RELEVANCE OF MARRIAGE CUSTOMS IN INDIA
In India, there is a quaint ritual. It is there in almost all the castes, religion, community. The prospective bride is viewed by the prospective groom’s family before they finalize the bride.
A lot happens before this stage is arrived at. If the proposal is received, before even considering meeting the prospective family, inquires are made as to the acceptance of the family. Parameters of social background, finance, career, etc of the groom/bride and their respective families are looked at. The marriage arranger, or the broker will first see these aspects match before the proposal is even given to his/her customer.
After that the bride/groom’s family will go about checking whether the girl/boy is as good as claimed. The character of the person is inquired about; if working, the office colleagues will be approached. Especially the housekeeping staff or the security guard. These people will tell whether the girl or boy is the shy/outgoing type or has any other negative habits.
The neighbors will be approached to see whether the family is fine in all aspects, whether there are any mental health issues in the family. Any skeletons in the cupboard, so to speak. Once the family is satisfied on these issue, the formal prospective bride viewing happens.
A date is set, both the families decide to meet. Many a times, the groom’s party will number more than 20! Arrangements will have to be made to feed them and provide them with comforts. This is done because any guest is welcome, but it is extra special if the guests are from the prospective groom’s side.
The girl will be dressed in all her finery. A small amount will be spent on this occasion. The girl could go for a make over, have a special dress made and some amount of jewelry. Her friends will come to assist her and generally have a fine time teasing her. The house will be spruced up and many relatives from the bride’s side too will be present. The boy may or may not accompany his family. Though guys insist now, earlier it was the family and relatives alone who went to see the girl.
Once the guests have settled, the girl is brought in for them to view. And there are bizarre incidents where the so called elders take a lot of liberty with the girl. Some ask her to say her name, to make sure she is not speech impaired, or hearing impaired. Some ask her to sing, or walk. To check if she has any problem with her legs. She is asked to serve the guests with beverages, so that the guests get to see her up close. If the prospective groom is present, he too gets a good look. My mother told me my paternal grandmother “accidentally” knocked off my mother’s hair do to see if there was false hair there. You see my mother had long, thick hair!
The girl’s qualities are spoken about, the family will say she is a good cook, has good housekeeping skills, is a singer/dancer/artist, is good with children, loves to look after elderly people; and she could be working, so her educational qualifications with her career achievements will be presented to the crowd.
If the boy wishes, he can speak to the girl. They will be allowed to sit in another room and expected to talk to each other. The usual questions will be asked, what are the likes and dislikes, what food items are favorites, etc. It is an ice breaker session, and being nervous, (both of them), nothing of substance will be communicated.
The groom’s party then leave after having partaken of the spread provided for them. They will promise to let the bride’s family know of their decision. The bride’s family will wait anxiously for the verdict. Normally the verdict will be positive, then the next ritual will be that of engagement and finally marriage.
But, if the groom’s family reject the proposal, it can be disappointing for the bride’s family. They had invested money and energy in the whole affair. They will have to start all over again for another proposal.
There are many families who reject a girl by stating some flimsy excuse. The bride is dark, short, has a weight problem, she has protruding teeth, her hair is scanty, etc. The actual reason could be the groom is not sure what type of girl he wants, or the family expects more dowry. Maybe they get a better proposal. It could also be the boy is looking for a particular type of girl, he could have refused to meet her after viewing her photograph. This would have saved the bride’s family all that money, energy as well as emotional upheaval. In the present times, even in the most backward regions, the prospective bride and groom’s photographs will be made available.
This custom is prevalent even today. Even after online registration happens, after mails of interest have been sent and received, and even after the boy and girl have chatted and spoken, there is the traditional bride viewing. It is a way to gauge the girl, her family and her circumstances. Also it is one way for all the significant family members to get to see the girl at one shot.
Many people who believe in tradition feel such a custom is essential and has to be carried forward. They agree there are people who make attending such occasion a farce, but on the whole, since marriages are more about two families coming together, this occasion is for the families to interact for the first time. If for some reason either family does not like, they need not proceed further.
That argument holds good, but what happens to the boy or girl who gets rejected? There are unfortunate instances when a girl has to parade before 4/6/7 etc families. All the while she keeps getting rejected. How will she be equipped to handle such rejection? The reason for rejection could be family circumstances, (there could be a sibling who has married out of caste/religion, or dowry amount is not sufficient), and not due to the fact that she is found wanting in some area. But she gets rejected. How can she handle such rejection?
Many a times, even the boy can be rejected. These are young people, with fragile egos and their emotional and mental health could get affected. A bride viewing is done with some amount of fanfare. How to face society when one is rejected? What happens to the self respect, self esteem of the rejected person?
So what is the solution? Should such a situation not happen at all? Or do the boy and girl alone meet? Or do only the close family meet, without making a fan fare of it? Maybe the meeting happens at a common place, like a place of worship? The extended families get to see the boy/girl at the engagement ceremony? Will this offend the relatives? Or can this ceremony happen as a formality? The boy and girl have agreed to marry, the immediate family has given the permission and then the ritual takes place? There is no emotional upheaval since there is no question of rejection.
What is the best possible way? Surely when people are sensitive to others feelings, they will behave in a circumspect fashion? Is it possible for the elders to realize the effect all this has on the young adults who are center stage? The chances of a fair girl or boy being accepted are bright, but what happens when the boy or girl is dark complexioned, not from too affluent a family, etc? Then rejections are bound to happen. And it can affect the already fragile self esteem.
Is there any other way? Could all the other formalities like checking the social/educational/financial, etc background happen, the photograph is liked, then the bride/groom viewing happens? There are less chances of rejection then.
Tradition is fine, it shows a continuity. And following traditional rituals makes people come closer. So do you think this particular ceremony should go on as before? Can some changes come in? Is there a via media way?