Universal Definiton

The first organised attempt to define Marriage was done by the Royal Anthropological Institute, which was founded in 1871 in London. In the 6th edition of their publication “Notes and Queries (1951)”, they have defined Marriage as “a union between a man and a woman such that children born to the woman are legitimate offsprings of both parents”.

There are numerous problems to this definition and quite clearly it can not be universally applicable as such. In reality, this definition is applicable to only about 5% of the communities worldwide. I would like to throw light on the anomalies of this definition. These include –

1. Polygamy

It refers to having more than one spouse at the same time. There are various types of Polygamy.​

There are various types of Polygamy:

  1. Polyandry
  2. Polygyny
  3. Polygynandry
marriage types

Polyandry – It is the state in which a woman has more than one husband. It is rare as compared to Polygyny.​

Polyandry - Wikipedia

There are two types of Polyandry:

  1. Fraternal

    Fraternal means the grooms are brothers.​
    Fraternal Polyandry examples are Khasas of Uttarakhand, Gurjars of Rajsthan etc
  2. Non – Fraternal

    Examples of Non-fraternal Polyandry include Nayars of Malabar(Kerala) and Marquesans.

Polygyny – It refers to the state in which a man has more than one wife.

polygyny marriage Archives - Islam-Peace

This is allowed and performed in mainly all tribal societies across the globe and also in Muslims.

Polygynandry – It is the state where both the man and the woman have multiple partners. This term was coined by Famous Indian Anthropologist Prof. B.N. Majumdar. This unique practice is carried out in Jaunsari Khasas of Uttarakhand and Marquesans.

An interesting fact to note here is that the term andry and gyny come from the terminology of the reproductive organs of the flowering plants, ie. , androecium (stamen) – male organ and gynoecium (pistil) – female organ.

2. Women to women Marriage

Woman-to-woman marriage is a form of customary marriage between two women, predominantly found globally with considerable number of them in Africa. Communities such as the Kamba, Kisii, Nandi, Kikuyu and Kuria practise woman-to-woman marriages for a variety of reasons.

3. Ghost Marriage

It means that one or both the partners are deceased.

These examples are contradictions to the first part of the definition which talks about the union between a man and woman.

There are contradictions to the legitimacy part also.

Legitimacy refers to the legal approval of the child. But in reality Almost all the Tribal societies don’t enforce law through Physical Force. They are stateless society, which don’t exercise brutality to enforce things and they try to achieve objective through civil actions.

A unique example is Bow and Arrow ceremony, which is practiced in Todas of Nilgiri. The ceremony is organised at the beginning of the seventh month of pregnancy. The groom goes to the forest and makes a bow and arrow from the tender stems of the tree and presents it to his bride. If the bride accepts it, that confirms that the baby in her womb is his and she accepts him as her husband. This ceremony happens in Todas because Polygamy occurs in Todas and it is done to ensure that one of the husband takes the role of the father of the child.

Hence, the definition didn’t do justice and after this attempt, many other definitions were given by Anthropologists worldwide, but almost all failed in doing so. One definition was very efficient and was able to include all possibilities. It was given by Kathleen Gaugh based on her study of Nayar Marriage (Thalikettu Kalyanam).

Universal Definition

“A Relationship established between a woman and one or more other persons, which provides that a child born to a woman under circumstances not prohibited by the rules of the relationship, is accorded full birth-status rights common to normal members of his society or social stratum. “

​One type of Marriage is still excluded, which is, Man to Man Marriage ( legal in many European Countries). But most of the social scientists don’t recognise Man to Man Marriage as it doesn’t serve much purpose. Till the time, Man to Man Marriage is recognised, Kathleen Gough’s definition is the best available universal definition of Marriage.

Editor and Author, QuaRANT9 Civil Engineer | IIT Roorkee 2020 | UPSC Aspirant | Sports lover for Life Try. Make Mistake. Fail. Learn. Repeat Until... Try. Succeed.
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