If a person who belongs to Hindu religion, is interested in performing the marriage without superstitious religious ceremonies and with a progressive view, he may choose this Suya Mariyathai Thirumanam or Seer Thirutha Thirumanam. And this system is allowed only in Tamil Nadu by a State Amendment in the Hindu Marriage Act.
One of the major sociological changes introduced through the self-respect movement was the self-respect marriage system, whereby marriages were conducted without being officiated by a Brahmin priest. Eeveraa Periyar had regarded the then conventional marriages as mere financial arrangements and often caused great debt through dowry. The Self-Respect movement encouraged inter-caste marriages, replacing arranged marriages by love marriages that are not constrained by caste.
It was argued by the proponents of self-respect marriage that the then conventional marriages were officiated by Brahmins, who had to be paid for, and also the marriage ceremony was in Sanskrit which most people did not understand, and hence were rituals and practices based on blind adherence.
Self-respect movement promoters argue that there was no reference to Thaali in the Sangam literatures like Tirukkuṛaḷ or Akanaṉūṟu, which describe the Tamils’ lifestyle during the Sangam era. The Hindu marriage ceremonies involving Brahmins are argued to be practices introduced relatively recently to increase the influence of Brahminism on Tamils’ lives.
Even though self-respect marriages have been practiced since 1928, initially these marriages just lacked a priest while the Hindu marriage events and ceremonies were followed. The first self-respect marriage that was totally devoid of any Hindu ceremony was the marriage of the prominent self-respect movement writer Kuthoosi Gurusamy with another prominent leader, Kunjidham, under the presiding of EVR Periyaar on 8 December 1929. The self-respect movement encouraged widow remarriage as well. Due to the prevalent practice of child marriage and very poor health facilities, there were a high number of widows in then society. Women like Sivagami Ammaiyar, who could be widowed at 11 years, were given a new lease on life by the widow remarriage principles of the self-respect movement. Consequently, the self-respect movement attracted a lot of women.
The underlying principles of a self-respect marriage are: Marriage is a personal contract between a man and a woman; nothing is sacred, sanctified, religious or divine in the union of man and woman. A contract may be withdrawn by either party or mutually. If marriage is contractual, devoid of religious sanctity, it ceases to be a necessary condition of social life. The male or female has the choice to marry, break away, or not marry at all. In a self-respect marriage, a contract upholds equality of sex, by implication it means that chastity is not a unisexual virtue, but is common to both sexes. Since a contract is breakable, once it is broken, the man and woman may have any other partner by remarriage. Periyar also advises the couple to wait for five years before deciding on pregnancy, and to confine themselves to one or two children, irrespective of its sex and to forget about children if they do not conceive. The woman is not a childbearing machine, says Periyar. Pregnancy is a biological burden, which is an obstacle to a woman’s freedom.
The parties to marriage were used take a vow during the marriage. The vows are simple declarations of equality.
“வாழ்வில் ஏற்படும் இன்ப – துன்பங்களில் சம பங்கேற்கும், சம உரிமை படைத்த, உற்ற நண்பர்களாக வாழ்வோம் என்று உறுதி கூறுகிறேன். வாழ்வில் என்னிடம் இருந்து என்னென்ன உரிமைகளை தங்களுக்கு எதிர்பார்க்க உரிமை உண்டோ, அதே உரிமைகளை எதிர்பார்க்க உரிமை எனக்கும் உண்டு!”
The vow translates as, “In all of life’s joys and troubles, we swear to share equal responsibility and equal entitlement/right, living as firm friends/companions. Whatever privileges you have the right to expect of me in our future, I have equal right to expect the same of you”. The couple must be at least 21 and need to furnish name, age, and address proof. They also have to be accompanied by four witnesses.
Tamil Nadu became the first state (followed by U.T. of Puducherry in 1971) to legalize Hindu marriages conducted without a Brahmin priest. This was the first file signed by Chief Minister C N Annadurai when the DMK gained power in the 1967 Madras assembly elections. Chief Minister C N Annadurai sent the rule draft to Periyar and at his suggestion changed “and” to “or” in the law text which made the thaali/mangalsutra optional in marriages. This was implemented as Hindu Marriage Act (Madras Amendment) Act, 1967, introducing Section 7A, permitting Suyamariyathai (self-respect) and Seerthiruttha (reformist) marriages as legal when solemnised in the presence of friends, relatives, or any other person by exchanging garlands or rings or by tying of a mangalsutra or by a declaration in a language understood by both parties that they accept each other to be their spouse. The law was passed by the Tamil Nadu assembly on 27 November 1967 and was approved by the President on 17 January 1968. This was officially announced in the gazette on 20 January 1968. The number of inter-caste and inter-religious marriages has increased in the state as a result of the self-respect movement.
In 2015, nearly 50 years after the Tamil Nadu government legalised “self-respect” marriages which are conducted without a brahmin priest the Madras High Court has upheld the amendment made in the year 1968 to simplify Hindu marriages.
The petitioner a BJP person Asuvathaman contended that “Saptapadi” (seven steps going around the fire by the couple as part of marriage ritual) was an important ritual. The amendment had attempted to bring in the philosophy of a political movement”. He submitted that “Suyamariuathai” weddings are not in conformity with the customary rites and ceremonies and hence the amendment providing for them should be declared unconstitutional.
Dismissing a PIL filed by the BJP person A Asuvathaman, against the amendment to the Hindu Marriage Act, the bench comprising Chief Justice Sanjay Kishan Kaul and Justice T S Sivagnanam in its order said “the Hindu religion by itself is pluralist in character and thus various forms of marriage have traditionally existed depending on the area and the custom prevalent therein.”
“Section 7-A (inserted by Tamil Nadu government in 1968) provides for a particular kind of marriage – “Suyamariyathai” (self-respect) marriages – among two Hindus. It has also stood the test of time now for nearly half a century”, the judges said.
“It was the state of Tamil Nadu which legalised the Suyamariyathai marriages, which simplified conducting of marriages without Brahmin priests and the couple going seven steps around the fire 47 years ago”, the judges said. The main thrust of the provision is that the presence of a priest is not necessary for the performance of a valid marriage. The parties can enter into a marriage in the presence of relatives and friends of other persons and each party to the marriage should be declared in the language understood by the parties that each take the other to be his wife or husband, and the marriage would be completed by a simple ceremony requiring the parties to the marriage to garland each other or put a ring upon any finger or tie a thali (mangal sutra).
The Judges further told that any of these ceremonies would be sufficient to complete a valid marriage.
And the court added that the PIL had served the only purpose of raising a “divisive issue as if we have any shortage of same”.
Declining to declare the amendment as illegal and unconstitutional, the HC judges, quoting a Supreme Court judgment in S. Nagalingam v/s Sivakami, said that “the amendment inserted by Tamil Nadu applies to any marriage between two Hindus solemnised in the presence of relatives, friends or other persons.”
To register the Suyamariyathai or Seerthirutha Thirumanam the couples should approach the Sub-Registrar of the concerned Registrar Office with the necessary documents as required by the Hindu Marriages Act. Instead of the certificate given by the priest, the certificate given by the person who performed the marriage may be submitted to the Registrar and it will be taken to record. After perusing all the necessary documents the registration certificate will be issued.