“Deergha Sumangali Bhava”

Posted: October 26, 2010

banyanleaf.jpgWhen I was growing up it was customary for us seek the blessings of elders by prostrating at their feet. The usual blessings given to us girls would be May you get a good husband. Boys would be blessed with the usual May you do well in life or may you have a great career . Somehow one felt that a girl s happiness depended on the kind of husband she got married to, which was not wrong because some 50 years back – the career of girls was not given serious consideration the way it is today. Another blessing accorded to married women was Deergha Sumangali Bhava (may you remain a sumangali for ever) and to married men it would be Aayushman Bhava (May you be blessed with long life). Come to think of it both versions directly or indirectly implied that a man needed to live long since a woman s happiness depended on it.

Ever since my father passed away I noticed that my mother stopped seeking the blessings of elders in the family including my grandfather. She had just turned 40 and had to raise 5 children; none settled and the youngest was only three years old. I often wondered why it was so. To my mind she needed the support and good will of society much more than any one who had a husband s support. I strongly felt that not only my mother – who had the support of my grandfather and maternal uncle but other widows who neither had the means nor money would benefit by the blessings and good will of those around them. I got an answer to my question much later.

A relative of ours, in her naivete, had supposedly sought the blessings of an elderly couple who visited her to condole her husband s death. She had put them in a predicament since they were at a loss for words to bless her. This incident was reported to me by my mother herself. I was kind of surprised. I had always thought that my mother had refrained from seeking the blessings of elders purely out of choice for whatever reason. I did not for a moment suspect that it was not permitted by society since the usual blessing deergha sumangali bhava (may you remain a sumangali for ever) did not apply to her. I then understood why my mother avoided seeking the blessings of elders after my dad died. I felt depressed at the thought of a society that refuses to bless a widow. Why not bless her and say May your children bring joy to your life or may your children do well in life or May you be blessed with health, wealth and happiness and why should deergha sumangali bhava be the only appropriate blessing given to a married woman? Isn t there a 50:50 chance of a woman preceding her husband and/or vice-versa? And if with one parent gone is it not important that the remaining parent lived long enough to see her children settle down in life? As it is, she is doubling up for her husband but society does not even feel inclined to bless her and wish that she lives a long and healthy life.

Given a choice I too would like to pass on before my husband but unfortunately I have no say in the matter. Why does the world think that a widower s life after his wife passes away is not as torturous as that of a widow? A woman who is widowed can at least forget her woes by helping out with kitchen work or house keeping. A man s offer to help in the kitchen is often not well received by his daughter in law or son. My father in law outlived my mother in law by 13 years. He was a blessing to us as mentioned in a post of mine. But he did grieve for his wife and missed her presence in his own way.

Having said this I must admit that society has changed to some extent at least. A friend of mine had lost her husband and was working in a reputed company having got the job on compassionate grounds. Her sister in law advised her to continue to wear a bindi saying that it was not necessary for the world to know that she had lost her husband. This was some 30 years back. This very lady prostrated at my mother s feet on Diwali day. I watched with interest wondering what my mother s reaction would be. She blessed her by saying may God give you health, wealth and happiness . At least my mother had understood that a widow was as much entitled to good health, wealth and happiness as the rest of us. She had gone through a lot and she now understood.

I conclude by saying that it is the duty of one s kith and kin to stand by a grieving husband/wife. We are sympathetic towards those who lose their spouse in their middle/young age. At least they have something to look forward to. Their children need to be educated, married and what not. But with those in their final decades of life, the death of a spouse means the loss of someone who knew and understood them. It is important to make them feel not only comfortable but wanted as well.

*Sumangali refers to a woman whose husband is alive and it is customary among Hindus to offer prayers to all the dead sumangalis in the family before marriages and other auspicious occasions. This prayer ceremony is called sumangali prarthana .

The Hip Grandma lives in a small industrial town called Jamshedpur and despite all its

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  1. TV serials also show exactly the same kind of ‘heroines’. These women are the epitome of sacrifice and virtue. One helped a mentally challenged husband, another married a man she did not like (with good reason, because she was too wise not to know) to set a good example, yet another one I saw pulling a hand cart – she is out to save her loving family from the clutches of two daughters in law who have turned the family members into servants!

  2. I dislike the self-sacrificial, devoted “heroine” stereotype more than that of the bitchy career woman, or the damsel in distress. One reason is because I think that (as mentioned in the above comment) Hindi serials depict this stereotype a hell lot. And I think it’s one of the most harmful stereotypes: it propagates the belief that the only way for a woman to be morally right and to achieve some sort of self-actualisation is through continuous self sacrifice and unquestioning devotion to family and to improving said family’s life.

    Why should these women not focus on themselves? Why is their happiness necessarily second to everyone else’s? Why should they achieve happiness through other people’s happiness?

  3. Women are depicted as sacrificers and redeemers because that is how society wants them to be. A woman has to live with a cheating husband, an alcoholic who regularly beats her up and what not. Society starts criticizing her the day she decides leave him. Her character is questioned and her actions suspected. The very children for whose sake she dares to take the ultimate step turn around and say that she was also partly to blame for the situation. i’ve seen this happen and it really put me off.

  4. IHM/Sumedha/HG – thank you for your responses.

    IHM – TV serials are ofc the pits – and what is worse is how audiences continue to lap them up.

    Sumedha – totally agree. It’s still considered selfish for women to focus on themselves.

    HG – yes, popular culture like TV and films do reflect the expectations of society at large and also shape them; I guess it is a 2-way process.

  5. Thanks, Chimera for all those read-worthy links. My first look at that chart was a fairly cursory one, and I think what popped out for me were the “obvious” stereotypes like the damsel in distress and the crazy career woman. A closer look reveals that many of the points made in those posts you’ve referenced are very valid indeed, esp the inclusion of Yoko Ono as a stereotype!

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