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Sociology Around the World: Marriage in India

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Katrina Cox

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The traditional way of marriage in India is for a man and a woman to be arranged. With some customs and rituals going back to the creation of their society, a more modern era also has an influence on these decisions. However, India has a very strong culture, and instead of deviating from their norms and values, they are beginning to embrace modern changes as well as continuing to celebrate traditionally.

        Keywords: Mangni, Ganesh Pooja, Mehendi, Sangeet, Tilak, Janavasm, Solah Shringer, Mangalsutra, Saphthapadhi, Barat, vermilion/kumkum, Satya Narayana

        Imagine growing up in a society where arranged marriages are custom. When you are a little girl, dreaming of your wedding day is something that happens to everyone. But what if the wedding was already planned, and your groom already picked? Sometimes at birth, but usually before becoming a teenager the decision of who you will marry has already been decided. This arrangement is made by your family, and you are left with the mystery of wondering who your husband or wife will be for life. While sometimes not meeting face to face until the big day. Would you follow the custom because it is something you have grown up seeing? Or would you deviate from the norm and choose to consummate a love marriage instead with the possibility of your family disowning you?

        In Indian culture, marriage symbolizes a sacred union of two individuals, as well as the coming together of both of the families. Arranged marriages are strict on both spouses coming from the same religion, additionally they must be from the same class system. Generally the family will decide on the spouse, but the person who is eligible for marriage may also appoint a matchmaker. Their compatibility is based on horoscopes, as well as profession status, and physical appearance; however beauty is more accessed for the woman. If those choices are appropriate, then the families will seek an alliance. Then if the alliance is agreed upon, planning the engagement ceremony and the wedding can begin.

        The average Indian wedding will last a minimum of three days. They can also last up to one week. Most families spare no cost, and time to make sure all of the ceremonies and rituals are completed. The first family ceremony is called a Mangi or engagement. Both of the families from the bride and groom’s side meet to make the engagement official. The elders will bring jewelry, and clothing as gifts to show their support. After the first ceremony the bride, and the groom will have a Ganesh Pooja. This is similar to the American version of a bachelor/bachelorette party. However, instead of drinking and partying, the bride and groom perform a ritual holy bath. Turmeric, oil, and water is applied to both by married woman from their community.

The bride will then have a Mehndi Ceremony where her hands and feet are decorated with henna. It is believed that the color of the henna means the groom’s love for the bride will be strong. After the bride moves in with her new husband, she is not required to perform any household duties until her henna fades away. After the bride has her ceremonies, her family will host a gathering called a Sangeeta. This event is a festival filled with music, and food while the main purpose is for the bride to be introduced to her new family members.

The groom will then begin his ceremonies. The first ritual is for every male member from both sides of each family rub vermilion or kumkum on the groom’s face. This substance is always bright red in color, and is made into a powder. This symbolizes that the males are offering promising success and also request that the groom will take care of the bride. A Janavasm is then performed. Traditionally the groom will be paraded around town on a chariot or now more commonly a convertible. The significance is while he is trotting around the town, that if anyone in the community has information about the groom, and the feel that it is necessary for the bride and her family to know then they can speak up. This action is similar to a traditional wedding with a priest and he asks if anyone present would object to the marriage.

This may seem like a lot of ceremonies and rituals, but getting ready for the actual wedding ceremony holds just as much importance, leaving nothing to be over looked. For the bride Solah Shringar is the most important on her wedding day. The sixteen adornments that contribute to her complete beautification, and is a mandatory practice. This process is symbolic because Hindu’s believe that a woman starts her new life after marriage, so she should look and feel good about herself. The bride is given another bath, but this one is a scrub to make her skin glow. Then her hair is oiled and washed, while someone styles it according to her dress. They will also add strings of flowers or Gajra. Her dress or sari is typically red with gold and silver embroidery symbolizing prosperity, fertility, and marital bliss. A bindi (red ornament in the middle of her forehead) is a must for the bride because it symbolizes her dedication towards her husband. The woman will wear a nose ring, specifically in the left nostril, and a necklace or haar that is also required. Bangles on each arm are mandatory to signify the long life of her husband. One of the most sensuous accessory is an anklet on both feet, as well as a toe ring. After the wedding, kumkum on her face, the mangalsutra, and toe ring all symbolize a married woman. In addition the groom will wear a dhoti. This is sort of a white suit jacket with gold and silver embroidery. He has the option to wear a turban with flowers, and every male at the wedding will dress up in similar attire.

The wedding ceremony will last three hours. It is typically held at the bride’s home or a wedding hall. Throughout the ceremony the bride will begin to sit on the right of the groom. This is because the right side next to a person is the place for strangers or acquaintance. After marital vows are exchanged is when she can move to his left side. During the ceremony the groom will also tie a black and gold beaded necklace around the bride. This will be worn by the bride until her husband’s death. It is a promise from the husband to his wife that they will always be together, and is believed that it will protect their marriage from evil. Nowadays, the Mangalsutra has become a fashion statement, and they are able to design their own instead of the traditional black and gold beads.



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