Family deity of Divorced
woman and her Children
Recently, a woman asked an important question to me on Family deity since I have been regularly publishing in-depth articles on Family deity (Kulatheivam) in consultations with several pundits. Many of us too share the same concern as raised by her and therefore based on the practice in adherence to Dharma Shastra, her query has been attempted to be answered.
Her question was: – “The Shastra says that a female is bound to only worship the family deity of her in laws immediately upon the nuptial tie is knotted. Agreed, but after few years of married life and after few children were born to them, if she is divorced, then who would be her family deity for worship – the family deity of parental side or would she continue to worship the family deity of her divorced husband? Secondly which family deity would be worshiped by the children who were born to them before she was divorced? “
Both the question assumes importance because it is ironical that only the female of the family are bound by scriptures to worship different family deities in their period of life. Before marriage she worship the parental side family deity and after her marriage she would worship the family deity of her laws side relinquishing the worship of family deity from her parental side on rituals and ceremonies.
Family deity- Parental side
Here one has to understand that that basically there is no restriction for her to worship any deity of her liking including parental family deity even after marriage. There is absolutely no bar on such worship, but in the event of any rituals and ceremonies being performed, the offer of the first prayer goes only to the family deities of the family to which she belongs. Since a married woman becomes part of her law’s family, in each and every rituals or ceremonies performed by her, the first offer of her prayer should only go to their family deity (in laws side).
After marriage, offering the first prayers to the family deity of her in laws instead of the deity whom she worshiped all along till her marriage in her parental home does not mean that the parental family deity has been ignored or insulted by her. Nor does it mean that the parental family deity has also distanced from her. It is only change of guards happening at the level of Family deity (Kulatheivam) themselves, and change of worship as mandated in the scriptures in respect of female members getting married. The position is akin to the citizens migrating to foreign lands bound by the rules, regulations and laws of the migrated nation. The Shastra stipulates that it is mandatory to offer initial prayers and worship only to the family deities before offering worship to other divines in each of the rituals and ceremonies being performed as each family is under the protection and custody of specific family deities. Thus a woman, who becomes part of the family of her in laws through the marriage is bound to offer the first prayers and worship in any rituals or ceremonies to the principal deity of their in laws. Though the family deity of her parental side is permanent and firm deity to her even after marriage, the position in respect of preferential worship changes since the right to guide and guard the bride gets exchanged at the level of the family deities themselves i.e from the family deity of parental side handing over to the family deity of in law’s side, the powers to govern her, once the nuptial knot is tied in the marriage ceremony. Such Brahman norm has been attached to the functions of the family deities when they were created.
In laws Family deity
Once the nuptial knot is tied on her neck the bride, at divine level it signals her along with all her feelings and emotions to her husband who tied the knot and thereafter she becomes part of her husband like Shivasakthi, and attach herself to his family. The family deities of both sides- bride and bridegroom-who are present in the marriage ceremony in invisible form to bless them, mutually exchange the rights of governance of the bride (female) at their divine level. At that point the family deity from the bride’s parental side abrogates its authority and hands over the custody of the bride to their brethren family deities as mandated by Brahman to the fleets of Family deities (Kulatheivam) when they were created for the purposes of protecting and guiding the families placed under them. This takes place in invisible form in the presence of Lord Agni who remains there as witness in the form of Yagna fire or oil lamp light. Thus once the nuptial knot is tied, she is compelled to adhere to the worship of the family deity of the bridegroom who gets the powers of exclusive jurisdiction over her. This is the fundamental principle and theory as prescribed in the Shastras. This is why the female loses the right to offer principal worship to her parental side family deity after her marriage.
As explained in several scriptures and Shastra, parents are the first divine to the children born to them as the parents guide and grow them till they stand on their own. All other divines fall in next line. All of the children are therefore continue to worship only the fathers parental deity in first preference in rituals and functions, whether they get married or stay alone. One should always keep in mind that every child born to their parents have inseparable basic blood relation with them which cannot be annulled or separated and therefore the family divine as worshiped by the father (male member) and his thirteen predecessors’ remain the fundamental and principal deity to the children-both male as well female- born to them. While this aspect is unchangeable to the male members in their family, in respect of female, after her marriage the position changes with her husband becoming the fundamental divine after her marriage as he absorbs her along with her feelings and emotions while tying the nuptial knot and therefore she becomes half of him (Shivasakthi principle) to merge with his family thereby compelled to relinquish the preferential worship of parental family deity and to accept the family deity of her husband. Any children born to them too fall in the same line. However till the female in the family gets married, the responsibility of guiding and guarding her rests on the family deity of her father’s side. Till marriage also does not mean that she will not be taken care after her marriage. Once married, the family deity from parental side officially hands over the responsibility of guiding and guarding her to the in laws family deity who belong to their own fraternity as per Brahman norm and thereafter the family deity from parental side can not interfere in the jurisdiction of the Family deity of her in laws side. It is beyond our imagination to understand the logic with which each issues have been deeply delved and norms established many thousand years ago.
Coming back to the main question of who the divorced female and her children would adapt as her family deity, one need to first understand the basic tenet of marriage and divorce.
When the acts of marriages began in Vedic era, the so called thread (chain) for knotting used to be kept in front of the deity worshiped by the family of the bride seeking their grace for her peaceful and prosperous life and then taken to the worship place of the bridegroom where in the presence of the unknown deity both gets married by tying the knot. There used to be no chants of mantras or rituals in those era except both bride and the bridegroom after tying the nuptial knot hold each other’s palm in firmness, (akin to giving sacred promise to each other) and took oath in the presence of family members and the divine present in the worship place that from then on they have merged into one. It was believed that the principal deities worshiped by both the families present there in invisible form embedded the sacred oath of the bride and bridegroom into the marriage badge or symbol (dry hard block of turmeric chained with the thread) thus turning it to the most sacred piece owned by the bride. Those present there and the invisible divines were the witnesses to the ceremony besides Lord Agni who stood there in the form of burning oil lamp.
Over the period of time when the couples failed to remain united in heart and mind (mostly it happened on account of the inability of the female in delivering child) the bride used to get separated from bridegroom and sent back to her parents or abandoned as unwanted by the family in which she entered through a marriage. Before the married females were sent back to their parents, both bride and bridegroom were taken to the same worship sites where they were married and then branding the female as barren or unwanted lady to the family she would be handed over back to her family on an oath before divines that henceforth they will remain completely separated from each other in mind and heart along with their feelings and emotions. The female would then remove the sacred nuptial thread tied on her neck and place it before the divine to symbolically state that they are no more couples. The ladies sent away for other reasons too act in the same manner. Such divorced ladies had no rights to remarry in society and left to live at the mercy of her parents. The practice which was prevalent for very long period changed allowing divorcee allowed remarriage etc. There was no ritual such as divorce and the practice of getting separated took the form of female going back to her parents after removing the sacred nuptial knotted thread in front of the witnessed members. The act of divorce did not represent physical separation alone. They parted with their emotions, feelings, mind and heart which included the discontinuation of the worship of the family deity of the in law’s side by the bride.
In later era, the Kings, agents of the Kings, Village heads and the Temple Priests took up the responsibilities to solemnize the marriages affixed with several rules and regulations in the name of sacred Shastras and divine tenets and also awarded separations (divorce) to the unwilling couples to live together under the same tenets of Shastras. They were considered agents of Divine or Lord of Justice and hence their verdict were accepted as direct verdict from divine and thus the proverb ‘Judgement of a King is the judgement of divine’ came up. Over period of time this task fell on the shoulders of Judges appointed by the states who were considered to be the mirror images of Lord of Justice who enforced the dictum of Divine of justice in all fairness. Their views were accepted as views of Divine of Justice.
Based on the solemn oath taken by couple in the name of God and reasons for demanding separation expressed by them, the Judge in chair, the agent of the Lord of Justice (divine) pronounces annulling the marriage which also automatically annulled the oath of unity taken by them while tying the knots. When such verdict is awarded, in acknowledgement of the verdict, the family deity of the bridegroom present there in invisible form abrogates the responsibility of protecting the female divorced and hand over the responsibility of guiding and protecting her to her parental family deity again thus establishing that she has become part of her parental family again.
Thus when the divorced female goes back to her parental side (It is immaterial whether she physically stayed alone or stayed with her parents) her principal deity becomes the parental family deity as the family deity of her in laws loses the authority of governance over her. Since the blood relation of the female never changes irrespective of the fact whether she stayed with parents or moved elsewhere, she is automatically absorbed again by her parental deity into their fold till she again gets married and adores the family deity of her new husband. Supposing the female after divorce failed to get remarried again what happens to her? Nothing changes as the family deity of her parental side continues to exercise their control and authority over her by guiding and guarding her in all respects.
What about the children of the divorced woman? With whomsoever they may stay- with father or mother, as per Brahman norm, children born to a divorced women should only adopt their father’s family deity. There is no second opinion in this regard because only the male members have permanent family deity for 13 generations in the lineage of their family and the children of a divorced woman were born through the relation of her ex-husband when she had lived with him in his family before getting divorced. Thus the blood relation of the children is automatically attached with their father (in laws side) irrespective of the fact whether the children stayed with the divorced mother or with their father, since the blood relation with their father remains unchanged (being male). The male children of the divorced continues to be under the family deity of their father while in respect of female the position changes with her marriage.