Friday, July 13, 2012

Wedding Days- IV

The newly weds arrived amidst microphones blaring out bhajans. Conch shell or 'sankha' was blown repeatedly and all the ladies made this sound called 'hula-huli' by "placing the tongue on the roof of the mouth with repeated opening and closing of mouth." My Nani or the bride's mother and the barber's wife or 'Barikiani' led the rituals. All the rituals comprising of the ceremonial welcome are collectively called 'Gruhaprabesa'. The bride had to make 'chita' or patterns on the stairs using rice paste till the door of the pooja room in the 2nd floor where they took the blessings of the deities. She hurried through it by making the simplest of shapes which gave one of my uncles opportunity to pull the leg of the bride by saying she couldn't even draw proper chita. The fun had begun.

There was another game right after we had all had our breakfast. One by one, all the married women present had to sit with their legs spread in front of them and the bride and the bridegroom had in turn to sit on her legs together, one in front of the other. Then the bride had to throw sacred rice behind her without looking back. The constant getting up, sitting down again, of the two grown ups on the legs of the ladies made for a funny spectacle. After all were done, the newly weds touched the feet of all the elders present and got blessings and money.

Another 'Kaudikhela' was done which again ended in a draw and finally the bride and the bridegroom were allowed to go and take rest. The bride slept in the bedroom with her younger brother and the bridegroom slept in another separate room. This was to be the case till the Chaturthi or the 4th day counting the day of the marriage as first and that morning as 2nd.

The 'Bibahabedi' was worshipped in the evening and the same games were played again the next day. A new addition was that right after the 'Kaudikhela' in which again neither could open the other's fist the bride was presented with an earthen pot and was asked to guess what was inside. Obviously, there was a lid and none of us knew what exactly it had. The Barikiani kept telling her to hurry and one of the other elderly ladies, who held a stick, kept telling her to beware of whatever was inside. As a precaution, she kept the stick handy so that the bride's life was not in danger lest she should not be careful. This made one of the friends of my Mamaji, who is a tenant in the ground floor and thus was witness to this game, comment that there must be either crabs or a snake inside. We kids kept screaming that there was no need to fear and there couldn't be something so dangerous inside, but Mami was scared all the same. After a lot of deliberation and cajoling by us kids she started touching the lid and taking her hands back and in one such instance had guts enough to throw away the lid and quickly look inside. There were 'kaudis' inside.

The fun didn't end here as the same earthen pot was broken into pieces and these pieces were 'sold' by the bride's sister that is one of my Masis to the gents present. Now the pieces were imagined to be 'Sukhua' or dried fish and out went my Msi singing like a sukhua vendor "sukhua nia sukhua". My father, the eldest son-in-law of the family was the first customer, a pure vegetarian and his generosity set a good example for the other males present. Sukhua is used to prepare mouth watering delicacies and is a regular feature in the meals of east-coast Odias. The money collected was spent on a treat for the bridegroom's sisters.

Meanwhile, the bride had to just sit in her room and get bored as she was not allowed to do anything other than take part in the rituals and none of us were free to chat with her. The next day, however, her family were to visit her and her brother was to go back.

The next day, the day of reception as well as the 'Chaturthi' was the best of the wedding days. The area earmarked for the reception party was finally all done up and the cooks started on their business pretty early in the morning. The unique, subtle aroma of Odia cuisine made the cook's area irresistible and I kept visiting the place repeatedly asking what all was being cooked. Two women from a beauty parlour were called to get the bride look her best but had to eventually rush things up as too many guests arrived by noon and were impatient to see her. Still, she looked gorgeous and since she had slept well in the last two days, he grace and charm were back which were lacking during the wedding ceremonies due to being dead tired. Her family arrived in the afternoon with 'Byabahara' or gifts for all the relatives of the bridegroom's family in addition to a few things the bride would require like a separate TV, dressing table etc. I asked Nani if it didn't amount to dowry and that they should have told the bride's family not to come with all those cartons as we were prosperous enough. Nani explained that had they given anything to the bridegroom or anything to the bride on the demand of the bridegroom's family, that would have amounted to dowry. What they were giving to their daughter is what every Odia bride takes with her to her in-law's place as 'Byabahar'. I realised how limited in reach was the dowry prohibition act since the customs are such that a huge chunk of the cake is not even classified as dowry. No wonder, even with the backing of laws, women are still considered burden. Would they not be, tell me, if our traditions foster sexist practices that do not come under the ambit of the laws framed by the land to prevent such practices?

The bride and the bride groom were seated in the visitor's room in the ground floor where the bride sat smiling for the photographs and the groom often vanished to see that his friends were properly taken care of.
 The food was awesome, in particular the 'Potala Rasa', the 'Khajuri Khatta' and the 'Ghanta Tarkari'' as were the 'gup-chups', which are pretty similar to 'Pani-Poori'. Being vegetarian, I misssd out on 3 dishes one of which, 'Chilli Fish' was the star attraction being the specialty of the cooking team. Gobi Manchurian was given an Odiya twist, which I liked the most. The bride and the bridegroom had to fast so they could taste only the dessert- 'Kheeri' and ice cream. Poor souls! Couldn't taste the food of their own party! 

After all the guests had left, we all took turns to have our photographs clicked with the newlyweds which concluded with a family photograph. Three of us had to be engaged to carry all the gifts to the 1st floor and we were all thinking of ways to ask Mami to call us when she decided to open her gifts. How clever! I mean, the gifts were all Mami's but the cash envelopes went straight to my Mamaji.

All of us kids i.e. nephews and nieces of my Mamaji had made aromatic candles and lighted those all over the shelves in the bedroom which was tastefully decorated for the special night. Two people had come to work up a fairyland on the bed using 'Rajnigandha' and red roses and the room lit by only candles made for a stunning view.

Next morning my youngest Masi ceremonially made the bed and took money from her new sister-in-law for the 'service'. This was the day of opening all the 'Byabahar' cartons. Along with clothing for all there were about 15 cartons full of various sweets and snacks. There was this suitcase full of toiletries and grooming stuff for women along with saree and ear-ring for the eldest sister-in-law i.e. my Mom which was called 'Nananda Putuli' which had generated a lot of hype. Thankfully, it did live up to the expectations and Mami didn't have to bear unpleasant remarks. Which reminds me of my earlier talk about the male chauvinistic practices in Hindu weddings.
All the little little games were, no doubt, played in order to break the ice. But the good intentions might not always flower into good results as there are plenty of reasons why a bride can actually get scared of her new role. Bombarded with umpteen expectations, an Odia bride hardly gets to remain herself. I do not say Hindu bride since I will speak of only what I have observed closely but it is not far fetching to see patriarchal values steeped into most of the rituals that take place in weddings. God forbid, if the husband turns out to be a male chauvinist himself or has perverted notions of the 'duties' of a wife, arranged marriage may well spell doom for a free spirited girl. Considering that ideally brides are in the age bracket of 22-26 in Odisha, one can't help but wonder how healthy are such practices given license by our rich cultural heritage and famous scriptures.
I avoid writing about stuff that make my blood boil as my endeavors to calm my temper suffer terrible loss otherwise. hence, I rest here. But rest I will with a few quotes from Manusmriti which talk about the duties of a wife and women in general.

"Though destitute of virtue, or seeking pleasure (elsewhere), or devoid of good qualities, (yet) a husband must be constantly worshipped as a god by a faithful wife."

" By violating her duty towards her husband, a wife is disgraced in this world, (after death) she enters the womb of a jackal, and is tormented by diseases (the punishment of) her sin."

"Knowing their disposition, which the Lord of creatures laid in them at the creation, to be such, (every) man should most strenuously exert himself to guard them."
"(When creating them) Manu allotted to women (a love of their) bed, (of their) seat and (of) ornament, impure desires, wrath, dishonesty, malice, and bad conduct."
"For women no (sacramental) rite (is performed) with sacred texts, thus the law is settled; women (who are) destitute of strength and destitute of (the knowledge of) Vedic texts, (are as impure as) falsehood (itself), that is a fixed rule."
( )

Sigh! Manu Sir, you make me terribly hesitate to say that I'm proud of being a Hindu.

P.S. I'm aware of a 'save Manu' campaign on the web that says the quotes of Manusmriti all over the web are but false interpretations or accurate interpretations of shlokas added later i.e. not of Manu's own creations. I have not read the original Manusmriti, but only English translations of a few chapters online and hence I know not what to make of the charges of conspiracy and only hope that this counter wave in itself is not a conspiracy to prevent Manu being denigrated. I choose to be cynical and go with the anti-Manu fraternity for I have chanced upon the supposedly women-respecting kinda shlokas of Manusmriti and have found patriarchal leanings in those as well.

Previous posts in the series- Wedding Days- I, Wedding Days- II, Wedding Days- III

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