Our local guide here was telling us about the arranged marriages that still are a way of life throughout India. 90% of all marriages are still arranged by the parents of Indian children in close consultation with Hindu priests. Our guide told us that there are 36 characteristics that the parents use to determine if a marriage might be compatible. He didn’t name those characteristics but I was curious what they were.
Of course, ideas like arranged marriages tend to be met with much skepticism from Westerners. This is especially true of Americans who have such a deep sense of rugged individualism stamped upon their psyche (and without much awareness that this is so). As I sit on the bus and listen to narratives such as this throughout our trip, I can almost feel the anxiety that rises in many people as they hear about such a strange custom such as arranged marriages.
So after the talk about how it all works, I asked the guide privately what are some of the 36 characteristics that are used to arrange a marriage. I was interested in knowing some of the more arcane ones - things like caste and economic compatibility were easy for me to imagine as important but if there were 36 of them, their might be rather funny ones. Then he told me that no, the 36 characteristics actually come from the comparison of the boys and girls horoscope and these detailed comparisons are what necessitate the need for the Hindu priest. Only he can see that deeply into the horoscope for compatibility.
Well, I looked behind me and another woman who had been listening intently had the same idea that I did - namely that compatibility of horoscopes couldn’t possibly be that great of a predictor for the success of a marriage. And yet divorce in non-urban India is so negligible an occurrence that it can’t even be given as a percentage!
As I discussed this further with the woman on our trip, we both agreed then that it couldn’t be compatible horoscopes that made marriages work in India, but that perhaps this society incorporates values in everyday living and upbringing that are not “disposable”. Perhaps young people here are better prepared at developing successful relationships no matter who their partner is that is chosen for them. The guide who told us this story also related that he first met his wife and two days later they were married! He also told us that parents everywhere want only the best for their children so they will naturally choose the best wife or husband for them. It’s all very strange to us but part of the real magic in learning about how other people arrange their lives and societies. I love this kind of learning, since I believe most of us in our country are being fed reams of self-indulgent propaganda regarding our own self importance.