Was in chennai for a niece's wedding. Itacted as an eye opener in many ways. The last wedding I attended was over 18 years ago. In the intervening years I had somehow imagined that people's attitude towards arranging marriages and celebrating weddings had changed a lot in keeping with the changing times. But I learnt a lot to the contrary in the 2 days.

Both the bride and the groom work in the U.S. and this was another reason I had assumed that the rituals would be restricted to the barest minimum. Actually, it turned out to be more elaborate than usual and included some of the events dispensed with in city weddings like the "vilayaadal"or "Nalangu"(which is mostly silly games and funny songs).I suppose staying so far away from Home makes people nostalgic for rituals and one is keener to preserve them than those who live with these on a daily basis. When I expressed this another cousin made a sharp observation that it is more for capturing it all for their video for their friends in the U.S rather than any deeper desire for preservation of anything. Well, whatever.People still do not mind having elaborate marriage ceremonies.

The expenses for the wedding are alarming and yet people want to do it no other way. A close relative gave me a figure of 10 lakhs as the minimum requirement for a "decent" wedding. And there is NO dowry involved - this is the expense for the wedding hall, food, the arrangements for the rituals, the dress and jewellery! When I asked why people did not prefer to have the wedding as a private affair in a temple and then have a reception which might bring down the expenses I was told "why must we do it hush hush when there is nothing to hide. The whole joy is to call everyone you know and have them come and wish the couple." That seems to be a million rupee decision. Still all the expenses are borne only by the bride's side!

Even though a lot of young boys and girls are working abroad, they seem to prefer to let the parents arrange the proposal. I do not know if they actually "prefer" it or it is the parents who want it this way. During the time I was at the wedding, I was approached by at least 3 mothers with girls in their early 20s who asked for my son's horoscope and some others asking me to suggest good girls for their sons. Apparently this is a normal activity at weddings - many alliances get initiated at weddings. They first ask you about yourself and then about your children and if they are impressed they broach the subject of horoscope exchange without wasting any time.

Girls are clear about what they want to do career wise ( engineering, then job at a particular company for 2 years and then M.B.A.) but they do not seem to mind marrying a guy that their parents find for them. There is still a strong preference for arranged marriages in spite of all that one hears on television and in films.

And the biggest revelation of it all was that the "girl seeing" ceremony - that is the visit by the boy and his parents to the girls house to meet the girl and her family once the horoscopes and photos have been matched - is still very much "on". The girl is no longer expected to fall at their feet and seek their blessings and she actually gets to talk alone with the boy for albeit a few minutes and the girl's opinion counts - these are the improvements from old times but still the practice is very much alive. Preethi has written a series of posts in her spot here on her personal experiences in this area. They are detailed and hilarious and when I see them from her prespective, the posts raise a lot of interesting points on how such methods still work in today's environment.

When I voiced my surprise at how nothing seems to have changed in the past 27 years since my own wedding I got the right answer from an aunt who said: "These have been preserved and handed down for the past thousands of years. And what makes you think they would have changed in 27 years?"
20 Responses
  1. Shruthi Says:

    Things have only become more elaborate now!
    Weddings have turned into a show of one-upmanship. The neighbour made 3 sweets at his daughter's wedding, so we will make 4. The neighbour had flower arrangements worth 50,000, so we will import orchids for our daughter's wedding. It goes on and on.
    And according to my mom, weddings are more elaborate and traditional now, than it was in her time. [Maybe just like faith in astrology, numerology, etc., are on the rise.]

    By the way, you last attended a wedding 18 years ago?? How did you manage that??

  2. Anonymous Says:

    I have been a regular reader of your blog. Today I opened your blog with the expectation that you would have posted your view about what happened in Mumbai. But I guess marriages in Chennai seem to have found space. I find it funny that you find courage to write of anything else. You voiced your concern for Tibetians.

    Though we readers do not control what you write about, somewhere inside I thouugh Usha would write something on her views. I see you as a extremely responsible person.

    I feel a bit let down today. Forgive me, I haven't been able to get over what happned and our inaction towards it. I hope this topic gets atleast small space on your blog.

  3. Pradeep Nair Says:

    As Shruti says sadly weddings have become an ugly wasteful expenditure. Not that I am against some fun and luxury. But the limit is more often crossed. How nice it would be if some of that money is set apart for the couple to begin their new life.

    Secondly, weddings are seen as an end, rather than a beginning. May be it is an end of some sort for the parents. It's wrong to think that way. And, this approach by elders contributes in many ways to the troubles we see in marital lives.

  4. Usha Says:

    shruthi: I am shocked. It is alrtight if you have the money what happens to those who don't - and what if they have 3 daughters?

    Anon:I am sorry you were disappointed that I didnt write about the blasts. I have been equally moved been praying for the safety of mumbaikars. I fervently hope we will not have to see more such acts of cowardice and inhumanity. As for writing about it, what can i say that has already not been said in the news channels and newspapers? I cannot find a single word to wipe a single tear off the face of those whose loved ones have been missing or hurt or lost in the blast.I wish I had the power to hunt down the perpetrators and shoot them
    down in public View. I wish I could wave a magic wand and say no more violence on this earth ever again.
    Since I have no such powers, what can i do with just the words I have?
    Please do not consider me insensitive - my silence on this is borne out of a sense of helplessness in the face of such inhuman monsters.

    Pradeep:I sahre the same views as yours.

  5. passerby55 Says:

    hi Usha,

    lol...we have been dicussing one such marriage, last sunday.

    (16.5 carat wedding)
    Total wedding bill is at least $1,921,200...I didn't attend it. But read about it in the newspaper.

    the 27 year old groom educated in US arrived on a white horse...

    Such marriages do become a talk of the town...I suppose that must be goal too.

    on the lighter side....
    Are you luking around for your tobe daughterinlaw(i hope Sid is not reading this)

  6. Visithra Says:

    The last wedding I attended was over 18 years ago
    ---- wow thats so long ago - how come???
    ---- i have to attend a wedding, engagemnt or nalungu every 2 months and its worse during the season and not counting the non indian ones

    i like traditions and rituals but truthfully its been brought down a lot over here and we do not rent out a huge hall for ppl to stay n eat for 3 days - i think thats a bit absurd plus theres not much distance involved so it helps. Though we do arrange accomodation for ppl coming from outstation but no we dont pay for everything.

    So its normally close friends n relatives coming for the nalungus. And then a 3 hour wedding at a hall or temple or as some ppl prefer both. Things have changed abit here with the expenses - now the families share the expanse or if it involves 2 states - the one who gets to hold the wedding at their state pays for most. But we still have the jewellry the gifts thingy all - like getting a whole house of things.

    The most expensive weddings over here would be the chinese - as they must have it at a hotel hall or restaurant - n serve 8 course meal - so they tend to limit the number of ppl attending - but they also expect everyone to give a min amount of money even if u dont attend! ;p

    lol u got proposed to huh ;p hehehe actually it happens here but very discretely - if they know the kid thye go like whens ur daughter getting married - if the lines clear they hint if they have sons or peopel they know with sons - its hillarious n scary

    n they do it at temples n weddings ;p its mad

    Arranged marriages have also become less formal - they dont make the gal sing thank god ;p - they check horoscopes let them talk n then parents meet

    I dislike the seeing at home n few secs thingy -

    But i find it really sad that so called educated men of india still agree to having the wifes family pay for everything

    ops sorry for taking over ur blog ;p

  7. Mahadevan Says:

    Marriage as a social institution has evolved from a self-regulated code and later sanctified by law, or else there would have been only medley and mayhem. As the relation between two individuals, two families and two social groups gets formalised, they tought it fit to have a ceremony, attended by the near and dear ones. This ceremony today provides occasion to people to flaunt their wealth, show their power and display their event managing skills.

    Certain practices had relevance during certain period. Decades earlier, girls used to get married before puberty and boys when they were hardly fifteen and therefore some harmless games were introduced, perhaps to remove shyness. Today with girls well above twenty and boys in the age group of 28/30, these practices have no relevance.

    I agree with you that a small ceremony, confined to the core rituals, fully explaining the significance of each ritual (not mere repetition of mantras which again are meaningless) and then having a decent lunch or dinner ( not a seven course one) would look decent, and would not hurt the parents of girls if the boy's parents also contribute towards the expenses. It is an occasion to meet different members of the family, old friends etc. and therefore I felt that a ceremony at common hall would be harmles.

  8. Anonymous Says:

    I came in to your blog via Visithra's.

    Marriages all over India seem to be going into a pan Bollywood Revivalism. I attended a marriage in Delhi after ages and it was quite an interesting parade of brightly decked women in faux fashion attire, men in hideously designed "designer" Indian formal wear pouring whiskey down their loud palates and furtively drooling at the busty flesh on display.

    Then the grand exercises of dances and poetry and Bollywood numbers and what have you in literary kitsch performed by young girls and boys from both sides of the union.A regular band to do the actual background score, if your please.

    The usual spectacle of lights and fire crackers going up in tumultous sounds of joy and aggravating decibels.

    An acre long display of food tables weighed down by desi khana which was perhaps the most interesting thing for me. The food was good....not counting the continental, mexican and the chinese cuisine.

    It was enough for me.
    The actual "rituals" were to follow.
    Spare me !!!

    I ran for the exit.

  9. Movie Mazaa Says:

    Amidst carbonated drinks and the aroma of fresh Pizzaz available around any corner these days, its surprising indeed that the fragrance of saffron and sandal still holds a place. :) Was commenting on a few traditions that forever dont change. Or so it seems.

    As for the expenditure, the less said the better! :)

    U got a nice blog here. First time. Shall be back for more.

  10. Hip Grandma Says:

    marriages arranged by parents or by the couple themselves are social events and it is society that determines the nature of celebration.we have 'mehandi' and 'sangeet' included in south idian weddings.tho'nalangu makes no sense now with matured adults tying the knot it is only a litle fun that people have at the expense of the newly wed couple.i don't mind anything that lightens the mood of those attending the ceremony.but i do feel shocked at the amount of food that is served or rather wasted in tamil weddings.four elaborate meals on a single day!are we "bahasuras" or what.why can't we donate a meal to yhe inmates of an orphanage or old age home?and these days despite all the cribbing it is the girl's parents who want to show off be it dowry or 'designer weddings'!

  11. Anonymous Says:

    >> but they do not seem to mind marrying a guy that their parents find for them.

    Coming across a lot of girls among my relatives and close circles who got married recently or are on the lookout, I can safely say this:

    Though guys/girls dont seem to mind on the outside, on the inside there is a nagging feeling. A friend whose parents were looking for an alliance for her told me "I'm really terrified at the thought of living with an unknown person. But I dont have much options, I havent even fallen in love with anyone".

    In most cases, guys/girls dont speak out fearing parents, relatives, gossip, acceptance etc.. But deep down there is a nagging itch. And most just live with the itch.

  12. Alapana Says:

    There are changes,but then it depends on the family,not only on the coupl.
    Me and my Husband desperately tried having a court marriage and a small get together for a few close friends and we got a response of something like "Why such a hush affair when we dint do anything wrong!!! its an arranged marriage,so why not a nice traditional wedding?"
    Well,such traditional elaborate wedding costs a damn amt,specially for the girls side. And everything from the Mandapam to the food to the transportation costs so much these days.
    Infact we had clear instructions from the guys side that food must taste amazing and that meant spending lakhs of rupees and then things like "we wont travel in an ambassador and the flowers must be of such a kind and all"
    Its only when me and my husband threated to run away and opt for a register marriage did they all relent and let us take a FEW" desicions:p
    But i will make sure that after 25yrs my daughter or son will have a wedding of their own convenience and happiness,not anything according to my relatives egos or rules in the name of traditions:)

    By the way i am eagerly waiting to know how did you manage to attend a wedding after 18yrs:D pls give me a few ideas,i have a big list of weddings to attend next month,and its only 2months of my wedding,helpppppppp plzzzzzz:p

  13. Usha Says:

    Shruthi: Clarification on attending wedding after 18 years - After my own marriage at 21, I never got to attend any of the weddings in the family except that of my own brothers. Otherwise it has only been receptions except Vaish's last year - but there I could not have picked up so much info because i only knew the bride.

    Passerby: That figure sounds obscene - what did they serve? Gold biscuits?
    Sid, no question of my looking out. He will have to do all that himself.

    Visi: I guess these days we want the rituals, the social functions and then kacheri and all that - so it makes it even more expensive. Nice info that, about the chinese!

    Mahadevan: Yes, they should definitely reduce the quantity of food. So many sweets are wasted. And can you believ they had a menu card for breakfast - so many items so you could choose!!!

    ezee:Yes, North Indian weddings are like some filmy event, I am told. Never been to one myself. But interesting narration, that!

    Velu: Thanks. Ya traditions are too deep rooted to get rid of and now all these fancy things have only added to the extravagance.

    Hipgranma:Yes about the food. and about the bride's side wanting to show off. They take notes at every wedding they attend!

    Kishore: that is so sad. What do you mean - fear of parents? you mean they still do not discuss things with their parents even where it concerns their life? Gossip, acceptance - they still worry about it all. When will things change?

    alapana: Oh yes, you are the "right" person to tell me if my observations were right and I am so glad you put your foot down.
    It isnt easy to avoid weddings unless you are someone people have written off like me - I miss weddings and then shamelessly call up and apologise profusely and then invite them over for a meal to make up and all is forgotten. So far I have managed to get away!!

  14. Anonymous Says:

    Usha,don't u think that the society is half changed and half still hanging at the same old place-kind of orthodox (if we talks about 2 groups in the marriage) n one being conventional in ideas and the other is still unconventional,May be this is the reson many people don't understand and are put to dilema for their reactions to few things.


  15. Nice post. If at all anything has happened over the years, it is that costs of a wedding have sky-rocketed. The sanctity of the ceremonies...not sure if anyone understands well. Perhaps the NRIs are better placed than the locals in appreciating the sanctity as you correctly put it as 'nostalgia' or curiosity may be.

  16. Usha Says:

    Most of the purohits do not explain even important mantras like saptapadi to the youngsters. most of the time the bride and the groom just want to finish it and get away from the homa smoke and I am sure they are hungry too if it is a late muhurtham. I have also noticed that the farther you stay from these on a daily basis, the more you miss these rituals.
    (Tried posting comments on your posts but was rejected as I am not a "group" member - could you open the comments please that is, if you want to...)

  17. Rubic_Cube Says:

    Wonderful and great interaction via commenting from people. I have given a link to this article from my blog. Should see more people coming over and reading this piece. Will share my own experiences later...

  18. Anonymous Says:

    Hi Usha,

    Just let me say that was an awesome piece you have written. My sister got married a couple of years ago and it is safe to say that my parents spent a fortune on her wedding being the only gal and all!.. but the point I too have been contemplating whether a big wedding with elobrate slogams and rituals needed?

    I also came to attend couple of my friends marriage. One of my friends got married in a simple wedding style (Arya Samaj) with the reception in a 5-star hotel. The best thing I liked about that wedding was the bride and the groom (well it was love marriage but still) went around fixed the hall, selected the invitations, did all "the chores" associated with the marriage with their relatives helping them out. This brings them much closer even if u are marrying someone complete stranger. This is similar to our work culture. If you are paired with someone you do not know before, you tend to work better since you wouldnt want to miss out on anything or look bad infront of the other person. Second it helps you to understand the kind of person you are dealing with and helps you in the long run to manage urself with him/her. It also brings two people close enough if it is their marriage.

    I would definitely wouldnt want an elobrate marriage for two reasons. One during one such marriage, the bride and the groom do not have time to either to enjoy the moment (either being called upon to meet some relative) and secondly the amount of food and resources getting wasted.

    But I think it is fair enough to say that people still want grand marriages. I think the myth "if it something big, then it has to be good" hasnt been completely washed off from peoples mind. Untill that happens, we will continue to see bigger and bigger marriages and reception.

  19. HI,
    Interesting points... though would want to disagree with a few...
    "Customs being followed more... "
    Customs are followed by rote... and there are so many 'convenicens' incorporated nowadays. Marraiges these days are just one day affairs... (receptions before the muhurtham.. being JUST one of them)... There are no more katti saathu koodais.. and... yeah I am an old man.

    Anyway the second point about 'arranged marraiges'... and things not having changed in 27000 years? I think quite a lot has changed... levels of acceptibility have increased, people are more broad minded (Even in Chennai).

    Lastly , Chennaiites resist change. That is our time honoured tradition. So, I am not sure you can justify 'no change' by using Chennai as an example.

  20. Usha Says:

    RC: Thank you.

    hkarthi:Ya, any style is ok as long as the people involved are enjoying and nothing is forced or demanded!
    Personally I feel nice in the kind of informal marriages you have spoken about.

    Escape:Ya, things are slow to change. Kattu saada koodai etc dont make sense when both parties are from the same town. Nalangu is stupid when two 20 + people try to play it. So it is ok to shed these.
    I agree about chennaiites resisting change.