MY DAUGHTER WOULD HAVE MY HEAD EXAMINED
When my new found Indian friend first told me about traditional arranged Indian marriages I was surprised to find out about all the things the parents have to go through to find perfect partners for their children. He filled me in on the details.
They must ‘shop around’ by making contact with many families to narrow down choices. They consider: socio-economic status, physical appearances, education, financial compatibility, likes, dislikes, and astrological charts. Finally my new Indian friend enthusiastically offered to arrange a marriage for my daughter when she was of age. She was 15 at the time.
I didn’t have the heart to tell him that she would tell me to get my head examined!
TRADITION OUTWEIGHS DISTANCE
Years later some Indian friends who had lived and worked away from India for over 30 years told me that Indians living abroad hung onto their traditions more than Indians back home. I would have thought the opposite.
Their children however were born and raised away from India so I was shocked when they told me they were arranging a marriage for their daughter! How would a young lady brought up in a developed country even consider her parents arranging a marriage for her?
Wouldn’t she be telling them that they had to get their heads examined?
Their daughter, Anika was an excellent student who got her medical degree at age 23 and went straight into her post graduate work with a minimal social life and no boyfriend that I know of, contrary to her peers and the culture she lived in. She hadn’t ever met the proposed young man and I wondered how this could possibly work out in modern times and in a developed country.
RAGING DIFFERENCES OF OPINION
Even in India ‘love marriages’ where couples find and choose their own partners have become more popular. Promila, an entrepreneur friend I met, who has a very successful ‘arranged marriage and business with her husband, told me that she felt there was not much difference. Raj and his brother, on the other hand proudly told me their marriages were ‘love marriages’. Promila’s sister, unlike Promila, has a ‘love marriage’ but Promila felt that both marriages were about the same whether they were arranged by the parents or were the choice of the couple. She said:
“A marriage is a marriage, it is good when the partners agree and bad when they argue,”
NEVERTHELESS THE FIRST MEETING IS ARRANGED:
Anika’s phone conversations with her prospective husband went quite well so a trip to India was arranged. The groom would fly from US where he had a job as an engineer and Anika and her family would fly to India to meet him and his family. A formal wedding invitation would only happen if the couple agreed.
Without the consent of both parties, there would be no marriage
THE WEDDING IS ON
I’ll offer my take on the matter even though I don’t understand the traditions of the three day celebration. I also know that marriages vary regionally, according to family and the size of the wedding. Generally however basic traditions have a specific purpose. Some things are also a given. Another friend assured me:
“The ‘Baaraat’ (appearance of groom-on a horse along with his family) is ALWAYS late”
Despite my friend Promila’s opinion and my daughter’s desire to have my head examined I have an inner conviction that an arranged marriage has some benefits that can outweigh a ‘love marriage’! Here are some in-depth aspects of the ceremony.
DAY ONE-GROOMING THE GROOM:
The first day and night the formal engagement and exchange of rings takes place and the groom is prepped by a priest along with close family members from both sides. Special rituals, anointments and chants are performed, and food is served. This culminates in the guests showering the groom with rice.
DAY TWO GROOMING THE BRIDE:
The second day and night there are special activities for the bride and all the ladies, family and guests. Ladies get henna designs put on their hands and the bride gets elaborate henna put on her arms, hands, legs and feet. This can last several hours while the bride has to hold up her arms for the henna to dry lest it smears.
Even though modern elaborate designs (left) are popular, they have missed the original purpose. A traditional circle (plainer than one on the left) had a special function. Because henna naturally draws body heat to dry, a circle with four dots on the corners of the palm was traditionally used. It has a cardinal acupressure significance. Funneling heat to the center of the hand stimulates spiritual awakening.
All Indian rituals and traditions generate spiritual awakening through physical laws
DAY THREE-THE WEDDING:
This is the day Westerners envision everyone dressed in their finest saris jewelry bangles.
It’s the big party day with music, dancing and banquet food. A stage is set for picture taking and everyone greets the bride and groom (after the Baaraat finally arrives). This seems to go on for hours until most of the guests fall by the wayside or leave, after eating.
It seems the actual ceremony is more a family affair although guests are welcome to witness it. This ceremony ties the couple to each other karmically as the saying in western ceremonies says, ‘for better or for worse’. The new couple is bound to uphold the marriage and the integrity of both families for life. It ties both parties and their families together through a very precise ritual.
After the ceremony the bride is again groomed and readied to depart and be delivered to the home of the groom’s family where she would traditionally live. In Anika’s case, being a modern couple, they remain with the groom’s family long enough to make necessary travel arrangements to move to the city / country where the groom works. In modern times more and more couples are moving away from family compounds, such as the one where Raj lives, into individual lifestyles because of work and choice.
THREE PLUSES FOR ARRANGED MARRIAGES:
- Who could be better than the couple’s parents at picking the finest possible partner for their child? After all, they explore all the possibilities for lifelong compatibility, once the initial infatuation wears off. Elders have the wisdom and foresight to do this impartially in favor of their children.
- The ceremony is a family affair in which every member of the family pledges to bond with and do all that they can to provide a lifetime support system for the couple.
- The ceremony is not just a lone couple forming a union, it is two families coming together and uniting forces. I even see it as two ancestral tribes coming together and uniting forces for the benefit of all.
This does not mean that ‘love marriages’ cannot do the same although these are often opposed by the family. Once the family gives in however the same traditional marriage ceremony is performed. In both cases the ceremony aims for spirituality to permeate the whole union. It was never meant to be only two humans forming a new family.
On a deeper level I think traditional arranged marriages may be a way of resolving unfinished generational karma which reflects every Indian’s primary search for Mukthi (the ultimate liberation from karmic bondage; the seeking of union with the supreme being; the ever striving to perfect one’s body, mind, and soul through daily actions, meditation, gratitude, and surrender to a higher power). Through an arranged marriage the united force of two families helps complete this unfinished generational karma.