Sunday, December 6, 2009

Arranged Marriage, Part One

About a month ago, I received a comment to my "Classified Ads" post from an Indian who said that martimonial ads have improved the matchmaking system; he then offered to tell me about arranged marriages from his perspective. I set up a "contact me" button, and shortly thereafter, Barani (his chosen pseudonym) began to send me long, detailed e-mails full of well-organized, concise, honest statements about all aspects of arranged marriage.

It's fascinating to suddenly be given a different lens to view a thing that I've been trying, and failing, to understand. I'm grateful that he's taken the time and energy to write to me, and that he's trusted me use his words as I see fit. Some of what he says is not news to me; for example, what he says about the reasoning behind the system:

In the west, you date for 3 years to find compatibility
In India, if you marry within similar castes, the culture is identical, and you don't need the 3 years of getting to know
Both sides know exactly what is expected and there are no surprises

But some of it is revelatory, such as what he says about going through the winnowing process via matrimonial ads:

It stung, even though it was long distance rejection
I could never handle direct rejection as in the western system

He draws parallels between matrimonial ads and western personals -- though I would take it a bit further and argue that eHarmony and its ilk are watered-down, western cousins of the arranged marriage system.

These matrimonial ads are no different than what western people do in their personal ads

Of course all women claim to be beautiful and all men handsome
In reality less than 10% will be beautiful or handsome

And he lays out the details of the process (note: my understanding of biodata is age, occupation, education, religion and caste):

So first there will be matrimonial ad
Next step is photo exchange
and both sides can reject based on photo or biodata

After mutual photo approval there is interview of 1 hour
Next if both sides agree, then marriage takes place

The vast majority of my non-Indian readers will probably have a strong reaction to that last line. I used to, but now that I understand the reasoning behind it, it just seems like a different way to approach marriage. Not one I would be comfortable with for myself, but one that's worked for millions of people for many hundreds of years. Granted, there are arranged marriages that don't work well, but obviously, the same can be said of love marriages.


  1. So, either the woman or man can reject the marriage arrangement? If this is the case, I don't see what the big deal is.

  2. I think it depends on the family and various factors, but generally, for educated urban people, that's how I understand it. And that's how it's been for a long time. Someone please correct me if I'm wrong.

  3. Barani here

    Biodata also includes salary information, detailed information about siblings and parents and extended family, and finally includes diet and whether they drink alchohol

    Diet is whether vegetarian or non-vegetarian
    and among non-vegetarians, whether they eat beef or pork

    Drinking is whether teetotaller or occasional beer drinker or hard drinker

    Matrimonial ads are being replaced by Internet web based services

    For example, I can go to, one of several matrimonial sites
    and search using filters for

    Bride - Never Married ( or widowed or divorced ) - of Age 23 to 27 - Height range - Living in India ( or other country ) - Complexion
    ( Fair / Wheatish / Dark ) - Skip persons with handicaps - HIV negative - with Photo - Religion Hindu - Language Tamil - Caste Brahmin - Profession Engineer - Diet Vegetarian - Location India ( or US or UK ) -

    And out will pop hundreds of biodatas and photos
    that meet the filter


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