Saturday, 4 December, 2021

Weddings In Pandemic

Namrata Sharma


Just as the working-from-home culture, which has now been engrained in the society ever since the coronavirus pandemic started, the practice of holding weddings from home is gaining momentum. We just completed our son’s wedding from home with tented services and home-cooked food, which reminds me of my wedding 33 years ago. It is interesting how wedding trends over the last three decades have evolved.
We used to have tented weddings at home then with cooks who were hired to cook for the guests. The invitees were limited to families who were invited as “chulhai” (in Nepali), meaning all the members of a family ate food cooked from the same stove. As for friends, only the couples were invited. Nowadays, even casual contacts and even acquaintances are invited as “chulhai” with the list of invitees for a wedding ballooning to 10,00-20,00 invitees. The parties have over the years shifted from tents at home to party palaces and even five star hotels for the super-rich.

The Nepali Hindu weddings have several ceremonies including the finalising of the marriage or chhinne din, the beginning of the marriage (purbanga), the engagement (swayambara), the groom procession to the bride’s home (janti), the overnight stay of the groom and his procession at the brides home, the return of the groom with the bride, the ending the ceremony (Chaturthi), the return of the bride for the first time to her parents’ house (dulhan farkaune) and the 16-day auspicious event (sohradine sahit) which finalises the whole process and finally the wedding reception.
Coming from a family where my in-laws and the families from my parents’ side reside in the Kathmandu Valley, the usual invites, without including my friends, during the above ceremonies would be a minimum of 50 people during purbanga and chathurthi, 250-300 during the engagement and wedding procession and at least 500 during the wedding reception.
Well, we just completed our son’s wedding in a single day by combining all the events together as one activity, except for purbanga which is a ritual held a day before the wedding day. We had 12 people in purbanga, and 15 people for the groom’s procession, the engagement and the rest of the events were completed in a single day. To make the event festive and fun we decorated our house with lights, and put up tents in the garden and followed strictly, all the safety measures demanded by the government. The food was cooked at home.
Hindu wedding requires a lot of ceremonies with rituals, our priest being a 91- year-old strictly followed each and every ritual without cutting corners. Although he agreed to complete the marriage ceremony in one day, he took his time and intimidated all the people at the bride’s place when they tried to expedite the process. However, he completed all the events in a single day without eating any food except tea and curd! He had conducted my marriage ceremony 33 years ago, now he conducted our son’s marriage successfully. Then the process had been for almost a week. Now it was for one and a half day. The same man performed the rituals of a week in one and a half day.

Patriarchal rules
The pandemic is spreading fast and life is getting difficult for us all. This is actually a time to reflect on the fact that customs are made for people to lead lives in the society they are born and brought up into. However, as these customs are made mainly by men who were in control when they were formulated, patriarchy and feudal mindsets have played a key role in setting up such systems. Most of the time the priests put in such stringent requirements and try to place a fear that if such and such things are not observed then misfortunes can befall!
Why such rituals are to be followed the priests’ orders to just do it. The workers in the households were mostly uneducated women who made preparations for these events and followed the tradition blindly. One such event is to make sure the wick of the diya that is lit on the first day or purbanga of the marriage ceremony should be burning till the end of the marriage ceremony. There has to be someone who maintains 24-hour vigilance over the burning diya to make sure it does not extinguish even once. It is of course the mothers and the grandmothers who make sure that the wick keeps burning no matter if the ceremony is for one week or two days. The fathers and the priests make the orders and the women keep the flame alight as they don’t want any misfortunes to befall upon their children.
Women are still the centre of the family and preserve traditions and norms. But the time has come to revise these systems so life becomes easier and more enjoyable to all members of the family. The pandemic has shown that several rituals and unnecessary costs can be drastically cut down and that the family can still complete ceremonies which keep social norms and practices alive. We need to reflect on this and make it a practice for the future. All these practices are “man-made”. Now let us revise them and make life simple and enjoyable for all. The religious gurus should come together and revise the Nepali Hindu marriage, birth and funeral rituals, among others. The marriage ceremonies should be revised and shortened to a half-day event while the 13-day funeral should be revised to a 3-day one.
If a one-week marriage ceremony can be done by a 91 year old priest in one-and-a-half-day, these shortenings can surely be done too. Stay safe all.

(Sharma is a senior journalist and women rights Twitter handle: NamrataSharmaP)