In this republican age there is freedom for everything except for the pursuit of the sastras.
I started by saying that according to the scriptures questions of money have no place in the marriage ceremony. Talking of marriage expenses, I must consider the complaint that a wedding lasting four days(which is how it ought to be celebrated) can be very expensive.
The sastras do not ask you to perform rituals likely to impoverish you. The marriage proper, the solemnisation of the wedding, is a one-day affair. The groom must spend the following three days in his own house observing brahmacarya. During these days there is no need for any music, nor any nalangu, or any other celebration. Let those who want to reform the marriage ceremony, think of changing it in this manner.
The groom' s people must tell the bride's parents: The marriage proper will be celebrated in your house. The remaining three days' functions will be held in our house without your having to spend anything". On the day following the marriage the householder( the young man just married) must bring the "aupassanagni" (the sacred fire in which the aupasana is performed) to his home. There are mantras to be chanted as this fire is being brought, as it is placed on the cart, as the bullocks are yoked to the cart, etc. You may do the same nowadays if you go by car or train. In the old days marriage alliances were formed between families living in neighbouring villages. So it was easy to carry the auspicious fire from the bride's to the groom' s house.
The four- day function may be performed in another way also. The place where the marriage is celebrated is to be treated as the groom' s house. Or the three-day function may be conducted in the house of a relative. No one need be invited for food, not even the girl's family. (The sastras do not permit the completion of the marriage rites in a single day. ) The priest has to be paid a daksina-this is the only expense.
According to the sastras, the groom must observe what is called "samvatsara diksa" from the day of marriage(diksa for one year); he must practise brahmacarya during these months. The marriage is to be consummated only later. Such practices have however changed. Until the recent past, the groom observed diksa at least for four days if not for a whole year. Now everything is performed on a single day. One is reminded of the saying: " The donkey is reduced to an ant and the ant itself eventually vanishes into thin air".
During the marriage, Andhras wear cotton clothes dipped in turmeric water. However well-to-do they are they follow this simple custom. In the North too women wear ordinary clothes at weddings. We must try to follow their practice.
One of the marriage rites is " pravesa homa" which is performed when the groom returns to his house. He has to carry the sacred fire of the marriage with him and perform aupasana in his home. It is for the sake of convenience -- and with the approval of the sastras -- that it is allowed to be done where the groom's party stays for the marriage. To perform a marriage in a temple as a one-day ceremony -- and " be done with it " - is not right. Even rich people who spend lavishly on clubs and races follow this practice because of their reluctance to conduct the function according to the sastras. Unfortunately, the poor are likely to follow their example. There is no extra expense involved in performing a marriage in the sastric manner as a four-day function.
How are marriages celebrated today? The bride is one who has already attained puberty and the marriage is gone through in just one day. On the following day the bride is taken to the house of her in-laws. Another unsastric practice is that of consummation on the same day as the marriage.
The groom is expected to observe brahmacarya at least for three nights after marriage. There are eight types of brahmacarya. Even though a man cannot be continent throughout, he must remain chaste at least on certain days. The least that is expected of him is celibacy for a minimum of three days after the marriage. This rule is no longer observed. Worse, the consummation, as mentioned before, is on the same day as the wedding is solemnised.
The undesirable practices now associated with the marriage samskara are due to the anxiety to curtail expenses. If all rites are performed on the same day there is a saving in the matter of feeding the guests, the music, etc. Curiously enough, despite such an anxiety to curtail expenses, there is a great deal of ostentation in our weddings. To obviate the expenses incurred thus, parents perform the upanayana of their son along with the marriage of their daughter.
We must try to reduce the unnecessary expenses incurred in performing Vedic samskaras. Friends and relatives can help much in this respect. They need not attend a marriage or upanayana even if invited. Instead, the money that they would otherwise spend in travel may be presented to the bride's [or the brahmacarin's] father. The fewer the invitees present at a wedding the less expensive will it be to feed them.
For a general background, please see here