Arranged marriages account for an overwhelming majority of marriages in India. Let's have a look at its history & evolution, customs, process, significance and some interesting facts in this essay.


Arranged Marriage

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In India, arranged marriages still remain the majorly preferred way for Indians to enter into matrimony. In case of an arranged marriage, parents and other relatives decide on a life partner that they deem suitable for their child. They keep in mind various factors, different for boys and girls, while searching for a suitable match to attach their names with. It’s a tradition Indians find hard to part with. Even in the 21st Century, around 85 percent Indians prefer to marry the boy or girl chosen by their families, rather than choosing their life partners themselves. This statistics was reveled in a survey conducted by the Taj Group of Hotels. Another survey by IPSOS in 2013, revealed that 74% of young Indians, aged between 18-35 years said that they would rather let their parents choose their life partners, than choosing themselves. The success rates of these arranged marriages when compared to the figures concerning love marriages, we might just realize that sticking to traditions and listening to your parents is not always an uncool thing to do.

History & Evolution

Historically speaking, weddings during the Vedic times took place by a variety of methods. While arranged marriages were preferred, the consent of the bride was generally taken into consideration. In case of royal families, parents arranged a Swayamvar, a ceremony where suitable matches from all over the country were invited. Thereafter, either these suitors had to prove their prowess to win over the girl, or the girl herself will choose one of them, by offering him a flower garland. Even love marriages and elopements were quite common. The couple in love will elope and undergo what is known as ‘Gandharva’ type of marriage. 

From around 500 BC, the Vedic Hindu culture gave rise to what we have come to known as Hinduism. The Manu Smriti, a religious discourse that outlined the do’s and don’ts for regarding duties, rights, laws, code of conduct, and virtues to be practiced by people practicing family life, if they want to lead a life of sanctified dharma. These rules were seeped in patriarchal tones and advocated stripping women of their basic independence, from a belief that independent women spread promiscuity. The women from this time on were put under the shackles of forced patriarchy, having to live under the guardianship of a man in all stages of life: Father when she is unmarried, Husband when she is married and son when she is old/widowed. 

As position of women in the society degraded, the concept of marriage and her role in it also changed. Previous custom of asking for her consent was abolished and rituals like dowry, child marriages, exchange marriage and other derogatory customs began to rise. Arranged marriages became the most prevalent way of marriage in the country and among Hindus especially.

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Process of Arranged Marriage

Arranged marriages in India are long drawn out processes, where finalizing the perfect match may take months and even years. In typical arranged marriages, the parents decide every facet of the process and the prospective bride and groom just show up at the prearranged date of marriage. The parents send out words through that they are looking for a match for their child through their social circle (neighbors and relatives). They might also employ the services of the local matchmaker. Traditionally the matchmaker is an individual who keeps a database of marriageable individual from the neighboring area. Once a match is established, the elders of the family first meet at a neutral place to talk and also to figure out the suitability of the match firsthand. In these meetings, the families try to judge the financial and cultural barometer of each other through direct or indirect talks.

Criteria for Suitable Match

The suitability of a match is determined after taking into account several factors. While some are common for the boy’s and girl’s sides, certain others are tailored to suit either side. Some of these criteria are:

Religion: Religion tops the list of criteria while fixing a marriage match. The boy and girl going for an arranged marriage have to belong to the same religion. Hindus will marry Hindus, while Muslims will look for a match within the Muslim community and Christian families will prefer their children getting married to a Christian. This is probably to preserve the culture and heritage of their religion as customs and rituals vary greatly between religions.

Caste: Caste is another important criterion in the list. Hindu religion is divided and subdivided into several castes, which are again branched out into sub-castes. While seeking a match, the parents prefer to choose a candidate belonging to same or compatible caste and sub-caste. This is probably done to preserve the ethnicity of the caste and to seek a match with people having similar customs as one.

Culture: The cultural background of the two families is also taken into consideration while fixing a match. Orthodox families do not prefer to initiate alliances with families who seem permissive and open-minded and vice versa. Educational background of the families is also seen to impact a marriage match. Their moral backgrounds are also scrutinized while considering a match.

Horoscope: Horoscope matching is an indispensible part of the arranged marriage process and it is generally the cinching criterion for finalizing the talks. Horoscope refers to the birth chart or natal chart of an individual, based upon the positions of astrological luminaries like the Sun, the Moon, the Planets and other stars at the time of the individual’s marriage. It generally holds important life predictions as well as describes the individual’s character based on the positions of astrological bodies in specific positions. In India, it is believed that the horoscope holds the key to every important events of an individual’s life and Vedic Astrology is followed as the preferred method. The horoscope matching according to Vedic Astrology is based on nakshatras or Lunar constellation and the process is known as Guna Milap or Ashtakoot Milan. This assesses the compatibility of the two people in focus based on thirty six points or guna. To be deemed a good match at least eighteen out of thirty six gunas need to be matching. Other astrological conditions also needs to be determines such as Mangalik Dosha which occurs when the planet mars is positioned in 1st, 4th, 8th and 12th house of the birth chart. The priest, who is matching the kundalis or birth charts, then prescribes some remedies to counteract the negative effects.

Professional Stature: This criterion is almost exclusively considered by the girl’s side while looking for a match. The prospective groom needs to have a stable job or business and earn enough money so that he can comfortably support his future family. The higher the professional stature of the boy is, the more in demand he enjoys in the marriage field. 

Physical Appearance: This is the prime criterion of suitability for a girl when being considered for marriage. The color of skin still plays one of the most important deciding factors when it comes to arranged marriage and fair-skinned girls are always preferred over wheatish or dark-skinned girls. Height, weight and other physical aspects are also scrutinized. While the physical appearance of the boy is important to some extent, not much stress is placed on the concept as long as he is not suffering from any serious problem. Apart from physical appearance, the girl is also judged based upon her efficiency in domestic chores such as cooking, stitching, and cleaning.

Meeting Between Families/Prospective Spouses

After horoscopes have been matched, and the priest has given his blessing to go ahead owing to pre-determined compatibility of their birth charts, the groom’s family visits the bride family to see the bride and finalize the marriage. Elders of both the families are seated and the bride-to-be is brought in, properly decked up in fine clothes and jewelry. The bride is seated in the middle of the room and is scrutinized by the boy’s family members, often interviewed to judge her domestic knowledge. The groom may or may not accompany the elders in this first visit. If he is, the bride and the groom may be allowed to converse or even meet in private, although such meetings will be heavily chaperoned. If the groom’s family considers the girl suitable for their son, they will intimate the girl’s family through the matchmaker. Sometimes, there are investigations around the neighborhood to absolutely determine suitability of the match. If all goes well, the marriage talks proceed, solidify, and move towards formalization of the match.

Engagement

Engagement marks the formalization of the marriage match. This happens only after both the parties have agreed that this is the best match possible for their child from all aspects. Depending on the ethnicity and customs of the two families, a date is fixed where the formal announcement of the match and impending wedding is to happen. There might or might not be a formal ring exchange, but usually the date of marriage is fixed on that day. Usually a priest is consulted, and depending on the groom’s and bride’s horoscope a marriage date is set. The two families exchange gifts and sweets.

Arranged Marriage in Modern Times

Although the practice of arranged marriage has remained favored in the country, the whole procedure has seen some major modernizing changes. For instance, computers, websites and portals have taken over the job of traditional matchmakers, with computer programs predicting matches for individuals. Several marriage portals have sprung up over the last decade or so and while organizations like Bharat Matrimony, and Shaadi have been in the arena for quite some time, upcoming platforms like SimplyMarry are also proving to be worthy contenders. Nowadays, the criteria for matches have also changed - for example in urban areas, working women are often preferred as better matches and their professional stature is considered similarly to the grooms. Emphasis is put on education and values, rather than just efficiency in the domestic arena. Criteria like blood tests are also gaining more and more favor among the urban community. The prospective partners are allowed to interact more freely nowadays, over the phone or even face to face. The concept of courtship has gained favors with the couple getting the opportunity to know each other, sometimes for as long a year between the actual marriage dates. While not much have changed in the rural areas, there still is a general increase in awareness when it comes to issues like child marriages and dowry.

Significance and Success Rate

The fact that sticking to traditions and placing one’s faith on the judgment of one’s parents is not such a bad thing, has been proved by the low divorce rates among arranged marriage couples. The divorce rate is about 1 in every 100 incidences. That and the evidences of long term stability of the alliance make the phenomenon as a go to for Indians. While the concepts like ‘seeing’ and scrutinizing the bride by the groom’s family seem derogatory to feminist sensibilities, an arranged marriage, unlike love marriages, provide a complete clean slate for the couple, where they can set expectations according to the partner’s after marriage temperament. The tradition is built more in terms of commitment and duty rather than love and passion. Some would say the former is a much stronger base to build a marriage on as at the end of everything, a marriage boils down to exactly those two factors. So, despite much judgment from all of modern world, this may be the secret of strong Indian values.