In the Vedic age, the participation of the wife was considered indispensable for the successful conclusion of all ceremonies and sacrifices on the assumption that as a man alone is spiritually incomplete, he is not competent to offer oblations to the gods. This was similar to the Avestan concept of bachelors being spiritually impure. Thus, in the Vedic age, marriage was a religious and social duty for attaining happiness in this world and beyond.
Therefore, until quite recently, Hindu society had a tradition of universal marriage, enjoining on every individual a religious duty of entering into matrimony, based on the belief that a male descendant was necessary who could offer pindas (sacrificial offerings) for peace to the departed soul of the deceased father.
From the discussion on the position of women, it is clear that marriage and motherhood came to be considered an indispensable aim of life for a Hindu woman. In a sense, marriage was not a personal matter but a cultural need. This fact is dramatically evidenced by the prevalence of so many special vratas (fasts) which the Hindu woman observes for getting a suitable life partner, continued married state, long life and welfare of the husband, and for motherhood and securing special protection for the sons. For example, there is an annual vrata in commemoration of the steadfastness of Savitri, who followed the god of Death and brought back her husband through the virtue of her penance. Similarly, there is an annual worship of Parvati, who performed difficult penance to win the heart of Shiva.
From the reference made earlier explaining the custom of niyoga, it is clear that the tradition of enjoining a duty on the parents or guardians to get their children married was almost universally accepted. The epic Mahabharata also contains references in this connection, namely, Bhishma tells Yudhisthar: “One who does not marry his daughter to a suitable groom, commits the sin of killing a Brahmin.” However, despite all the religious and social provisions in favour of marriage, it was not made compulsory until about 300 B. C. and then too only for girls.
This belief in turn resulted in the introduction of another evil tradition of child marriage, which continued for a long time and, despite the various preventive legislative measures taken by the Government, persisted till quite recently, to a small degree, among certain backward sections of society. However, with the various legislative checks and the incessant efforts of social reformers, these traditions have disappeared almost completely.
It may be worthwhile to state that a similar belief was prevalent among the followers of the laws of Moses and Confucius to beget children for ensuring salvation and true immortality. It was believed that with a son, a man obtains victory over all people and with a son’s son, one enjoys immortality. One of the reasons why Jewish women considered sterility dishonourable was that each of them secretly hoped that she might become the mother of the promised Messiah. But when the Jews ceased to hope for the deliverer that was to come, then the incentive for childbirth was gone. Thus, to a Jew, Chinese or Brahmin, the absence of a son was not merely a misfortune, but a life of failure.