Marriages in India

India projects a very complex social structure, with its variety of religions, tribes, castes and languages. Customs and traditions show extreme differences and this includes marriage as well. It is alleged that nearly 90% of marriages in India are arranged, which means that the family chooses the spouse-to-be. There are cases where the young couple meets on the wedding day or just a few days beforehand. Love in India is omnipresent, but mainly in thousands of films being produced every year in Bollywood.

The reality is far more complicated. You tend not to see flirting couples in the streets, lovers do not express tenderness to each other. The only people holding their hands are men, usually friends, who, subconsciously, look for an affliction and closeness. Surprising phenomenon, being, so called a contingency solution, is visiting public parks, the only places where people date each other. Parks is the area of romance. We should not ignore the flourishing nightlife in cities like Mumbai and Delhi where western values have permeated deep into the social trends of the young and educated Indians.

However, generally speaking, it often happens that couples, even though they love each other, cannot be together, since they belong to different castes or religion or have different social and financial status. Everything depends on the decision of the family. A marriage is a deal between two families, the result of which is a complete change of the family status. It’s the most vital decision in life.

Marriages because of love, which are not accepted by a family, are very brave moves, often connected with a social condemnation, throwing away from home and cutting off all contacts with relatives. The ideal scenario can be seen in films, where the beloved person is accepted by the family. In fact, it happens very rarely.

The marriage in India is kind of business arrangements. Of course everything starts with searching for a partner. Nowadays, in a country with more than a billion citizens, you look for a spouse using services of a special marriage bureaus (agencies) or place an advertisement on the last page in a newspaper. In the agency young people search through catalogues with hundreds of pictures and descriptions of candidates. The most important is a name of the caste that people belong.

Nowadays, a caste fellowship does not guarantee high social status and being rich. Though, the tradition is to get married within the same caste. Further information in the marriage catalogues describe social status, income, education, having the country overseas work permission, e.g. green card, and still important – amount of Dowry.

Officially Dowry is prohibited. Unofficially, it is a significant part of culture that many people do not resign from. 'Dowry’, is a property a bride’s family has to give to a groom. Quite often it is a big amount of money, a luxurious car, a motorbike, an air-conditioning or other things that equal a couple of years of income.

The reason for donating Dowry is the fact that a bride moves to a groom’s house and he has to pay for her food and accommodation for the rest of his life. It happens quite often that it is a compensation for groom’s higher education and his future income. If the Dowry obligation is not fulfilled a woman can be sent to exile, tortured or even killed. This is known to have happened in very extreme cases.

A wedding in India is literally a royal ceremony. A groom, wearing wreath and golden outfit, arrives at a bride’s place in a coach decorated with thousands of flowers. An orchestra and dancing guests follow him. A groom is welcomed by bride’s mother and then goes to the matchmaker to give presents. It is the only part of a wedding covered by a groom. Most of the expenses, including wedding reception and aforementioned Dowry is financed by bride’s family.

A Brahmin, who is a Hindu priest, is a religious authority at the wedding. Traditionally, a wedding was held under a 'mandap’ or decorated shelter. The most important part of the ceremony is called 'Sapta Padi’, which literally means 'Seven Steps’. It is a ceremony during which the young couple walks seven times around a holy fire to a mantra repeated by a Brahmin. Afterwards, they officially get married and a bride is literally carried by groom’s family members to a new house.

Arranged marriages (’pragmatic’ or a 'marriage of convenience’) still evoke a lot of controversy among us, Europeans. Specially, when you notice tears in the bride’s eyes and her desperation to avoid the sight of the husband-to-be. India is changing, though. Marriages of love are more often accepted by the society. But most of the young and old Hindu people, when asked about their opinion about arranged marriages answer conformingly that this is the best solution, that is the tradition. That kind of relations rarely finish with a divorce. What about love? Love will come later.

Marriage traditions amongst the Christian and Muslim groups may show some similarities with the Hindus, however, the religious and cultural values show quite extreme differences with their other compatriots.

Wojtek Wójcik

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