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Satyalogue

By Rajesh Oza Email By Rajesh Oza
April 2009
Satyalogue

Marriage: Change and Continuity

The final in a three-part discussion on marriage. Part two acknowledged the sacredness of traditions and continuity. We close with a look at the inevitability of change.

“Change” (used 69 times in M. K. Gandhi’s autobiography, The Story of My Experiments with Truth).

“Who can say thus far, no further, to the tide of his own nature? Who can erase the impressions with which he is born? It is idle to expect one’s children and wards necessarily to follow the same course of evolution as oneself.” (M. K. Gandhi).

As evidenced in Gandhiji’s recollection of his child marriage to Kasturba, there is a compelling argument to change traditions that are no longer relevant. In Experiments with Truth he writes, “It is my painful duty to have to record here my marriage at the age of thirteen?. I can see no moral argument in support of such a preposterously early marriage?. Marriage among Hindus is no simple matter. The parents of the bride and the bridegroom often bring themselves to ruin over it.”

While most everyone agrees with Gandhiji that the time for such ruinous behavior is over, young Indians growing up in America argue even more strenuously that they are no longer wedded to customs developed for villagers who ordered their society on a rigid caste system that put family and caste above individual aspirations. To them, the American Declaration of Independence is more relevant than hierarchy: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

Change is inherent in declaring one’s individual rights. And for two individuals intent on consummating their love, it is their lives, their liberty, and their happiness which trump other arrangements. Love marriages find exemplars in Romeo and Juliet, Shakuntala and Dushyanta, and perhaps Barack and Michelle. “Yes, we can” is their mantra. Cross-community marriage (and organization) is their tantra. And hands held hopefully together are their yantra.

To be sure, some bonds may dissolve in a blended marriage across communities, but choice is not foreign to Indian culture. It is safe to say that many orthodox Hindus would recognize continuity with the Sanskrit story of Nala and Damayanti, in which Damayanti invokes svayamvara (self-choice) to select her husband.

Thus, change is not necessarily absolute; it can be coupled to continuity. But if we are to bid arranged marriages adieu, we might consider easing the loss of long-held traditions, institutional knowledge, and the social networks that are based on those traditions. If we want to hold onto meaningful elements of the past, perhaps it is time to replace “arranged marriage” with “assisted marriage.” Whereas in an arranged marriage the parents made the decision for the child, in an assisted marriage the elder adults can provide guidance to the younger adult in a loving way that respects the wisdom of the ages and embraces the inexorable cycle of change.

Rajesh is grateful for the Rajasthani traditions that enabled his wedding, and the American life that has nurtured his marriage. On April 22, he will celebrate twenty-five years of continuity, change, and love with wife, Mangla.

Marriage: Change and Continuity

The final in a three-part discussion on marriage. Part two acknowledged the sacredness of traditions and continuity. We close with a look at the inevitability of change.

“Change” (used 69 times in M. K. Gandhi’s autobiography, The Story of My Experiments with Truth).

“Who can say thus far, no further, to the tide of his own nature? Who can erase the impressions with which he is born? It is idle to expect one’s children and wards necessarily to follow the same course of evolution as oneself.” (M. K. Gandhi).

As evidenced in Gandhiji’s recollection of his child marriage to Kasturba, there is a compelling argument to change traditions that are no longer relevant. In Experiments with Truth he writes, “It is my painful duty to have to record here my marriage at the age of thirteen?. I can see no moral argument in support of such a preposterously early marriage?. Marriage among Hindus is no simple matter. The parents of the bride and the bridegroom often bring themselves to ruin over it.”

While most everyone agrees with Gandhiji that the time for such ruinous behavior is over, young Indians growing up in America argue even more strenuously that they are no longer wedded to customs developed for villagers who ordered their society on a rigid caste system that put family and caste above individual aspirations. To them, the American Declaration of Independence is more relevant than hierarchy: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

Change is inherent in declaring one’s individual rights. And for two individuals intent on consummating their love, it is their lives, their liberty, and their happiness which trump other arrangements. Love marriages find exemplars in Romeo and Juliet, Shakuntala and Dushyanta, and perhaps Barack and Michelle. “Yes, we can” is their mantra. Cross-community marriage (and organization) is their tantra. And hands held hopefully together are their yantra.

To be sure, some bonds may dissolve in a blended marriage across communities, but choice is not foreign to Indian culture. It is safe to say that many orthodox Hindus would recognize continuity with the Sanskrit story of Nala and Damayanti, in which Damayanti invokes svayamvara (self-choice) to select her husband.

Thus, change is not necessarily absolute; it can be coupled to continuity. But if we are to bid arranged marriages adieu, we might consider easing the loss of long-held traditions, institutional knowledge, and the social networks that are based on those traditions. If we want to hold onto meaningful elements of the past, perhaps it is time to replace “arranged marriage” with “assisted marriage.” Whereas in an arranged marriage the parents made the decision for the child, in an assisted marriage the elder adults can provide guidance to the younger adult in a loving way that respects the wisdom of the ages and embraces the inexorable cycle of change.

Rajesh is grateful for the Rajasthani traditions that enabled his wedding, and the American life that has nurtured his marriage. On April 22, he will celebrate twenty-five years of continuity, change, and love with wife, Mangla.


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