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The Indian wedding for Dummies - 1. The arranged marriage

The "Indian wedding" (I should say the Hindu wedding to be exact) has made the subject of numerous books, movies, visits to India. In short it’s an institution. I will try here to understand something to it!

Arranged marriage: and why not?!

Let's make the distinction between arranged marriage and forced marriage.

india,marriage,wedding,arranged marriage,forced marriage,love marriage,rites,ceremonies,rituals,divorce,sheet,mehndi,henna,baraat,sex,incompatibility,contract,classifieds,matrimonials,matchmaker,nayan,astrologers,horoscope,marry a tree,marry a pot,auspicious,date,joint family,kama sutraIf I can de-dramatize arranged marriages (read below), it is impossible to do the same with forced marriages which are still widely practiced in India: 40% of women do not have a word in the choice of the husband, less than 20% of women (over 25) knew their husbands before the fateful day and worse, almost 50% of women have married before the legal age of 18 (source).

Which means that there are still thousands of people (Hindus) who, each year, follow the tradition and find out whom they are going spend the rest of their lives with only when they are already married: SURPRISE! As per the custom to groom arrives first, and his view is hidden with a bed sheet, which is removed once the bride is brought in by her maternal uncle and cousins and the consent of the parents exchanged. The bed sheet is simply a less sexy version (but more promising ;)) of the veil used in Catholic marriages, originally to hide the face of the bride (source).

The concept of arranged marriage, still very prevalent in India (more than 90% of cases), tends to shock the Westerners. Before crying wolf and saying Indians are horrible, remember that from the time of Ancient Rome to the 19th century (i.e. 2 500 small years), the marriage of convenience was the norm in our civilization. The family was then a “business of social or economic survival” and marriage a “contract” to ensure its sustainability*.

What about love in an arranged marriage? When a Westerner thinks of arranged marriage, he immediately gets the image of a pretty girl forced to marry a loser, too ugly and too stupid to find a woman by himself! While in fact, parents seek someone who matches as much as possible – and we can assume that they know their offspring pretty well! And the candidate has a whole lot of criteria to fill: religion, caste, skin colour (fairness being an essential criterion of beauty), income, location, diet (non-vegetarien vs vegetarian), horoscope to mention only but the most important.

Whatever said and done, it is likely that two “virgins of love”, that many things draw close (see above-mentioned criteria), which have been waiting for it since childhood, end up loving each other (they so want it!). The passion, the ignition of the body and desire, is less guaranteed but at the same time it is known to be ephemeral, isn’t it? ;)

Let's be honest: who has never felt, while celibacy and the thirties are at their full, as meetings on the Internet have only led to failures (ending up, at best, as entertaining sex buddies), as the stock of single friends’ friends is exhausted, when the anxiety of ending up as a lonely spinster eaten by her cat makes the ball in your throat so big even Häagen-Dazs doesn’t get down anymore : “if only my awesome parents who have (almost) always fulfilled my whims could find me the perfect match!” Who did not want to make this call, unthinkable, and yet potentially life-saving?!

In the same vein, it is a bit hypocritical to criticize arranged marriage when you see the success of online dating sites in the West (in 2007, 1 out of 8 married couple in the US met online! source)).

And then even if it is not written black on white, if it is not man-da-tory, despite our increasingly multicultural environments, we are still largely endogamic – most of my friends have married people from their tribe, and it is certainly easier to manage than for the eccentrics who get a partner from another country, another colour, another religion or another social class. Easier because two endogamic people only have to overcome the differences due to gender and personality and not all the others. But it is also probably less outlandish, enriching and rewarding!

So when you dig a little, you realize that what mostly shocks my fellow Westerners is not so much the “arrangement” itself but rather the idea of not having “tested the goods before purchase”, ending up on the wedding night in bed with an unknown person... I admit that in our culture where sex is ubiquitous, obsessive, glorified, overvalued (?), the idea is off-putting. In addition it is a bad one if I take the example of my (Indian) close friends’ experiences: unconsumed union, weird practices, very often the man is not “up to the mark” and this up till the divorce! Seeing a young couple on honeymoon who has nothing to say to each other in the first days (before things warm up) surprises me every time, and makes me reflect on the oddity (from my point of view) of the situation.

And yet it is still the rule. For the lucky ones, the “choice” to refuse an application is becoming increasingly available. So is the option to introduce someone (from school, from the office) and if the afore-mentioned criteria are met and that the union takes place, it will be called a “love marriage” (even if very often, there is no romantic relationship). Real love marriages, guided by passion and defying the afore-mentioned criteria, remain very rare and often end up in bloodshed (especially in under-privileged backgrounds).

That is why passion is exalted as the Holy Grail (something you dream of but will never get) in the movies, and in families as a trouble maker (the uncontrollable versus the social codes that govern a well-ordered life).

* “It is during the 18th century that the family ceased to be regarded as a business of social survival or economic to rely more and more on the feeling of love [...] The mentioned change was influenced by economic factors such as industrialization, opening markets, wage labour, the progressive improvement of conditions of life, but also by an encouragement of the Church and the State. […] We can see, for example, that today, despite the diversification of modern societies which are often multicultural, a trend quite generalized to contract endogamic marriages; the choice of the partner is often influenced by social origin, ethnic, racial or religious.” Source:

Marriage is first a contract between a man and a woman. Subsequently, free consent developed, and marriage for love gradually override the marriage of convenience during the nineteenth century, in parallel with the evolution of the role of women in society, aimed to being the equal of men. This process culminated with the legalization of divorcein 1884. » Source:


Waiting in line? But what line??

It all began with an innocent question asked at breakfast by my new favorite Indian: “Tell me, all the French are as close to their family as you are? I was wondering, because Westerners are known to be individualistic, you know, so it’s a bit confusing... »

And BAM take that in the face! But I managed to keep my cool and patiently listen to his explanations of the Indian concept of the family which takes precedence over the individual. 

On the other hand I did not miss him a few weeks later, with a formidable smash: “The next time you tell me Westerners are individualistic (as opposed to Indians), I send you to the ladies’ line for bag screening with the Indian women, non mais attends!” 


We have all experienced it in India, and not only once, and at various levels... You are waiting in line to put your bag on the belt and an Indian woman, and then another Indian woman, just cut the line under your nose… Like nothing has happened...  

Yes, it happens in every line, or almost. Except that this time, to help the women who were being cut and getting upset but not daring to say anything, I used my body to block access to the belt and then BAM! an Indian woman threw her bag over my shoulder! The security man had the goodness to interfere before the ladies threw themselves at each other...  

india,west,individualist,individualistic,behavirour,line,waiting in line,line-cutting,marriage,divorce,elderly 

So you start wondering. Assholes who see a line and cut it exist everywhere – the French even have quite a reputation as experts in line cutting! But in this case? It was not a typical case of assholes-cutting-the-line, so what?? 

A plausible explanation to this common behavior in India would be the fact that demand is superior to the supply for almost everything here, due to the urban overpopulation: somehow they have to fight for everything. For instance, it is out of question to wait in a line to get into a local train in Mumbai, otherwise you can spend the night on the quay. It is much more recommended to step on your neighbors’ heads. But well, at the airport the scenario is quite not the same... 


I was very curious to understand what goes on in the heads of these women who see people waiting in a line and simply and purely ignore it. And my favorite Indian cared to give me an explanation, a very simple one:  

-       “They must have things to do in the destination place and are in a rush to go. 

-       But me too I have things to do, they can’t think of that? 

-       Then they must assume that what they have to do and hence their flight is more important than yours.” 


And booooom! Who is individualistic now huh darling??! Maybe most of human beings think they come first in this world no?


We finally discussed this topic a bit further. It appears that Indians and French probably have the same attachment to their family.  

In France, we are ‘individualists’ in the sense that we are looking for our personal happiness – we put ourselves before the society; but isn’t it a necessary condition to make our loved ones happy (being happy yourself)? And God knows that this individual pursuit of happiness is not easy... And that’s how, at eighteen we leave home to go dig our own path and build our own nest. This is not running away from our responsibilities (as it is perceived here), but quite the contrary. 


In India, it has more to do with order; there is a whole lot of rules (religious, social order, family order) and making sure this order is not disturbed is what seems to make them happy (or at least free of guilt for doing the wrong thing). And that’s how they live their entire lives with their parents and that, past the golden age of childhood, they start working at repaying their parents for everything they have done for them. But it doesn’t cost them because their children will do the same! Their life is kind of pre-written: you will study this, start working at this age, marry at this age etc. and doing this will make your family happy so you just go for it. Not everybody follows that of course.


Their killer argument (or so they believe) to defend the Indian system is the divorce rates and elderly being dumped in homes in the West. Which leads them to assume that family means nothing to us... 


Take the French statistics. If half of the marriages end up in a divorce, it is mainly at the request of women, and especially the active woman (1). A sign that becoming independence enables women to take less crap? Far from me the idea of advocating for divorce which, in my opinion, remains a traumatic event, even if more and more commonplace. But maybe it is a blessing in disguise, if women are happier then... And anyway it is the way it is! In conclusion, it is not so much that the family does not count for us, it is that the concept of the family evolves... For us, a couple who lives together without being married is a family. In India it was a crime up to 2010 (2). But it has been slowly changing, at the pace of the ‘Indian elephant’ (whose economy is growing slowly but surely, bringing along its societal changes...) (3). 


And as far as the elderly are concerned, if getting rid of them by sending them in hospices is nothing glorious, all retirement homes are not the same and also very few elderly actually live in such facilities – among the 75-79 years, only 3% live in institutions for elderly persons in France (4). And in fact, the number of homes where old people live in a place adapted to their movements, with proper medical assistance, activities, and buddies, has been exploding in India (5). I am always surprised when my Indian friends tell me about the family members living with them and mention a grandfather almost invalid who stays parked in his room the whole day and is the charge of a family member (without medical qualifications).  



(1) In France, in 2011, 44.7% of marriages end up in a divorce. In 3 out of 4 cases, the applicant's divorce are women and 68% of the women divorcing have a professional activity. The type of divorce in France has also heavily changed: divorce by mutual consent reached 54% in 2010. Source:; global statistics and fun facts: 



(4) Among the 90-99 years, 22% of men and 37% of women live in a facility for the elderly. Source: 



Why in India most men wear rings?



I got surprised first when I saw men wearing rings. Lots of rings. I still don’t like it but at least I understand it: they wear them out of superstition.


Spirituality and superstition, the line is very thin. I think belief in stone belongs to the second category but this is only my opinion…  Here some people are ready to pay a fortune to have a certain number on their car plate. Some women change their first name after marriage to have a more auspicious one. Some marry trees or cut the throat of a goat if the marriage is announced inauspicious by the stars – and we are talking high class society here.


So why not wear gems?

“In Vedic astrology, gemstones are recommended based on your horoscope. It is believed that by wearing these prescribed gemstones you can overcome the obstacles in your chart. The cause of unhappy relationships or lack of success can be astrological. Wearing a certain gemstone may turn your love life and career around so you can have a fulfilling relationship.      

Gems affect the subtle energy field, which emanates from every living thing, where our energetic and emotional habits, thought patterns, belief systems, and so on reside. The energy pattern of a gem directly affects one's emotional and mental energies, and over a period of time this promotes long-lasting changes.    

But the correct use of Gems is quite necessary. Gems are classified in to two types: Hot and Cold. Ruby, Red coral, Diamond and Cat's eye are Hot gems whereas Pearl, Topaz, Blue Sapphire and Gomed are Cold in nature.        


Ruby (Manimya)
india,stones,rings,jewels,gems,superstition,numerology,astrology,astronomyRuby is said to give name, fame, virtue, vigor, warmth and commanding power to its user. It also enhances the status of a person. It helps to cure peptic ulcer, fever, rheumatism, gout. Ladies should avoid the use of Ruby as it can destroy the body luster. Ruby should be used in Gold.



Pearl (Moti)         
india,stones,rings,jewels,gems,superstition,numerology,astrology,astronomyPearl is used to remove the evil effects of moon and it strengthens the mind and increases the good sleep and cures insomnia. It also gives good memory, cures uterine disorders, heart trouble and eye diseases, hysteria and pleurisy etc. It also increases sexual strength and makes the conjugal life happy, removes melancholy and increases fortune.



Red Coral (Moonga)        
india,stones,rings,jewels,gems,superstition,numerology,astrology,astronomyIt is said that Red Coral instills courage in its user. It also helps in curing blood related diseases. Coral ensures material happiness, recovery from diseases indicated by Mars such as fever, cough etc.



Emerald (Panna)              
india,stones,rings,jewels,gems,superstition,numerology,astrology,astronomyIt increases intelligence and brain power. It improves faculties related to brain such as memory, communication, intuition, the intellect and the ability to learn. It is advised that newly wed couples should not wear this because it impairs conjugal happiness due to reduction in sexual desires.


india,stones,rings,jewels,gems,superstition,numerology,astrology,astronomyTopaz is one of the most widely used gems to help achieve better financial status. It is also believed that if there are obstructions in finding a suitable match for a girl, she gets married by wearing Topaz. It improves vision, gives life security, protects one from poverty, removes adversity, misfortune and melancholy.



Diamond (Heera)              
india,stones,rings,jewels,gems,superstition,numerology,astrology,astronomyIt is said that the one who wears a diamond has a luxurious life. Diamond is also supposed to enhance the name, fame and artistic quality of a person. It also enhances sexual power, cures diabetes, diseases of urine and venereal diseases, skin and uterine diseases.



Yellow Sapphire (Pukhraj)            
india,stones,rings,jewels,gems,superstition,numerology,astrology,astronomyYellow sapphire gemstones are very useful in astrology and vedic properties. It has many healing powers and is very important in star signs. It is said that this gem increase financial status. It will give wealth, good health, fame, name, honour and success too.



Blue Sapphire (Neelam) 
india,stones,rings,jewels,gems,superstition,numerology,astrology,astronomyBlue Sapphire removes evil effects of Saturn. It is said that blue sapphire has the magical power to elevate its user to a higher status from all sides. However there is a caution. Sometimes this stone may react adversely. It is suggested that Blue Sapphire should be tested for one week before final wearing. It could give you everything you could desire such as health, wealth, longevity, happiness. It also restores lost wealth and property. Can improve fertility in a barren women.


Gomed (Gomode)             
india,stones,rings,jewels,gems,superstition,numerology,astrology,astronomyThis Gem is for Shadow planet Rahu. The Shadow planet Rahu is supposed to be responsible for all sorts of delays or very late fulfillment of ambitions. Gomed can help in achieving speedy success in less time than expected. It cures diseases caused by affliction of Rahu and Saturn. It also increase appetite, vitality, confers good health, wealth, happiness and all sound prosperity.


Cat's Eye (Lahasunya)    
india,stones,rings,jewels,gems,superstition,numerology,astrology,astronomyCat's eye is useful for eradicating evil influences of Ketu and diseases given by Mars. This protects its wearer from hidden enemies, mysterious dangers and diseases. This is normally milky in color. For businessmen, it is a miraculous result giving stone. Bestows wealth by secret means like horse racing, gambling, stock exchange market and speculations.”



The stones should be recommended by an astrologer. 

However there is also a stone depending on the month of birth: 


Aquarian (Jan. 21-Feb. 19): Garnet            
CONSTANCY. From the Latin Granatum. According to the legend Noah used a garnet to light his ark. The gem resembles the pomegranate. 


Pisces (Feb. 20-Mar. 20): Amethyst            
SINCERITY. From the Greek Amethystos, meaning without drunkenness. Amethysts have been used to signify Christian humility. Believed to protect a wearer from extremes of passion. 


Aries (Mar. 21-April 20): Diamond
INNOCENCE. Used in an ancient ritual in India, where wealthy parents would sprinkle tiny diamonds over the heads of infants to keep them pure and virtuous.


Taurus (Apr. 21-May 20): Sapphire              
CLEAR THINKING. Praised for both its beauty and coolness to the touch, some believed the sapphire could put out fires. It was worn by the Greeks speaking wisdom from the Oracle.


Gemini (May 21-June 21): Pearls 
HEALTH & LONGEVITY. Its round shape and luminosity help explain why it was long considered the sacred gem of the moon.


Cancer (Jun 22-July 22): Emerald               
LOVE & SUCCESS. The rich green of the emerald gemstones make them an appropriate symbol for new life. Said to be helpful to women, bringing love and safety in childbirth.


Leo (July 23-Aug.22): 5 stones: Onyx, Carnelian, Sardonyx, Tourmaline & Golden Topaz          
FIDELITY. Named for the island of Topazios, the ancient Greeks believed the yellow topaz guarded against calamity.


Virgo (Aug. 23-Sept. 22): Carnelian             
SUCCESS, STRENGTH. Believed to guarantee success in anything tried. The most favorable pieces are a deep red to red-orange hue. Carnelian was once considered strictly the property of nobility. People holding a high social status were often buried with this fleshy, pinkish-red gemstone.


Libra (Sept. 23-Oct. 23): Chrysolite or Peridot          
MARITAL HAPPINESS. Called the "gem of the sun," its black and white alternate sardonyx symbolizes both the sun and moon.


Scorpio (Oct. 24-Nov. 21): Topaz  
FIDELITY. It should be worn by every Scorpio to guarantee protection from "tears of sad repentance." 


Sagittarius (Nov.23-Dec. 21): Lapis Lazuli 
TRUTH AND FRIENDSHIP. Sagittarius also responds to the energies of topaz, chlorite, turquoise and red tourmaline. 


Capricorn (Dec. 22-Jan. 20): Ruby              
CONTENTMENT. Named from the Latin for red, it is said a ruby's luster will be revealed even if the stone is hidden beneath thick clothing.”




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