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Weddings - Symbols and Messages

When I got married, I spent my wedding days in a daze. My parents, my in-laws, the officiating priest gave me instructions and I blindly followed them. This is normal. During an Indian wedding there are a huge variety of rituals to be carried out. They vary based on the region you come from, the sect you belong to, and traditions followed in your family.

In my opinion, they all have one thing in common, the bride and groom are totally disconnected from the entire spectacle that is playing out around them. Now my son Prahalad is getting married to Sneha and I will watch them go through an identical experience. So I started wondering how I could help them make sense of the crazy few days they are going to experience.

I have a wonderful idea

Me, I am an engineer and so I had this wonderful idea. Compare the wedding ceremony to F=ma. That is Newton's Second Law of Motion. If you understand the symbols and what they stand for, then it is a very useful and powerful equation. If you don’t understand it, then it's just three letters. So all I had to do was find out what each event in the wedding symbolized and then it would all make sense.

I discussed this with my cousin Shanx. He pricked that balloon very fast. He told me that in the US in almost every Hindu wedding there is somebody explaining the symbols. All it does is raise the confusion to another level. This knocked me for a loop. I tried to find out what each ritual symbolizes and Shanx was right. It did not help one bit. This is the kind of information you get. Not much clearer really. When I thought about it, there is not much improvement between F=ma and knowing that F stands for Force, m stands for mass and a stands for acceleration.

I realise my wonderful idea is not so wonderful after all

So I sat down and thought about it for some more time. F=ma is so powerful, because you can use it for practical purposes. You can predict how quickly cars will stop when you brake; calculate how the planets revolve around the Sun; calculate how to send rockets to the moon.

Blindly chanting F=ma is useless. Things become slightly better when you can say Force=mass times acceleration. But only practical applications give it real meaning. So in my mind the question transformed to - What is the message of the rituals in the wedding? Are they relevant in today's day and age?

I was listening some time ago to my wife Vandana’s guru. He made a very pertinent point. He said that our ancestors understood human psychology very well. He gave many examples that impressed me a lot. Consider Purushartha Such a realistic and practical guide to being happy.

I have a new wonderful idea

So I decided to go one level deeper and tried to understand what mindset / attitudes these rituals and symbols are suggesting to the couple. I found some common themes. I have cherry picked from them to put down things that I feel are relevant. There are many which were probably more relevant when people got married in their teens 😀. I have not even put them down here. This is of course my own interpretation. Please feel free to agree / disagree / reinterpret in the comments.

So Prahalad and Sneha here is my list of “messages” embedded in the rituals. I have attempted to put it in the context of today's lifestyle. I hope it reduces the dazed confusion of the next few days.
  1. Maintain an attitude of gratitude. Many of the rituals thank the various gods. Requesting their help in smoothing the path on this happy and auspicious occasion. There is a lot of recent research on the importance of gratitude and its impact on happiness. I feel the opposite of gratitude is entitlement. If you go into your marriage with a sense of entitlement, you will always find things that will disappoint you. If you go in with an attitude of gratitude, you will discover many reasons to be happy.
  2. You are now moving to a new stage in life, change and transform your behaviour. There are many specific instructions. Be neatly turned out, don't be exclusively focused on what gives you pleasure, care about your spouses pleasure and happiness. Behave responsibly and maintain a clean, comfortable, prosperous and dharmic house.
    Many companies carry out induction programs something along the lines of “carefree student” to “responsible employee”. I personally carry out an equivalent training specifically targeting software developers. All these programs address the transformation in behaviour that is required in a new phase of life.
    Here is a three sentence summary of Marshall Goldsmith’s book that is relevant here.
    “Behavioral problems, not technical skills, are what separate the great from the near great. Incredible results can come from practicing basic behaviors like saying thank you, listening well, thinking before you speak, and apologizing for your mistakes. The first step to change is wanting to change.”
    In the previous phase of your life, parents love their children and will put up with a lot of messy behaviour from you. In this next phase, it is not fair to expect that from a spouse.
  3. You are not just getting married to each other, A whole set of new relations are entering your life. Build a relationship with all of them.    
    This is less of a problem with the nuclear family. However, in the long run all those relationships matter. The world has changed, I think the onus is also on parents to work hard to build a harmonious relationship with the child’s spouse. Vandana and I will work on this, as well.
    I think Grateful parents will find it easier than Entitled parents 😀
  4. You are a team. You have to work together and support each other. Help each other achieve Physical, Spiritual / Intellectual and Economic Desires.
    I think it is important to discover things you enjoy doing together. Affirm this activity and make sure you always find time for this through busy times and difficult times.
This has been an interesting journey for me as well. I have learnt a lot. Hmm, I wonder when do I have to get married to Vandana again?


ps said…
Hi GK,
Interesting observation. As always you have your unique fundas, and thoughtful ones in that.
ps said…
Hi GK,
Interesting observation. As always you have your unique fundas, and thoughtful ones in that.
Unknown said…
Wonderful, compassionate and down to earth. Good advice for me too as I get married in a few months.
GEEJO said…
Excellent article, very well phrased and after reading it, I am overjoyed and I am assured that Sneha got best in-laws.Thank you Krishna for a wonderful article and in a very subtle way advicing, to be married couple. Ragi
chandrika said…
Very well said Mr. Krishna. Thank you for making the effort for our children. Geeta
Chitra said…
Great advice GK. Wish I had this before my marriage as well as before my son got married 😀
Unknown said…
Our rituals and customs are always about humility. It helps remove your ego when you have to bow down to a higher power. Marriage rituals are also done to get families together . I loved your idea of qriting your take on f=ma