Sunday, September 13, 2009

Random Thoughts about Marriage (Part 1 of 2)

After reading Varsha Shrote’s blog, The Big Fat South-Indian Wedding, I was reminiscing about marriages in India and various customs.

She attended a Tamil wedding. Even in Tamil weddings, there are different customs and practices, particularly between Brahmins and non-Brahmins.

For example, in a Tamil Brahmin marriage, when the groom ties the THAALI (MANGALSUTRA) to the bride’s neck, she will be sitting on the lap of his father. The bride will be wearing a 9 yards saree (madisaar). The groom will be standing in front of them and tie the knot.

In a Tamil non-Brahmin marriage, the groom and the bride will be sitting on the floor side by side and the groom will turn around towards her and tie the THAALI. The bride will be wearing a 6 yard saree.

It is a happy occasion for all. It is actually a happy social gathering. However, all the mantras are recited in Sanskrit. Neither the groom nor the bride or for that matter no one assembled in the hall knows the meaning of these mantras. At the time of tying the knot, the following sloka is mechanically recited without understanding what it means:

Maangalyam thanthunaanaena mama jeevitha haethunaa /
kanttae bathnaami supahae sanjeeva sarasa satham.

The meaning is: "This yellow rope is managala suthram. This will help my longevity. I shall now tie this rope in your neck. I pray you live happily for a hundred years.

In Tamilnadu, it is legal to marry certain relatives. For example, I can marry:

My sister’s daughter. My father’s sister’s daughter. My mother’s brother’s daughter.

If I have to say in a cruel uneducated village language, I have the first “right” to marry her. About 35 years ago, 60% of marriages in Tamilnadu were among close relatives like the above. In some villages, there have been riots and murders when the bride’s father looked for a groom outside of the immediate relatives, when one was available within the relatives. Even today, marriages between relatives are common in Tamilnadu.

Yes, every one knows that it is unhealthy. Children may born handicapped. But family tradition takes precedence.

In Northern India, these cousins are considered sisters/brothers. When I was unmarried, I told a North Indian friend of mine that I may end up marrying (arranged marriage) my mother’s brother’s daughter. He got furious and stopped talking to me for a month. He thought I was about to commit some sort of incest. For those who are interested, I did not marry any of my relatives. My wife is an outsider.

Addressing this type of cousin as “brother” or “sister” is very common in North India. Even some close family friends are addressed as “relatives”.

This reminds me of an anecdote. My wife’s brother is married to a Punjabi girl. They lived in New Delhi. When we visited them, they took us to his father-in-law’s home. The father-in-law told my wife that he is going to see his “mathaji” next block and if she wants to accompany him to meet her. My wife said OK and accompanied him. In the next block, they both went to an old lady’s house. He fell on her feet for blessings. So did my wife. He introduced her to my wife that this is his “mathaji”. When we came home, my wife asked her brother as to why he did not tell her before hand that Kiran’s (her brother’s wife) grand mother is living nearby. Then her brother and Kiran have to explain the whole situation that this old lady was a close family friend and not her father’s real mother. Until the explanation, my wife really believed that her manni’s (elder brother’s wife) grand mother lived nearby.

Here is another one. While on the same visit to New Delhi, after a few days, a couple visited my brother-in-law and his wife. They were introduced to us. When they were leaving, the gentleman said that he was glad that his sister is living in USA. I immediately asked him where she is living in USA. He then pointed out to my wife and said I meant this sister of mine.

Since this blog is getting a longer, I will call this Part 1 and stop. Stay tuned for Part 2. More interesting anecdotes.

53 comments:

  1. true! This concept is alien to some! Infact I find thought the practice of marrying first cousins was common in the muslim community. A close friend of mine is a muslim and she explained that she may end up marrying her cousin! :)

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  2. This part of marrying withing the family I find very strange, earlier I knew that this was only in musllim community and I use dto wonder how all the relations will turn topsy turvy..there are no inlaws and our family distinction which may be good also, but normally we in north cant see a cousin that way..like marrying.

    In north we have this habit of making relations)( bahut jaldi rishta bana lete hain)..and earlier we used to follow and maintain also the same love and respect of that relation, now I cant say.........
    This thali ritual is now followed in north also, so much that some new girls dont even know that we have taken this from south, it was not north ndian ritual:)

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  3. Thanks for your comments Poorva. It is not just muslims. Also, Hindus in Tamilnadu marry first cousins. It is the tradition.

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  4. Thanks for your comments Renu. I know North Indians cannot even imagine this kind of marriage.

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  5. One more thing Renu. Your comment:
    (bahut jaldi rishta...). Can you please explain in English. Because i am one of those people who don't know Hindi.

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  6. Yes i have heard of this...different religions have different customs..some question n some dont!!

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  7. This is an interesting post, SG! As you know I am married into a Tamil family and follow the tradition of Tamilians at home. I wrote a post on 'Arya samaaj wedding' and liked it very much mainly because, the mantras were translated word by word into Tamil and the wedding rituals (they covered all the important rituals) were finished within one hour.

    I hate the custom of marrying inside the family. My sister-in-law was after me, to marry her daughter to my son. My son resembles her daughter a lot! They look like brother and sister. I can't even think of imagining them together. She says, 'soththu velile pogak koodaathu!'- means our money and property should not go outside the family! Huh, I will never do that.

    Somehow, I like the habit of North Indians called everyone as 'Bhayya or bhai saab' and 'bhaabhi'.

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  8. they make a relationship very fast - translation to renu's sentence...aah, i m not alone...:)

    pretty informative SG...Mandar's family is south indian - telugu, and we are gujjus, so we gotta see two different customs...anecdotes were damn hilarious...

    if i am not wrong, you are a sanskrit junkie too right?

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  9. Sorry ,mI keep forgetting and sometimes write something in Hindi...Neha has already translated it...its a little poetic expression that we make relationships very fast:)

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  10. Very informative.
    I find the concept of marrying cousins absurd. Same time, I used to find it amusing when people from North make a relationship so fast. And the next moment, you realize how sweet of them to be doing that

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  11. It is common even in Karnataka to marry cousins. But these days we seldom see such alliances happening. Thankfully!
    It might still be present in the rural parts of the state but atleast it has reduced to a large extent within the Kannada Brahmin community.

    And yes I have witnessed few TamBrahm weddings and its so much fun. I excitedly look forward for oonjal and yummy food in their weddings :)

    Will wait for part 2 :)

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  12. I guess most ppl used to prefer to marry within their families so that the wealth doesn't seep out :P such idiotic reasons.

    I'm glad times are changing..for the better.
    Bring on Part 2.

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  13. yup! in northern india when deciding for suitors, 4 'gotras' are left so as to avoid any possibility of getting married to some relative, (even some distant one!)...its considered a form incest...

    Parsi community also do not allow interreligion marriages, but old customs are changing in todays world.
    my brother married a sweet German lady, some of the rigid relatives had some issues, they finally agreed but demanded certain 'pujas' to be done....ironically, most marriages in my family are inter region and intercaste :D

    but now a dayz pple are very open about marriages :D

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  14. Thanks for your comments Nazish. Yes, different religions and different customs. But one nation. Unity in diversity.

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  15. Thanks for your comments Sandhya. Money and property should not go outside the family? You must be very rich.

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  16. Thanks for your comments Neha. I am not a Sanskrit junkie. Read some Sanskrit literature in English. Therefore, I can BS my way through.

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  17. Thanks Renu and Neha. Now I know some additional Hindi words.

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  18. Thanks for your comments Insignia. You are right. The concept of marrying among cousins is absurd. More absurd and rediculous is in some royal families (outside India) own brother and sister marry to keep the royal blood within the family.

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  19. Thanks for your comments Shruthi. Oonjal is nice. But I like the Maalai Maatral (exchange of garland) between the groom and bride. Both groom and bride sit on the shoulders of uncles and each side make it difficult for the other side to put the garland.

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  20. Thanks for your comments lostworld. I have already written Part 2. I am going to publish it Monday morning (India time). I read it as if somebody else wrote it. I just ROFL. Stay tuned.

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  21. Thanks for your comments AS. As I said before, unity in diversity.

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  22. What? That is a disgusting and ridiculous practice to marry your cousin.
    Let me get this straight -
    It’s ok to marry your cousin if it’s your uncle’s (mom’s brother) son or daughter.
    It’s also ok to marry your cousin if it’s your aunt’s (father’s sister) son or daughter.
    I don’t know about all that.

    I’m a traditional type of girl too but that tradition is WACK!

    Regards,
    Mary Kay Letourneau

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  23. Thanks for your comments Mary Kay. At least marrying this kind of cousin is legal in India. But "statutory rape" of a 13 year old school boy and giving birth to 2 children by that boy is disgusting and definitely not legal any where in the world.

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  24. One correction lostworld. The second part will be published this Thursday morning (India time).

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  25. I appreciate for your wonderful post. As I am from Tamilnadu so I am quite aware of the marriages which takes place within a family. Its very common getting married with cousin or uncle (mom's brother) and many of my friends got married so for me its nothing new.

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  26. Thanks for your comments. Being from Tamilnadu, I am sure you are aware of many different customs and practices even among Tamilians.

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  27. i could never quite understand how there could be marraiges between cousins. u call sm1 bhai or sis half ur life and are later married off to them.. it's weird. But, it happens in places and i guess i am ok with it. live an let live..

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  28. I guess the customs of allowing the marriages within the family was to ensure that the girl was given to a known family and in some cases to make sure money stays within the family.
    As for ceremonies - the family should enjoy the ceremony, and it should not be wasteful expenditure
    And thanks for dropping by at my blog.

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  31. I second Varsha. Though the family I married into makes the guy wear a janayu too. That makes me feel better :D

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  32. Thanks for your comments JD. And, welcome back. In Tamilnadu, they don't call this type of cousins as brothers or sisters even when they are very young.

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  33. Thanks for your comments Radha. And, welcome to my blog.

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  34. Thanks for your comments Varsha. Actually, your posting prompted me to write this one.

    In the olden days, married males were wearing (metti) toe rings. Gradually, that tradition stopped.

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  35. Thanks for your comments Meira. And, welcome back.

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  36. I am from Bengal and marrying one's cousin is a taboo there. The Bengalis are otherwise pretty liberal about marriages to other communities. In recent years, all my cousins have got married to non-bengalis. I think the whole of India and (not just the South) is changing when it comes to marriages. I personally think there should be more and more inter community marriages, they definitely bridge the difference.

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  37. Thanks for your comments Aparna. I second each and every word you wrote.

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  38. Nice anecdotes. When is part 2 coming? :)

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  39. Thanks for your comments Numerounity. Part 2 will be posted Thursday morning (India time).

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  40. oo yu shud have completed the post! i certainly dont understand the marriage concept and it all looks bleak when compared to here the way its outlook has changed! hmm might be wrong, but marriage itself has lost its sacredness these days...and tamil marriage...ho boy dont get me started on this! ! i still do see marriage between cousins in my family !hmm nice post...keep the good work and lemme know when yu come up with the next part :)

    HaRy

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  41. oo yu shud have completed the post! i certainly dont understand the marriage concept and it all looks bleak when compared to here the way its outlook has changed! hmm might be wrong, but marriage itself has lost its sacredness these days...and tamil marriage...ho boy dont get me started on this! ! i still do see marriage between cousins in my family !hmm nice post...keep the good work and lemme know when yu come up with the next part :)

    HaRy

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  42. Thanks for your comments HaRy. The second part will be posted on Thursday morning (India time).

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  43. you aptly put the culture disparity that involves in the idea of marrying blood relatives and also in procedures followed that makes a marriage. consanguineous marriages are a quite a phenomenon in southern part of India while its a cultural shock to one who don't have roots there. Perhaps,ignorance isn't a bliss, any longer.
    I somehow believe it takes understanding & commitment among other things for a marriage happen than the endless customs. wat say?
    thanks for en lighting me on the diversity,I look forward to sequel to this one..

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  44. Thanks for your comments Rahul. And, welcome to my blog. As you said, it takes understanding and commitment to make a successful marriage.

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  45. Interesting post! Like your friend i too got really shocked when i came to know that marrying in your extended family is totally acceptable in south India.
    Well, Post was pretty informative, waiting for the part-2!

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  46. Thanks for your comments. My friend did not speak to me for a month.

    Part 2 will be posted Thursday morning (India time). Since you live in California, you can read it this evening.

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  47. "In Tamilnadu, it is legal to marry certain relatives. For example, I can marry:

    My sister’s daughter. My father’s sister’s daughter. My mother’s brother’s daughter."

    thanks for the info.. dont worry am not gonna take advantage of it.. scientifically speakin it doesnt promote evolution of the species..

    n regardin the anecdote.. i still didnt understand.. i get confused with so much relatives.. i play the safe game by callin them either mama or mami..

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  48. I knew about this custom of marriage between cousins in South,but have always respected it because my patents were very particular about us to be open minded and respectful to all the cultures and customs....it was ok if few of our friend ate beef OR few never touched garlic or even onion.Growing up with this mind set helped me a lot throughout my life.
    SG...i liked reading this post thanks to the person who commented about it in your Japan post....now off to part 2.

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  49. I agree with Kavita. It is true,that such practices might be shocking to some people who have never heard it, but that doesn't make it wrong or right for that matter.
    I think it was more for sake of the girl being married to a known person than the money issue.
    Personally I don't subscribe to such relationship, though my own parents and many of our relatives have been married in that way. Some knowing that such a relationship is possible have even fallen in love, and married cousins / uncles so on. And the people I know have all good healthy children and are quite happy together.
    In every tamil movie you would find a story with a girl having her 'Murai Mama'. Though I can't stand such things I don't look down upon people for choosing to follow such customs.
    However, fortunately these days you find very few takers for this type of marriage.

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  50. I agree with Kavita. It is true,that such practices might be shocking to some people who have never heard it, but that doesn't make it wrong or right for that matter.
    I think it was more for sake of the girl being married to a known person than the money issue.
    Personally I don't subscribe to such relationship, though my own parents and many of our relatives have been married in that way. Some knowing that such a relationship is possible have even fallen in love, and married cousins / uncles so on. And the people I know have all good healthy children and are quite happy together.
    In every tamil movie you would find a story with a girl having her 'Murai Mama'. Though I can't stand such things I don't look down upon people for choosing to follow such customs.
    However, fortunately these days you find very few takers for this type of marriage.

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  51. I have witnessed this - being a south indian myself. Luckily for me my parents did not encourage this but my aunt kept trying till quite many years to convince my dad on this ;)

    Rushing to read the 2nd part now!

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  52. In andhra pradesh too we can marry one's cousin, but they should not have the same family name.

    Though now-a-days we are seeking for matches outside the family.

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  53. There is so much variety in India. Yes many north Indian people have a habit of making close connections instantly if they feel good about meeting people.
    I knew about marriage between maternal uncle and girl in south India, but I was clueless about cousins. May be in old days it used to give people some sort of security esp for their girl child.
    I dont know if you know about some villages in north India like that in Haryana or Rajasthan, two people belonging to same village can not marry each other no matter what. If they do, I have read in few news, village authorities either disown them, or kill them for this act! :/

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