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Monday, March 31, 2008

When a man gives a woman

This post started as a comment in Dipali's blog. It got too long and became a post here instead!

Fathers are told that the greatest deed a man gets to perform in his lifetime is to give his daughters hand in marriage. The part of the marriage ceremony where the girls father gives away the bride is called Kanya-dhan. Kanya means "virgin" and dhan means "giving" in Sanskrit. The idea of Kanya-dhan being taken literally to be girl-gifting sounds crude, and if taken in todays world, is crude!

Jambu Sastrigal, the man who performed our wedding ceremony explained the significance of Kanyadanam to my FIL during the ceremony..(I was an irritating groom who asked Why? What? for everything). He patiently explained almost every ritual that we performed. Between him and my own grandpa, they had all those rituals covered and most of them pertained to a south Indian marriage where the groom was in his early teens, the girl was still not a teenager (not a woman yet), the whole wedding set in a village setting, arranged marriage, more involvement from parents than the bride and groom, etc. etc.

The priest went on to explain "When you give anything away, you are doing Punyam (more along the lines of "if you love somebody, set them free") and there is no greater punyam than getting your daughter married!" In any case, made my FIL and my father feel elated at the prospect of doing such a great deed!

In todays context though, half the rituals do not make sense because it does not fit todays world. The whole Jaanvasam thing where the groom goes around on a horse or in a "convertible Car" all around the village was to show his face to the local crowd to see if he was already married to anyone! Something along the lines of "if there is anyone who has a problem with this marriage speak up, or forever hold your peace!" in Christian weddings. Today guys go in closed cars around a few blocks in some strange city! Local detective agencies and Google have eventually replaced the car ride today!

If you look at things in the same context, Kanyadhan itself may not mean much to youth. It might still mean something to the parents!

There is something to be said for the marriage ceremony though. The fact that you promise to take care of the person (till death do us apart, in sickness and in health , etc. etc. whatever be the words, whatever be the language .. a living one like English or an arcane one like Sanskrit), the nature of the commitment is somehow put in context when all those people sprinkle rice and flowers on you and bless you as you "get married".

To put it in a geeky nerdy way, it was almost as though a wormhole opened and somehow some deep connections were made in my brain that would take that moment in time and freeze frame it inside my head for the rest of my life. Somehow, that point in time and space has become a new origin for me and it was all because of the ambience. Some credit does go to the gorgeous bride sitting on her dads knees and the dimple on her chin as she looked down and smiled, but most of the credit goes to the ambience. The sight of a sea of people who had come to bless the union, the sound of those people and the priests wishing you well, the smell of garlands, incense, ghee, camphor, smoke.. it was a combination of all those things!

We did have a registered wedding as well with our parents and a witness, but it pales in comparison to the experience of the "kanyadanam" ceremony! Somehow I would have missed all that in the registered wedding. (San agrees!).

If you are a south Indian bride or groom tossing between a formal wedding ceremony and a registered wedding, go for the formal ceremony, if and only if you will have almost a thousand people at your wedding, both of you are willing to go through that ceremony, you have a priest who explains things in context and most importantly, you have an open mind to a great cultural experience!

It will be worth it!


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I am not responsible for comments posted by others... At 11:35 PM, Blogger dipali wrote...

Lovely piece! I am all for a meaningful ceremony, and for the blessings of one's family and loved ones. In the North Indian set up, though, the central part of the ceremony is the 'saat pheras', the circumambulations of the sacred fire, accompanying the wedding vows. Sadly (and irreverently) many youngsters and their friends try to hustle through this as quickly as possible, which is pretty awful. Perhaps because there are not too many pandits who take the trouble to explain as they go along, and Sanskrit is gobbledygook to most people today.
Why, instead of an either/or choice between a religious ceremony and a civil marriage, can we not have something both sacred and meaningful, without the things which seem weird today?
I think I need to do another post!

I am not responsible for comments posted by others... At 11:45 PM, Blogger Sundar Narayanan wrote...

Dipali, as most of the comments in your post suggest, "to each his/her own!"

whatever works for the couple, I guess..

do not know if there is a way to device some kind of scientific experiment (which kids today will understand) which will prove the value of a ceremony in the marriage!

Where is Desmond Morris when you need him?


I am not responsible for comments posted by others... At 1:37 AM, Blogger dipali wrote...

I don't know about the value of a ceremony, but I do know that very many 'spectacular' weddings, (ie weddings as tamaasha, to put it crudely) often fizzle out within a few months or so- the entire focus seemed to be on the spectacle, not on the commitment. Of course, ultimately a wedding is about commitment, but surely there is no harm in re-examining traditions in the light of changing times. I remember attending a Bengali wedding where the bride is carried to the ceremony on a small 'chowki, carried by her uncles. This girl was rather large, and I'm sure her poor uncles would have been happy carrying in a slimmer niece! This tradition would have originated when girls were married off very young, I don't know how many people do this now.

I am not responsible for comments posted by others... At 7:05 AM, Anonymous Anonymous wrote...

Sundar, this is beautiful post.

I left my views in Dipalis's blog.


I wasn't very kicked about the ceremonies and rituals at the time I got married. But certain things take time to be understood. I think that the traditional wedding is nice.

I am not responsible for comments posted by others... At 7:01 AM, Anonymous Anonymous wrote...

Nice post. Reminded me of my wedding. I'm a Tamilian who got married to an Andhra person. Our marriage took place for almost 2 full days where we would perform a TAmil cermony followed by a Telugu ceremony. I had 2 different Thali in my neck and changed 3 different sarees just during the muhurtham time (1/2 an hour). I would not have traded this for anything less . Ton of relatives, different views and people talking in 10 different languages to each other... That was fun . We enjoyed every moment especially because we knew that we'll miss all of this and cannot recreate the moment.

I am not responsible for comments posted by others... At 7:51 AM, Blogger Munimma wrote...

My biggest gripe about the 'kanyadanam' is that it is done by the dad. So I had to find my uncle to do it in his stead. My mom was left out of the ceremony. She, who was instrumental in all my successes couldn't be part of the biggest event in my life. Whatever, it is a male-centric tradition.

I am not responsible for comments posted by others... At 5:18 PM, Anonymous Anonymous wrote...

arumyaana post...


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