It is hard not to be stoked when you hear that there’s a wedding in the family. All the cousins, no matter how many seas they have to cross, make it a point to be there to witness the beautiful unison of two individuals and their families. Just as you’re beginning to enjoy the thought, the reality of the situation starts to set in.
While much of what comes with weddings is reason to rejoice, the sexism in traditional rituals is too blatant, but somehow everyone turns a blind eye towards them. However, the youngsters of the day are standing up and taking a note, and many are questioning the rituals. They are not ready to have anything to do with the sexist rituals. The young to-be-weds are leaning towards traditions and they are getting more involved in their own wedding customs.
They are trying to study and understand them, and with all due respect, doing away with the rituals that they find chauvinistic and demeaning. In India, the custom of treating a woman’s husband as god is overdone, they feel. The bride touches the groom’s feet, and the bride’s parents wash the groom’s feet while the groom’s side has no obligation to do the same to the bride and her family.
Samyuktha was recently married. She was one youngster, who chose to be different. She was put off by this practice and took up a totally opposite way of being wed. She explains, “I didn’t want to go through with traditions like Kanyadaan because I didn’t like the idea of my father washing the feet of the groom and the process of giving away. We went in for a temple wedding at the Isha foundation, Coimbatore, which was a very simple one. The wedding there is done in the feminine form of Linga which is Lingabhairavi. It was a female priestess who officiated the wedding. The marriage was just between the both of us, there was no ritual that involved anybody else. We had to light a hundred lamps and followed the muhurtam to tie the mangalsuthram.
Then, there was also a ritual that ensures that you’re not entangled. When you’re married your energies get bound, so it was important to make sure that I still had my spiritual growth that was separate from my husband’s spiritual growth. In short, the ritual makes sure that you still have your spiritual growth.” The other popular highly debated sexist custom is the ritual of kanya daan, the ‘gift of a virgin’ in charity, done by only a male member of the bride’s family. This ritual was apparently invented to mitigate the situation wherein daughters were condemned, and sons were revered as they could light the funeral pyre of their parents, absolving them of their sins to enable them to gladly pass on to the afterlife. By saying that giving away a daughter is one of the highest honours in life, the parents would be absolving themselves of sin.
But it is tough to see any mitigation here as women, even in this case, are being treated as property. Another ritual is the Kaashi Yatra wherein the groom, in the midst of the wedding, decides to get up and venture out on a pilgrimage by giving up worldly pleasures of marriage to pursue higher spiritual knowledge. Then, the father of the bride has to plead the groom to stay back and marry his daughter. In the modern day, though, one does wonder why the pleading even needs to happen as the woman can just as well move on with her life after the wedding, and also pursue higher knowledge, in the form of formal education just like the man has the right to.
If a bride is found to be Manglik, she either needs to marry a dog or a tree first, while all that a manglik groom needs to do is a simple ceremony without any of the embarrassing fuss. If none of these customs seem problematic enough, consider this. In some Bengali weddings, the mother of the bride is not allowed to be present at her own daughter’s wedding because mothers are believed to cast an evil eye. In Rabha weddings in Assam, the bride has to cook an elaborate feast on her first day of her marriage, and serve it only to the male members of the family single-handedly. The bride is not allowed to touch even a morsel of that food.
It is not just Meghan Markle who decided to exclude the wedding vow to ‘obey’ her husband prince Harry. Apurva Ayyagari and Pranith, who are planning to get married in June next year, have similar plans for their wedding vows. Apurva is a person that can be reasoned with. She says, “I had visited a friend’s wedding where she had to take vows which said that she will not step out of the house without her husband, and that she will not talk to another man without the permission of her husband. It was so sad to watch because she is also a staunch feminist but she did not have the courage to do anything at that moment. Pranith and I are going to have none of that, and if I am having to touch Pranith’s feet, he better touch mine too. I have deep respect for many of the Hindu traditions and customs, which are actually quite beautiful but I want the rituals to consider both the bride and the groom to be on the same pedestal. I am not a feminist.
I think there are certain aspects in life that my partner will be able to do and I will simply not be able to. Take for instance strength! Despite me being about the same size as Pranith, I cannot match even a fraction of his strength. I may not be able to defend myself against a couple of guys in the middle of the road if he were not with me. Plus, the society is such that if a man is getting assaulted, the woman will face no ridicule if she doesn’t intervene but if a man doesn’t do the same, he would have to face so much humiliation. And, I do accept his protection and for me, the mangalsuthra is a symbol of his protection. So when I debate with myself about why he shouldn’t also be wearing a symbol of marriage, I see the responsibility that he bears of protecting me, so I am acknowledging it by wearing this piece of ornament.
In the earlier days, some of the rituals made sense. For example, even in the old testament it says that if a woman steps out of the house or digresses from her marriage, we can beat her up. But that is because if she were to contract disease, there was no cure back then and she could pass it on to her children and her husband. But now with top of the class health care, we should abolish such systems. Harsher times require harsher measures and unfortunately the gender which can bear children is far more precious than a gender that cannot.”
Dr Srinivasan Chebiyam, a scientist and a person with vast knowledge about Hinduism and its rituals, says that it is untrue that the rules that were originally set do not apply today. He says that we interpret it differently and nobody has the time to try and understand what they really mean. With a full disclaimer that to understand what he is saying, a person needs to devote many hours researching the subject, he explains the science behind the touching of feet. “When a person touches the husband’s feet, it is because the husband usually would be elder than the wife and they have more experience. But there is more science to it.
Intelligence comes from head, but feet has nothing. So, when you’re touching the feet of someone, you’re saying that even the dust of that person’s feet is so great for me. These are the feet that carries this great man. So, let me touch these feet and let me be equal to that person. To understand the science, you have to believe that the earth is a source of negative energy. There are 11 holes in our body of which two are closed permanently when we were children. One is on the centre of the head where the jeelakarra and bellam is put during a Telugu wedding.
Since we all stand on the earth, we are all negatively charged. Man is more positive energy than woman because man has XY chromosome and women has XX chromosome. So, when the woman touches the man’s feet, the energies get equalised. To get rid of the desires and sorrows, they say let the man lead me while taking the pheras (circumambulations) or in marriage since the man is already half relieved with only one X chromosome. Similarly, the jeelakarra and bellam is put on the center of the head, where the first hole used to be. From these two ingredients, powers, like anode and cathode in a battery passes through the body and will get exchanged. This way, the husband and wife can understand each other even without talking to each other. Yes, mind reading is possible.”
It is difficult to say how many people will actually dig into the science of this, but it seems like even the older generation is all up for the latest revolution. Kavitha Chakilam is the mother of recently wed Sahas. He has had a very short ceremony with almost no rituals. “He said that since he is the one getting married, he would learn the main mantra and say it himself while tying the mangalsutra and that’s what he did. Even the tying of mangalsutra was to appease us. And I am so glad that he has taken this route. There were many sexist customs that even I faced during my wedding. I knew I was not comfortable with the, but I did not know how to express my feelings. But, my son had the courage to and this was my turn to fully support him,” she says, and adds, “Even the name change - only the woman has to do after marriage. It is like stripping her of her identity.
I encourage other parents to first understand why we are doing certain things before going into it without knowing its importance.” While age-old customs are hard to be forgotten, and many continue to follow them without a whimper, the Gen Y is bound to question and come up with their own version of right and wrong; interestingly this they do after fully comprehending traditional rituals, and understanding them, which is surely a step forward.