Tuesday, December 27, 2005

What is the importance of the ceremony of marriage?

Last week I visited a temple. What I like about temples are the laddoos, lords and the ladies! Not in that particular order, however. Yours truly followed brother and sister and stood in the queue to step into the lord's chamber and seek his blessings. Once I was into the chamber and 10 ft from the idol, I decided it made no sense (for me) to stand in a queue to wait till I am in front of the idol and only then pray. Breaking the queue and stepping aside, I mentioned my prayers, and left. Even if I don't buy the argument that God is everywhere it would be hard to argue (to myself) that I should pray only in front of the idol and not 10 ft away from the idol. Religion is a personal issue but some aspects of it do raise interesting questions for me.

We may have an idol at home, yet we feel the need to go to a temple/mosque/church and pray. What makes us do this? Yet, I can't help feel it more significant if I pray in a temple compared to my home. In fact, there are three levels if you think of it. You pray to an idol at home; then you have the local temple that you frequent; and then the "special" temple that may be visited like, Tirupathi, Mt. Abu, Trikuta and many others. Does a step of effort make us more involved in the cause and feed into the whole cycle? Does the endeavor enable us to signal our commitment better than the "lazier" token worship done at home? Admittedly, there are a number of other factors.

Why is the question important? If we look at the ceremony of marriage, it is often fashionable to say "why do they make a big deal about it? I mean, if they love each other, why can't they just go and live with each other?" The ceremony of marriage is an event marked by endeavour from both ends. The endeavor sends a certain signal to both the parties, of committment and of bridges being burnt. How does bridges being burnt show committment (atleast in India, where one-marriage-in-a-lifetime still rules the roost)? And does it increase the cycle of committment? Again, the interesting question may be, to what extent has the availability of divorce increased the prevalence of divorces itself?

Consider the threat of a suicide bomber. How credible would you consider it? I would take such a threat very seriously. The fact that she has bombs tied to her self and is willing to give up her life sends a message that she is willing to burn her bridges for her objective. Note the irreversible nature of the result of her committment which makes for a very strong tactic, i.e. the loss of her (and others) life. Hence the fact that we are willing to do a particular effort provides a signal of committment to our cause and hopefully the gods smile upon us.

The question of credible committments becomes very important in negotiations in the context of warring nations, manager-labor relations, dating partners and many other situations. And work on this won the Nobel Prize for Thomas Schelling.

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