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Indian marriages – Arranged Love or lovingly arranged? (Part-I)


Many of us living overseas do get asked about arranged marriages routinely, as to  how it all works etc and this column is an attempt to get some insight into this phenomenon of arranged marriages. To start off on a lighter note, let me share a wedding one liners can which I have heard many a times – ‘Every Man/Woman must marry – after all happiness is not everything in life’.

In India, there is no greater event in a family than a wedding. Indian marriages are more than just a festive occasion, especially when it’s planned and arranged in a traditional manner. There is always much hoopla in the media about celebrity weddings like that of junior Bachchan with Aishwarya Rai, not to forget our own Shanti’s Indian wedding on Shortland Street last year.

Is arranged marriage a product of India? Arranged marriage is still prevalent in societies, particularly in South Asia and Middle East to some extent says the Wikipedia. Such marriages had deep roots in royal and aristocratic families around the world, including Western Europe. History records that arranged marriages have been part of many cultures for thousands of years and that even the West once encouraged a system of arranged marriages in order to safeguard property and inheritance evidenced as far back as the 1500s. About the practice of arranged marriage today, a columnist in the Times of India went on to remark that ‘after yoga and software professionals, here is India’s latest export to the West: ‘The Arranged marriage’.

Arranged or Love: The question of whether ‘arranged marriage’ is better than a ‘love marriage’ seems to be getting less relevant today, but not completing irrelevant. Interestingly love marriage is called ‘Gandharva vivaha’ in the Hindu law books and is just one of the 6 types of lawful marriages. Indian mythology literature abounds in such type of marriages as seen the case of Dushyant and Shakuntala; Daksheya and Prajapati, Bh?ma with Hidimba; Kamdeva and Rati, Kach and Devyani. But what is marriage without any love.  After all, like the saying goes ‘Love doesn’t make the world go round but makes the ride worthwhile’. In contrast, an American satirist Ambrose Bierce once quipped ‘Love is a temporary insanity, curable by marriage’.

Who calls the shots?

In an arranged marriage, the bride and bridegroom are generally shortlisted, selected and sometimes chosen by parents or the elders. The match could be selected by parents, a matchmaking agent, matrimonial site, priests or religious leaders as well as relatives or family friends play a major role in matchmaking. Arranged marriages are certainly not a form of forced marriage. More and more arranged marriages today take into account the preferences of brides and grooms, something that did not happen till 1970s and 1980s. Are parents really the best people to hook up their children”? Being experienced and elderly people, they can perhaps better evaluate the merits of the partners as they ‘usually’ know you the best for their children. Parents are generally aware of their child’s habits, peculiarities, behaviours, likes, dislikes, and other factors. It’s a case of a guide-by-the-side rather than a sage-on-the-stage ~ only to help the bride or groom select the right partner.

The selection criteria in most cases tends to be rather objective as the partnership has to endure through life’s challenges, joys and sorrows.  But sometimes, unfortunately, the arrangers themselves add their own ideals and demands forgetting that it’s a process of ‘match-making’ and not ‘bounty catching’. It is not healthy when parents are over protective and control their children’s wishes and desires in choosing their partner.

Successful marriages: According to the wise-heads of Indian society, what matters is a ‘successful marriage’ whether it is arranged, love or arranged love. In the words of Dr.S.Radhakrishnan – a world renowned philosopher and Professor of Eastern Religions and Ethics at Oxford University -

‘Instincts and passions are the raw material which are worked up into an ideal whole. Though there is some choice with regard to our mate, there is a large element of chance in the best of marriage. That marriage is successful which transforms a chance mate into a life companion. In an ideal marriage the genuine interest of the two members are perfectly reconciled’.  

The traditional approaches to Indian marriages: In the Indian traditional scheme of living, marriage (Vivaha samskara) is the 15th in the line of 16 accomplishments or refinements in a person’s life. So it seems, one is supposed to have gone through 14 refinements before getting married. Does that make a point about being refined enough to be eligible (adhikari) for this 15th sacrament? In the traditional sense Vivaha exists to promote ‘DHARMA’. The bride’s role is an exalted one of that of a Saha-Dharmini according the Rig Veda which is one of the oldest scripture known to mankind.

The term ‘Saha-Dharmini’ according to Sayana, an important commentator on the Rig Veda, who flourished under the Vijayanagar Empire of South India, means

“The wife and the husband, being the equal halves of one substance, are equal in every respect; both join and take equal part in all work, religious and secular”.  

No religious rite is complete without the wife. The householder’s life is all about success in the matrimonial relationship; complimenting the qualities of each other thus leading a life together of love, harmony and contribution to society.

The traditional Indian wedding has many stages and rituals that one could write a 300 page book. However the stages, rituals could be summed up in at least 3 stages. They are:

  1. the selection process for both the bride and groom
  2. the pre-marriage ceremony
  3. the marriage ceremony and the matrimonial vows

Match making criteria: Some of these factors, not in any order of priority may be taken into account for the purpose of matchmaking like: values, family reputation, education, health, mental health, wealth, status, religion, caste, occupation, horoscope, dietary preference, language, similar physical equalities, age difference, other factors like city of residence, education level. But when love takes over, there is not much choice but to go with the wishes of the ‘lovers’. There is nothing much the parents can do except issuing cheques to organise the wedding, if willing and able. After all, “Jab mian biwi razi to kya karega kazi”.

But if someone equates beauty to facial attractiveness alone, there is not much that this traditional arranged marriage system can do, except perhaps short listing prospective partners based on photos taken in studios.

In the next concluding part to this article, we will look at the wedding ceremony and importantly the traditional marriage vows.

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