chapter  15
25 Pages

Saµskåra Mary McGee

This advertisement, from the “Match Makers” section of the Sunday edition of theIndian Express, a Bombay-based national newspaper, is one among thousands found weekly in newspapers throughout India and abroad. The marketing division of the Indian Express solicits such ads with this pitch: “There could be no better matchmaker than Indian Express. With its wide and varied readership. Ensuring the right response. For just the mate you want. Make your first choice the right choice!” Behind the facade of this modern and commercial solicitation for a marriage partner via local, national, and even international news publications is an age-old tradition of families actively engaged in the process of perpetuating their lineage while at the same time protecting it. Qualities valued in a marriage alliance, as recorded in the ancient Manusm®ti, emphasized the integrity and orthodoxy of the extended family, not just of the intended partner, whereas among those qualities prized today are the education and financial stability of the potential partner. In the search for the perfect wife or husband, second century as well as twenty-first century Hindu communities share a concern for physical traits as well as for common social values and experiences, evidenced in a preference for attractive mates from similar caste groups or geographical regions. In this respect, Hindu families are no different than many other social groups throughout the world. The Hindu marriage ritual that consecrates the union of the bride and groom-be they brought before the sacred fire by a matrimonial advertisement, a family matchmaker, a childhood friendship, a synchrony of horoscopes, or a deep love for each other-consists of rites and mantras that, through symbol and metaphor, provide reference to the responsibilities and qualities of men and women especially in their roles as domestic partners. This ritual, in both its ancient and contemporary forms, sanctifies this domestic partnership and marks a social as well as moral transition for the bride and groom. The marriage ritual effects the transformation of these two individuals into one body, one dharmic unit, with new responsibilities; they are incorporated into each other’s lives as well as into a larger community of householders.