Apr 5, 2024

Is Kanyadaan Part of the Essential Ceremonies for Hindu Marriage?

Marriages in India are governed by personal laws relying on different customs and religious practices. Among the Hindus, the Hindu Marriage Act, 1955 (“Act”) governs the validity of a marriage. Under this Act,  a marriage is properly performed, i.e., solemnised, when  certain essential ceremonies are done. These ceremonies are often rooted in cultural context. Over time, certain rituals have been called into question. ‘Kanyadaan’, a ceremony where the bride is officially transferred to the groom , is often criticised for objectifying women and undermining their agency. 

In a recent case, the Allahabad High Court looked into whether a Hindu marriage where the Kanyadaan is not performed is solemnised or not. The Court observed that Kanyadaan is not an ‘essential ceremony’ under the Act. So, a Hindu marriage without Kanyadaan is still a valid marriage. 

In this Weekly, let’s look into the valid conditions of a Hindu marriage and what these essential ceremonies are?

What is a valid Hindu marriage?

Section 5 of the Act lays down the following conditions  for a marriage between two Hindus to be legally solemnised:

  • Neither party must have a spouse living at the time of the marriage.
  • Both parties must be capable of giving consent to the marriage, should be of sound mind, should not be suffering from a mental illness that can make them unfit for conjugal relations or for having children.
  • The groom must be at least 21 years old and the bride must be at least 18 years old.
  • Neither party should be within the degrees of prohibited relationships or a sapinda of each other. 

Section 7 of the Act also states that Hindu marriages are solemnised by performing the rites and rituals that the customs of the parties prescribe. These rites and rituals must include certain ‘essential ceremonies’. 

What are the essential ceremonies?

Section 7(2) specifies that ‘Saptapadi’, where the bride and the groom must take seven steps together before a sacred fire constitutes an essential ceremony for a valid Hindu marriage.

So, while the Act allows for variances in the essential ceremonies, for a marriage to be solemnised, the Saptapadi is the only rite which must be mandatorily performed. 

In the current case, the court held that non performance of Kanyadaan does not affect because it is not listed as an essential ceremony. 

Can the absence of essential ceremonies make a marriage null and void?

Section 11 of the Act explicitly states that a Hindu marriage is invalid if either party has another spouse alive at the time of  the marriage or they are in degrees of prohibited relationships or sapindas of each other. 

Breaking any other conditions of marriage under the Act, can make the marriage ‘voidable’. This means it can be declared invalid if either party approaches a court with such an application. 

Section 11 does not mention the non-performance of essential ceremonies as a ground for invalidating a Hindu marriage. However, the binding nature of Section 7 and numerous court judgements have established that non-performance of the essential ceremonies can make a Hindu marriage null and void. 

In the 1965 case of Bhaurao Shankar Lokhande vs. The State of Maharashtra, the Supreme Court observed that a marriage is solemnised in the eyes of law only when it has been conducted according to the essential ceremonies. Similarly, in 2023 in the case of Satyam Singh vs Smriti Singh, the Allahabad High Court had held that a Hindu marriage cannot be held as valid if Saptapadi is not performed.