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How has arranged marriage evolved?

A barely 18-year-old Mukul was ready to meet the boy’s family for the very first time. She was excited yet scared since it was the most significant day of her life. Fear and insecurities flooded her mind—what will they ask me? What if they don’t find me good enough for their son? What if they turn me down? Mukul entered the living room carrying a tray laden with delicacies. She stole a glance at the groom’s family to catch their initial reactions. Suddenly, a barrage of questions came hurtling at her: “Do you know how to cook? Did you make all of this? What are your hobbies? Can you sing?…” Trained by her parents, Mukul answered each question skilfully, and ever so gracefully. Two months later, she was married to the boy.

Back in the 1940s, ‘arranged marriage’ was common in India. For countless young people, it was the start of a new life with a complete stranger. The concept of arranged marriage has evolved ever since. In an age, when Indian society has opened up to the idea of two people falling in love and getting married, arranged marriage is still the preferred choice for many youngsters. In this feature, Soulveda explores how arranged marriage has evolved over the years, along with the cultural sensibilities and the general mindset around the subject.

Arranged marriage, then and now

According to a survey by Lok Foundation-Oxford University, about 93 percent of urban Indians opt for an arranged marriage and only three percent choose love marriage. The concept of arranged marriage has evolved over the years—from binding two strangers through marriage and expecting them to love each other eventually, to ‘arranging’ for the prospective bride and groom to meet first and then take it forward, if they both approve of each other.

Compatibility scores over a family’s social status

In olden days, matchmakers preferred renowned and economically strong families, but today the bride and the groom’s companionship and compatibility matter more than the families’ social standing. Bangalore-based sociologist Malathi V Gopal says, “Earlier, you would get married into a family highly-rated in society—either for the family’s educational background, business and financial strength or because they were traditionally considered elite. These were important criteria then, but now it is changing to individual achievements. Slowly that change is coming about.”

“The younger generation wants to marry someone they understand and are comfortable with. Education has brought a good deal of change”

Mushy versus practical conversations

For Priya Saha, a quintessential 21st-century independent woman, arranged marriage was a big no. She believed it was meant for only “timid and docile women”, which she wasn’t. However, Priya’s parents persuaded her to meet the boy they thought would make the best match for their daughter. Since Saha didn’t want to upset her parents, she reluctantly agreed to meet him. What came her way was something she wasn’t expecting.

“My first meeting with Krishna, quite surprisingly, went very well. I initially thought our conversation would be restricted to only family, a fairy-tale romance and kids. Contrary to what I expected, I was pleasantly surprised when Krishna started taking a strong interest in my work and aspirations. He was clear that he didn’t want a typical housewife. He wanted to settle down with an independent working woman.” Today, the two have been happily married for five years, and have a child together. Today, conversations between a bride and a groom are not just about raising a family. Modern couples prefer a practical partnership over a romantic fantasy.

Parents are no longer rigid

Given that the Indian society has traditionally been caste-driven, in recent years, inter-caste marriage has been quite the norm and parents even oblige with such matchmaking. Thanks to education and the exposure, parents are no longer rigid about caste or community. They are more concerned with education, attitude, and success.

“Earlier parents wanted their children to get married within the same caste. Now, there are inter-caste marriages, and parents encourage their children to find suitable partners outside the community. This is a change. The change is because youth these days expect certain qualities in their partners, so it becomes tough for the parents to find someone who matches those qualities,” says Professor Gopal.

Modern arranged marriage accommodates a courtship period

Today, most of the families involve their children in the final decision. Even if parents choose their children’s life partners, they first get to know the future bride or the groom. “The younger generation wants to marry someone they understand and are comfortable with. Education has brought a good deal of change,” believes Prof Gopal. Some couples also choose to have a courtship period before getting married, to build mutual trust and understanding.

But, marriages, as the adage goes, are made in heaven. Whether arranged or by falling in love, most believe getting the right partner is a matter of fate. One can only choose wisely. After that, it’s all about commitment, trust, and effort that make a marriage work.

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