The fascinating customs of Indian marriages

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Highlights

It is common for parents, of children of marriageable age, to conduct extensive searches, something akin to "trawling" for deep sea fish, for suitable spouses, patiently examine various parameters such as educational qualifications, age, and physical characteristics such as height and complexion etc. for potential spouses. Family history, economic soundness and the status of employment of the boy or girl, also figure in the investigation.

It is common for parents, of children of marriageable age, to conduct extensive searches, something akin to "trawling" for deep sea fish, for suitable spouses, patiently examine various parameters such as educational qualifications, age, and physical characteristics such as height and complexion etc. for potential spouses. Family history, economic soundness and the status of employment of the boy or girl, also figure in the investigation.

My brother-in-law and I had once contemplated, several years ago, starting a website for the purpose of serving as a portal for facilitating the pooling and sharing of information regarding eligible bachelors and brides to be. There is, for instance, the service called 'Thodu Needa Telugu Matrimony'. Apart from performing the usual function of 'catalysis' between and amongst parties looking for alliances, it also arranges 'companionate' marriages.

Those are marriages which take place at an advanced age, on mutual consent of the partners and their equality, based more on companionship than on traditional functionalities such as raising children, gaining financial support or ensuring security. Mega-interactions are also frequently arranged, by organisations, usually on a caste basis, of eligible boys and girls, along with their parents or guardians, find appropriate matches. Almost like the World Economic Forum, where also, such a meeting of demand and supply takes place!

Time was when there were professional matchmakers, who shuttled between the homes of the families contemplating an alliance, facilitating exchange of information. On occasions they would, in good faith, add a benign spin to the information in their position, to facilitate the alliance in good faith.

An exaggerated version of what is acceptable in such a situation is conveyed by a Telugu adage, saying that even a hundred lies are justified, if an alliance gets finalised at the end of it all. Nowadays event managers are also available, who accept contracts for performing weddings on an end-to-end basis. Only recently a Telugu movie was released, named "Aaha Kalyanam", on the subject of end-to-end event management of marriages functions.

Teamwork, coordination, synergy and mutual reinforcement, all play an important role in ensuring that an integrated and holistic approach, across various departments performing specialised functions, is made possible, and a product emerges, that is aesthetically satisfying and realistic economically.

Child marriages persisted until it was prohibited by an enactment called the Prohibition in Child Marriage Act, 2005. The Child Marriage Restraint Act had earlier been passed in 1929 to fix the minimum age limits for boys and girls as 18 and 14. And widow marriage remained socially unacceptable until social reformers such as Kandukuri Veeresalingam (author of the legendary Kanyasulkam in Telugu), caused enactment of a law called the Hindu Widows Remarriage Act 1956 to legalise it.

Yesteryear population magician Gogia Pasha often used the line "married or happy"? to unsettle persons from the audience, who had volunteered to come to the stage, to participate in one of his tricks.

A good deal of importance is attached to the study of the horoscopes of the bride and bridegroom to be, with a view to ensuring that the positions and movements of stars and planets are consistent with a compatible and happy future for the couple or not.

Children simply love conducting make-believe marriages and a common and entertaining pastime for children is the marriage ceremony between dolls.

Marriages comprise several events some of which are prescribed by religion and some others by way of entertainment and festive nature. In India, in the Hindu community in particular, the custom still continues, in most families, of the boy with his parents, and some friends, visiting the girl's home first. Thereafter if the couple like each other, further formalities are undertaken.

All over the world, a wedding is first preceded by an engagement in token of which a golden ring is presented to the girl by the boy. The event is called a 'Sagai' in the northern parts, while in the south, exchange of Paan leaves takes place to solemnise it, also called "Nishitartham".

In Muslim marriages a ceremony called a 'Nikah' takes place first, which is the primary wedding ritual, by which the marriage contract is legalised, after the bride groom or his representative proposes to the bride and she accepts. During the ceremony 'Mahr' or a dower is given by the groom to the bride by way of consideration. A reception then follows. In Christian betrothal ceremonies, prayers are offered for the couple and the engagement ring is blessed by a Pastor.

In earlier years, when Usha and I were married, the sequence of events was captured in a collection of photographs, first in black and white, and then, with the passage of years, in colour. With the advent of movie cameras video graphing those events has now become a part of every marriage event. I know a couple of friends of mine, who did that as a part-time job, while studying in the United States.

In South Indian weddings, the most solemn part is that when cumin seed and jaggery is placed on the bride's hair, followed by the tying of the 'Mangalasutram'. The bride groom also recites a shloka with the expression 'Nathicharami', meaning 'I promise'; undertaking to provide welfare and happiness for the bride and their children.

In turn, the bride promises to be responsible for household management. Similarly 'Sindoor' (powdered cinnabar, or vermillion) is placed on the parting of the bride's hair by the bride groom, followed by exchange of garlands in north Indian marriages. Both the rituals signify great and good fortune to the couple and the wife pledging commitment to the husband.

(The writer is former Chief Secretary, Government of Andhra Pradesh) 

(The opinions expressed in this column are that of the writer. The facts and opinions expressed here do not reflect the views of The Hans India)

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