MARRIAGE IN INDIA
marriage ceremony offering In India there is no greater event in a family than a wedding, dramatically evoking every possible social obligation, kinship bond, traditional value, impassioned sentiment, and economic resource. In the arranging and conducting of weddings, the complex permutations of Indian social systems best display themselves. [Source: Library of Congress, 1995*]
Marriage is deemed essential for virtually everyone in India. For the individual, marriage is the great watershed in life, marking the transition to adulthood. Generally, this transition, like everything else in India, depends little upon individual volition but instead occurs as a result of the efforts of many people. Even as one is born into a particular family without the exercise of any personal choice, so is one given a spouse without any personal preference involved. Arranging a marriage is a critical responsibility for parents and other relatives of both bride and groom. Marriage alliances entail some redistribution of wealth as well as building and restructuring social realignments, and, of course, result in the biological reproduction of families.*
Jayaji Krishna Nath, M.D. and Vishwarath R. Nayar wrote in the Encyclopedia of Sexuality: “Despite an increasing modernization and shift to love-based marriages, most marriages in India are still arranged by parents. Family concerns take precedence over the interests of young couples, because Indian parents strongly believe that a marriage will be good only if the bride and groom come from similar backgrounds. The impetus for arranged marriages is respect for the wisdom of one’s elders. To assure that their offspring marry within their own community or caste, many Indian parents use the classified advertisement sections of newspapers to make contact and arrange marriages for their children. In the villages and rural areas, distinctions in the caste system are much stronger and sharper than they are in the cities. [Source: Jayaji Krishna Nath, M.D., and Vishwarath R. Nayar, Encyclopedia of Sexuality, sexarchive.info ]
The Indian writer and scholar Chitra Divakaruni wrote in Atlantic, "Marriage is a serious and pragmatic commitment in the traditional Indian context involving significant financial transactions and requiring the blessing of parents and grandparents.” A Tamil poet one wrote: “With a good wife, what is lacking? Lacking the wife, what is good?’ On what is expected in affluent Indian families, Sailesh Muki posted Quora.com: “ Marriage is like a business transaction. Things taken into account in order of priority: 1) Are they from a powerful family? 2) How much property do they have? 3) How much gold do they have? 4) How much worth of "gifts" will the girl's family give? 5) How much has he/she studied? 6) Is he abroad? (Big plus point) 7) Does the bride/bridegroom look good? 8) They don't care about the character in most cases. [Source: Sailesh Muki, Quora.com, April 18 2013 \*/]
Percentage of women who married before age 18 in the early 2000s: 65 percent among women between 40 and 44; and 50 percent among women between 20 and 24.
Websites and Resources on Hinduism: heart of Hinduism hinduism.iskcon.com/index ; India Divine indiadivine.org ; Hinduism Today hinduismtoday.com ; ; Religious Tolerance Hindu Page religioustolerance.org/hinduism ; Hinduism Index uni-giessen.de/~gk1415/hinduism ; Hindu Universe hindunet.org ; Wikipedia article Wikipedia ; Oxford center of Hindu Studies ochs.org.uk ; Hinduism Home Page
uwacadweb.uwyo.edu/religionet/er/hinduism ; Hindu Website hinduwebsite.com/hinduindex ; Hindu Gallery hindugallery.com ; Hindusim Today Image Gallery himalayanacademy.com/resources/books/wih/image-library ; India Divine Pictures of Hinduism indiadivine.org/pictures
According to the Hindu scholar Dr. Krishna Nath Chatterjuee, “The purpose of the Hindu marriage is to have sexual relations, continuity of race, and discharging of religion, and social duties...In terms of the Hindu stages of life, marriage is the key to the second stage, that of the householder.” See Religion.
Hindus believe that marriage is a "holy, indissoluble union of families as well as individuals." A Hindu marriage ceremony signifies the occupation of a new house. This tradition date back to Aryan era hundred of years before Christ. Producing a son is one of the primary aims of a marriage.
Rama and Sita, the hero and heroine of the epic Ramayana, are considered the ideal married couple. Sita remained faithful to Rama even though she was separated from him for many years. Unmarried girls perform prayer rituals, called vrata, that involve fasting on a weekly basis, taking an early morning bath and picking certain flowers and leaves and pouring water over Shiva and chanting, "May I have a husband like Rama/ May I have a father-in-law like Dasharatha/ May I have a mother-in-law like Kaushalya/May I have a brother-in-law like Lakshmana/ May I be a wife like Sita.”
Hindu and Indian Beliefs About Marriage and Love
Marriage is regarded as necessity to continue the family line. Any man or woman who is not married or doesn’t have children is regarded as incomplete. Children are also necessary to conduct rites for family members who have died. Marriages have traditionally taken place when the couple is very young. Girls are expected to be virgins when they get married. In India, it is common for a dowry (bride-wealth) to be paid to the bride’s family.
The Indian writer and scholar Chitra Divakaruni wrote in Atlantic, "Marriage is a serious and pragmatic commitment in the traditional Indian context involving significant financial transactions and requiring the blessing of parents and grandparents.” A Tamil poet one wrote: “With a good wife, what is lacking? Lacking the wife, what is good?”
There are relatively few Hindus who have never been married. Marriage is regarded as a sacred act and a necessity to continue the family line. Any man or woman who is not married or doesn’t have children is regarded as incomplete. Children are necessary in a Hindu family to conduct rites for family members who have died. According to Hindu custom, which still prevails in most families, marriage must take place within one’s caste or Varna, although marriages between members of different castes and communities are gaining acceptance. Hindu marriage, being a religious sacrament, is indissoluble. In India, it is common for a dowry (bride-wealth) to be paid to the bride’s family.
Jayaji Krishna Nath, M.D. and Vishwarath R. Nayar wrote in the Encyclopedia of Sexuality: “ Usually it is expected that a husband must be in a position to earn a living and his wife must be able to run the home, which they set up after marriage. The influence of the Hindu religion has resulted in some prepuberty marriages. The vast majority of regular marriages are still parent-made, arranged marriages. Due to modernization and the influence of Western culture, arranged marriages are becoming less popular and common, especially in metropolitan cities. In its place, marriages based on the couple’s choice, often crossing caste and/or religious boundaries, are becoming more common. [Source: Jayaji Krishna Nath, M.D., and Vishwarath R. Nayar, Encyclopedia of Sexuality, sexarchive.info \*/]
“Irregular marriages do occur with the increasing influence of Western concepts of romantic love in the mass media of magazines and movies. In one form of irregular marriage, the two lovers run away and stay away until they are accepted by their families, which is done as a matter of course. In a second form, known as “Intrusion,” a girl confronts her chosen husband and his parents and presses their acceptance of her by living in the house. A third form involves “forcible application of vermilion,” when a young man takes the opportunity at some fair or festival to place a vermilion scarf on his chosen girl’s head. Sometimes a betrothal ceremony takes place before the marriage proper is solemnized. Legally, marriage take place only between those who have passed the puberty stage. At the marriage ceremony, the local priest is required to officiate and prayers and offerings are made to the gods.” \*/
If a women who is past her prime can not find a husband sometimes she is taken to a temple and set before an image of Mandira, the warrior god, and roosters and goats, wearing garlands of flowers, are sacrificed with a slit to the throat by a knife anointed with lime juice and rum. Afterward the girl carries a bridal bouquet and balances a tray on her head, leading a procession to a shed where the sacrificed animals are eaten with rice and curry.
Different Concepts About Marriage and Sexuality in India
Hindu bride from Ahmedabad Jayaji Krishna Nath, M.D. and Vishwarath R. Nayar wrote in the Encyclopedia of Sexuality: India is a multiethnic and multilingual society with wide variations in demographic situations and socioeconomic conditions. People in India practice different religions, and there are numerous cultural identities. In a nation as religiously and ethnically diverse as India - the nation is commonly described as “a jumble of possibilities” - the people follow a wide variety of customs, and have varied beliefs that ultimately mold their lifestyles. [Source: Jayaji Krishna Nath, M.D., and Vishwarath R. Nayar, Encyclopedia of Sexuality, sexarchive.info \*/]
“In the life of a Hindu male, for instance, marriage is regarded as necessary, because without a wife he cannot enter the Grihasthasrama (the life stage of a householder). In addition, without marriage there can be no offspring, and without a son no release from the chain of reincarnation in birth-death-rebirth. The Muslim male, who is allowed to have four wives, subject to specified conditions, is also realizing the wisdom in small families and monogamy (more so the educated, urban Muslim male). Marriage is solemnized by signing a legal document and can be dissolved. Divorce is almost exclusively the husband’s privilege, although a divorcing husband has to pay the “Dower,” a settlement made to the wife out of her husband’s property to compensate her in the event of death and divorce. \*/
“Indian Christians are also influenced by the social practices of the region, but they tend to follow the pattern of a family as an independent unit, in which their lifestyles and interactions revolve around the community and the local church. They have more freedom in their general outlook and easily adapt to local conditions and trends. The tribal people of India have varied religious and social practices, often with a more natural approach to sexuality and age-old practices of premarital sex and premarital experimental cohabitation. \*/
“Although there is a decreasing acceptance of orthodox beliefs and religious practices among India’s younger generation, each of India’s religious traditions maintains its own forms of observations of various practices starting with birth and regulating life through marriage to the death ceremonies. The lifestyles of the people, including their sexual behavior, are generally governed by these prescribed practices. “ \*/
Virginity and Marriage in India
Kanya is word used to describe virginity. It is equated with purity, an important element of Hinduism. A woman can only marry if she is pure. A divorced or widowed woman is no longer pure. She is polluted. If she ,married she would pollute the man she is married to. Parents who present a pure daughter to marriage earn great merit.
Marriages have traditionally taken place when the couple is very young. Girls are expected to be virgins when they get married. In the early 2000s, more than half of Indian women married at 18 or younger and more than 90 percent were virgins when they got married.
After Hindu children reach puberty, the sexes are separated so there is little interaction between teenage girls and boys. According to one survey in the 1990s less than nine percent of all newlyweds had premarital sex and less than a third did it on their wedding night. A survey by India Today in 2004 found that 72 percent of men expected their wives to be virgins when they are married and 77 percent said they would not marry a women who had admitted having sex.
Kanya is word used to describe virginity. It is equated with purity, an important element of Hinduism. A woman can only marry if she is pure. A divorced or widowed woman is no longer pure. She is polluted. If she marries she would pollute the man she is married to. Parents who present a pure daughter to marriage earn great merit.
Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, Lonely Planet Guides, Library of Congress, Ministry of Tourism, Government of India, Compton’s Encyclopedia, The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic Monthly, The Economist, Foreign Policy, Wikipedia, BBC, CNN, and various books, websites and other publications.
© 2008 Jeffrey Hays
Last updated June 2015