Western, Arab and Indian
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Marriage practices in three cultures: Western, Arab and Indian
The concept of ‘marriage’ indicates the social, physical and spiritual union between two people. It happens to be a universal custom that plays a vital role in social expansion, through the formation of new families. One of the oldest practices in human history, marriage is treated as a cause for celebration in every part of the globe and is a rite of passage experienced by most people in spite of their diverse customs and lifestyles. In terms of the wedding ceremony, each culture and country possesses its own unique style and tradition of festival. The marriage ceremony contains numerous concepts representing the country, age and culture that change with time. The differences in the wedding ceremony offer insight into the relations between society and culture and history and nation. This research paper attempts to examine different wedding ceremonies and highlight the similarities and differences between three separate cultures in the East and the West through an analysis of the semiotic meanings of culture and historicity.
Western Marriage Practices
In the West, especially in Europe, tradition dictates that the spouse must be chosen through a contract between the families, similar to the wedding culture in the East. However, this practice was limited only to the higher classes, and most of the young couples had to rely more on the power of romantic love. It was possible for a young man or woman to decline the spouse chosen by their father. With time, however, the trend focusing on family advantages gradually shifted to a brand new trend emphasizing the affections of the individual. In this manner, marriage practices in the West attach greater significance to the union between two individuals instead of two groups. The first step towards marriage in the West might be considered to be free dating on the basis of love.
In the United States, some of the rituals from the continent of Europe had to be modified for the exclusive circumstance of pioneering the West. Thus, marriage via free form association between the two genders has been the dominant form since the beginning of the colonialism phase. According to the early Colonial Law, there was a rule that stipulated the association of a man with a girl only after he took the effort to obtain the necessary permission from her father or guardian. But, the influence of parental permission appears to have become weaker with the course of time. The modern ideologies in the West have thus transformed along with the growth and expansion of society. Race is no longer a factor in the West to select a spouse and marriage. Interracial marriages are common in the West in contrast to the Eastern countries.
One of the primary features of marriages in the West is the multiple events before and after the actual ceremony. The wedding reception toast is one of them where handpicked friends and family members of the bridegroom and bride recount past stories related to the couple to form a joyful atmosphere through funny remarks and propose a toast in honour of the lovely couple to the attending guests. It is common for the bridegroom to then eulogize the beauty of his future wife in front of their well-wishers. These sorts of marriage practices in the West show that their culture is based more on the love shared by the couple rather than other interests of the involved parties.
The wedding culture in the West focuses on the emotion and choice of the brides. Their individuality is respected instead of collectivity and every single person possesses the freedom of choice. During the wedding reception, the newly married couple is expected to share a romantic dance in front of the guests. However, this can be treated more as an inessential element rather than an essential one from the Eastern wedding perspective. In the East, the groups are more concerned with the nature of the wedding ceremony, gifts, dowries and the reception of guests and so they find it irrational that Westerners would spend money and time in such a minor element as dance lessons. However, in the West, investment of money and time in order to satisfy the dream of a romantic marriage ceremony is considered natural.
Western weddings are unique from the East due to the fact that the decision of the individuals is given more importance than the groups’. Moreover, while guests attending an Eastern marriage return home after the ceremony without any fun events, guests in Western weddings attend the reception until late at night and different events manage to hold their attention. Guests who are unfamiliar with each other mingle together for a long period of time. This is rather exotic in terms of the Eastern viewpoint.
In Western nations, parties happen to be familiar and common events, but individuals who remain busy with their family and social life gradually lose their interest in parties. In such a scenario, wedding events offer space and time to women and men of different ages to enjoy the scenario and talk and associate with new people. In the West, the meeting between the parents of the bride and the groom occurs in a comfortable and natural environment but in the East, the meeting of the families takes place with utmost courtesy and the mood is serious. The Western families meet with each other on an equal position instead of a hierarchical human relation.
Traditional weddings in the Western world may sometimes be based upon an agreement between two parties. However, these cases are limited only to the upper classes and the majority of the marriages were dependent on the choice and emotion of the individual. In some cases, the individual had to sacrifice certain aspects for the benefit of the family, but this trend has undergone gradual change in the direction of highlighting the love between the couple. Modern ideologies in the Western world attach increased significance to the intention of the bride and the groom rather than the associated groups’. The influence of the parents over their children is limited .
Among the common marriage practices prevalent in the West, the concept of the white, fairy-tale wedding is comparatively recent. It was as late as the mid-19th century that a certain style was introduced in the United States and Britain, even though the bride would adorn herself with ribbons and favours to signify her marital status. The white wedding dress gained prominence in the mid-18th century when it came to symbolize chastity and purity. It became the standard bridal outfit due to the machinations of the wedding industry of the Western world.
In the Western world, especially in Europe and America, wedding is a process that occurs throughout different stages. Every individual passes through the important stages of transition from single to courtship, then from engagement and finally to marriage. The presenting of a ring by the man to a woman is still an essential aspect of the engagement ritual. The engagement can be called off by either party but they will be expected to compensate for the cost of the wedding. The couple might or might not return the gifts that they had given to one another, and the woman is usually expected to return her engagement ring .
In the West, every bride has to have in her possession “something old, something new, something borrowed, something blue”. While the “old” signifies continuity, the “new” brings hope and optimism; the “something borrowed” stands for happiness shared from another happily married couple and the “something blue” signifies love, purity and fidelity. She has to wear a garter with her wedding dress and once the marriage ceremony is complete, she is expected to toss the bouquet she is holding into the crowd. The bridesmaid who catches the bouquet is believed to be next in line for marriage.
One of the most significant marriage practices in the West is the wedding cake. In recent times, the wedding cake can assume different colours, designs and shapes. The groom and bride feed cake to each other to symbolize the sharing of life’s bounty. The cake needs to be cut jointly by the married couple. They need to feed the first slice to each other since it indicates the commitment the groom and bride have undertaken to provide for each other. The top tier of the wedding cake is usually saved by the couple for consumption at a later stage; it serves as a reminder for the couple of the joyous occasion .
Arab Marriage Customs
New marriage patterns and family formation methods have emerged all over the Arab world and this has resulted in the implementation of innovative changes in the concept of family. Early marriage is no longer the universal standard in the Arab nations. The number of Arab women who prefer to remain single instead of getting married is on the rise. In the past decades, a rapid decline has been witnessed in the percentage of women aged between fifteen to nineteen who have gotten married in certain countries of the Arab region. The economy in the Arab world has gradually moved away from a predominantly agrarian system which promoted not only early marriage but an extended family structure. Most of the population of the Arab world now reside in cities and are employed in service or industrial sectors. The spread of education has also prompted young Arab women to work outside the confines of their homes in paying job opportunities.
At the centre of the marriage practices in the Arab world is the role of the family. The concept of family is held in high esteem among the old and young alike. Thus, marriage in the Arab communities is more of a family matter than an individual issue. Marriage happens to be the well-emphasized turning point that offers recognition, prestige and the approval of society to both partners, especially the bride. Though the young women and men have the freedom to select their spouses, the marriage process is basically an economic and social contract between two families. It also offers access to socially, legally and culturally accepted sexual relationship.
The marriage costs in the Arab world are higher in comparison to the rest of the world since dowry is a customary practice. The marriage ceremony takes place in stages that include significant and costly rituals. The bride and the groom are gifted with gold ornaments and they are provided with new housing to live in. The cost of appliances and furniture is borne by the families of the newlyweds along with the trousseau of the bride. It is not uncommon in Arab countries for relatives to get married. This practice, termed “consanguinity”, should not be confused with arranged marriages; they might, in fact, occur as per the wishes of the partners .
Marriage Practices in India
Weddings in the Indian culture indicate the sacred union of not only two individuals but even their families and extended families. The involvement of the family in India happens to be so profound that the men and women allow their parents or relatives to choose their spouse. Till the last decade, it was common for the groom and the bride to view each other for the first time on the day of the wedding. Though the urban sectors of the Indian population have done away with this trend, arranged marriages are still prevalent in society and mainly intra-caste and intra-religion. Families look for eligible partners through marriage priests or word of mouth. Online matrimonial sites have also gained popularity in India.
In arranged marriages, the compatibility between the couple is assessed using horoscopes. If they are compatible, the couple are allowed to interact to see if their natures and interests match. The blessings of the elders in the family are necessary for marriage. Traditional weddings in India last a week and they begin with pre-wedding ceremonies. Oil, water and turmeric are applied to the groom and bride by married women during the ritual Haldi bath. In the Mehndi ceremony, the feet and hands of the bride are decorated with intricate Henna patterns. The Sangeet and Tilak are other essential pre-wedding events in India. In the Tilak ceremony, the forehead of the groom is marked by vermillion by every male member in the bride’s family for auspiciousness. Sangeet involves music and dance.
The wedding attire in traditional Indian weddings includes an ornate lehenga or sari for the bride and sherwani or dhoti for the groom. Red is integral to the colour palette for the wedding since it indicates fertility, prosperity and marital bliss. The actual wedding is a colourful affair and the couple and their respective families are decked with numerous ornaments. The wedding ceremony in India takes almost three hours to complete. The wedding takes place in the bride’s home or marriage hall. Garlands are exchanged between the bride and groom. The groom traditionally comes to the bride’s house for marriage atop a decorated horse but in modern times, they travel in luxury cars .
One of the most important aspects is the kanyadaan or the giving away of the bride. The father of the bride has to perform this ritual where he gives his daughter away to the groom, requesting him to treat her as a fair partner. The priest facilitates the marriage through the recitation of holy hymns. The couple is considered to be married only when the groom places the mangalsutra on the bride’s neck that indicates his promise to take care of his bride as long as he lives. The whole marriage takes place around a sacred fire. The reception is a lively affair, attended by friends and family. Food is served at the wedding ceremony. Tradition dictates that it must be vegetarian and ethnic but nowadays, non-vegetarian food has become common at weddings .
Traditions and rituals followed in marriages vary from culture to culture. As can be seen after evaluating Western, Arabian and Indian wedding practices, it can be said that these practices showcase the beliefs and values that form the DNA of the individual culture. While practices have changed over time, with several rituals becoming obsolete as the culture has evolved, marriage practices remain one of the key indicators of cultural values.
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