Dear Ornetters,

This weekend, we present you NOT with an article; rather a piece of our culture; a fragment of our history so powerful that for a many of us it might come as a shock and surprise. Albeit the title of the article is a bit of misnomer; it'd probably have been better to entitle it as "An Oriya Family" instead of "Indian Family". While reading, please do bear in mind that the article was written in 1950's. And I think, I better add a disclaimer: "THE VIEWS AND OPINIONS PRESENTED IN THIS ARTICLE DO NOT NECESSARILY REFLECT THAT OF ANYONE AT WT". (Okay, I feel safe now) Let us know, if you felt like you've traveled somewhere in time to another dimension after reading.

Happy reading!

With regards

Surjit Sahoo October 11, 1996
Huntsville, Alabama

About the Author

The author of the article is Lingaraj Misra of Bhubaneswar. The article was written in the 1950's when he was a student in University of Missouri, USA. He once held the position of Dean of Extension Education, OUAT, Bhubaneswar. He is a noted Rural Sociologist and a good teacher. He practices almost all that he has preached in the article. Now retired, he still maintains a joint family and is engaged in rearing of his grandchildren.


In India, thought the diversity is enormous in religion and customs, still the joint family system is more or less the common pattern. To give a picture of joint family pattern, one has to focus on a Hindu joint family, since the majority of the population are Hindus.

The traditional Hindu joint family is a corporate, economic, religious, and social unit. It does not consist only of husband, wife, and children, but a larger family group. When sons grow up to manhood and marry, they do not leave their parents, but live with them along with their children and children's' children in the same ancestral residence.

The father, being the eldest and most experienced is nominally the head of the family, Ordinarily he controls, guides and directs the whole family, unless he is very old or disabled, in which case the eldest son or any senior male takes his place. The mother always has her say.

All food and property is held in common. All share the food prepared in a single common kitchen. There is a common purse into which all the family members contribute their gains and earnings and from which are paid the expenses of all the members - earners and non-earners alike. Sometimes it happens that an unemployed brother, his wife, and children may consume more from the family funds than a childless brother whose income may be considerable. This arrangement of give and take demands a great deal of mutual tolerance, affection, accommodation, understanding on the part of all members.

Socialization of the Children:

The Hindu woman gets higher esteem in the family, a great degree of independence, and the right to have her voice heard in the woman's quarters as soon as she is blessed with a child, preferably a son. She feels secured in the social status, as she is free from the fear of so called 'cursed' childlessness in which case even the orthodox beggars may refuse to accept the alms she offers. Pride in her son is the main consolation of her life. Rearing of children is one of her supreme duties. Ordinarily the young wife lavishes a devotion of an intensity proportionate to its importance for her emotional ease and social security and the concentration of maternal zeal on the child is great and leads to a child's identification with and dependence upon the mother. This excessive love of mother in the early stages of life is so impressive that during the whole life any Indian gets relief in uttering the word 'Mother' when in trouble. This is also responsible for the formation of respectful attitudes towards elderly women in the personality of sons.

Ideas of right and wrong, rules of conduct and etiquette and hygienic rules are taught to the children by the mother in a process of repeated emphasis and correction. Often western observers have been over-impressed by the influence of Indian mothers over their sons.

The father helps the mother in controlling and correcting the children. The care of children is taken not only by the parents, but also by other members of the family. Often it is seen that the children remain with the mother during the feeding times only, and at other times they are looked after by one or two aunts or grandmothers. Once they are weaned from the Mother's breast they may also be sleeping with their grandmother. The grandparents spend most of their time with the children.

Ritualistic performances on special occasions like festivals, ceremonies, traditions of the family reflect on the personality formation of the children. In the orthodox Hindu family there are relatively fewer barriers between children and adults. The child soon comes to share in most adult activities and is taught to observe the same taboos that are observed by adults. There is less of a separate world of activities and prohibitions for children. Moreover, the Hindu family does not make such heavy demands for progress of the developing child. All share in the common family fortunes and there is a guaranteed minimum for all. There is less emphasis on individual competition to secure maximum rewards for the individual. This tolerance and cooperation leads to form a trait of socio-centrism in the personality of the children. Unfortunately sometimes, if the difference of minds among the family members are in the early stages of children, then the children may tend to be egocentric in attitude. Standards of normality are formulated in terms of overt patterns of behavior, of ceremonial acts which even the duller children can perform and thus can feel that they are adequate members of the family group.

Later on, when the children grow up to go to school, teachers in the school, elders in the village and superiors in the family cooperate in recording and analyzing their character and personalities, point out their mistakes and teach them the right ones. Occupational techniques are taught to the children by initiating boys to work with male members and girls with female members of the family.

Thus respect to elders, devotion to teachers, faith in many Gods (even of other religions), love for living beings, common mores, beliefs, prejudices, manners, discipline, hospitality enter basically into the personality in the early stage due to interaction of each of the members with the other in the family-psychodrama.

According to Taylor, the socialization of the child in the orthodox family is very easy and smooth. Elaborate process of socialization is followed with ceremonies from the foetus-laying to the death of a person. A few examples of which are as follows:

  1. 'Foetus-laying' ceremony is performed at the consummation of marriage to fulfill the obligation of continuing the family line.
  2. In a 'Jata-karma' ceremony performed at the birth of the child, the father touches the child bestowing on him/her the wish of long life and intelligence.
  3. 'Name-giving' ceremony is performed on the 10th, 12th, 21st, or 30th day after the birth.
  4. 'Niskramana' ceremony in the 4th month after birth is when the child is presented to the Sun, the greatest natural force with its first contact with the outside world.
  5. 'Anna-Prasanna' or rice-eating ceremony is performed in during the 5th month after the birth. The child is now fed with cooked food.
  6. 'Hair-tonsuring' ceremony in the 1st or 3rd year is celebrated to introduce the child to the rules of bodily hygiene.
  7. 'Karna beth' ceremony at the age of 4years-4months-4days when the child begins to learn to read and write.
  8. In the 'Upanayan' or 'Sacred Thread' ceremony the boy is initiated into the study of the Vedas and hereafter the boy is really accepted as a member of the group and of the spiritual life of the community to which his forefathers belong. From now onwards he has a right to know and learn the well preserved sacred lore of the community. This ceremony is strictly observed only by the Brahmins.
  9. The marriage ceremony seals the proper socialization of the individual. Here the individual takes responsibility and pledge to assist in the continuation of the race.
  10. The funeral rite marks the end of the human career of the individual and his/her entrance into the realm of ancestors.

Through these ceremonies, the individual becomes organized from stage to stage, disciplined into a more perfect social being till (s)he retires from active life. All these rituals and ceremonies carry the individual from one experience to another in the course of his life. These also signify common bonds holding members of the community together.


According to Hindu scriptures, all should marry, marry young, and stay married. One does not take a wife for sexual pleasure, or companionship, necessarily, but one brings a daughter-in-law to the family to help the family and hand down the torch of life to generations yet unborn to thus perpetuate the family line. The parents and interested relatives who are well experienced in life, choose the bride or bridegroom without any particular consideration of the young partners' tastes or views which mostly depend on romances, momentary passions and pleasures without any relation to the future. Pre-puberty betrothal and marriage though is the approved one, pre-puberty betrothal and post-puberty marriage is now-a-days common. Wherever early marriage exists, the physical union and living together is by and large, a post-puberty affair.

Marriage is ordinarily limited to a member's own caste and sub-caste. With the modern co-education, if a young man falls in love across caste lines, the first major obstacle is the parental objection. When the couple in question is serious and when they have some measure of economic security, then they tend to oppose the family objections and brave the world. But this is not always easy because in India one's private life is very much the public concern. 'Marry and Love' not 'Love and Marry' is the traditional concept in India. In choosing a match for the bride, the parents not only consider the age, physical features, economic stability and educational background of the groom but also tally their horoscopes. If the astrologers do not agree, then the marriage does not take place. If the horoscopes tally and astrologers agree, then marriage is performed in a grand ceremony. The parents and relatives of the bride provide a sumptuous dowry so that the couple can spend some days of their youth period in comforts and luxuries without feeling any want.

Such are thought out, well considered marriage is arranged, because ordinarily divorce is not known to the Hindu institution. Husband and wife are bound to each other, not only till death, but even after death, in the other world. As chastity of woman is given highest esteem in India, marriages are deprived of both pre-marital meeting and post-marital dissolution, in case the marriage is a failure. Once a couple enters into marriage, whether good or bad, there is no easy way out. They have to accept and adjust; rather the wife has to adjust more. It is observed that 95% of the Hindu marriages appear successful.

In the new household, the bride obeys the elders and especially to the mother-in-law who is both strict and affectionate to her. Strict because she should be disciplined and affectionate because she should not feel the absence of her mother. At intervals she is taken away by her parents for a change.

As regards to the relation of husband and wife, the husband is the lord and master of wife and as such he is worshipped by her, even though he is devoid of virtues. He is her guardian, protector and support. In no case should she displease him. After the mother-in-law she should manage the household affairs cleverly and efficiently, spending economically as the mistress of the house. She has to rise up early in the morning before her husband, take her bath, clean the house, the yard of the house and the utensils of the cookery. Then she has to light the fire in the oven, make arrangements for different kinds of tasty dishes for the day, give the servants orders of their work for the day, and make out an estimate of the expenses necessary for the day. She should then offer prayers to the deities and pay respect to the elders in the house. After the meals are prepared she should first serve the children in the family, then the elders and the husband and at last she takes her meals. She may engage herself in amusements of every description, but only so far as may please her husband. She is not to go out of the house without the permission of the elders and her husband.

When the wife proves to be barren, the husband may marry another wife with the consent of the first wife. The widower is allowed to remarry in Hindu customs. But the marriage of a widow is not so common in higher castes as is prevalent in lower castes. Lower castes also allow divorce.


Life of a Hindu is full of ceremonies. Even when a man builds a house he begins with a ceremony and when the house is complete and ready for dwelling he celebrates another. As described earlier, many ceremonies are held in each step of socialization. It is not uncommon to observe that fathers and husbands perform funeral ceremonies of the daughters and wives absconded by the society for their loss of chastity and illegal love. However, the marriage and funeral ceremonies of all castes and 'Upanayan' ceremony of Brahmins are most expensive and are celebrated with pomp and grandeur. Even sometimes many families incur heavy debts. Trumpets are blown and drums are beaten to announce the purpose of the ceremony (except death ceremony) in the neighborhood. Distant relatives come to attend the functions with many presents both in cash and kind. All the kinsmen, members of the society and prominent people of the community from far and wide are invited to dine several times on each occasion. Before the gathering, clarified butter is burnt and rituals are performed by the priests step by step. The marriage ceremony continues for seven days and the funeral ceremony for twelve days.

According to Mrs. Karve 'a joint family of this type is always an exciting group to live in. All the time something of interest is happening there. Now it is the marriage of a girl or a boy, next it is an initiation ceremony, the birth of a new baby, the puberty rites of a new bride, some particular family ritual, a fast, a feast, and sometimes a death. The great extent of the family always ensures the coming and going of guests. The brothers of the brides come to invite them to their mother's houses, the daughters of the house are being brought home for a family feast or wedding. There is always bustle and expectation, laughter and quarrels, discussions and plans, life may be complicated, sometimes full of bitterness but rarely dull, at least from the point of view of the children.'

Customs and Practices:

A few of the customs are listed below,

  1. The laws of etiquette and social politeness are much more clearly laid down and much better observed by all classes of Hindus. While greeting to the superiors, one performs 'Namaskar' which consists in joining both hands touching the forehead and putting them above the head. Women bow respectfully to men without speaking or looking at them. Children salute their parents in the same manner and stand upright before them, with their arms crossed on their chests.
  2. One adopts son from among his own relatives or some poor fellow of his own caste who is burdened with many children. A ceremony is also performed on these occasions.
  3. A woman shall retire for 3 days during her menstrual period to a place apart from others for rest. During this time she is not allowed to touch any household articles. On the 4th day, she shall take her bath and purify herself.
  4. Everyday, the woman takes her bath, washes clothes, tinges her eyelids with antimony, puts a red mark on the head, combs and adorns her hair.
  5. A pregnant woman avoids company of women of doubtful virtue and of those who have lost all their children. She must drive away all sad thoughts from her mind. She must be careful not to gaze at terrifying objects or to listen to sad stories or to eat anything undesirable.
  6. A widow of higher caste has to be in mourning for her husband till her death. She is no longer permitted to wear jewels, colored clothes or mark the forehead with red pigment. She is forbidden to take part in amusements of the society.
  7. People of old age do not worry about themselves. Enough care of the old members are taken by sons and daughters-in-law and other relatives. When they become sick, even the distant relatives pay visit for their treatment. Before the last breath of the dying person, all relatives usually are present near the person. The dead bodies are burnt in the funeral pyre. The kinsmen observing the ceremony are not allowed to shave till the tenth day when they have to shave their heads. The eldest son plays the most important role in this ceremony and also performs 'Shradha' or death anniversary.


When the whole world changes, a part of it cannot but change. The altering economic, social, and political factors tend to bring changes in the family systems in India. Government itself is aiding in the evolution of Hindu law on marriage, divorce, succession, property rights, etc. in consonance with modern thought and needs. It may be possible that inter-caste and even inter-religious marriages may become a pattern of future Indian society. It may be a possibility that with modern education and employment of women in urban areas there may be a change in the traditional ways of marriage. Still in the rural areas, which constitutes 85% of the population, it will take at least a few centuries to bring a change in the essential structure, function and inter-personal relationships of the family which are time tested and have stood more or less on their classic and scriptural form. Even today, in spite of countless attacks and pressures both from within and without, Acts may be passed and laws may be enforced, but the public opinion is more powerful than any of these.

According to Indian Laws (Sarada Act of 1929), child marriages are punishable. But according to the 1951 census, there are 66,000 widowers and 1,36,000 widows between the ages of 5 and 16. This simply means that the Sarada act of most influential British regime has failed in its objectives of restraining early marriage.

As regards the inter-personal relationship of family members, especially the devotion of wife to husband still continues in the same tradition. Hindu manner in the modernized, highly employed ladies, for example Mrs. Karve, who had been in the USA and London and got her Ph.D. from Berlin dedicates the book "Kinship Organization in India" written by her in a statement as follows:


While dedicating to you this book
which would never have been either
thought out or written but for you
let me express my feelings in the
traditional Hindu manner:


Click here for some AFTER THOUGHTS posted in ORNET

Your comments are always welcome...

Lingaraj Misra

This page has been accessed

times since December 26, 1996.



Ride back to Home Page...