Customs and rituals for young people meeting and deciding to get married vary considerably around the world, but the American or western model, even though it results is a lot of poor decision making and high divorce rates, are becoming more and more adapted elsewhere, even in traditional cultures like India where modern attitudes are wanting to opt for “love matches”.
Arvind, our SmartTours guide, filled part of an hour on a long drive between cities explaining how traditional practices have been updating in India. Although he spoke mainly from a Hindu perspective, it was apparent that many Muslims also follow a similar practice.
Traditionally, marriages are arranged. Like historic matches in western culture, most of the time the family or a family friend who knows both young people starts the conversation. In India, however, astrology plays a huge part. People know their birthplace, of course, and birth time down to the second. If the two people’s horoscopes are compatible, the discussion continues. If not, everyone agrees to move on.
If you have never really learned about astrology you might think it is merely the short 3 sentence section for your sign that shows up in the paper or in your internet feed. The warning or wisdom may amuse you or worry you but that is not what a true horoscope is. Your chart is prepared based on your birthplace and time and can provide guidance for financial matters, work, raising children, and relationships. This website gives more information about how astrology provides information about relationships.
A skeptic may scoff at the idea of using a tool like horoscopes to help select a spouse, but before we make fun of it, perhaps we should look at our own customs and then difficulties in marriage here and then compare to the Indian standard. Here in the US we tend to equate sexual attraction and lust with love and are typically unable to develop friendships with the ability to communicate. So we get ourselves into a legal commitment that, for many, becomes increasingly aggravating as partners are unable to work through differences. Divorce rates of first marriages are about 50% now, with second and third marriages also failing at higher rates. We don’t learn from our mistakes. Most of us chose our partner based on emotions instead of logic and then are surprised when emotions lead us to uncomfortable areas. In India the divorce rate is about 1%. Maybe there is something to an arranged marriage.
So, to use some method to help determine compatibility makes some sense. It also helps that traditionally, there is an attitude of a life-long marriage in India. The young people know they don’t know each other and know that they had better make it work for the long haul. They start slowly and when you notice a young woman wearing red bangles, often with a young man standing a little apart, you can assume they are in their first 3 weeks of marriage.
That is not to say all is good. Although protected by law, culturally in a marriage women seem to have a lower status than men. They leave their childhood home and generally move in with the husband’s family. They are lucky if they have a private room for sleeping. I will discuss “privacy” in another blog, but right now suffice it to say that is there a huge difference in what privacy means in Indian culture compared to the US. When family attitudes are good and healthy, it means also that everyone in the large household helps the new couple adjust to each other and work through issues, as they have learned to in their own marriages.
New traditions have begun to pop up. Arvend entertained us by reading Want Ads that are published weekly throughout India. Besides the important birth information, the ads usually indicate the desire for education level, modern vs traditional attitudes, location for living and social standing.
While we were in India there were several auspicious days for weddings, so we got to observe some of the wedding parades and one wedding was held in the hotel our first night in Delhi. Red and gold seem to be the classic colors, although other colors are also used.
We saw a number of grooms riding on white horses, also decked out in red and gold. Tubas and drums are used in the parade, there are usually fireworks, and the celebration can go on for days, often costing tens of thousands of dollars. Large wedding centers are quite busy on auspicious days and floats are rented for other celebrations not held in posh hotels or party places.