What is the ‘Saptapadi’ ceremony? Is it essential for a valid Hindu marriage?

The Saptapadi ceremony establishes the commitment the couple makes to each other during the Hindu wedding ceremony. Saptapadi quite literally translates from Sanskrit to ‘seven steps’. The couple takes seven full circles, walking clockwise around the ceremonial fire, representing the seven principles and promises they make to each other.

Your marriage is not legally ‘solemnized’ if you do not follow the essential ceremonies followed by either your or your spouse’s communities. There are different customary requirements in different parts of the country – generally, in north India, saptapadi and invocation before the sacred fire are considered essential ceremonies. However, these are not considered essential ceremonies in states like Tamil Nadu and Pondicherry – an exchange of garlands or rings and tying a thali is considered enough.

Saptapadi is therefore not necessary for all marriages. However, where saptapadi is observed as a ceremony, when last step taken around the fire the marriage will be considered complete.

Invalid/Void Hindu Marriage

Void marriages, are invalid from the beginning. These do not require annulment. Under Hindu Marriage Act, Section 11 states certain situations where the marriage is void.  The following are the situations:

  • One of the parties has a spouse living at the time of marriage. For example, if Seema was already married to Rajesh during her marriage with Rahul.
  • If the parties are within the degrees of prohibited relationship. Customs allow spouses to marry within prohibited relationships in some societies.
  • Parties are Sapindas of each other, except in cases where certain customs allow it. A sapinda relationship can be either paternal or maternal.

Legal Hindu Marriage

For a marriage to be legally recognized as a Hindu marriage, the following conditions must be met:

  • The couple should be seen as Hindus by law.
  • The husband is over 21 and the wife over 18 years of age when the wedding took place.
  • Both husband and wife are of sound mind.
  • Neither husband nor wife can be married at the time of marrying each other.
  • Husband and wife are not in a prohibited relationship.
  • Husband and wife are not sapindas of one another.

If any of these conditions are not met, then the law may not recognize your Hindu marriage as being legal, and in some cases, you might face punishment.

Hindu Spouse

If you want to be a Hindu spouse and marry under the Hindu Marriage Act, you have to be one of the following set of persons:

  • Any person who is a Hindu by religion. This includes Veerashaiva, Lingayat or a follower of the Brahmo, Prarthana, or Arya Samaj.
  • Buddhist, Jain or Sikh by religion.
  • Any other person to which the Act applies who is not a Muslim, Christian, Parsi, or Jew by religion.

If you are governed by Hindu law or custom or usage, then you can marry under the Hindu Marriage Act.

Minimum Age for Hindu Marriage

The minimum age for a marriage under Hindu law is:

  • the groom must have been over 21 years of age and
  • the bride must have been over 18 years of age

The punishment for not adhering to this requirement is simple imprisonment which may extend to fifteen days, or with fine which may extend to one thousand rupees.

If either one of the parties is not of marriageable age, the marriage is considered a child marriage and is a voidable marriage.

Relationship Status and Hindu Marriage Law

At the time of marriage, you should not have a married spouse who has not divorced his previous spouse. If you are a divorcée you can enter into a marriage again only if your divorce is complete.

Neither party should have a spouse living at the time of the marriage. You can file a civil injunction to try to stop your spouse from getting married to someone else.

If your spouse is still alive, it is a crime to be married to another person. Your first spouse can file a criminal case against you. This is an act of bigamy. This is not an easy process because the first spouse will have to produce concrete proof –  even another child being born out of the second marriage is not enough.

If this is proven, you might go to jail for up to 10 years and also have to pay a fine.

Registration of Hindu Marriage

Registration of marriages in Hindu Law is given under Section 8 of the Hindu Marriage Act. This allows the State Government to make rules regarding registration.

The State Government may make rules about how the marriage details should be entered in the Hindu Marriage Register. The State Government can also make marriage registration compulsory in the State if it thinks this is necessary. In this case, any person violating the rule by not making an entry in the marriage register can be punished with a fine of up to Rupees twenty-five.

However, even if the entry has not been made, it does not mean that your marriage is invalid. If you take a look at the table given, you can see that each state has its own rules for Hindu marriages:

 

Hindu Marriages and Mental Illness

Trigger Warning: The following content contains information which some readers may find disturbing.

The law states that people with mental illnesses usually do not have the capacity to enter into valid legal marriages. Mental illness means a substantial disorder of thinking, mood, perception, orientation or memory that severely impairs judgement, behavior, capacity to recognize reality or to meet the ordinary demands of life, and mental conditions associated with the abuse of alcohol and drugs.1

A person planning on getting married should be able to give valid consent. If you are not able to give consent because of:

  • Unsoundness of mind or;
  • Because of a mental disorder which makes you ‘unfit for marriage and the procreation of children’ or;
  • If you get ‘recurrent attacks of insanity’, your marriage will not be valid.

While the provision of the law may not cover all kinds of mental illnesses, there are no proper guidelines on what kind of illnesses or the degrees of illness make you unsuitable for marriage.

  1. Section 2(s), Mental Healthcare Act, 2017.[]

Prohibited Relationships under Hindu Marriage Law

If the spouses are within the degrees of prohibited relationship, then their marriage will not be a valid marriage. The following are the kinds of prohibited marriages:

  • If one spouse is a lineal ascendant of the other. A lineal ascendant includes a father, mother, grandfather and grandmother, but also great grandfather and great grandmother and so on.
  • If one spouse is the wife or husband of a lineal ascendant or descendant of the other. A lineal descendant will include not only children and grandchildren but also great grandchildren and their children as well.
  • If the two spouses are brother and sister, uncle and niece, aunt and nephew, or first cousins.
  • If one spouse is the
    • Ex spouse or widow(er) of your sibling or
    • Ex spouse or widow(er) of your father’s or mother’s sibling or
    • Ex spouse or widow(er) of your grandfather’s or grandmother’s sibling.

In some cases, despite a relationship being prohibited by law, a person’s custom might still permit a marriage with another person. In this case, they can get married because their custom allows them to do so

Invalid/Void Hindu Marriage

Void marriages are invalid from the beginning. These do not require annulment. Under the Hindu Marriage Act, Section 11 states certain situations where the marriage is void.  The following are the situations:

  • One of the parties has a spouse living at the time of marriage. For example, if Seema was already married to Rajesh during her marriage with Rahul.
  • If the parties are within the degrees of prohibited relationship. Customs allow spouses to marry within prohibited relationships in some societies.
  • Parties are Sapindas of each other, except in cases where certain customs allow it. A sapinda relationship can be either paternal or maternal.