Monday, November 16, 2009

Arranged Marriage - A Dying System ?

If you are from India, you would obviously have a knowing smile on your face when you read the title. If you are not, then let me explain arranged marriage for you - simply put, like the word says, everything is arranged from ''boy meets girl'' to ''I do''. If you are wondering, why anyone would want to do that, well, there are a lot of good reasons behind it and you would be amazed at how well it works most of the well it worked most of the time.

So why this sudden confusion ? What is happening to the age old system ? India is evolving....much faster than many can cope with and the system every step.


The girl's parents are always proactive about beginning the search for a suitable groom. The age at which this begins vastly depends on the economic and social background of the family as well as the caste. It can vary anywhere between 18-25.

Yesterday: It starts with a simple word-of-mouth propaganda, most likely at some wedding. The girl might not even be aware of it and only when her amma insists on her wearing a sari and getting all dressed up does she get the first inkling of ''something'' going on. At the end of the wedding, one ends up with at least a few possible leads. Key qualifications for the groom would mostly be having a govt. job, good habits and preferably in the same city.

Today: It starts with a creation of a matrimony profile. The problem starts right with who should create the profile, what should and what shouldn't be in it; right from the photo to hobbies, everything is painstakingly checked and entered and checked. Some less-technology-friendly people place ads right from the Hindu to the Mylapore times. Key qualifications include a masters degree, 6 figure salary and preferably not in the same country !

- Girls and boys today have a different/definite opinion on when they should get married. Most of them want to start working and be on their ''own'' for a while before they even want to start thinking about marriage. But parents start their homework as soon as their kids get the placement order.
- The younger generation flees at the mention of a prospect in a wedding. They are there for some harmless flirting (mostly) and fun; they are not interested in getting ''hooked'' or being judged by the propect's near and extended family members. Parents, understandably, are completely baffled by this behaviour.
- When it comes to the matrimony profile, parents insist on creating one themselves and they love to use words like ''homely, adaptable'' for the girl and insist on her uploading pics in a pattu sari for the benefit of the groom's parents. The girl on the other hand, is more interested in making a good impression on the guy, who probably knows the dictionary meaning of homely and is least interested in what he thinks is a ''mami-type-girl''.


Deciding on the filtering criteria is probably where everyone is at cross roads.

Yesterday: Choices are few, preferences are fewer. The top picks are usually from families that the groom's parents considered most compatible.

Today: Choices still are few, list of preferences is endless though. Parents worry about the family, girl worries about guy's hair, job, location, salary, habits, past relationships, fluency in English,......etc., etc., etc.;guy worries about girl's figure, hair, job, location, past relationships, views on feminism,.....etc., etc.

- Parents are frustrated with their kids trying to figure out the compatibility factor. Isn't there such a thing called compromise or adjust ? Their kids though are looking for soul mates !
- Kids can not and do not explain their requirements to parents. The older one gets, the more judgmental one becomes. A girl getting married at 21 definitely has fewer expectations than one getting married at 25 because in those 4 years, she has met and interacted with many more people and has let go of a part of ignorance/innocence that was with her at 21. The same argument holds good for a guy too.


For those not familiar with this, the process refers to comparing the horoscopes of the girl and the guy to figure out what the astronomical signs has in store for both of them (very similar to the zodiac sign column that claims libra with virgo is complicated while libra with scorpio apparently spells trouble....kadavule...)! This turns out to be one of the easiest filtering criterion for the forthcoming steps.

Most families choose an auspicious day to take the horoscopes to the temple, pray that the process goes on smoothly, before they take it to the josiyar (astrologer).

Yesterday: The horoscopes are posted to families, typically in an envelope with manjal and kungumam in each of its corners. A family astrologer compares the horoscopes and rates them on a scale of 1-10 (with 10 being the best). As far as I know, anything better than 6 is ok.

Today: Horoscopes are sent mostly via email, sometimes via fax and rarely via post. Family astrologer says 6, neighbourhood astrologer says 8, online horoscope matching services say 4, groom doesn't care about it, girl believes in Zodiac signs, indha nal iniya nal* says its not a good time to even think about horoscope matching !

Do I have to explain the confusion separately ?!

STEP 4: PENN PARKUM PADALAM (boy meets girl)

Once the horoscope matching gives the green light, the process shifts to the next gear and the families start talking.

Yesterday: Everyone agrees on an auspicious day and the groom and his family are invited to the bride's house or to a suitable location close to the bride's house. The magnitude of the occasion, the number of people present, the location, how the bride is dressed up, how many kilos of Gold she is wearing, what she is asked to do, what is on the menu, what kind of interaction are the groom and bride permitted to have are all based once again on the caste and economic as well as social background of both the families.

Typically, the bride brings in coffee, serves snacks to the groom and his family and is gawked at during this time. She may further be induced to exhibit her talent (or the lack of it as the situation may be) by singing and/or playing an instrument. This is followed by the families talking to one another about wedding expenses and dowry while the bride and groom, if they are lucky, have a few moments of privacy, to judge each other.

For the bride and groom, it is in the least official sight-adichufying (gawking) !

On another note, I have two favorite scenes in this category -one from ''Thooral ninnu pochu'' (I couldn't find the whole scene in youtube, but here some bits and pieces - Part 1 and Part 2) and other from ''Mayi''.

Today: The families pass on the email-id of the girl to the guy and vice versa. First, formal emails are exchanged. Depending on this communication, a chat session is set up, after accounting for hectic work schedules and time differences. Both are online - one waits for the other to ping and usually, the guy gives in first. After the first chat session, decision is made as to meet again in chat or in the best case, exchange phone numbers to call each other. In between all this, parents get one line updates about how the whole thing is going on.

If the phone calls go on well, a place to meet is fixed, usually a mall or a coffee shop. This first meeting makes or breaks the alliance. If however, there is a slight doubt, a subsequent second meeting is arranged. The families meet for an official ''penn parkum padalam'' if and only if both parties have already made up their mind. In this case, it is pretty informal. Girl and guy get to sight adichufy, azadu vazhinjify (gawking and drooling) as much as they want.

- Parents lose patience when their daughter/son is chatting and talking with a guy/girl for months without reaching any decision whatsoever ! chumma kadala podardha amma appa epdi othupa (parents simply don't understand flirting)?! Their BP shoots up when their daughter/son is actually talking to multiple people with each prospect being in a different stage of scrutiny. Thanks to VoIP that people are not going bankrupt during this process !
- Girls/guys today are either not desperate or do not want to seem desperate (even if they are), so they take their own sweet time in moving from one step to another. But parents are desperate, they want this nerve-wrecking process to end and they keep dreaming of a wedding.


After ''boy meets girl'', a decision is arrived at and is communicated to the family.

Yesterday: Yes or no decision lies with the parents. The girl/guy might add their 2 cents, if permitted. In most cases, abject filial obedience is extended. The decision is usually communicated by word-of-mouth by a person known to both families or via a letter.

Today: Making the decision and choosing when to make the decision is in the hands of the girl/guy in most cases. Parents are left to communicate the ''no'' by means of an embarassing phone call while the ''yes'' is usually communicated by the girl/guy in very creative ways !

- The younger generation argues ''There are a 1000 people out there with all the right qualities. Does it mean I can marry all of them or any of them ?''. But in case of a ''no'', parents are completely irritated with the ''There is no chemistry'' statement. This is just greek and latin to them. They have no clue what exactly this means although they regularly watch all tamil movies !
- Parents hate being left out of the decision making process. Their input is rarely solicited and even when it is, only as information.

So why did arranged marriage work before and why is not working so well today?

Inherent faith and trust in parent's judgement: Children trusted the choices of parents even when they were not completely satisfied with it. They believed with all their hearts that parents live only for their happiness and anything parents do will be for their children's well being. This trust was fuelled by the fact that all prior decisions in their life were also made by their parents - education, job etc.

Today, however, children are leaps and bounds ahead of their parents and they start making their own decisions at a very young age - be it choosing to study for IIT or going for a MBA, they make their own choices and parents are involved in the decision making process purely as a sponsor. When parents hardly place any restrictions on these choices, children assume (very conveniently) the same with regards to choosing a life partner.

Joint families: Living in a joint family instigates a very strong feeling of family over everything. So during a marriage, it is but natural for the requirement that the girl should be compatible not only with her spouse but also with the rest of the family, to take the forefront. Moreover, seeing the success of a number of arranged marriages (of siblings, cousins etc.) within the family boosts the belief in the system.

Today, hardly anyone lives in a joint family. In fact, very few people actually even live with their parents after graduating from school. Many girls/guys meet their families just once a year. So even when they understand that their life partner might not be exactly compatible with their families, they figure that they have to adjust/adapt just for a few days every year.

Age and experience: Young girls and boys hardly spent their lives away from home. People they meet belong to a very small circle. So when it comes to choosing a life partner, they are comfortable in leaving the choice to the experienced parents. Also, getting married at a young age, they have very few expectations since they themselves still would not have figured out what they want from life.

Being on their own, in a hostel or abroad or in a different city for work is very common. This not only expands their outlook about life but they grow to expect. They also start trusting the paradigm ''I know what is best for me''. They do not live in a protected environment and they start mixing with people from all walks of life - different cultures, languages, races, so often that the differences hardly matter at one point, once they figure out a common wavelength. They extend this logic to marriage too.

Values and tolerance: When one grows up with a belief, it becomes a part of oneself and the need for questioning it never arises. For example, the first time I thought about why Hindus have so many Gods was when a German friend asked me about it. Until then, I had accepted it without thinking about it (actually, I still do) ! Filial obedience, respect to elders come what may belong to the same category. Marrying someone of parent's choice and leading a life with him/her was considered a duty. Any problems in it was dealt with, but there never arose a question of breaking away from the duty.

Today, there are people who want to live with each other first to figure out what they are dealing with before committing themselves for a lifetime. There are other ''conservative'' people who prefer to do this on the phone or via chat to know all that is possible about a person before saying ''yes''. Long distance relationships are becoming more and more difficult. The room for compromise is reducing every day. There are problems with both love and arranged marriages but the argument is in the former case, I pay for my mistake (which I can deal with) but in the latter, I pay for my parents' mistake.

So, what is the solution ?
Darwin's theory => survival of the fittest.

For Parents: Remember that your son/daughter is probably meeting at least 5 prospective suitors every day in one way or another and the probability that they fall for one of them is really high. So if you are intent on an ''arranged marriage'' you should bend your rules for them because it is a lot easier for them to choose someone they meet everyday rather than M123456 (no offence, if this is a real id !). Trust them. You want them to be happy with someone, right ? Does it really matter if that someone is not dressed in the way you want or is not familiar with the pujas you do ? Give them time, they will learn it, for you, just for you, for accepting them into the family !

For Children: Remember that your parents have a lot of dreams about you and your wedding, probably right from the day you were born. They grew up in a different India, give them time to understand your needs, don't push it down their throats. If they can understand time difference, learn to work with computers, hook up the internet to login to yahoo or gtalk and fumble with the webcam, just to get a glimpse of you and to talk to you for a few minutes, can you/your partner not make an effort to fall in with their ways ?

A lot of love, a bit of respect and an iota of diplomacy and tact should do the job. Vazhga, Valarga (Live long and prosper) !

Disclaimer 1: If you are a staunch believer in the idea of an arranged marriage, please do not be offended by this post. I have only jotted down my thoughts from all the different experiences and stories I have heard and seen.

Disclaimer 2: Kudugalama irukara kudumbathula kummi adikarthathuku illa indha post. Chumma thoninatha ezhudi irukken, idha parthutu oru payyano ponno love marriage panninda, appas/ammas phonela thittu vangikaren, blogla vendam.....bad for the rep :D ! This is just food for thought, don't blame the blog or the author for your decision.

Copyright for pictures:
1. Just married hindi movie


  1. @Dewdrop

    I was actually expecting some pretty strong views from you, this terse comment is a surprise :)

  2. Actually I started reading it at a wrong time .. So, I read it with a sense of urgency ..

    Will re-read it looking for some tiny insights that you have actually fed in ..

    Good one and a comprehensive one ..

    Must be in the making for atleast 2 weeks ... Honestly ???

  3. @Gokul

    I wrote it over the weekend, a bit on saturday afternoon and the rest on sunday night...honestly !

    W.r.t the insights, remember (and probably ask your parents to too)the disclaimer :D!

  4. Pretty long and interesting analysis.. To me the balance is somewhere in between!! In a society like ours the caste,custom and religion form a important factor in a marriage and that has not been dealt in this..

    On a lighter note if we have to switch to Love Marriages all of a sudden, there would be scores of guys would be left single :)

  5. @Bharath

    I specifically avoided caste and religion since that might touch some nerves and chose to mention it quite a few times because I believe that along with economic and social background are really strong drivers in this - there are still people in villages who stick to the 'old' style, there are still castes where the girl is offered no choice etc.

    I am not suggesting switching to love marriages, I like the love-and-arranged kind where everyone is happy because I believe in the strong family ties in India.

  6. //
    I specifically avoided caste and religion since that might touch some nerves and chose to mention it quite a few times because I believe that along with economic and social background are really strong drivers in this - there are still people in villages who stick to the 'old' style, there are still castes where the girl is offered no choice etc.//

    Too complicated.. I'm not too sure i understood ur comment properly.. I feel caste and religion are the crux of this problem and thats major reason Love marriages doesnt get the acceptance in the society.. and castesim is not only in villages but quite rampant everywhere..

  7. @Bharath

    My mistake….should have explained it properly

    I avoided discussing caste because it is a touchy subject, but I referred to it throughout the article since I agree with you that it is a strong driver.

    I meant caste, economic and social situation influence this system a lot – caste is obvious; economic background because neither the really rich nor the really poor care about it too much, middle class dhan maatikum. Social background because I have seen a vast change in outlook towards marriages among families (belonging to the same caste) living in different places say in Singapore or Bombay or Chennai or Melmaruvathur, it progressively becomes “orthodox”, for lack of a better (or safer) word.

  8. Ah.. now its clearer.. true the middle class madhavans are the problem.. I agree to a large extent reg ur social background theory but still I feel its just because of lack of resources.. when they get to choose they always paly the caste card!!! Its really a shame..

  9. pheww.. finally padichu mudichiten.. he he.. good one though! Really interesting :-)

  10. @Pranaav

    romba vala valanu irukkunu naane nenachen, ana edit pannave mudiyala...unarchi vasapattu oru full flowla ezhuditen :D !

  11. Thanks for the online horoscope matching website :-) evalO mukkiyamaana oru vishayam :-)

  12. @SK

    aha...avana nee ?!?

    mariyadhayoda sonna (avar) andha kelvioda effect poidum, so bear with me :)

  13. Hi, i read this topic at the right time, as i am at the end of my studies and my parents r looking for a marumage (daughter-in-law)...

    I would be very happy if my family follows the Today's procedure (according to ur blog) of arrange marriage. But i am happy that they dont follow yesterday's procedure :) Since i m a jain, the procedure followed in my family (caste) is the mixture of both n my parents have given me the choice of saying yes or no :D

  14. cool..."mind le vechukeren"..

  15. Wow enna oru concept! In another 50 days kalyanam. ippovavadhu indha blog ae padichaenae.
    Kandippa as I am experiencing the process of arranging marriage (especially with my story) is a challenging one. I enjoyed each and every bit of it. I am still holding the indian tradition of arranged marriage concept and trying to explain it to my aussie fellowmates. Nice one Sowmie... oru flow le ivalo ezhudhuveeya... appa Maapilai kitta solli seekiram neeyum PhD pannu. thesis ellam summa nodiyilae mudichuduva ! Keep up ur blogging....


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