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The Practice of Indian Marriage

Photographer: Harish Tyagi


In an effort to eradicate child marriage, dowry and extravagant spending at weddings that often leave parents indebted to local moneylenders, a community of former cattle-herders in northern India have been promoting the practice of mass marriages for more than three decades now.


The Pal community once used to rear sheep and cattle – hence the name from the Hindi word “palna” which means to nurture – but now follow various professions though some are still engaged in animal husbandry. The initiative of holding marriages in groups – cutting costs of India’s traditional elaborate marriage ceremonies – was first started by community leaders in 1981. To date, 31,000 couples have got married under the initiative.


The marriages are arranged through networking within the community and an auspicious day is picked for the wedding. On that day, the brides and grooms reach the wedding venue with their relatives and sit in separate enclosures – one for the brides, the other for the grooms.


There they get the finishing touches to their wedding finery – henna on their hands, a bit of make-up for the women. Then they are ready to board – women clamber onto an open-top truck, men ride on camels often three at a time if needed – and accompanied by musicians and dancing relatives they move to the venue where the wedding rituals take place.


The ceremonies often continue into the wee hours of the next day. When the wedding is over, the older male family members carry – literally – the newly-weds to vehicles waiting outside the venue for the journey to the groom’s home and the beginning of a new life together. The costs of this ceremony are only a fraction of what a solo wedding would have cost.


Community leaders and their organization called ‘All India Pal Assembly’ with the help of local government take the costs of the weddings. The community leaders’ efforts to promote these mass marriages have also had interesting side effects like reducing alcoholism in the community. Before a union is finalised, the groom has to pledge he will not drink. Such pledges help the family as men no longer waste their money on alcohol and nor do they end up coming home drunk and beating their women, community elders say.