Marriage is an age old concept that has held different meanings in different eras. The concept of marriage has evolved and has different meanings to different sections of the population. The reason why marriage came into existence in the first place is very different from what marriage is to most of the people today. For instance, marriages originated as a manner of creating a legal contract for a man to acquire a female slave. However, nowadays people get married in order to celebrate the love that they share with their soul mates and spend the rest of their lives together.
The concepts associated with the idea of marriage when it began versus the idea of marriage that exists today are in stark contrast to one another. In the ancient times, the Hebrew traditional people regarded women as a property of esteemed value that belonged to a man and thus, had to be looked after. Recently, the Supreme Court declared section 497 of the Indian Penal Code unconstitutional because it violated the idea of equality of both the spouses engaged in a marriage. Thus, the evolution in the conception of the institution of marriage is glaringly visible. There has been a shift in the way women were treated in a marriage. Earlier they were treated as objects but now the faults have been identified and women have been regarded as equal to men in a marriage contract.
In the European states, around 325 CE, marriage was treated as a private affair between the two individuals although the approval of the bishop was necessary to call the marriage complete. The 12th century saw the transition in the manner in which marriages were conducted. Women began using the surname of their husbands. Around 16th century, marriages required the consent of the church for their completion. The concept of a wedding came into existence around the 16th century when a few royal families began celebrating their marriages. Marriages that take place today often witness splendid wedding ceremonies and pompous celebrations.
Another evolution in marriages is the manner in which they were conducted and the above examples clearly substantiate how the change took place from marriage being a private affair to a pompous celebration. Initially, marriages took place only with the consent of the bride and the groom but gradually marriages between two individuals began involving the interference of external bodies. The churches began looking into marriages from around 16th century in the European states and during the 17th century the Protestant European countries started to involve the state into the marriages. The first act to be passed regarding marriage was the Lord Hardwicke’s Act in 1753. This act specified certain prerequisites that had to be fulfilled including the presence of witnesses during marriages and performing of religious ceremonies.
Another transition in marriages in the previous centuries and the marriages that take place today is the age at which people get married. For example in Greece, girls were married off before they turned 15 years of age and in south-east Asian countries like India, girls were married off as early as nine years of age. Sometime around the 16th century, the legal age for girls to get married was 12. Today, in most countries, the legal age for marriage has been raised to about 18 years of age.
A major difference between the concept of marriages is between the reason why most people got married then versus why most people get married now. In the previous centuries, royal families got their children married while they were still young in order to establish profitable relations with other royal families of their territories. Young girls were even married off to dead members of other royal families in order to show support to the grieving family. However, beginning from the 19th century onwards, people have had different reasons for getting married. Most people got married because they were in love with another person, in contrast to marriages being arranged by the family members that was relevant previously. The trend of couples going for honeymoons after marriages also came into existence somewhere around the mid 19th century.
Thus, marriage has been a dynamic concept that has evolved over centuries. It has had different meanings to people from different eras and even to people belonging from different social strata.
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