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I got married a while ago, and throughout the ceremonies, I kept wondering why there was such sadness on such a happy day! Time to change some rituals?
Not too long ago, I came across an article that had covered a story of a woman priest performing the wedding rites. To my surprise, though the article was quite old it hadn’t caught my attention earlier. I was, to be honest, quite intrigued.
Actually, I came across the story after a couple of months after my own wedding, thus drawing my attention even more. I googled and learnt that there is this group of four women who has been doing this for a while now.
One thing that really struck me was their perception of one of the age-old rituals ‘kanyadaan.’ According to ancient societal outlook, a girl was considered a commodity to be possessed by different males during her life.
She is born someone’s daughter, married off as someone’s wife and later identified as someone’s mother. Yes, the society denied her to be identified by her name. Rather it preferred to identify her by who she belonged to. Hence, the surname mattered more.
Coming back to the group I came across in the article, I learnt that they do not practise the process of giving the bride away to the groom.’ I loved their entire idea of the wedding rituals.
It made me recall how every ritual that was performed during my own wedding left me with a feeling of inferiority and of being given away. How every time the wedding photos were flipped through or the wedding video watched, memories were revived and all that saddened me immensely.
A wedding is supposed to be a joyous occasion to celebrate the union of two individuals. It is supposed to be a celebration of love. However, as the wedding date neared, I could see my mother getting emotional day by day.
I had been staying away from my parents since my graduation and I thought the bidaai wouldn’t be as teary for me as it generally happens. Often, when I spoke to her and she got emotional, I would tell my mother that everything would be the same even after the wedding. As it was, I was staying away from them. It wouldn’t be a big deal and that I was not going to cry! The wedding was merely another occasion. However, I was proved wrong. As I gradually progressed through the different rituals, it did make me sad.
Hailing from a Bengali family, I remember the “Aiburobhaat” ceremony before the wedding day. It signifies the last maiden meal the bride has at her parent’s place.
Seeing my mother, my aunts, and my granny in tears, it upset me when my mother fed me with her own hands. It made me terribly sad when my father performed the kanya sampradan (or kanyadaan). And not to mention the bidaai.
It pained to see my parents breaking down in front of me. When my father gave away my hand to my father-in-law asking him to take all my responsibilities from then on (as a part of ritual), it tore my heart. It like the very same man who had been my support for the past 29 years was suddenly leaving my hand now. And it made me feel lost. Tears were bound to come gushing out no matter how long I had already been staying away from my parents.
Here the question arises why do the family and relatives behave this way? Why does an air of melancholy exist at the bride’s place? That’s because the rituals have conditioned us to focus more on “sending the girl away” rather than “welcoming a son-in-law.”
Relatives and the family members cry their eyes out because the bride is going away and the bride is made to feel that she is taken away. The practice of ‘kanakanjali where the bride throws a fistful of rice thrice behind her to waive off all her parental debts stresses upon the illogical attitude we have towards marriage.
Having said this, I would cite another ritual that is prevalent in our Bengali tradition post wedding. There is a customary ceremony ‘Bhaat kapor,’ a day after the wedding. Here, the groom holds a plate of rice and a sari and promises to provide his wife with food and clothing forever. The bride is supposed to touch her head onto the groom’s feet as a mark of respect.
A financially independent woman is fully capable of providing food and clothing for herself. What the groom is logically expected to bear is the emotional responsibility rather than anything financial. Yet, the same ritual is still blindly followed as it used to be decades ago.
Even if the wife is a homemaker and is financially dependent on her husband, she has the right to expect more than just ‘bhaat’ (food) and ‘kapor’ (clothing). In fact, a marriage is all about mutual dependence.
Is the husband not dependent on his wife for anything? Just like a wife is the husband’s responsibility, the husband is the wife’s responsibility too. However, sharing of responsibilities does not fall under the realm of the rituals.
Secondly, doesn’t the practice of touching of the bride’s head onto the groom’s feet promote the idea of the groom’s superiority? Why can’t we just let them be friends? Can’t the ‘pranaam’ be replaced by a friendly hand-shake maybe? Or a hug, I know, many would object to that, given there would be elderly people present? Will it not be something beautiful? Something that would promote friendship.
How is then the wife called ardhangini (the other half) if she were inferior to him? Isn’t the idea contradictory? Are such rituals absolutely necessary?
Wedding rituals should be all about two individuals willing to stay together for the rest of their lives. There doesn’t need to be any show of the groom’s possession over the bride.
Instead of highlighting how the bride is no longer going to be a part of her family, rituals could emphasise the concept of an extended family. One where the bride and the groom’s families unite to form one big family.
That way, perhaps, the bride would be relieved from the feeling of a loss. Perhaps we can stop bidaai– because it isn’t a farewell, after all. Rather a marriage should be all about a swagatam– welcoming a brand-new life.
Picture credits: Still from Hindi TV series Baalika Vadhu
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