South Asian Families Ensure Their Children Have Royal Weddings–Even in the U.S.

Bridesmaid adjusts bride's veil

A bridesmaid adjusts the bride's veil in a traditional Indian wedding. (Photo: Barani Krishnan)

Prince William and Kate Middleton’s royal wedding this week is spinning the globe into a tizzy, but in New York, a 46-year-old Indian man is looking to get married on his own terms.

“I’m looking, but not rushing,” shrugged Shomik Chaudhuri, chief-operating-officer of Parikh Wordwide Media.

As is common in traditional Indian marriages, he’s not the only one looking. So is his family.

“Indian people are pretty serious about marriage,” said the Calcutta-born Chaudhuri.

In Indian society, the family – not the wedding planner – plays an essential role. The family gives its blessing to a wedding and conversely, it can decree that no wedding will take place if they see foreboding signs. Chaudhuri said both bride and groom generally respect the family’s vetting powers because Indian tradition holds family as the objective eye that can see whether a marriage is for keeps or not.

“The couple may be in love, but the families can see it from a different angle,” said Chaudhuri. “They can see if it’s just youthful infatuation and that the marriage will not last.”

In his classic book “The Wonder That was India,” A. L. Basham writes that marriage has three main purposes in Indian society, in order of importance: 1) promotion of religion, 2) progeny and 3) sexual pleasure.

Rashida Begum, 26, a Bangladeshi-American physical therapy aide who got married last year in her home country, said Bangladeshi matrimony is no different. Families form a big part of the tradition and not just because they pick up the tab. But as a young “modern” woman, she said she made it clear to her family she was getting married for herself and not for her parents.

“I told them the match is for me, not for them,” said Rashida, who began as a phone pal to then-boyfriend Sikder, an MBA student in England. Turns out, their fathers have known each other for years, which paved the way for a seamless coming together for both families.

“It turned out well. I guess I’m lucky,” she said.

hennahands

Hands decorated with henna for a wedding. (Photo: Zahrah Habibullah/flickr)

When an Indian American, like Chaudhuri, has made the decision to get married, he may be checking out profiles on “matrimonial service” websites like Jeevansathi or Saadhi, and his family is likely doing its own search with the help of friends, co-workers, and community and religious leaders. Others focus on newspaper matrimonial ads to boost their chances of finding a betrothed for their child. Marriage advertisements are commonly found in the back of Indian newspapers, along with ads for housing rentals and legal notices. A typical ad looks nothing like a profile on Match.com, but nothing quite so timid either:

Dr. (Col.) invites compatible Medico / High professional match from defence or otherwise status Brahmin families for his foreign MD, NBE pass daughter. Family has national & International relationships. Visit and Correspond using E-mail…

Delhi based Hindu Punjabi parents invite suitable match for their professionally educated (MS in IT from U.S.) handsome son. Working with top MNC in U.S. on H-1bvisa. Visiting India in April. Email…

The ads are direct and to the point. They tend to seek potential partners within the same socioeconomic and professional background. A university professor, for instance, would prefer to marry another scholar, a surgeon a fellow doctor. “Why?” asked Pennsylvania-based, Indian American humorist Melvin Durai. “Do they want to open a clinic?”

Chaudhuri said information about education and jobs are important because many parents want to make sure their daughters will be taken care of. His own standards are quite simple: A woman who respects Indian traditions, comes from a good family, is educated and can present herself in a dignified manner whenever he is traveling to international conferences. Aside from his work as COO, Chaudhuri sits on the board of the non-profit Institute of International Social Development which supports welfare projects in rural India and works closely with the United Nations.

Manhattan wedding planner Sonal Shah said Indian families are involved every step of the way, from giving their blessings to organizing the ceremony.

“Once a couple hires us to meet the families, we know what our roles are going to be,” said Shah, who is of Indian ethnicity. “The mother and I will usually work on the menu, the father and I on the invitations.”

Even in a cosmopolitan city like New York where people lead busy, frenetic lives, some Indian families observe the traditional rituals lasting several days, said Shah. There is Sangeet night, usually on a Thursday, where female guests toast the bride, sing songs and dance to Bollywood music. There is a Friday rehearsal dinner similar to American weddings. The religious ceremony, where bride and groom vow to respect and love one another by exchanging garlands and tying a knot is usually held on a Saturday. Finally, a Sunday brunch is where the newlyweds are introduced to one another’s families.

“The Indian wedding is just day after day of festivities,” said Shah. “We have done weddings of anywhere from 45 people to 1,500.”

An Indian wedding, with all its rituals, can last anywhere from three days to two weeks, depending on which region of India the bride or groom comes from, the customs they observe and how elaborate and diverse those practices are, said Amu Krishnan, an Indian wedding planner based in Malaysia.

“For my daughter’s wedding last month, the pre-nuptials went on for nearly two weeks with the bride’s family holding four different ceremonies and the groom’s side three. Then came the wedding itself, and after that, a grand finale banquet, hosted a week later by the groom,” Krishnan recalled.

For marriages between an Indian and a western partner, the Indian tradition usually prevails, she said.

“More often than not, foreigners who marry the Indian way are fascinated with the colors, the traditions, the customs,” said Krishnan, who dressed Indian brides whose suitors were from New Orleans and Florida many years ago. “Many have never experienced such culture and are extremely delighted to have the opportunity through their wedding.”

Chaudhuri may be looking, but maintained he is not dating.

“Many Indians might date, and if they like each other and they feel they can take it forward, they bring in their families. When the two families feel the couple is compatible, they give the go-ahead,” he explained.

And while Durai, the comic, has declared his mother would “never come between me and a potential bride,” Chaudhuri feels the traditional way of involving families is ideal.

“It’s just easier for everyone to get along.”

Cristina Pastor is a Feet in Two Worlds business and economics reporting fellow.  Her work, and the work of other Fi2W fellows, is supported by the New York Community Trust and the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation with additional support from the Mertz Gilmore Foundation.

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