Saturday, October 27, 2007

Of Marriages and Rituals

In South Indian marriages, there is a hilarious ritual called Kashi Yatra, where the groom pretends to give up everything and go to Kashi, and the bride's brother is supposed to drag him back offering his sister. As the bride's (cousin) brother, I was "entrusted" in this task and I had to bring the groom back by holding an umbrella over the head. The people accompanying also brought shampoo, shoes, etc ostensibly to aid the groom in getting back to the bride in one fine piece.

Well, the only hitch is I don't know of any groom who'd personally go to Kashi, giving up all worldly things. And the second point to be noted here, is it is a matter of principle: that I (as in bride's brother) am too lazy to actually go all the way to Kashi to bring him back - why derail someone who apparently wants to progress spiritually ? :) More questions can be raised, is the groom supposed to travel all the way from Kashi to here having only rice, shampoo and new pair of shoes ... and no money ? Hmm, personally, I'd settle for a credit card. They say generations before when they conceived of such things (I wonder what they did *before* that ?) the plan was for the groom to walk all the way from Kashi, but now with trains, flights etc, they don't need to, but the rituals have remained the same. But, I suppose, generations before, people used shampoo and soap ... did they ? And oh, by the way, what about the brother's journey ? They forgot that detail, didn't they ?

In the recent past, I've attended enough marriages to observe hypocrisies evident in the practice. Nobody cares about the rituals, excepty old grannies who as self-crowned protectors of culture try to maintain the mysterious sampradaya - not that anyone understands them. The family of the bride is busy calculating the expense, and that of groom calculating the value of the gifts. The middle-aged busybodies (esp. the purse-carrying specimens of fancy-dressed female species) of both sides try to manage what MBAs call "operational logistics" - logistics of gift-giving, logistics of vaadyars/purohits/pandits, logistics of food and finally, logistics of guests. As far as I can see, for all their running around like headless chickens, this is their only productive contribution to the world - better busy with useless work than with gossip and comparing dresses. Oh yeah, I mean it - marriage is not for the bride and groom ... it is a fancy-dress competition for most of above-mentioned middle-aged busybodies ... they compare the quality and price of their clothes, and boast about the bargains they drove, exhibit lots of jewelry, which thankfully hides their buffoon-like well-powdered faces.

Oh yeah, I'm cynical and I stereotype.

I'm evolving a hypothesis to all this. The bride and groom would get married anyway, even without anybody's help or interference. Rituals were just for formal sanctification of the "deal" - I really don't see any religious aspect here. I mean, when everybody in the neighbourhood community belonged to the same caste and religion, maybe such an assumption made sense. Now, it really doesn't. But, the essence of the entire ceremony is more subtle - it brings together the families of the bride and groom, 'coz in India atleast, marriage is also the coming together of the families of the bride and groom. It is a social occasion, not a religious one. Perhaps, in that light, the torture is worth it, perhaps it is not. Depends upon you.

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At Tuesday, 11 March, 2008 at 5:42:00 PM IST, OpenID davidscottatwork said...

I laughed reading your rant about the wedding rituals. Your cynicism is justified enough to *almost* miss the point of the marriage ritual, itself...

What is a ritual? It is an act that "punctuates" a transition in life--it marks "my life has somehow changed." The "act" is anything that is unusual, out of the norm. For birthdays, we put candles on a cake, light them, and blow them out. For weddings, we wear clothing that we don't normally wear, gather friends and family that are rarely (if ever) together in one place, make statements and promises that are never spoken anywhere else in society/culture. The "ritual" of graduation (at least in the states) uses long gowns or robes, funny caps, diplomas rolled up like a scroll, and more, to punctuate the fact that we are apparently transitioning from childhood to adulthood upon the completion of four years of college. In short, a ritual is anything done out of the ordinary to communicate that life has somehow changed. Life is filled with rituals large and small. Don't begrudge humans the need to make statements about their transitions in life ;^)

I admire your command of English. Exceptional!


At Friday, 1 August, 2008 at 10:30:00 PM IST, Blogger #r!$#!k@ said...

Your blogs are really good. I'm going to be a regular reader! Cheers!


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