Once a child reaches a marriageable age, the parents prepare themselves mentally and, more importantly, financially so that they can search for a suitable partner for their child in order to meet their domestic obligation. They keep in mind the societal rules regarding cast, creed, natal chart, and financial and social status of the family.
During the 18th century this was very different and quite controversial. A marriage meant an additional member who was to be supported and hence was a burden on the groom ' s family as the bride did not go out to earn and contribute to the family income. Thus a dowry was collected to provide the additional burden resulting from a bride ' s entry into the groom ' s family. During the reign of the Delhi Sultans the worst sufferers were Hindu women as they were on the receiving end of any war, arson, plundering, etc.
During these dark days, customs like child-marriage, selection of women from the rest of the society, wearing of the Ghungat (veil) were all in play. This age also perpetuated customs like Sati (forced or voluntary immolation of a widow on the cremation pyre of her dead husband) and looking upon the birth of a female baby as an ill omen, even killing new-born baby girls by drowning them in a tub of milk was too often an occurrence. The feeling of insecurity and the presence of young unmarried girls was a potential invitation for disaster.
Swaminarayan Bhagwan recognised these ill happenings and made it His mission to show the importance of a Woman/Divine Mother to society as a whole. Firstly, He abolished the practice of Sati. Bhagwan enlightened women about the invaluable opportunity of a human birth graced by God and that the human form is the only form in which a jiva (Soul) can attain moksha (Salvation). Sati disobeyed this grace and was in essence a tmahatya (suicide) and therefore a sin. His patient approach successfully eradicated Sati from most areas of Gujarat .
In the past women were excluded from formal education systems and Swaminarayan Bhagwan wanted to change this and so He focussed His efforts on religious education for women. Female education did not exist in society as a result of Muslim rule over the centuries. At the best, a mother might tell her child traditional stories and folklore that she may have heard from people in the village.
Bhagwan Swaminarayan provided special worshipping areas for women. He appointed women that were well-versed in the satsang to preach to other women. In some towns separate mandir were built for them and males were prohibited entry. This allowed women to offer devotional service to God and in the long run, encouraged women to think independently and acquire leadership skills to teach each other.
The message that Bhagwan Swaminarayan is trying to convey regarding all of the above is prevalent in the Shikshapatri. He refers specially to women and their importance and significance in the Swaminarayan sampradaya throughout. This shows that the interest of women were nearest and dearest to His heart.
The source of His guidelines for a woman's progression and betterment before marriage and during married life lies in the Yajnavalkya Smriti, one of the recognised shashtra in our sampradaya .
Yajnavalkya Smriti states that the girl to be selected for marriage should be healthy - this does not mean the boy does not have to be healthy but implies that he should also be healthy. Medical Check ups can be taken to avoid any doubts either party may have. However, if the husband becomes blind, poor or impotent due to an accident, the wife should not desert him as service to the sick is service to God. A woman who serves her husband is always respected in society as a holy woman. But this also applies to a man whose wife, after marriage becomes blind, diseased, poor or infertile due to an accident.
In marriage the girl is expected to be younger than the boy. This is because the girl is mentally more mature than the boy. The husband and wife to be should not have blood relations stretching to five earlier generations on the mother's side and to seven on the father's side. This avoids hereditary diseases and ensures strong, healthy children with long life spans.
Before the marriage the girl (as well as the boy) is expected to have no sexual intercourse with the opposite sex to avoid any type of sexually transmitted diseases, such as AIDS. He or She should not be in love with someone else or promised in marriage to another. This is to ensure psychological conflicts do not occur.
Earlier the concept of dowry ( dahej ) was discussed. Dowry was usually paid in cash or kind by the bride ' s family to the groom's family along with the giving away of the bride ( kanya-dana ). The ritual of kanya-dana is an essential aspect of Hindu marital rites and is considered as one of the highest forms of punya a father can be blessed with:
Kanya = daughter, Dana = gift. A reason for the origin of dowry could perhaps be that the groom and his family had to take up the ' onerous ' responsibility of supporting the bride for the rest of her life.
In contemporary society women (and men) are found to have adulterous relationships. These people should be avoided to prevent them from having a negative influence on one's life.
A woman shouldn't wear clothes which expose vulnerable parts of her body in public places as men may experience sexual excitement from observing women's thighs, navel or breasts.
Before marriage, after marriage and also when a women is pregnant, women (as well as men) should keep away from seeing cheap street-shows or TV serials where indecent language is used and indecent acting is demonstrated. This is because children seek their mothers and follow their teaching. For this reason they have to be religious, cultured, highly educated and open-minded.
Bhakti Mata, the mother of Swaminarayan Bhagwan has set an excellent example of an ideal wife for all women in our sampradaya to follow. She stood by Dharma Dev (her husband) through happiness and sadness and walked along side him where ever he went. She also raised her children with great morals, religious knowledge and sincerity.
An important fact to be remembered is that our sampradaya doesn't agree with what Martin Luther King once said: that women are inferior to men. We believe that men and women both have the same understanding and rights. As advice we recommend all women should read the Gujarati Book – SATI GITA written by Shree Swaminarayan Bhagwan in Vadtal.
Men and women are born to live with each other in the human society. This is why they should learn the art of adjustment in life, and adjustment always requires self-sacrifice. The first condition of love is agreement. The way situations in marriage can be handled is with a smiling face, the husband should be loved as God and the wife as Goddess so far as love means dedicated service. Remember well marriages are arranged upon the earth but they are made in heaven.
A married female has many duties that she needs to follow to ensure her, her children and her husband follow a religious path as well as live happily in today's society, earn a livelihood and educate themselves. Alongside all this she mixes with her husband's family, which is a whole new environment for her. This is one of the most important roles a woman plays in her life, as she unconditionally serves a devotional life.
As female satsangis , if we should give this much to society and our families, treat them as important and not take them for granted. Lord Swaminarayan up-lifted the support and respect for the female folks – so should we.