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Hindu Widowing Ceremony Is Downright Brutal; Yet Refuses To Die Out In Places

Posted: March 29, 2021

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The Hindu widowing ceremony is one of the our women’s special trauma making traditions for our those who are already in a traumatic situation.

On  a November afternoon, nine years ago, my father passed away. My mother was too shocked to react. They were married for fifty-five years. In this cataclysmic moment of final separation from her husband, she did not know what was in store for her.

The drama unfolded the same day. After my brother and his wife came home from the funeral, the imperious woman began to scream. Why? Because the ‘fresh’ widow had not yet discarded (read broken) the symbols of ‘being a wife’ –  her shankha pola or the red and white bangles. She hadn’t wiped off her sindoor either.

I stepped in when my mother was cowering in fear. I had no ‘right’ to do so, considering I was already married and belonged to my husband’s family. However, I requested her to defer the heart-wrenching widowing ceremony till the following morning.

Apparently, you can be modern and regressive at the same time!

My sister-in-law muttered and grumbled all night long. She complained that the presence of the dead man’s symbols in the house was inauspicious. She further added that delayed disposal will usher in misfortune for the household. It’s a different thing that madame boasts of being ultra-modern, progressive, and liberal!

My brother’s mother-in-law is a widow. She lives with her daughter, wears pants in the house. She took it upon her to brutally break my mother’s bangles, and subsequently vigorously wiped off the sindoor, in such a way that not a speck remained.

Widowing ceremony and widowhood in various communities

This is not an isolated case. Everyday, across the country,  numerous  disconsolate Hindu women, young or old, rich or poor, are being rendered ‘widows’ in a similar widowing ceremonies. My heart bleeds every time I think about the atrocities that are added to the loss of such women.

Hindu widows are a hapless lot as compared to their counterparts in other faiths and religious communities. I emphasize this based on authentic first hand information garnered from friends hailing from such communities.

Hebrew and Christian widows part with their wedding rings. Indian Christians, likewise, remove their wedding rings and mangalsutras (wherever applicable) as well. I have been told that Indian Muslim widows stow away their green glass bangles instead of mercilessly breaking them. In the myriad sects of Buddhism, there is no mention of any stringent measures for widows. The same applies for the followers of Jainism.

Why must the husband’s death take away colours from a woman’s life?

What I have described in my mother’s case is merely the tip of  the iceberg. Down the centuries women have met with a worse fate. Within minutes of the husband’s death, they were relieved of their jewellery  and accessories – including ear, nose, and toe rings pins as well as ornaments adorned in hair.

The flamboyant attires of a suhagan were replaced with stark white ones in most provinces. In western and southern parts of India, the stipulated shade varies from ochre to maroon. The logic proffered was: with the husband gone, all colours ought to be drained out of a woman’s life since he is the purpose of her existence. Another gruesome ritual was total washout of the bindi and vermilion daub from a widow’s face.

But the worst form of  torture was the chopping of the luxuriantly thick hair that women naturally possess. The final image of a widow emerged as a grieving woman, all shaven and shore, dull and lacklustre. This indicated that hitherto her life is supposed to be dark and bleak.

Why are widows treated in this manner? Why and how is it their fault if they happen to lose their spouses? Death is the natural culmination of a life cycle. Then, how does good luck or misfortune come into the picture?

The time is now for creating awareness against such practices. We need more and more women to stand up and speak against these rituals that are unnecessary. A woman, irrespective of her marital status, deserves to lead a respectable life.

Image source: a still from The Last Color

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