Sunday, August 26, 2007

The rituals have not only lost meaning in today’s context, but somewhere down the centuries, been twisted to suit an increasingly misogynist society

I thoroughly enjoyed reading Krish Ashok’s post Priestly Matters - it clearly touches a chord in many of us, going by the number and content of the comments on that post. I personally sat through my Tambram wedding, too dazed by the circus, while my husband was even more dazed due to the fact that he spoke nor understood a word of Tamil then. Meaningless rituals, mispronounced Sanskrit, I agree but here is the thing. These rituals were all formulated at a time when child marriage was the norm - and given the social conditions prevailing then, I think they made immense sense.
To begin with, the Hindu (Tamil) marriage ceremony is full of games - I can imagine a small girl crying and refusing to walk up to her future husband for the maalai ceremony - and quietening down when her uncles carry her on their shoulders - even enjoying it when there is a tug-and-pull during the actual exchange of garlands. And hey, some fun for the boy too - send him off on kashi yatra - he is after all, at an age when he ought to be studying - and lure him back with the promise of a beautiful young girl. the maalai, the oonjal, fun and games during the nalangu. And I do not think the other ceremonies like the kanyadanam and Saptapadi were originally mean to be anti-woman or anything like that - the bride is a little girl and has been protected and sheltered so far - and now her husband (and his family) have taken over the role of her protectors and providers - and friends.
It is interesting that the Saptapadi mantras talk about companionship and friendship - “Ye who have walked with me, become my companion, whereby I acquire your friendship. We shall remain together – Inseparable. Let us make a vow together. We shall love, share the same food, share our strengths, the same tastes. We shall be of one mind. We shall observe the vows together. I shall be the Sama and you the Rig. I shall be the upper world and you the earth. I shall be the sukhilam and you the holder. Together we shall live, beget children and other riches. Come thou, o sweet worded girl.”
And all this hoopla about the sister-in-law - the naathanar - someone told me this - when the young bride enter her husband’s home, her sister in law is possibly the closest in age to her - she rarely sees her husband during the day, and as for the mother in law, oh never mind. And at a time when widowhood was possibly the worst thing to happen to a woman, I do not blame her parents for praying for her sumangali status.
And thus I can ramble on. But the point is this - I think the rituals were designed to provide entertainment and satisfaction for all - certainly the young kids being wedded, and the families too. These, remember, were times when the boy and girl were actually that - not twentieth century, mid-thirties, been-too-busy-to-wed-earlier-since-studying-and-earning-USD “boys” and “girls”. They have not only lost meaning in today’s context, but somewhere down the centuries, been twisted to suit an increasingly misogynist society. Feel free to blame it on Manu and friends. (A commenter on Krish Ashok’s post does say this - A rough analogy would be to skim through, say, the Manusmrti like a novel, look for the contentious bits, take it out of context and say that Manu was sexist and racist - but sorry, all I have read of Manu has so far shown only that side of him - if there is more, I would appreciate you telling me about it)
Rituals out of context are meaningless - can we question them, examine them, reformulate them - to make some meaning out of the original thoughts behind them? To begin with, get your priest to explain the meaning behind the mantras? I laud the way Krish Ashok’s sentiments- My point was that tradition and ritual need to be relevant and cognizant of changing social mores. Yes, yes. Society & Development A Time To Reflect blogito ergo sum

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