Sociology of India: Kinship, Family, and Marriage in India

India is widely regarded as one of the oldest civilizations in the world. It was also an early centre for organized religion, with many religions tracing their early roots to India. Hinduism is the largest religion in South Asia, but there are also substantial minorities of Christians and Muslims. India has even been known around the world for its marriage traditions, from the elaborate rituals of nobility to being one of the few countries where Hindu weddings are still conducted without the exchange of gifts between family members. Indian marriage dates back to ancient times when it was considered a natural arrangement for women and men to get married. And with so many different types of marriages and marital customs across such a large geographic area, there were many opportunities for cultural variation.

Hindu kinship and marriage is the most ancient form of social organization in India. Much of Indian culture, including Hinduism, Buddhism, and Jainism, is structured around marriage or family. Kinship among Hindus refers to a variety of social relations derived from the biological relationships between siblings and between spouses, which also determine avunculocal residence and property ownership.


Kinship can be defined as the extent to which two social groups identify with, or are committed to, each other. In other words, kinship is dimensional: as you get closer to someone on a personal level, you feel a kinship with them. Being in-group friendly makes it easier to ingroup favour and get things done. Being out-group hateful makes it harder to achieve in group favour and survive off of cooperation between out-groups. Kinship is a complex concept and has many different definitions and implications. But kinship is generally understood, in social science and sociology, as the set of interpersonal relationships that unite a human being with other members of their same or related group (or families) in close and continuing affection, support, and protection (Ainsworth, 1985) Kinship is a complex concept. But, generally, kinship can be defined as the culture of a family and the people who live within that culture. Kinship and Marriage can often be tied together as two social structures that function together.

Kinship in India is a social order that is based on the concept of social hierarchy and social organization, which goes back thousands of years. The basis for this social order was founded by the ancient Hindus based on the Manusmriti and the Vedas, who believed in a cosmic hierarchy and an interdependent relationship between human beings and the gods. The Kinship system is the basic building block for Hinduism’s philosophies and traditions, including faith in karma and rebirth, divine forces responsible for good or evil, ethical codes (dharma) that govern human behavior, and rituals performed in connection with birth, marriage, and death. The Vedic period is where the earliest Hindu theological texts were composed. The ancient thinkers of this time focused on issues of gender, sexuality, and gender roles. One of their key concepts was varna, which divided society into four main social groups with specific duties, occupations, and roles, this also gradually evolved into kinship.

In today’s society kinship and marriage exist in a multitude of ways, from structured formalized relationships to informal, lived-out ties. All have value but in alternative ways. Understanding these structures helps us understand and study them more intensely. In order to do this sociologists have to be able to study different kinship structures to properly measure each one’s value and how much they’ve changed over time. Wedded couples and their children form an important social unit for welfare and health care administrative reasons.


Social institutions influence romantic relationships by creating, preserving, and breaking the rules that govern these relationships. These institutions include kinship structures such as the extended family, as well as marriage and romantic partnerships, and also how the legal systems function around these relationships. The field of kinship has undergone a lot of changes throughout time.

Since the 1960s, there have been immense changes to the systems that govern family life. These include laws on property and child custody, laws governing marriage and divorce, and the rights of individuals within the family unit. These transformations in families have now led to a more complex state of affairs within couples.

Kinship and marriage are not mere legal institutions but deep-rooted societal practices that shape our lives. These structures were put into place as protective mechanisms against the risk of devastating group-level violence and coercion, and they continue to serve that purpose despite repeated challenges from diverse social critics. As such, scholarship that examines kinship and marriage as it affects individuals is as relevant today as it was when the first scholars began to devote attention to the topic of Understanding kinship, marriage, and family help in understanding the social structure of a society, how it impacts it, how change affects it, and how the structure can be changed. Most Hindu marriage traditions follow the rituals and customs written in the Hindu scriptures.

In Hinduism, marriage is considered a sacrament between individuals of the same sex and gender. Marriage in Hinduism symbolizes diverse aspects of human nature: love, selflessness, trust, affection, and compassion. Kinship relations are often established through marriages, whether between father and son, mother and daughter, or brothers. Hindu worship affirms the roles of husband and wife within a marital relationship. In Hinduism, therefore, marriage is a social institution or union of two individuals in holy matrimony, especially based on love and with household duties (Dhunya) as joint responsibility. The Hindu family system incorporates these ethical principles: unity, permanence, and continuity of the family; mutual affection; mutual help and support; encouragement of spiritual growth through Dharma.


According to the Manusmriti, eight forms of heterosexual marriages are recognized and allowed. However, over the years these rules, and traditions have changed but the patriarchal mindset that still follows within the notion of marriage and family in Indian society has still not changed.

The Kanyadana is one such example of a ritual and custom that has been passed down for generations but still maintains its patriarchal influence. Kanyadana essentially treats the female bride as a form of gift, thereby objectifying her and placing a value on her, transferring or passing her down from the father’s family to the groom and his family. Many sociologists have tried to analyze how kinship customs and structure is formed in India. Louis Dumont came up with a theory known as the ‘alliance theory of kinship’. While this theory is seemingly complex and contradicts itself in some manner, it helps establish how there exists plenty of essential differences in marital customs that affect the way kinship is formed between Northnorth Indian societies and south Indian societies. While understanding kinship with a north and south division in mind might have sounded appropriate to Dumont, understanding the caste and religious complexities within these societies paves way for a new approach. It must be noted that every caste within the Hindu religion and from state to state has different marital customs and therefore impacts the way kinship ties are formed. In the matriarchal societies of Nambooderies in Kerala, although it is doubtful whether this is still practised, kinship ties have more importance in terms of the bride’s relation to family members.


A functionalist view understands social institutions as a complex set of social norms, beliefs, values, and role relationships that arise in response to the needs of society. Social institutions exist to satisfy social needs. Accordingly, we find informal and formal social institutions in societies. Institutions such as family According to functionalists, the family performs important tasks, which contribute to society’s basic needs and helps perpetuate social order. The functionalist perspective argues that modern industrial societies function best if women look after the family and men earn the family livelihood. In India studies, however, suggest that families need not become nuclear in an industrial pattern of the economy (Singh,1993)

Family and kinship are thus subject to change and transformation due to macroeconomic processes but the direction of change need not always be similar for all countries and regions. However, change does not mean the complete erosion of previous norms and structures.


Bretherton, I. (1985). Attachment Theory: Retrospect and Prospect. Monographs of the Society for Research in Child Development, 50(1/2), 3-35

Bretherton, I. (1985). Attachment Theory: Retrospect and Prospect. Monographs of the Society for Research in Child Development, 50(1/2), 3-35.

C., G. (2006). Louis Dumont and the Essence of Dravidian Kinship Terminology: The Case of Muduga. Journal of Anthropological Research, 62(3), 321-346.

DUBE, LEELA. 2001. Anthropological Explorations in Gender : Intersecting Fields. Sage Publications, New Delhi.

SINGH, YOGENDRA. 1993. Social Change in India : Crisis and Resilience. Har-Anand Publications, New Delhi.

Share on: