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Kuri Kalyanam: A Microfinancing System for Weddings in India

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Kuri is a type of social banking system, created for the good of the needy in ancient-day Kerala, India. “Kuri” (or “Chitty”) is a derived word, with the root word meaning “the lot”.

In spoken Tamil (a classical language of India), the word “kalyanam” becomes “kalyaanam” and it means marriage in general. However, it could also refer to other romantic relationships.

When put together, you would have something along the lines of a marriage ceremony that involves casting lots. You won’t be wrong.

However, let me give you a background explanation to refine that thought.

Here’s how Kuri Kalyanam works

Basically, the talk of Kuri comes up when a person is in need. Most times, they are in need of a substantial amount of money within a short period of time, and for a particular occasion such as a marriage. This person is the “receiver”.

This receiver (usually the bride’s father) sets up a dinner for his friends and well-wishers to attend and contribute a certain amount of money towards the wedding. While the dinner is ongoing, another event starts – casting lots. Casting Lots is the equivalent of what we have today as rolling dice, flipping a coin or drawing from the devil’s basket to make a decision.

Lots are cast and drawn to decide the next recipient. This goes on for a certain period – drawing lots at every of such dinners to decide the next receiver and the next one after that.

The amount paid by each person is noted down in a register. The receiver is supposed to pay at least the same amount or double whenever each of the givers organized a Kuri Kalyanam in their own family.

Because of the closeness and relationship that existed between all the families involved, there were no strict rules and regulations written to guide this. The penalty for non-payment was humiliation and sometimes even alienation from such families within the community.

While the Kuri system itself has very traceable connections to various primitive civilizations, the system achieved its goal of social banking and created hope for the needy. It later became institutionalized, developed into large “chit” funds and eventually became regulated by banking acts.

I’m just thinking now…

It’s very beautiful to see how much cultures like these are adapted even in other contexts, sometimes unknowingly. I reckon that it’s very similar to the buying of aso-ebi in Nigeria.

For family and friends’ weddings, you buy the obviously overpriced aso-ebi fabric. After all, it’s a way to contribute to marriage financing. Then, it’s an unspoken rule that they return the favour when it’s your turn. I think it’s beautiful to see how loans can take different forms in social settings.

The original Kuri Kalyanam system is not as popular anymore. However, traces of it can still be found in marriage ceremonies in India, and across the world.

I guess we can wrap up our visit to India here. Where are we going next on Money Map? Can you guess?

Hint: They have a Great Wall.

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