A general Indian consensus about arranged marriages is that they are more successful than love marriages. It is true, and there are statistics to prove it. Although divorce rates in India are gradually increasing, it is still one of the lowest in the world.
Many would find the concept of arranged marriages to be taboo and even bizarre. But, most people fail to understand the way they work and not to mention, the misconceptions are endless.
The common notion that drives this system of marriage is that when the whole family is involved in the decision making process, it gives no scope for mistakes.
To those that need this lesson on arranged marriages, let’s address the most basic questions.
What exactly is an arranged marriage?
Typically it is the union of a man and woman a.k.a matrimony, but unlike any other marriages, an arranged marriage has a third party intervene in choosing a spouse.
What does that mean?
That means someone other than the bride and groom makes the decision on behalf of them, but only with their consent. This could be their parents, close family, distant relatives or even a mediator, someone that specialises in vetting potential spouses.
It is also very important to lay a clear distinction between an arranged marriage and a forced marriage. While the latter is a vetoed practise, it still occurs in much smaller and subordinate communities of the society. It is an involuntary marriage forced upon future spouses who wouldn’t have much say in it. Historically, these were common among royals and families who needed an incentive to merge their business with others.
How do they work?
More than being a romantic fantasy solely driven by love, an arranged marriage is more of a partnership of a lifetime, between the husband and wife. Hence, it is right to say that marriage comes first, and then love. In the early years of this form of marriage, the goal is to establish a common ground and try to build a life together. Love usually tends to blossom over-time, and by then the couple’s relationship is strengthened. They have a healthy understanding of each other and easily slip into their roles as spouses.
While it may seem like an easy marital system, the efforts that go into organising a successful arranged marriage – right from choosing a potential life-partner to the actual wedding celebrations – are excessive and laborious. There is a fixed, lengthy (and often tedious) process involved; we are going to break it down for easier comprehension.
- The hunt for the perfect match
Typically, the first step usually starts in secret. When word gets around that a young man and woman is at the ripe age and ready for marriage, the news spreads like wild-fire. Parents involve themselves hands-on in the search for the perfect spouse for their child. Anyone and everyone, including aunties that are barely related to the family through their husband’s brother’s sister-in-law’s cousin make it their mission. It becomes live Tinder, with photographs being passed around, almost as if the image could describe the true nature and personality of the poker-faced person.
Everyone assumes the role of a private investigator and digs into details, in case there is a favourable candidate. Some specific criteria that outline the perfect match include: reputation of the person’s family, financial status, religion, caste, qualification and occupation (an engineer or a doctor, means they’ve hit a jackpot), vegetarianism, etc. Often, horoscopes also play an important role in determining matches.
- The first meeting
When a suitable candidate has been short-listed, the families of the potential bride and groom contact each other and set up a meeting. Usually, it is the groom’s family that visit’s the bride’s home, where they have a talk, just like a very informal interview. Usually, the bride only makes a brief appearance, to serve the visiting family some tea and snacks, where the prospective spouses see each other for the first time, in the flesh.
When either set of parents are satisfied with their decisions, they introduce the young people, who proceed to try to get to know each other, fully aware of their families eavesdropping on them from the other room. A crucial fact to remember is that they are not trying to fall in love, but deciding if they are compatible for each other to marry and become a family. When both parties consent, it’s time to start planning for a wedding.
- Sealing the Deal!
The first step towards the wedding would be the engagement, just so that the future bride and groom can seal the deal. A priest may or may not formalise the match, but he does take a second glance at their horoscopes to ensure their compatibility and set a wedding date. The families exchange sweets and gifts, as a gesture of welcoming each other into their lives.
- The festivities leading up to the wedding
Wedding preparations are always on full swing, from the very start. Indian weddings are generally known for a massive guest list, various ceremonies and the grandeur celebrations. The aim is to plan a wedding that’s fit for a royal.
Post-engagement, the bride and groom are only allowed to meet when chaperoned by someone from the family. Both sets of families go wedding shopping together, for the sole reason that the in-laws shop for each other and not themselves.
The pre-wedding rituals are week-long celebrations – comprising of the Haldi, Mehendi and Sangeeth ceremonies. The Haldi ceremony is in preparation of the wedding, where the bride and groom are smeared with a turmeric concoction. It is meant to be a form of blessing them, while simultaneously cleansing and nourishing the to-be spouses, before they enter into marriage. The Mehndi and Sangeeth ceremony are usually combined, to make it less time-consuming and convenient. Mehndi is henna, and the ceremony is specifically to decorate the bride’s arms and feet, in beautiful bridal henna patterns. The henna is expected to dry dark because the common belief is that the darker the henna, the stronger the love of the groom is for his bride. The Sangeeth is a laid back form of family entertainment, where every family member is expected to bust out moves on the make-shift dance floor. It’s like a bachelorette party, but the whole family is invited.
- The wedding
An Indian wedding is expected to be nothing short of grand. It begins with the Baaraat, or the groom’s procession. The groom arrives to the wedding venue, mounted atop a majestic white-horse (giving the whole impression of your fairy-tale prince), while his family members dance around him to the beat of the Dhol. He is greeted by the bride’s family and taken to the Mandap – a make-shift canopy, where the couple will be married- and he waits for his bride, to arrive with her entourage in a royal palanquin.
The defining moment in the wedding would be the Saath Phere. The bride and groom hold hands and circle around a small fire ensemble. They are officially married. The groom then claims his bride, by clasping a traditional Mangal Sutra (Black-beaded necklace) around her neck and applying a red powder called Sindoor to the centre of her forehead. They are symbolic of Hindu matrimony.