Courtship and Marriage

"Courtship" is inapplicable to a region where premarital sexuality is controlled and marriages arranged. With the exception of a small educated urban elite, young men and women do not date. They learn to distrust romantic love but to trust the parental selection of a spouse. With a slight change, arranged marriages are still predominant. Instead of meeting for the first time on their wedding day, today many young people are allowed to meet, chaperoned, to approve or disapprove a prospective spouse before marriage negotiations are finalized (Seymour, 1999).

Negotiations begin when a daughter is considered eligible for marriage, having reached the right age and/or completed enough schooling. Her male and female kin begin seeking a good match through word of mouth, letters, newspaper matrimonial advertisements, and/or a professional go-between. A family of the same caste and socioeconomic status is sought with a suitable son— someone older and more educated than the bride, with good employment prospects. Once someone is identified, horoscopes are checked, negotiations over dowry begun, and the prospective bride inspected by the boy's family for looks, manners, and expressions of modesty. Both families investigate one another's social reputation and that of the prospective bride or groom. If all goes well, an auspicious date is set for the wedding.

A traditional Hindu wedding requires a priest and a Vedic ceremony in front of the god fire, the witness to the wedding. It takes place in or near the bride's home, with all her extended kin in attendance. Preceding the ceremony the bride is ritually bathed, dressed, and tended to by her female kin. On the day of the wedding, she, her father, and the groom fast. The groom attends with only some close friends and cousins. His kinsmen await the bride and groom at their house following the wedding ceremony, feasting, and the bride's formal departure from her father's house. The consummation of the marriage takes place at the groom's house.

Various phases of the wedding may occur over the period of a week or be concentrated into one day. There are also variations by caste and class. Many educated urban dwellers, for example, no longer maintain the separation of the two families for the wedding ceremony, and following the wedding the bride and groom may take a honeymoon trip before going to the groom's residence or establishing their own.

Among high castes, widows are considered inauspicious and do not remarry. Widowers remarry in order to produce children and/or acquire mothers for already existing children. Lower castes, and members of the educated elite, do not observe the prohibition on widow remarriage.

Negotiating Essentials

Negotiating Essentials

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