Arranged Child Marriage Explained by Srila Prabhupada.
The following explanation is a small sample from the upcoming biography of Srila Prabhupada in which Srila Prabhupada elaborates on his childhood pastimes, specifically in connection with his sisters.
It is a fact that anyone who has got this material body has accepted suffering, but a foolish person cannot understand this. Instead he thinks, "I have got a very fatty and beautiful body," and he feels satisfied. But the dog is also satisfied in that way. The dog does not know that to be in his doggish body is a greater suffering than to have a human body. Similarly, to have the body of a hog is a greater suffering than to have a human body, but everyone is thinking, "I am happy." This is called maya (illusion). In this connection, Srila Prabhupada recollects: "In my younger days, by Krishna's Grace I had no such trouble, but I saw that my eldest sister was suffering from a wisdom teeth problem, and her gum was also operated upon. That I saw, and I saw how much she was suffering also. So these wisdom teeth are a good example of maya's tribulations to us, and Lord Krishna has advised in this connection that we have to learn tolerance."
Srila Prabhupada's sisters used to prepare imaginary puris from their very small toy cooking utensils, and he used to pretend he was eating them. The children were quite happy thinking their imaginary cooking was the same as their parents' cooking. It is just like a child plays with a doll. The doll is an imitation of another child, but the child holds the doll and plays with it as if it was real. The parents who gave the child the doll know good and well that the child is being silly, but they tolerate and sometimes enjoy it. Srila Prabhupada comments: "We did not know we were nonsense. One nonsense cooking, another nonsense eating, but our father knew we were all nonsense. This is the position in this material world as well. Everyone is acting more or less like a child clinging to some play things provided by the supreme father and taking them very seriously. But when we become actually wise and see things from the point of view of our father, and if we take his instruction, we make progressive advancement from our childish nonsense state of life; life in this material world."
As mentioned previously, in the Vedic culture, a woman is protected in her childhood by the father, but when she is a grown-up girl, in her youth, and although the father is ready to give her protection in every respect, she develops a sex desire. Under the circumstances, it is the duty of the father to hand over the girl to a nice young boy to take her and protect her. This is the purpose of kanya-dana. Kanya means daughter and dana means charity, so according to the Vedic system, marriage means that a daughter is given in charity. Srila Prabhupada remembers the marriage of his sisters: "Practically, I'll say, in our childhood age, my sisters were married between nine to twelve years. My eldest sister was married when she was nine years old, before my birth. My second sister was married at the age of twelve years. And my third sister was married at the age of eleven years. So the system was that by the age of twelve, the marriage had to be finished. That was the duty of the father. I remember, because my second sister was going to be twelve years old, so my mother said to my father, 'I shall go to the river and commit suicide. The daughter is not married.' And my father was very sorry, 'Yes, I am trying. What can I do?' This I have seen. My second sister was elder than me by three years. So at the end, somehow or other, she was hastily married to my brother-in-law as his second wife, since his first wife had died. And although my brother-in-law lost his first wife, he was still only twenty-one years old. I do not know exactly what is that sastra, but they say that if the girl has menstruation before marriage, the father has to eat that menstrual liquid. It is so strict. And if the father is not living, then the elder brother has to eat. The responsibility of getting the girl married rests on the father, but in the absence of the father, the eldest brother must make sure that the girl is married. That is it. It is called kanya-daya, legal inheritance. When a father dies, his son gets the father's money automatically. Similarly, kanya-daya means the girl must be married. One cannot refuse it. It is incumbent; one must do it."
Formerly, the boys and girls were married earlier. For example, Lord Caitanya Mahaprabhu was married at seventeen years old. When his wife died, He married for the second time at the age of twenty years. Formerly the practice was that a girl was married at utmost ten to twelve years, and a boy at the age of sixteen to utmost thirty. Srila Prabhupada's eldest sister was nine years old when she was married, and his mother-in-law was married at the age of seven to his father-in-law, who was eleven. All his sisters were married from nine to twelve years. There is no quality of love at that age, but gradually, by remaining together, the quality of love between the husband and wife increases. The wife then takes care of the husband, and the husband takes care of the wife. When they become bound and united in love, the quality of love increases. In the beginning, the children do not know anything about love, but they are allowed to remain as husband and wife. The girl simply thinks, "I have a husband," and the boy thinks, "I have a wife." Only when their age increases do their dealings become intimate and affection develops between them, but in the beginning there is no question of love. It is simply an arrangement of the parents. The young husband and wife do not live together immediately. Unless the girl is grown up, she does not go to the husband, but remains with her parents. Sometimes they meet, and at that time, the wife is taught to give some sweetmeat to the husband very officially. The parents urge the girl: "Just go up to your husband and offer this." The girl then goes and offers the sweet to the husband as an obedient servant. Gradually they establish a connection, and in this way the love develops. When they are fifteen, sixteen years old, they are allowed to live together. By that time both of them have already developed the mentality to think of each other as husband and wife. In this way there was no question of divorce. The love was so strong, that they could not even dream to leave each other. The husband and wife might have fought, which is not unusual. Even Canakya Pandita says, dampatye kalahe caiva bambharambhe laghu-kriya. "A fight between the husband and wife should never be taken seriously." Although they will make it seem like a very serious disagreement, it is not very important; In a moment they will again live peacefully. But according to Indian culture, there was no question of divorce. Their love was so strong that neither husband nor a wife could dream of divorce. Even Mahatma Gandhi wrote in his biography how he fought with his wife. At one point he pushed her out of the house and said: "Get out. I don't want you." His wife Kasturabhai then began to cry on the street, "Where shall I go? You have driven me away." Gandhi then called her back and that was the end of the argument. Srila Prabhupada explains: "The idea is that it is the father's duty to get the daughter married somehow or other within thirteen years. This is the Vedic system. The boy does not have to be necessarily all well equipped. The parents should simply see whether he is in good health and whether he can work hard. That is all. No education, no money—nothing. Just depending on the fate. 'I have given to you a boy who is healthy and he can work hard.' And they were fortunate. This was the system. My great-grandfather was a very, very rich man, and his daughter was given to a boy whose family was also rich, but they became poor due to bankruptcy. They were practically poverty-stricken, but my great-grandmother was fond of the boy and said: 'This boy is hard-working and coming from a respectable family; only now they have become poor.' She decided to hand over her daughter to him and after the marriage she gave him five hundred rupees to start a business. That was the beginning of the 19th century, my great-grandmother's time. With those five hundred rupees he started a business, and he flourished in such a way that in due course he was able to purchase a whole quarter in Calcutta called Kshetra. At the present, there are two big roads in Kshetra. One of them is called Govinda Chandra Auddy Road, named after the husband of my mother's aunt, and another road, Rakhal Chandra Auddy, is named after my maternal uncle. So he made a great fortune with those five hundred rupees. And in the beginning he had no money. It was given to him secretly by the mother-in-law, that "You do something with that." Later on he started business, some lace-making. Not very lucrative, but still. The verdict of all Vedic literature is that tal labhyate duhkhavad anyatah sukham [SB 1.5.18]. You cannot create your fortune unless God gives it you; but you can make an honest effort and then depend on God. Karmany evadhikaras te ma phalesu kadacana [Bg 2.47]. That is Indian philosophy. Therefore the people at that time did not endeavor too much. The idea was: Be easy-going, but at the same time do something; don't be idle. That is the philosophy. So still there is no problem. The boy is married and he works honestly. Similarly, the wife works honestly as a householder and they live peacefully. Not that "I must have this comfort, that comfort." In India they call a western wife a "white elephant," because formerly boys who returned from the Western countries sometimes married a European wife, and later on they realized she was a white elephant. If you could not maintain the white elephant properly, there was divorce."
So Srila Prabhupada's sisters were married very early. One of them later on became a widow at the age of eighteen, although she had two children by that time, but Srila Prabhupada's father took care of her and engaged her in worshiping the Deity. He was worshiping, and she was assisting him.