An institution of everyday life that is more common than you might think and that which continues to have a certain reverence attached to its essence, even when that essence itself might have been changing face through the history of it, marriages make up for one of the most significant events of life on a global basis. As something that is considered ‘destiny’ and accorded an importance that places it on the same pedestal of the intricately natural experiences of birth and death itself, marriage has come to be an integral awareness of the human life. The modern time might have seen a less strict adherence to the ideals of marriage and its role whatsoever in the expanse of the human existence but even then as an institution based on so many of its constituent factors of love and religion and law and society, the intricate connection harboured by this face of life to life itself still stands more or less unchallenged. Of course, marriage today might not be viewed as necessity, or as something life cannot be envisaged without as it was in times of the recent past but there still is a sanctity and parallelly also a notion of romance attached to it that sees us still pray and hope for the one for us in whom we would find our proverbial ‘match made in heaven’.
Despite the frenzy of marriage though, the institution still cannot claim to be any more fair than what the unfair folds of births and deaths bring every life to. Present day marriages however still can salvage some pride in attempting to be fair at least, which wasn’t how this ‘divine bond of togetherness’ was all about in its origins or even through the most of its history and evolution. For something with quite ‘the past’ that goes down thousands of years back in time, marriage as a concept might have been in existence since times before the advent of the Christ even when its etymological origins pertain to some period of time between the 1250 and 1300 CE. In fact, this institution of what is today largely understood as marriage as the union of a man and a woman might even precede the earliest recorded account of its beings that which dates back to 2350 B.C., in Mesopotamia. The union of man with man and woman with woman and other such associated notions came to rule only much later, or more appropriately will only hopefully come to rule sometime soon, as such concepts have still not been able to find complete assimilation within the understanding of marriage even in its so called modern nuances. Whatever that might be, with its really long drawn reaches in the annals of history it indeed is certain that this fad of ‘finding the one’ is not as modern a dreamy proposition as what the more self aware world of today might drive you to believe.
Over the course of the centuries that followed since the Mesopotamian ‘trendsetting’ lifestyle of marriage, the institution evolved to also find favour with the ancient Hebrews, Greeks, and Romans as an arrangement that bound women to men and vice versa as well, but to a lesser extent, giving rise also the concept of families as would come to appeal to us in the present times. Prior to that, families were less personal and less exclusive as well, consisting of loosely organized groups of some scores of people, with several male leaders, multiple women shared by them, and children. With marriage coming to rule the picture however, this familial concept changed quite a bit, as the children came to be the definer of the father, as being his true biological heirs. It was as if producing children was what defined marriages, with ancient Greek marriages having the father of the bride proclaim as pledging his ‘daughter for the purpose of producing legitimate offspring’. That, even when the married male was free to satisfy their sexual urges with concubines, prostitutes, and even teenage male lovers, while their wives were required to stay home and tend to the household. Similar was the ‘custom’ among the Romans while with the Hebrews, the liberty rested on the allowance granted to have more than one wife. Understandably then, marriages at that time was solely guided by the purpose of procreating to the extent that husbands often ‘gave back’ their wives if they were unable to bear children and simply marry someone else who could!
But marriage earlier also came with some of such societal needs for security that which are still ascribed to, even today. The granting of property rights as well as the protection of bloodlines have been some of the more essential aspects attached with marriage as well, as is evident in such laws, for instance among the Hebrews that require a man to marry the widow(s) of his deceased brother(s). Ancient Greeks on the other hand very often dwelt in marriages within families, with the perpetuating idea of keeping wealth confined to themselves. Missing from the folds of something as intimate as marriage was any inkling of love or romance back then, not too much of a surprise specifically since many modern day unions, brought together for whatever reason, too can be as bereft of love or attachment as those in earlier times. Also non existent within the spectrum of ancient marriages was the requirement of religious validation, that which came to be ‘a thing’ only in the AD period. Ushering in the linkings of religion to marriage for the very first time ever was the first century Christian apostle St. Paul who compared the relationship of a husband and wife to that of Christ and his church. Furthering such association of marriage with religion was another first century figure, the then bishop of Rome Pope Nicholas I who went about the path of the sacred identity in a manner different, but that which is more dignified and assertive than any other requirement of the married life. By placing his faith on consent as the most important element in every marriage, the Pope perpetuated a line of church teaching and marriage laws that continue to govern the norms of both marriage and religion even today.
With the introduction of religion into the ambits of marriage, marriage ceremonies came to be the order of day, though much later, only sometime in the 1500s. Before that, the eighth century saw marriage gain wide acceptance in the Catholic church, that spelled also the necessity of its inclusion thereof, riding on the power that the Roman Catholic Church came to amass in Europe. At the Council of Trent, the decree that marriages should be celebrated in the presence of a priest and at least two witnesses was written in 1563, establishing therefore an unmistakable link between religion and marriage, and seeking also to deter both men and women from being sinful. The involvement of the Church into the realm of this union bettered therefore the dignity of women, as men were taught to show greater respect for their wives, and were forbidden from divorcing them.
Even however with all worldly and otherworldly elements contriving to accord marriage more importance than what it stemmed of initially, the idea of love still hadn’t managed to make its way into the purview of the institution until much later. With romance frowned upon by humans since even the ancient times, like the Greeks who viewed lovesickness as a type of insanity or in the medieval age when the French defined love as a ‘derangement of the mind’, curable ostensibly by means of sex, as well as the general belief of the Victorian era that considered love and passion between a couple as in fact ‘improper’, love had a really tough time coming to rule the realm of the married life. Love was even considered incompatible with marriage and courtly love wasn’t a concept that the world dwelled in most of the time.
The earliest countenance of love as pure romance was encountered among the twelfth century troubadours but there still was a long time before it could come to rule the world of human relationships sustained through marriage. It is only in times as recent as the 19th century that love came to be increasingly, though not exclusively, considered as a probable element of marriage, if not a necessary facet of it. Nevertheless, this inclusion that love came to find prominence in within the marriage institution spelled also more inclusivity for women in wedlock, as far as their status was concerned. As the female fraternity gradually started finding equal representation in marriage, with the romance of love translating also as the liberty of rights, this union of husband and wife became the very ideal of a fulfilling life. Surprisingly, what played an important role as well in securing women a place of similar importance in marriages was their power that came to be newly encompassed within their right to vote. As the legalities of coverture began to be done away with and issues such as marital rape received recognition in the eyes of the law, marriages began to be more appropriate the sacred institution it was long sought to be. Crossing over to the more recent realms of relevance, marriage today is increasingly seen to be a happy space, not just for men and women, but also in consideration of same sex unions, readily entered into in anticipation of bliss and as readily withdrawable from in the absence of it, conjuring up therefore the vision of a life as celebratory in its destiny of birth and as treasured in the fate of death.