Across the world people in their teenage years to their thirties are looking for a companion to spend the rest of their life with. In America people think they have the perfect way of finding a spouse by courting them, falling in love, and then getting married to legally commit their lives to each other. In other countries like India, Pakistan, and China men and women look at weddings and marriages completely different. People who are Hindu, Muslim, and Chinese also celebrate these life stages in elaborate and drawn out processes that are very spiritual and sacred. There are so many characteristics and details that go into every wedding from what the bride and groom are wearing, to where they are getting married, if there is a dowry, if the wedding was arranged, and even how many days the wedding is going to last. Once married different religions have strict views on how the husband and wife are supposed to interact in public and in their homes. Since the tradition of marriage has been around for centuries in many cultures and therefore is a sacred union, divorce is looked down upon severely. After going over all of the facts and rituals behind weddings, marriages, and divorces in these religions and cultures, there will be a discussion about how the Muslim wedding contract is interpreted in the American court system and also how the Bollywood wedding culture industry has affected traditional Hindu wedding ceremonies.
A Hindu wedding has different purposes and goals for married life than we do in America. There are three main aims for Hindu marriage to achieve, “dharma (practice of religion), praja (progeny), and rati (sexual pleasure), the importance being in the same order” (Pothen, 1989, p.377). Hindu men and women put the practice of religion as the top priority in marriage, so they are specifically looking for a companion that is going to spiritually challenge them to be a better person and to be a spiritual role model. A woman in traditional Hindu culture is suppose to serve her husband’s needs and treat him like a god: “ As a river merges into an ocean, and loses its own identity, so the wife was supposed to merge with her husband and lose her personality and individuality”( Pothen, 1989,p. 377-378). I am sure that Hindu Americans and modern Hindu Indians do not specifically follow this as much as in the past because of the human rights of women getting more attention globally.
In a traditional Hindu wedding the bride is adorned with precious jewelry, she is decorated with elaborate makeup, and has henna on her hands and feet. Gold is very important in Indian culture and in the Hindu wedding ceremony, “In most Hindu communities, gold forms an indispensable part of the jewelry that bedecks a bride as she undergoes the rituals that will incorporate her into her groom’s family” (Fernandez, 2004, p. 55). Gold jewelry is not only for aesthetic purposes in the Hindu wedding but it serves spiritual purposes as well as connecting this bride to the groom’s family and inviting her into their family. Family is emphasized heavily in Hindu culture and many newly married couples will move into houses with the groom’s brothers and their wives and children along with their parents and other elders. The jewelry is just an accessory even though very spiritually important it does not compare to the importance of the dress, “the wedding gown traditionally has been red in northern India” (Brewster, 2007, p. 20). The dress is red because it represents the muladhara which is defined as, “related to security, survival and also to basic human potentiality” (Brewster, 2007, p. 20). Another part of the bride that is red for the wedding ceremony is her makeup. Sindoor is a red powder and it is used ceremonially when, “the groom applies sindoor to the bride’s forehead at the parting of her hair to show that she is now a married woman” (Brewster, 2007, p. 20). The woman will wear this mark as long as she is married and it shows other people how dedicated she is to her husband and how happy she is as well.
Since Hindu weddings are more about spirituality and family they are longer than typical American weddings. Instead of the reception being held in a huge hotel or ballroom, “The wedding ceremony and reception most often take place at the bride’s family’s home” (BenShea, 2005, p. 48). Along with the sindoor that is placed on the bride’s head, henna is also applied on the bride’s hands and feet with intricate patterns. The application of the henna actually is part of the, “Mehendi ceremony, a spiritual ceremony that “kicks off” the wedding” (BenShea, 2005, p. 48). After the Mehendi there is the main event for the groom called the, “Baraat, the groom’s wedding procession, an event that starts with a glorious display of fireworks and the enthusiastic dancing of family and friends to music”(BenShea, 2005, p. 48). This main event really sets the mood of happiness and fun for the rest of the reception and wedding festivities. The decorations at the wedding are just as colorful as the fireworks, “Gold, red, orange and silver play a prominent role in the observed ceremonies, but are rarely seen in such brilliance and concentration in everyday Delhi life” (Veer, 2009, p. 152). The colors reflect symbolic meanings surrounding the ceremony and the bride and groom. The vows include seven steps that end in marriage instead of a simple “I do”. The bride and groom stand around a fire which, “serves as a channel for the Gods to witness and bless the marriage” (Vaswani, 2008, p. 14). Each step means something sacred to the couple, the seventh step, “is taken to be true to each other; loyal and remain life-long companions by this wedlock” (Vaswani, 2008, p. 14). These are just the basics to a Hindu wedding that people from other cultures and religions should be aware of. The Hindu wedding ceremony is so elaborate and intentional with everything the couple does that it would take days to explain, which is as long as the traditional reception lasts.
Muslim weddings and marriages differ in almost every aspect possible. A Hindu wedding was a symbolic representation of two families joining and celebrating the couple spending the rest of their lives devoted to each other and in Muslim society, “a marriage is a contract between two parties, a man and a woman” (BenShea, 2005, p. 52). This is more of a legal process than a celebration of the love the man and the woman have for each other. The agreement or contract actually has a specific name in the Muslim community and it must outline the same things no matter who the couple is: “marriage contracts, called nikah agreements, must include a term whereby the husband gives something of value to the wife called the mahr or sadaq, which Americans might commonly call a bride price, a marriage gift, or a dowry” (Siddiqui, 2007, p. 639). In traditional Muslim marriages the marriage is arranged by the parents or a third party and a dowry does have to be discussed and agreed upon before the marriage contract can be final. When the agreement on the contract is decided upon there also must be two male witnesses present for the contract to be valid. Now that times are changing but Muslims still want to keep their traditions they try to change a few things to fit the modern times, like including different details in the marriage contract, “regarding what each spouse expects from the marriage, including everything from where the couple will live, to a requirement that the husband learn Arabic or the wife take cooking lessons” (Siddiqui, 2007, p. 640). The husband is still normally required to be the financial provider for the family and the wife is responsible for keeping the home and the children in perfect order.
The traditional Chinese wedding is very intricate and involves a lot of symbolism and rituals that are difficult to fully understand. Before the wedding is even planned there must be three letters sent between the bride and groom’s family. The first letter is called the request letter and, “it is sent by the groom’s family to the bride’s family” (Dejeu, p.2). This letter is usually accompanied by gifts and its main purpose is to confirm the arrangement of marriage. The second letter is named the gift letter and, “it is actually a gift list that records the description and quantity of the gifts” (Dejeu, p.2). This is the beginning of a tremendous amount of more gift giving throughout the wedding ceremony and afterwards as well. Finally the third letter is defined as the wedding letter and, “it confirms the act of bringing the bride into the groom’s family” (Dejeu, p.3). Finally the wedding planning and preparations can begin after a drawn out process of formalities and gift giving between the two families. Chinese marriages typically happen when girls are very young. A statistic to prove that girls are always given off to marriage comes from a rural village in China that has traditional values, “ According to the official population censuses of the village in 1982 and 1990 and the author’s conducted in 1993, no women were single who were over 28 in 1982”( zhang, 2000, p. 58). Even though there were some single men in the village who had physical problems, all the women had husbands no matter what their circumstances.
A Chinese bride’s wedding day is full of traditional rituals from when she arrives until she is alone with her husband. The night before the wedding there is a hair combing ritual that both the bride and the groom have to participate in, because there is symbolic meaning between the four brushing sequences: “the first combing symbolizes: from beginning till the end, the second combing symbolizes: harmony from not till old age, the third combing symbolizes: sons and grandsons all over the place, the fourth combing summarizes good wealth and a long-lasting marriage” (Dejeu, p. 5). The only time you would not do this ritual is if one of the people getting married has been married previously. The next morning the bride leaves her house but, “the bride cannot touch the ground with her feet until she arrives at the groom’s house” (Dejeu, p. 5). After the ceremony and the banquet, the bride and groom will finally get to have time alone for the first time in their already prepared wedding bed. In the past and still today in traditional wedding ceremonies the bride and groom, “ drank wine in their bedroom from bitter gourds linked by a red silk cord…The bitter mixed with the wine meant that they’d stick together through thick and thin”( Sartor, 2008, p. 48). A Chinese wedding has a lot of time and thought put into every step from the letters, to the wedding preparations, to the actual ceremony. All three of these religions have beautiful traditions that are unique and sacred to their cultural beliefs.
Most of these weddings and marriages that I have described are very traditional and over time with the spread of their culture to America there are some obstacles that our justice system has come across. One example is how our court system is going to interpret and process a Muslim marriage contract when it comes to the problem of divorce. Another change that Hindu weddings are having to battle is the exaggeration of their weddings in the Bollywood cultural industry and how that is affecting weddings across India.
In America we have our own rules for divorce and marriage and when each of these acts is permitted and appropriate. In Muslim countries they have their own laws about divorce and a separate marriage contract that includes a lot of details and traditions that are not normal in the United States. Since the United States does not just have citizens who are Christians our government and judicial system in particular needs to be able to adapt for all religions and situations because people are free to practice any religion they want in this country. In Muslim culture there are different circumstances for when women and men can file for divorce: “ Under traditional Islamic law, women could obtain a no-fault divorce from their husbands by giving up their mahr, or could obtain a divorce and keep their mahr by going before a court and proving fault on part of their husband” ( Siddiqui, 2007, p.641). This means that if a woman has irreconcilable differences with her husband, but he is not at fault in particular and it is just a mutual agreement that the marriage will not work out then if the woman files for divorce first then she has to give back her dowry which is probably worth thousands of dollars. On the other side of Muslim divorce a husband has a right to divorce his wife which is called, “ talaq, which is absolute and under some interpretations only required a statement of “I divorce you” three times in a row” (Siddiqui, 2007, p. 641).It is obviously a lot easier for a husband to divorce his wife for any reason he wants without giving up any of his rights or money which is not just or fair according to the American court system, which would result in problems in court. If the Muslim marriage contract met the requirements of an actual American contract then it would make it easier for the courts to interpret. One of the many reasons that a Muslim marriage contract does not meet the requirements of an American contract is that, “they are often short and vague… any vagueness in terms might be interpreted with the assistance of Muslim expert witnesses, but the differences of opinion regarding the various Islamic schools of thought and differing geographic traditions make it difficult for courts to know who constitutes a reliable source” (Siddiqui, 2007, p. 646). Depending on where these witnesses are from and what their beliefs are they may be biased in the direction of the husband as well because Muslim men typically think they have more rights than women do. Instead of trying to treat the contract as a prenuptial agreement a better agreed upon method of interpretation is, “as a secular contract, particularly in cases where the wife is financially vulnerable. This interpretation implies that the mahr does not affect her rights to any marital property the couple might have” (Siddiqui, 2007, p. 650). This is currently where the courts stand when interpreting these contracts. This is a very controversial situation in America because our government obviously wants to respect their laws but when they do not match up to our laws and rules it leads to misunderstanding and confusion when interpreting what the contracts really mean and what action should be taken when a divorce is filed. I think that the American courts need to keep striving to protect these women’s rights when it comes to the mahr and the contract in general. Most traditional Muslim wives do not have a college education and do not have a job while they are married because they are supposed to be taking care of the home and the children, so when it comes time for a divorce the American court system needs to make sure that these women are taken care of financially and not just cut off from their ex-husbands income all together.
The media plays a huge role in influencing weddings in America as well as in India. On TLC alone there are shows about weddings and dresses and cakes and venues almost all the time. The equivalent to this in India is the Bollywood wedding culture industry that fuels the thoughts of having lavish weddings to the viewers. Weddings are supposed to be about love, and spending the rest of your lives together but the media has turned weddings into a beast, which is depicted in the film Mere Yaar Ki Shaadi Hain at the, “ bachelor’s party- replete with disco lights, costume, and unabashed sexualized innuendo”( Kapur, 2009,p. 223). All of these material things and secular experiences people think they need for a wedding to be a success because the media is telling people who are getting married they need all of the things to have a lavish party. The media is putting lies in our heads about what a wedding should really look like, “ For instance, wedding sites, such as IndianWeddingSite.com encourage their clients to view Bollywood films for inspiration, including designing outfits, staging festivities, and choreographing dance numbers”( Kapur, 2009, p. 224). The media is going against the saying that less is more in the instances of weddings. This type of media advertising is just like when advertisers target children for fast food ads, instead this industry is targeting another vulnerable audience which is women who are about to be married. I think Hindu weddings should focus on what is important instead of getting sidetracked by things that are not important in the long-term marriage experience.
It is so important as a world traveler, a scholar, and a communication studies major to know how different cultures interact. Across the world people are getting married everyday which makes weddings one of the most important ceremonies. People spend thousands of dollars in preparation for weddings and hundreds of hours planning. Hindu, Muslim, and Chinese weddings not only differ from each other when it comes to their traditions and values but they also differ from American weddings as well. I think a wedding is one of the most important days or weeks in a person’s life and should not be taken lightly.
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