The Unholy State Of Matrimony

* Image via Wikipedia

Getting married, let’s talk about that, shall we? Not the relationship itself or the state of being of its practitioners. That’s right, practitioners. Just because everyone does it, doesn’t detract from the fact that marriage is indeed, an artificial human construct, a social order and a belief system. Because it is all these things simultaneously, we find ourselves at the complex crossroads of ‘What am I supposed to do?’ and ‘What can I live with?’. I am talking about the WEDDING.

The fact is that human beings have evolved, and with them, the societal constructs. Why, then, are we stuck with the same template for matrimony that our ancestors seven generations prior, used? Let’s consider some of the better known rituals.

Dowry has now gained the status of a social taboo. Its premise of bartering human beings has been rejected as unethical and demeaning. Why are we then still holding onto ‘kanyadaan’ (which literally translates to ‘donating the girl’)? Doesn’t that jar on the ears just as much as a certain other word that has to do with a man who peddles women?

Then there’s jewelery, without which no self-respecting Indian wedding would be complete, the larger, blingier and more expensive, the better. Traditionally, gold was investment, supposedly the wealth given to a woman to assure her financial security. Now, first of all, gold is not an investment anymore. Jewellery that is bought, essentially becomes a sunk cost since the emotional upheaval associated with having to sell it is an impenetrable exit barrier. Associating too much status value & sentimental attachment with gold has thus devalued it as an investment commodity.

Secondly, it is not the only source of financial security available anymore. Wouldn’t property or bonds or even money in a bank account be wiser than a physical piece of gold that can easily be stolen, damaged or mislaid?

Thirdly, (and need I even say this?) the origins of this archaic practice of covering a woman with gold stem from the same root as concessions made to the ‘weaker sex’. Admittedly, there are any number of women willing to be waited on hand-to-foot so they don’t need to do any work. Propagating regressive attitudes isn’t solely a male thing. Add to this, the massive marketing machinery, that ironically enough, contorts jewelery into a symbol of women’s empowerment rather than its exact opposite. Being a woman (and a vain one, at that) myself, I’m adequately appointed with enough baubles & trinkets to look shamefaced about it. I live with myself with the (albeit weak) stand to limit these to non-precious ‘artificial’ jewelery. I also baulk at the idea of expensive jewelery as a gift. (I mean, would you expect me to be grateful if I were gifted a ball-and-chain?).

Finally, let’s talk about the elaborate rituals that vary by caste, community and geography. Who even knows what they mean anymore? Even among those who believe and insist on their practice – typically senior family members – how many actually understand what is being recited, the significance of a ceremonial fire, the value of that thread or the meaning of the rice-throwing, the turmeric/vermillion application? My bet is that this question will be met by one of the following:

  • Stony silence
  • Declarations of solidarity with faith, religion or country (mystifying, this last one)
  • Accusations of being ‘too logical’ (mysteriously a character flaw at such a moment)
  • Tears, angry words, threats or insults
  • All of the above

And yet, none of them answers the question. Why are so many of us willing to embark on what might be the most poignant adventure of our lives, with practices that we do not know, understand, identify with or believe in? What bodes it for the future of a relationship that begins by buckling under pressure to appease a third party altogether? What does it say about a couple who make the commitment of a lifetime by pandering to other people, regardless of their own beliefs?

A ritual without meaning is just a farce. And out of context, it borders on hilarious. I’ve never seen a bridegroom on a white horse that didn’t look horribly uncomfortable and somewhat sheepish. Every single married friend I have testifies to the wedding album creation as an ardous, unpleasant process of photographers barking orders and plastic smiles pasted on for hour. Nothing strikes me as more artificial than the queue of people lining up for a couple of minutes on a stage to hand over a gift, shake hands with the couple (standing in front of the ubiquitous gilt chairs with red upholstery), pose for a photograph and then make a beeline for the food. Most ironical of all, food, that one surefire indicator of the ‘success’ of a wedding usually ends up being something that the bridal couple itself ends up having no time for.

What’s with the ‘success’ tag of a wedding anyhow? Since when did beginning a personal relationship get associated with providing mass-level entertainment, social pandering and budget overflows? I don’t see anything holy about this state of matrimony.

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9 thoughts on “The Unholy State Of Matrimony

  1. The photographs and the ghodis might be a artifical, however the ritual of marriage itself is not. Maybe you havebt found the right person to throw the question at. Having had to learn sanskrit from a very early age, my hubby and I understood every hymn that was chanted, and every promise that we were asked to give the other. The very beauty of “naaticharaami’ which means ‘ I shall not leave’ (you) wherein the husband tells his wife that he shall not leave her for money, righteousness,lust or even salvation – dharmecha,arthecha, kaamecha, mokshecha naaticharaami is enough to to be felt and understood. Now you might say, that all these can be achieved without marriage, why marry to make this promise? Agree. Marriage, however formalises this promise. Like an agreement written on paper, the words symbolise to all the world ( or whoever is present atleast) that the man is now bound to the woman by his side.
    Having once been on the other side of marriage, and now being on this side- I come to realise that it isn’t the institution, it is the couple involved who make or break lives. A marriage requires you to work for it -be selfless, put the other before you- put the ego aside and put ur heart on the line. Marriage might have its pitfalls, but when you have the right person with you, it is anything but unholy.I cld go on and on, but I’m too tired typing on the tiny buttons of my BB! Which prolly is a good thing by now!

  2. I do not agree with you on many counts here,

    “how many actually understand what is being recited”, Having been married not too long ago, I clearly remember making it a point to listen to most of the things being recited and understanding most of it, if not 100%, most of it, and was actually impressed with the idea and philosophy behind many of those mantras.
    Weddings are not a mass level entertainment, its more of a social celebration, of involving people who matter to you in your enjoyment. I am not saying that I agree with the wastage of money and the food which happens commonly these days, but social gathering as such isn’t a problem according to me.
    Regarding the gold, I do not think 100% of the marriages gold is given for the sake of investment, I have seen many a cases when people use these occasions to buy things. Its like when we were kids we used to get new clothes for festivals, not that my parents could not buy them on a normal day, its just a practice and many of us actually enjoyed it.
    “A ritual without meaning is just a farce” Agreed, so why not try to understand the meaning behind it. There are people who have done PHD’s on the true meaning of these.

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