Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Rise & Fall of Arranged Marriages in India

To many in the western world, the concept of arranged marriage is as mystical, if not more, as many other things about India. I have often attempted an answer when asked about it. Whether I did a good job or failed miserably, I am not sure. Hence, this blog. An attempt nothing short of the magna opera churned out by Bollywood with lavish "Indian" weddings as their themes.

It would be unwise to assume that arranged marriages are a unique Indian phenomenon. They are not even limited to Hindus in India. In fact, arranged marriage was the norm even in the Western world.

I am attempting to document this fairly complex system of match making largely from the Hindu perspective of which I have little understanding. Hopefully, it will explain rather than confuse.

What is Arranged Marriage?
It is the process of selection of spouse for the child by the parents with the support of their circle of relatives and friends. The entire process of selection, wedding and consummation is managed by the family. The participating bride or groom have but limited say in the affair. The family and other elders not only have the right to refusal but also may exercise their veto power over the decision of the bride or the groom.

Who are the enablers?
Usually, the immediate family members are the primary enablers. In case the family and immediate circle is unable to find the suitable person, then the services of a broker is sought. The broker is now being fast replaced by the matrimonial sites. Please be aware that these are not the dating sites that are more popular in the Western world. The matrimonial sites are purely for the benefit of those who intend to get married.

What is love-cum-arranged marriage?
This is a new development and a response to the changing social scenarios caused due to the growth of individualism. Considering the importance of family in India, it is becoming common that the children find their partner but marry only with acceptance and blessings of their parents.

This is turning out to be a boon for all as it provides the leeway to the young ones to meander in the market and find eligible one while allowing parents to preserve their perceived sense of position in the family hierarchy and respect in the society.

I, myself, make a good case study of this love-cum-arranged marriage trend. This process can be straightforward or extremely complicated depending on the mismatch in the parameters that I am going to enlist below.

So, what are the matches?
In order for two people to get married in India, there  are many criteria to be considered. Here are some of them listed in no particular order.
  1. Religion match: A no-brainer but there could be exceptions. For example, despite belonging to different religions, Nadar Christian may approve of Nadar Hindu and vice versa. But in general religion is the most fundamental parameter. 
  2. Caste match: Again a no brainer but it is not as simple as it sounds. There are many complications which you will understand in the parameters listed below.  
  3. State match: This is another peculiarity in India. The country is divided on linguistics basis. Belonging to the same caste but from a different state doesn't assure an approval.  
  4. Sect match: This is equally important. Many may already be aware that there are four general classifications based on the varna system. But within each of the levels there are further subdivisions. For example, Tamil Brahmins are divided into two categories - Iyer (those who follow Lord Shiva) and Iyengars (those who follow Lord Vishnu). Just because both are brahmins, marriages are very uncommon and avoided between these two sects. 
  5. Sub-sect match: The match now becomes more narrow, The funnel by this time is pretty well defined but still can cause issues. For example, Saiva Pillai may not prefer Asaiva Pillai. Within Iyers, vadama may not prefer brahacharanam or vathima or palakkad brahmin. 
  6. Socio-Economic match: One of the salient features of arranged marriages is that during the selection process the elders also keep an eye on the socio-economic background of the family from which they are selecting. The usual rule that I have heard here is that you can give your daughter to someone from the higher level than yourself but take a girl who is from the lower level. 
  7. Character study: A good character certificate cannot be undermined in arranged marriages. Usually, a reference check, in the lines of the background checks done by corporates on prospective employees, is very common. 
  8. Horoscope match: A very important step. Horoscope of a person which is drawn exactly at the moment birth is believed to predict how someone's life will progress. Before wedding, the families match the horoscopes of the prospective bride and the groom. The general rule here is that out of the possible ten parameters, there should be a minimum of five positive matches. Anything less is not progressed upon. 
In all these, there is just one exemption. Gotra is one parameter where it is expected that there shouldn't be a match. It is believed that every family is a descendant of a sage. Marriage between the Gotra is akin to promoting incest.

This is the end of part 1 of the post. I didn't realize that it would be no less an effort than organizing a wedding itself. In the next and probably the concluding part, I will post my opinions on the benefits of arranged marriages and the challenges this system of matchmaking faces.