South Indian Marriages today: Is symbolism reigning supreme???

Are we a confused society today??????

is the question that comes to my mind when I go to attend south indian  marriages today.  I speak only of brahmin marriages since that is what I know to some extent and that is what I draw my thoughts from. I am not sure if I am the one who is ignorant or whether most of the people involved, including the seniors ignorant and confused about how a marriage is to be conducted and why we do many of the traditional procedures in a marriage.

I am quite sure many of us do not understand why some procedures are done in some way and even if known, is that relevant today? Culture has to be a dynamic entity and not one bound hard in an era which we for some reason like to cherish. Let me deal with specifics so as not to lose focus.

There is an event called the ‘Kashi yatra’ which is held. The story goes that in early does, boys used to go to gurukula and learn vedas and other stuff. That stage is called brahmacharyam. Once he completed the initial training at the gurukula, he would need to embark on a journey to the himalayas for further training and practice. He leaves home and is headed to the himalayas. Seeing a nice guy going off, a father of a girl approaches him and asks him to postpone his journey by a few decades. He asks the guy to get married to his daugher, take care of her and then may be later in life, he could resume his journey to the himalayas. The guy agrees and hence the marriage happens. Great!!!! Makes a lot of sense in that context. Is that relevant today? Why do we still have to make the guy ‘SYMBOLICALLY’ get started on his journey to himalayas (which he no way intends to…) , put a person with an umbrella behind him and then get the girl’s father to come and stop him enroute. All the while, the purohit or pandit instructs each of them what they are supposed to do. Obviously so, because neither the guy nor the father know what the script is until the last moment when the purohit directs the movie.. Yes. It is a movie because there is a camera rolling…

I do not want to be cynical and demeaning of what is done. Just that I am amazed why we have to live in the past and do stuff as it used to be done ages ago. Can we not be original? I am left confused as to what we are trying to achieve. What I illustrated above is just one of the great series of events that fit to form the marriage script. What troubles me is the sense of ‘artiificiality’ in the whole event. Apart from a top few experienced people, few know the sequence and much fewer people understand why many of the things are done. Since experts (pundits) are available to direct the show, the actors (including bride and groom) care little to learn anything about the age, the context and the history behind the tradition. For the actors, it is only a matter of a one day or two day event where they get to meet a lot of their family and friends and showcase their prowess in holding a marriage in a ‘nice’ way. The events per se and their meaning has little value for them. The seniors though are very serious about getting it done the ‘right’ way but what the ‘right’ way is, is driven by the one who calls the shots.

I dont want to keep writing too much. I felt strongly about this and hence am writing. Its been many many marriages I have attended and this sense has been growing all the time. Two things reign supreme, ‘symbolism’ and ‘copy-cat’ nature. I would much rather like to see an event driven less by what ‘ought’ to be the ‘right’ way and more by what the two families getting united like and feel the ‘right’ way is to express their respect for the other and to ‘break the ice’ so that a lasting relationship can flourish.

In our culture, marriage is more a union of two families than just the union of the couple getting married. Its absolutely fine. Good. Forms a good support structure for the couple. Social instinct is in all of us. Most like to get together with all of near and dear ones, establish new relationships etc. All that is relevant. Why not stick with just that and do it in a way we all feel it is good to do?

Food is a big part of marriage and rightly so. The greatest respect one can show to another is to call the other to their place and serve them good food by one’s own hands. That is great. I love it. I am just back from a marriage where even the cooking is done by the family members themselves. They themselves cook for then hundreds who come and serve by their own hands. Nothing better to start off in a new relationship. That though does not happen in most marriages. It has become increasingly difficult with the way we live now and with the number of people attending a marriage. That is an area which is ruled nowadays by contractors who do it all…. Just that the vastly important personal touch is lost. The host now just comes around to see that you are having a good meal….

I am not writing in a very organised manner. Started writing only because the force of the thought really is too high for me to resist writing. I am not sure how much of what I feel i have been able to echo in the above lines but am quite sure many of us would relate well to the topic.

In the end, I only want to see why we are doing what we are doing and why we should probably change. May be, may be we are just too happy to ‘hail’ our ancestors and attribute great laurels to them for establishing great traditions. Yes. They certainly were great because they started off a tradition based on original ways of doing things as suited to their context. It is we, today who are demeaning them by not being worthy descendants. We instead of again establishing great tradition as per our context today are just living with a ‘those-were-good-old-days’ feeling. In our enthusiasm to hail our ancestors and our traditions, we are losing out on an opportunity to bring realism into our culture. Hope we do not end up destroying the respects for our great ancestors among the coming young generations. Wish we could borrow the nice principles set forth in tradition, adapt it and conduct marriages (and other functions too) in a more original and relevant-to-today manner. Hope that would bring back the much needed realism and ‘genuine’ relationship amongst the families coming together. (It is much easier to show respect in a ‘formal’ way than in an informal instantaneous manner.)

We have had great ancestors who set forth great traditions. Living upto their status, we today as their descendants should establish traditions that would last a few generations ahead. If it lasts for too long, then tradition would become a burden rather than a boon. Culture and traditions need to be dynamic, changing to the needs of today or else, they risk dying and being consumed by other cultures or traditions.

Hoping to see more marriages which we can understand without the help of an ‘expert commentator’ sitting beside us and relating to us the script in the absence of who, we come back from the marriage function with not just a stomach full of good food but also a mind full of questions and confusion…..

Jai Hind !!!

9 thoughts on “South Indian Marriages today: Is symbolism reigning supreme???

  1. Jayakumar May 29, 2011 at 6:47 pm Reply

    Well written article, agree to your viewpoint. However in my opinion we can’t just only talk about ceremonies done in marriages, which has become so artificial. Even it is true in the way every other thing (kumbabishekam, hanuman jayanthi, ganesha chathurthi, deepvaali etc..) where the real meaning the purpose is totally lost. In my opinion we live in such a confused society, where thinking (be it rational or anything) process itself is totally lacking.

    • amrudspeak May 30, 2011 at 2:13 am Reply

      Thnx. 🙂 . Well. When it comes to kumbabishekams etc held at the temple and performed by priests, I am not sure how much is known of why. May be they know better but at least for all family level functions, getting ‘real’ is fast becoming essential…. I hope to find some time to start studying these aspects more in depth but not sure how soon that can happen…

  2. Naveen May 31, 2011 at 6:04 am Reply

    nice one .. i cant appreciate your point more.. i spent some time before marriage trying to understand the rituals and some of them were so outdated… The only thing that matters now a days is the “intention” of why the ritual is there and not the actual one..

    also, i keep asking this question myself – “how many people think/understand why they or their kids need marriage” !!! This itself is the big copy-cat kind of thing…

    • amrudspeak May 31, 2011 at 4:12 pm Reply

      Thnx. 🙂 . Hmmmmmmm…. Coming to the question of whether at all marriages make sense and are required, I do think that people would always want relationship; at least 90% of humans would. Whether relationship has to be a marriage is another question. I had some thoughts on that too in 2006… U may check out . (Disclaimer: I am still a batchelor and all things written are but creations of my mind… 😉 )

  3. rekha May 31, 2011 at 3:51 pm Reply

    Well written article, Amrudesh. I however disagree with you. These rituals add charm and tradition and the much needed “Indianness” to the event. If we didn’t have these then it would be at best a registered marriage or a westernized one. My own marriage had all these rituals and since my husband does not understand Tamil or Sanskrit, the priest actually explained us to in English the relevance of each of these traditions like looking at the Dhruva nakshathram etc..If the people who actually understand these traditions (the seniors, the priests) made more of an effort to explain what was going on we would comprehend and with comprehension comes respect. In my opinion the blind mantram chanting is what is reducing the marriages to a charade. I loved wearing traditional clothes and having a traditional wedding even though it was uncomfortable. Wouldn’t want it any other way. 🙂

    • amrudspeak May 31, 2011 at 4:21 pm Reply

      Hi Rekha,
      I can certainly appreciate ur point of view. One of my cousin sister’s marriage was also was really good fun. All traditional stuff were followed and especially the garland changing (maalai maatrudal) ceremony was gud fun with the girl and boy evading getting garlanded etc… Fun certainly has to be a big part of marriage. I actually have been amazed how much close small silly games can bring people together. I am all for fun amidst the serious job of exchanging lifelong validity vows. My trouble is only with some irrelevant ceremonies, our defensive attitude about the sacredness of the rituals and unwillingness to be original and relevant. I do plan to do a little more digging on the reasons behind the ceremonies. Hope I can make some time… May be there are already some good books on it. am quite curious. 🙂 .

      • rekha May 31, 2011 at 5:19 pm

        Ahem…All this curiosity about marriage rituals makes me wonder if you are next in line? Any good news to share? 🙂

  4. Sriram June 2, 2011 at 7:50 am Reply

    I completely agree Amrud.. Having gone through this and seeing many such things in life personally.. have gained one thing for sure.. Never in my life will i do something which will have less of purpose and more of people..

    Marraiges is a way to show the power of money and what a money can do. Very little focus given to the likes & dislikes of actual hero and herione.. they are just a puppets in the hands of so called seniors around.. dance to the tune of the seniors… photographer..pundits..

    It is a process that is filled with very little joy and more of chaos and controversy.. relationship between the two families starts getting scratchy from this day onwards.. each side has their own story of how things went wrong and where things could have be done better..

    Atleast, i will be one of the new generation couple who will not repeat those stupid so called procedures or customary practices..

    You spoke my feelings..

    • amrudspeak June 2, 2011 at 4:41 pm Reply

      “Less of purpose and More of people…” Nice phrase… 🙂 .

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