An Indian Atheist’s Marriage

AN ATHEIST WAS ASKED A question in Bihar – “do you believe in the power of mantras?” He said no. The questioner continued- “In that case why were mantras chanted at your marriage?” The atheist countered- “Who told you that mantras were chanted during my marriage?” The questioner was surprised, he asked if they were not. The atheist said no, not at all. This question proved that the person who queried had absolutely no knowledge of the world and believed that no marriage could be performed without the chanting of mantras! Since the atheist had a Hindu sounding name or even if he were to belong to some other religion, the questioner believed that some marriage related rituals will be performed and would involve some incantation to a deity!

That shook the atheist’s memory and took him back to the days thirty years ago when he was trying to get married. Being too busy earning a living and paying back the loans taken to educate himself, he had no time for any romance or even to mingle with the opposite gender. He had a routine starting at 7am and ending at 9pm. His friends, relatives and colleagues laughed at him when he indicated that he would get married to only some one who would be ready for a marriage without any religious ceremony, matching of horoscopes or any other superstitious practice. They told him that he would remain a bachelor for life! So, he inserted an ad in the newspaper which had the largest circulation- though it had no editorial! The ad ran as follows:

‘A rationalist by conviction born in a family of XYZ community, aged 28 years, post graduate drawing a four figure salary, desires a matrimonial relationship with a like minded partner with a simple marriage with no religious ceremony or superstitious rituals of any sort.’

He had given a post box number and not made any mention of the institution where he was employed or other details so that it could not be traced back to him! But, a good number of his friends called him and told him that they had noticed his ad! When queried they said who else could be that but you ? One of his friends told him- have it repeated each year so that you could save money on typesetting. The only change would be to add a year to the age, he said! He also joked that he (an atheist) will probably have had to issue such an ad for half century or so before finding a suitable bride!

There were a good number of replies none which could be said to be suitable for him. In fact there were a good number of prospects who had read in between the lines and had also decided that the superstition free included free of dowry and other expenses connected with the marriage. There were some who said that there was something wrong with the man for offering to get married without any dowry! Many of his friends who knew that he was a very eligible match tried to persuade him to relax his terms and conditions so that they could get him married off to someone of their choice. But, the atheist was adamant- he said no; I want to live life on my own terms without any compromises whatsoever. In fact the atheist was quite proud of his life in which he had not taken an active part in any religious ritual. None of the usual ceremonies had been performed on him and by the time he was to be initiated into Brahminism by a thread ceremony he had become an atheist and refused the ceremony.

So, his quest went on until one day when a friend of his, a pathologist, came up with a proposal. He told him that there was a proposal of a girl with a post graduate degree in psychiatric social work, a very intelligent and good looking girl who could be a good match for him. The atheist replied that he would take his decision after meeting the girl and that would be subject to the condition that she and/or her parents would be agreeable to these conditions that he had laid down about the superstitious rituals etc. It turned out that they were agreeable and hence the meeting between them was arranged. To cut the long story short, they decided to get married after discussing various issues. It turned out that they had a lot in common and hence could get along with each other.

So, they submitted an application under the Special Marriages Act at the registrar’s office and decided to have the marriage exactly 30 days after the date of submission. The registrar of marriages was brought to the residence of the bride at Rahukalam.Soon after his arrival he mentioned in his register that it was a registration of marriage under the Hindu Marriage Act. The atheist objected; he said- sorry, I want registration of marriage under Special Marriages Act. The registrar replied- what is your problem? Both of you are Hindus. The atheist replied- no I am not. Then came the registration procedure- the registrar said hold up your right hand and say that I accept so and so as my legally wedded wife. The bridegroom said no. The registrar was surprised and queried what the matter is. The bridegroom said I am an atheist and am not going to swear by God. The registrar said OK and asked him to just hold up his right hand and say that he accepted so and so as his wife. So, that was the whole of the marriage with no ceremony, no garland, no mantras and no tali or any religious symbolism. The same evening they had a small reception for their close friends, relatives and colleagues and there ended the matter of conducting a marriage without any rituals, ceremonies or superstitions!

Why should one be free from these things?

One can see that the so called hor(ror)scopes are an excuse for the business transactions called marriages that go on in the community. These also involve huge wastages in terms of money and other resources. The economically backward sections have to raise loans to perform the obligations that go in the name of marriage rituals. It is always the priestly class that benefits in the name of such things. What should have been a social sacrament has become a commercial enterprise. The atheist wanted to express his protest against these things and hence decided that he could show that such a thing could be done. He also wanted to demonstrate that marriages do not need any religious sanction and wanted others to learn from that. One of the funniest incidents was that on the very next day of the marriage when the newly wedded couple were in the natal home of the bride, the family priest turned up ostensibly to ‘see’ the new bride groom but actually to collect the fee denied to him because of the non religious marriage! He calls the bridegroom to one side and asked him in a low voice, my dear man do you know any good match for my daughter, even if it is some one like you, it is all right!

To what extent he succeeded is to be seen. But, his two brothers followed his footsteps with simple, non religious marriages. Many years later when the organisation he headed was celebrating its silver jubilee he lectured on how the leaders of the movement should lead a life free of any superstitious practices. In a few days there was an attack on him stating that he was a hypocrite who was preaching others but himself following the very same superstitious practices he was asking others to give up. It was specifically mentioned that his marriage to ABC would have been surely with all religious rituals! What right has such a person to ask others to give up the things which the so called atheist himself followed?-was the most important question raised. The atheist replied by getting published a copy of his marriage certificate which shut the mouth of the critics and there has been no such attack since that incident. This emphasizes the importance of the leaders of the movement to practice what they ask others to follow.

The couple has helped quite a lot of younger people to get married against the wishes of their parents/relatives and sometimes the society as a whole. But, they are still waiting for the social revolution to come wherein young people desirous of forming lasting bonds make their own decisions, and treat the whole matter as a social celebration and not as a religious matter with superstitious practices and rituals. For those who have been not able to guess who the atheist mentioned here is, the photograph shows yours truly thirty years ago signing the register in the presence of the Registrar of Marriages of Mangalore City.


Professor Narendra Nayak is the president of the Federation of Indian Rationalist Associations, and he writes about interesting events that he comes across on his rationalist tours of India.

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Article originally published on Mangalore Today, and edited for Indian Atheists by Aditya Manthramurthy and Ajita Kamal.