First Comes Marriage, Then Comes Love
Elizabeth “Tibby” Fielding
To outside cultures, arranged marriages in the Hindu religion are often perceived as forced marriages. However, this view is naive. To this day, no matter how Westernized pockets of Hindu (Indian) culture have become, strict guidelines for matching partners in arranged marriages continue to be adhered to and are still preferred over love marriages. “Love marriage,” a union of two people based upon affection and mutual attraction, is highly discouraged in Hinduism because marriage is not initially meant to achieve love; instead, matrimony is a social and cultural duty for all Hindus. [From the most traditional perspective, love marriages diminish Indian culture and, tellingly, maintain high divorce rates. Also, the time it takes to fall in love and finally marry is not considered optimal to Hindus because of the lengthy engagement period.]
In the Hindu culture, when men or women decide to marry they want to proceed expeditiously. Because of this time constraint, love is not the optimal motivation. Love takes time. After interviewing a happily married Hindu couple who had an arranged marriage seventeen years ago, I learned some basic marital rules of their culture. The Nepali couple, Rom and Sarita Gnawali explained:
The Hindu religion is strict and will not support love marriages that have not been arranged by the couple’s elders accordingly and agreed upon by both families. And furthermore, a Hindu priest cannot legally perform a love marriage ceremony because marriage is protected by a rigorous set of laws.
Since the Hindu religion will not accept a love marriage as sanctified, marrying outside of those rigorous laws sacrifices your religious beliefs for love, which is highly unacceptable. Therefore, a couple having a love marriage cannot, by definition, have a traditional Hindu wedding.
According to Hindu marital laws, there are two types of arranged marriages. In the first, the two people who have been matched meet on several occasions to decide if they would like to marry. This meet-and-greet approach is a more modern practice. The documentary “ Into Nepal:
A Journey Through The Kathmandu Valley,” shows the second type of union. The arranged couple has a blind wedding where they meet on their wedding day (Prof. Jenna Swann and Jane
Vance). In the opinion of Rom and Sarita Gnawali, “the second type of marriage is more likely to occur in rural areas.” This blind method is not often favored today because of its obvious injustice to the individuals.
Arranged marriages are sought entirely for religious and family oriented purposes. To this day, however, it is still argued that love marriages offer more independence and freedom than Hindu arranged marriages (Mijar par. 5). Since love marriages are solely decided upon by the two people in love, their relationship may be overshadowed by lust because of the degree of freedom they have. One of the usual questions against an arranged marriage is how a person can possibly marry someone who is almost a stranger (Mijar par. 5). The response for Hindus is simple: religious Hindu people believe in the caste system and maintaining strict marital guidelines. Arranged marriages do not always remain happy and harmonious. Just like any other type of marriage, flaws may arise. According to Nayan Mijar, women have been known to stay in abusive relationships for the sake of family pride, respect in society and for religious sacraments (Mijar par. 8). However, women in love marriages have been more likely to involve themselves in abusive relationships and continue to stay for reasons such as security, children, and further violent behavior. Abusive relationships have become common among love marriages. These violent relationships contribute to the reasoning that arranged marriages are superior and safer according to traditional Hindu perspectives.
Love marriages, according to strict Hinduism, are undermining the Indian culture.
Arranged marriages prevent romantic attractions from interfering with long-established endogamic values. The book Mate Selection Across Cultures explains how “endogamy refers to the traditional custom where members belonging to a certain caste marry among themselves and where marriage outside the caste is considered taboo” (Medora 214). The caste system, a pyramidal set of separate classes, was established to preserve the hierarchical and patriarchal structure of Indian society. In the book From the Margins of Hindu Marriage, Courtright and
Harlan write, “through marriage a famil[y’s[sic] status may be maintained, strengthened or weakened” (5). Due to these long-standing Hindu marital customs, love marriages may potentially occur because the two who want to be married cannot be “arranged.” The couple may defy each other’s caste, creed, and family support, which will cause their family status to be weakened. When it comes to Hindu arranged marriages, in Medora’s words, “marital unions are religiously, economically, politically, and socially oriented” (214). Marriage in the Hindu culture is more important than the values of love; marriages clearly affect all aspects of a
Hindu’s life. But what if love fails? Love marriages have not been known to endure as well as arranged marriages.
Arranged marriages have stood the test of time. In the book Stochastic Models of
Decision Making in Arranged Marriages , Batabyal describes the matchmaking process for Hindu couples (Batabyal 12). He implies that matchmakers attempt to pair suitors with similar aspirations, goals, and interests (Batabyal 12). Compatibility plays a strong role in ever-lasting marriages. Couples who have love marriages are less likely to be well-matched compared to couples that have arranged marriages because attraction and lust may overshadow their ability for long and healthy marriages together. Also, love marriages are considered inferior because
Fielding 4 family professionals have matched arranged couples as well-suited equals who begin their marriage on neutral grounds. Rom Gnawali explained the positive aspects of an arranged marriage: he said, “Since I was the youngest son in my family, I was obligated to take care of my parents with my wife, Sarita. During this time period, my family grew very close to my wife and helped us to have a strong and lasting marriage.” Rom laughed for a second and continued, “The reason our marriage has been so strong is because we were made for each other and we were matched for each other perfectly.” The Gnawalis may only be one example of many who have maintained a perfectly happy and successful life as a couple with an arranged marriage.
Since arranged marriages have demonstrated longevity, divorce is not an option.
Divorce is highly discouraged and infrequent. According to Harlan and Courtright, “divorce seems to many people to be simply impossible for Hindu’s and to be symptomatic of the poor moral conditions of a culture where it is commonly practiced” (141). The Hindu culture shows contempt towards those who engage in love marriages because of their immoral standards and their high divorce rates. To Indians, divorce is morally wrong and degrading because in order to achieve re-birth in the next life, a Hindu must have fulfilled his or her life-long duties, one of which is marriage. Batabyal reports, “if the metric of divorce rates is used to measure the extent to which marriages work then it is certainly true that the divorce rate in places in which marriages are mostly ‘love’ is higher than places in which marriages are mostly ‘arranged’
(Batabyal 2).” In this revealing quotation, the “places” Batabyal refers to are mostly those where
Hindus have branched out from their traditional culture and have begun to lose sight of their religious beliefs and values. To simplify how arranged couples deal with their differences--in the words of Harlan and Courtright--a Hindu theory of divorce is implicitly expressed as works done with the whole heart and body; sometimes they become accomplished and sometimes they
Fielding 5 do not (142). This quotation expresses the idea that not all arranged marriages are perfect and happy, but the troubled couple does not easily give up and continues to work on their relationship regardless. The dedication that Hindu couples invest in their marriages is an example of their strong and devoted religious beliefs.
Marriage in the Indian culture is not initially an expression of being in love, but for religious family heritage. In Mate Selection Across Cultures , Medora describes that in an arranged marriage, love is expected to come after the wedding (214). Love is definitely a component of the Hindu culture, but it is not the basis for arranged marriages. Medora also argues that Hindu marriage is neither a means of attaining personal happiness nor a means of sharing one’s life with a person one loves (214). This quotation offers another example of how marriage is a religious sacrament carried out for family heritage. Before a couple marries,
Batabyal emphasizes that “a sense of understanding develops between two individuals, this is likely because they come from similar social, economic, and cultural backgrounds” (2). When arranged couples have just been married, they have an advantage over love marriage couples.
Arranged couples are on neutral grounds with one another and have similar background characteristics underlining their compatibility. In The Journal of Comparative Studies ,
“Gupta reported that love is generally considered a weak basis for marriage because it often overshadows suitable qualities in a spouse” (qtd in Medora 212). Compatibility seems to recur as the theme for the basis of marriages. Love, as arbitrary as it is, does not mean compatible nor does it mean forever. However, Sarita Gnawali confirms from her own personal experience,
“compatibility can easily lead to ever-lasting love”.
Love marriages are individualistic and damage the collectivistic ideals of arranged marriages. Medora writes, “individualism is correlated with personal initiative, personal
Fielding 6 autonomy, self-reliance, and personal freedom” (211). Love marriages in the Indian culture are individualistic because they stray from society and marital laws and the people choose their spouse without matchmakers. Medora also explains that contrary to popular Western opinion, most Indian young adults do not believe they have the knowledge and wisdom to select their perspective mates (211). This quotation shows that Indian people look at spouse selection as extremely important and do not want to disobey Hindu law by making selfish decisions without help from their families. Furthermore, Medora describes, “collectivism is related to family integrity, family unity, and family loyalty”(211). The family undertakes the arranged marriage process to preserve collectivistic ideas.
Arranged marriages are not as cruel as they are perceived by other cultures.
Marriage as a whole is a serious life altering process. Far too often, people all over the world have had several marriages throughout their lifetimes. Divorce is an unholy or at least unfortunate act in many religions, not just Hinduism. The collectivistic Hindu marital system has proven to have a positive and lasting effect on arranged marriages due to their matchmaking processes and endogamic values. Those who experience an arranged marriage know that the guidelines and expectations of their marriage help them to successfully maintain their relationships. Although love is important, it should not be the sole foundation. Love marriages still undermine the longstanding Indian culture. Marriage as a social and cultural duty for Hindus should be preserved to maintain the values and sacraments of Hinduism.