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  • Writer's pictureJitendra Savanur

Saffronized Marriage

Updated: May 15, 2020

“Ha, a brahmacäré color for a marriage ceremony!” I remarked when I saw sheets of cloth with various shades of saffron lying in front of me. I was given the responsibility of setting up the stage for my brother’s marriage ceremony, and I had to use these cloths to decorate the stage. Having seen no one wearing saffron dress except the brahmacärés (celibate monks) and sannyäsés (renounced order) in ISKCON temples, I equated the saffron color with renunciation, an idea that I thought totally opposed the spirit of married life. My father looked at me grimly and said, “You fool, saffron is not a brahmacäré color; it is the color that signifies sacrifice for a higher cause.” His reply struck me and made me realize how shallow my conception about renunciation was and how superficial my own dedication to the process of bhakti is.

The revolutions that changed the world, irrespective of when or where they happened, involved relentless sacrifice and dedication of an individual or a group of individuals to some cause or purpose. To achieve these great feats, the individuals involved have had to often give up personal agendas and comforts for the sake of higher good to the society. Most of us are unaware of these sacrifices, dedication and determination of the individual that made him or her achieve it. What is often glamorized, however, is the sweet success that comes as a result of sacrifice.

In many genuine cultures around the world, marriage is viewed as a sacred bond between individuals and families. In the varëäçrama system of Vedic life, marriage is seen as a spiritual partnership, where the husband and wife work together in Kåñëa consciousness. They make Kåñëa the center of their lives and they must give wholesome Kåñëa conscious care to their children on all levels —physical, mental and spiritual.

A unique aspect of varëäçrama system is that it provides a platform for gradual development of one’s consciousness, eventually leading the practitioner to achieve the highest state of self-realization. Marriage being an important component of this progression, the ultimate success of married life is to please God. This is vividly stated in Çrémad-Bhägavatam (1.2.13): “O best among the twice-born, it is therefore concluded that the highest perfection one can achieve by discharging the duties prescribed for one's own occupation according to caste divisions and orders of life is to please the Personality of Godhead.” Thus, unlike the prevalent modern conceptions about marriage, Vedic vows of marriage do not provide the couple with a license to engage in frivolous sense gratification. Instead, the Vedas urge the practitioner to regulate sense enjoyment within the precincts of dharma and to ultimately move on to the next stages in the progression, which is the vänaprastha-äçrama, and so on towards ultimate self-realization. Thus renunciation is the ultimate goal of householder life, married life being an intermediate phase on the path towards that goal.

The need for renunciation, or sacrifice of our material possessions, becomes applicable all the more to the path of spirituality, the purpose of which is to love and serve God and His children. Practicing spirituality at whatever level we can often entails sacrificing our comforts on the bodily plane, and above that, sacrificing our pre-conceived notions on an intellectual plane. Holding on to our comfort zone can often become an unnecessary detour on the path to perfection. Therefore the scriptures repeatedly indicate renunciation as a necessity in order to achieve our goal. The scriptures are replete with examples of great devotees who sacrificed things in their life, or their life itself, to benefit the world.

Renunciation, taken superficially, could mean giving up action. But the Bhagavad-gétä (6.1-2) goes deeper into this principle, when Çré Kåñëa tells Arjuna, “One who is unattached to the fruits of his work and who works as he is obligated is in the renounced order of life, and he is the true mystic, not he who lights no fire and performs no duty. What is called renunciation you should know to be the same as yoga, or linking oneself with the Supreme, O son of Pandu, for one can never become a yogé unless he renounces the desire for sense gratification. Thus, giving up selfish interests, while simultaneously working for Kåñëa through our actions is bona fide renunciation. Thus, Kåñëa indicates here that renunciation is much more than giving up of external actions.

Rüpa Gosvämé, in Bhakti-rasämåta-sindhu, sheds light on this deeper meaning of renunciation: “When one is not attached to anything, but at the same time accepts everything in relation to Kåñëa, one is rightly situated above possessiveness. On the other hand, one who rejects everything without knowledge of its relationship to Kåñëa is not as complete in his renunciation.” (Bhakti-rasämåta-sindhu 1.2.255-256)

Särvabhauma Bhaööäcärya, a great devotee of Lord Caitanya Mahäprabhu prays, “Let me take shelter of the Supreme Personality of Godhead, Çré Kåñëa, who has descended in the form of Lord Caitanya Mahäprabhu to teach us real knowledge, His devotional service and detachment from whatever does not foster Kåñëa consciousness. He has descended because He is an ocean of transcendental mercy. Let me surrender unto His lotus feet.” (Cc. Madhya 6.254) Thus we see that an important tenet of Lord Caitanya’s teachings was vairägya (renunciation), the other one being bhakti or devotional service.

Paräçara Muni defines God as the one who possesses six opulences unlimitedly, one of which is renunciation. It is interesting to note that the tendency of not getting attracted to the glitters of this world in turn makes the practitioner attractive in the eyes of the world and in the eyes of God. Thus, sacrifice indeed remains a timeless prerequisite to achieve any kind of success, even in married life.

Therefore, in the Vedic culture, whether one is a student, householder, or a celibate monk, sacrifice has prime importance. And so does the saffron order, or the people who have dedicated their lives in uplifting humanity by studying the scriptures and preaching its pure message.

Saffron is much more than a brahmacäré color. This contemplation on renunciation on the spiritual path acted as a much-needed impetus for me to intensify my spiritual practices. Much to my delight, all my friends and relatives appreciated the saffron decoration on the stage. And I prayed that my dedication to the process of Kåñëa consciousness may increase with time.

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