During my final year of high school, I had conducted a case study to understand the marriage rituals that took place among certain Christian communities in India - such as the Christians of Kerala, Goa and Mizoram - compared to the marriage rituals among Christians in western countries. The objective of my case study was to highlight the noticeable differences in these marriage rituals among the Christian communities in India as opposed to the Christians living in the west.
To begin, a questionnaire was sent out to twenty three respondents belonging to Christian communities in both India as well as that of the west with respect to the various rituals of marriage which were performed and conducted in their respective communities.
It was noted that with reference to Indian communities the Syrian Christians of Kerala and the Christians of Goa incorporated some ritualistic elements of the Hindu tradition in their weddings. For example, the women in Kerala get married in a white sari called Mantrakodi (Indian clothing) and also wear a Thali (which is a leaf-shaped gold pendant with a cross on it), while the women in Goa go through ceremonies called Chuddo (which requires the bride to wear green and yellow bangles as a representation of her married life) and Ros (a Goan tradition that involves applying of coconut milk over the bride a day before the wedding to symbolize the beginning of a new life and the end of spinsterhood) respectively. In addition to this, the Goan bride wears a red sari called Saddo at the time of her marriage.
Upon receiving some responses for the above-mentioned questionnaire, I came to observe that rituals such as these which involve the bride wearing a sari during her wedding, or a woman wearing a thali (chain) or bangles to symbolize her married life, bears a striking resemblance to certain marriage rituals of the Hindu tradition which forms a very significant part of our Indian culture. Even pre-wedding rituals such as the Ros ceremony held among Goan Christians is much the same compared to the Haldi ceremony carried out in certain Hindu communities which is also considered to be a purification ritual.
While the Syrian and Goan Christians have certain Hindu rituals as a customary part of their weddings, the Christians of Mizoram get married in a ceremony that is similar to Christians living in the west, with the additional inclusion of the bride price which is an amount that has to be paid by the groom's family to the bride's family. The bride price to be paid is of various kinds such as Thutphah (held back for security purposes); Manpui (principal bride price); Sumhmahruai and Sumfang (subsiduary bride prices to be paid to the bride's father or brother); Pusum ( to be paid to the maternal uncle or other maternal relatives of the bride); as well as payments to be made to the female relatives of the bride such as Ni-ar (to be paid to the paternal aunt) and Naupuakpuan ( to be paid to the elder sisters of the bride) respectively. Furthermore, the Palal who acts as the bride's foster father and takes accountability to protect the interests of the bride throughout the course of her marriage is entitled to bride price. Apart from this, the bride's maid also receives a price known as Thianman.
Bride price is the opposite of dowry, which is still practiced widely in India and among the Syrian Christians of Kerala (mostly in the form of gifts). However, with the responses received, from the Indian Christian respondents, it was safe to infer that with economic and educational factors taking precedence over everything else, the dowry system has less significance in today's modern societies.
While this study surely enabled me to understand the customs and rituals of Christians in India, it also made me realize that a large section of our population is deeply unaware of these rituals existing among Christian marriages in our country. It reinforced the fact that India happens to be an exceptionally diverse country with a lot of different cultures incorporating a fundamental set of values and beliefs from one another. This case study enabled me to truly realize that there are so many wonderful things to learn from each culture which can help us mutually coexist and appreciate the beauty, in our seemingly distinct, yet different similarities, in this beautiful but often, conflicted world.