Forty five years ago, I was too busy romanticising to notice some of the rituals I was subjected to in my wedding. Subsequently, I have attended many others, but it was only during my nephew’s wedding last week, that I actually concentrated on what was happening. The bride, a very vivacious 19-year-old, who till recently was dressed in scruffy jeans and T-shirts, was swathed in silks, and bedecked like a Bharata Natyam dancer ready for her maiden debut.
“Look down,” admonished her aunt every time she tried to catch the groom’s eyes. “You have to be bashful now. What will everyone think?” So the girl had to sit, all cocooned and coy, waiting for her time to be called to the dias. Meanwhile, the groom was given a walking stick and umbrella and had to pretend to walk away to ‘Kashi’, renouncing the world.
The bride’s parents hurry after him and beg him to return and marry their daughter who is poised on a swing, ready with a garland. The groom goes upto her while a screen separates them. At a precise moment, the screen is lowered and the one who garlands first is supposed to wear the pants in the family. If the bride beats him to it, the groom’s relations jeer him and call him a hen-pecked husband.
Then comes a very moving ceremony. The bride is seated on her father’s lap with her hands enclosed in the grooms, while her mother pours water onto their clasped hands, symbolic of ‘giving’ her daughter away as ‘daan’(gift) to the groom! The mother’s tears mingle with the water and later, she is congratulated on her achievement—for, ‘to give away’ a daughter is the pinnacle of success for a mother.
The show is not complete. The husband is made to keep a piece of wood on his wife’s head—it means she has to be subservient to him and bow to his wishes. Some say it is a yoke she has to bear all her life, another belief is that it is to stop her from growing taller than her husband. Either way it’s not very flattering! The next thing that follows is a string tied around her waist. This is supposed to symbolise her being confined to her home and family—a bondage so to say.
What amazed me about the whole thing was how thousands of women like me have gone through it all and go through it, without a murmur of protest! On the other hand, some grooms are very impatient and hurry the pundit, asking him to skip unnecessary details! Why is it that women have never thought of bypassing some of these rituals which have little bearing on what we are today and stick to the essential—the walk around the fire? It’s really sad that women, who can put a stop to these farcical additions to a holy ceremony, continue to revel in them! Why don’t some of the female pundits get together and formulate a totally new and relevant ritual for weddings? But women love these wedding antics and add on more and more rituals and lengthen the procedure. I wish more attention be paid to the marriage instead!!