Bengalis living in Bangladesh and the West Bengal state of India are made up mostly of two religious groups. The majority of two-thirds being Muslims and the other third following the Hindu faith.
Most of the Bengali marriages tend to be pre-arranged, whether Muslim or Hindu. In both religions, the family is actively involved in the matchmaking process.
However, marriage customs between these two religions differ considerably in many ways:
Castes within the Hindu society are important when it comes to matchmaking. It is the norm for Bengali Hindus to marry a partner from the same caste. Hindu families encourage their daughters to marry “up” the caste system, but do not support their marriage should they intend to marry “down” the caste.
Islam, however, does not place any emphasis on which caste a person may come from, and this will not affect the marriage. Bengali Muslims on the other hand still tend to consider the caste system when it concerns marriage. Social ranking is one of the most important criteria in the selection of a suitable spouse. The profession and employment status of the husband-to-be are vital to the bride and her family, and play a major role in their decision.
Marrying into the family, for instance, a first cousin, is not acceptable for Bengali Hindus, although this is fairly common among Bengali Muslims. Polygamy is a rarity within the Bengali Hindu community but is considered acceptable for Bengali Muslims under Islamic law.
Divorce among Bengali Hindus, the higher caste, in particular, is discouraged. Islam doesn’t favor divorce either but does allow it. Hence the divorce rate among Bengali Hindus is far less than that of the Bengali Muslims.
It has long been forbidden for Bengali Hindu widows to remarry, but these rules have often been overturned to allow for marriage among widows, although there is still quite a stigma surrounding the whole issue. Bengali Muslim widows, on the other hand, are free to remarry following the death of their spouse.
For Bengalis, marriage is a huge family celebration and one in which religious beliefs and customs are of great importance.