Confucious had a wonderful definition “Marriage is the union of two different surnames, in friendship and in love, in order to continue the posterity of the former sages, and to furnish those who shall preside at the sacrifices to heaven and earth, at those in the ancestral temple, and at those at the altars to the spirits of the land and grain “
The history of Marriage goes even beyond the ancient times even before the first history chapter was recorded. Even during the time when the Human race was evolving from the primates we can find the natural evidence of first marriages. (There was no part, church, temple or feast). The marriage arose from the primeval needs of human species. It legalized the access to women so as to reduce the competition within the clan. Over a period of time, the beliefs, the principles, the customs and rituals associated with the marriage has evolved. In ancient times no specific ceremony was required. Only the mutual consent of the people getting married was required. It was simple. But soon it became the most complex of all. There was no middle men or religion involved. It was a promise a trust between two individuals.
In many societies it soon became a business/political or economic arrangement. The consent of two people, love or affection was not considered. Marriage became a tool to expand the pride & power of man. The freedom which women got was curbed. It was soon replaced with a false sense of pride & accomplishments. In some places people had to pay marriage tax to marry the person they like. If we turn back our history book, we can find many instances when helpless women had to marry against her wish for the pride of her family, to protect her kingdom from the more powerful kings. Some even didn’t get this respect. Many had to live as concubines of the powerful. Some society practices polygamy. But I feel this is against the basic nature of human race. I don’t remember where but I had read in some scientific article that a person can live peacefully, take care of the emotional & physical need of only one person.
Around 1700 the process of process of registering the marriage was introduced in Europe. Rest of the world soon followed suit.
In the modern society marriage is foundation on which our culture & civilization stands. Marriages are formed to reproduce (not always). It is the evolution of next generation from the parent, the passing of the genes to the next generation. It is the cradle of wisdom and love in which the children acquires the skills to live a successful life ahead. (it is unfortunate that there are millions of children on streets or even in many homes who haven’t seen the power of love or family). All the religions give high importance to marriage & consider this as a sacred union of the two souls & God.
There are some bad customs/practices like dowry, child marriage, polygamy still associated with it. Our education teaches us how to create spacecraft, to become a doctor or engineer but it doesn’t teach us to live in family, on how to spread love & happiness or to react against these evil customs. Throughout we can see the erosion of the core values like mutual respect, individualism, sincerity, affection from this sacred bond.