India is diverse and so are its festivals and rituals. While there are many different ways in which people celebrate Diwali, what happens in Bihar is my focus. Every Diwali in Bihar marks the practice of a peculiar ritual, locally known as Gharonda, which means home. In this custom the daughters of the house, not married yet, make a miniature house with mud, cardboard or clay and decorate it with colours, lights and diyas and worship it as the symbol of happiness, prosperity of the family. While this custom is beautiful in itself and women to participate enthusiastically, the question is whether the different custom implies a different message of Diwali? Or is it just a diya of Diwali, only flickering in a different pattern?
The ritual of Gharonda
Before two to three days of Diwali, unmarried women of the houses in Bihar begin collecting articles, toys, lights, diyas and other decorative materials to make a beautiful house, better than the last time at least. It is believed that the ritual of Gharonda is conducted by the daughters only until she is married off to a new house. After her marriage, the ritual is continued by her mother or the daughter-in-law of the house. The daughters, as the myth of the goes, are the embodiment of Lakshmi, the Goddess and the money, prosperity and honour of the family. It is the presence of the daughters that spreads happiness in the house and so they should be the one worshipping the biggest wealth of the family, the house and all the memories attached with it. While men in the house worship the office and workplaces where the money is procured but are not allowed to do this particular custom.
It is interesting that the ritual is exclusively conducted by women but does it severe itself from the patriarchal traditions that frame these rituals and define the roles of women in society? Perhaps, no. Why it cannot be denied completely is also an interesting perspective to consider, but a little later.
Besides, the custom is marked with everything that is not real and only make-believe. The house, the small potteries, rangolis and other artificial stuff. While, the men are indulged in everything that is real, the workplace, money, vehicles, machines and other possessions.
- Gharonda is a ritual celebrated during Diwali in Bihar. The daughters of the house make a miniature house and worship it.
- The ritual is patriarchal but also gives the possibility of empowerment.
- It is patriarchal because it defines daughters as the honour of the family deified as Lakshmi.
- It underlines the stereotype that women play with toys and men are involved in serious work.
- After marriage, a woman cannot continue this ritual- underlining the significance of marriage.
- Also a space of womanhood, sisterhood and creativity.
- Should be enjoyed as a festival with a new perspective without enforcing any tradition.
Daughters deified as Lakshmi and the honour of the family
The ritual of Gharonda, that appreciatively upholds the value of a daughter in the family, still encloses her in a frame built by the patriarchal perspective. Daughter's definition is restricted within the boundaries of the house, beyond which only the sons are the capable heir. She is bounded by the duties of taking care of the house that was built by the hard work of the man in the house. She is the one who is responsible to maintain the emotional balance in the and keep the house beautiful and lighted. Daughters deified as the Lakshmi is an example of how Patriarchy deems women to be the moral being, pure and chaste without any worldly pleasures or spots. They are seen as the honour of the house. It is from here that a woman’s role in society is predefined. When she tries to define it in her own terms, she is blamed for insulting the honour of the family.
It is true that even sons are considered as the honour of the family but their detraction is rarely treated as rudely as that of the daughters. If a daughter commits an unconventional deed, she is outcasted, forcibly married off to the first man visible regardless of her career and dreams. This is clearly symbolised in the ritual where only women are given the “auspicious” responsibility of worshipping the house and not the sons. But are women really lucky in this case? Labelling women as the honour of the family simply reduces her body into the field where the wars of the society are fought. Who is right and who is wrong is decided by the character of the daughters. So deeming women as lucky enough to worship the house is only a blanketed way of enforcing patriarchal duties.
The ritual of Gharonda, that appreciatively upholds the value of a daughter in the family, still encloses her in a frame built by the patriarchal perspective. Daughter's definition is restricted within the boundaries of the house, beyond which only the sons are the capable heir.
Women play with toys and men go out to work
Besides, the custom is marked with everything that is not real and only make-believe. The house, the small potteries, rangolis and other artificial stuff. While, the men are indulged in everything that is real, the workplace, money, vehicles, machines and other possessions. The stark division between the two genders is clear but never questioned because it is not different from the normal. Women in society are always considered to be dealing with everything that is simple and easy while men are the one who deal with rocks and stones. This reality that society follows is the illusion created by Patriarchy. This is the reason why whatever a woman does is rarely judged as serious. Whether it is her flourishing career or her excellence as the homemaker. All are under judged as “anyone can do it,” “it is a child’s game.” Patriarchy has made the stereotypical image of the girls playing with dolls and kitchen sets that are perpetuated until today by enforcing it in the rituals like this. Even if a girl does not like playing with toys, whatever she does will be childish. Hence the custom emphasises the make-believe reality that patriarchy has created for society. A woman will always be seen as playing with toy however significant her work is!
Marriage as the indispensable significance of a woman's life
The fact that the daughter cannot continue doing the custom, even though she loves it after she is married underlines the indispensable significance of marriage in her life. Besides, it crudely normalises the painful tradition of giving away the daughters in marriage after which she can no more live with her parents. It is unbelievable how such a rude tradition is normalised through such customs. In fact, the custom is followed since the time the woman is still an innocent and playful girl who is told about the marriage and its traditions of being separated from her parents forever. What effect do those thoughts have on the girls of such a young age, is just unspeakable.
Gharonda encourages creativity, womanhood and sisterhood
It cannot be denied that it marks the essential patriarchal roles of a woman but what it also does is that it defines a space where only women have the say. The way she decorates the house lights it according to her own perspective is symbolic of the freedom of expressing herself. It is the miniature form of the freedom and agency that the harems and other radical women-only society embody. Within this space, where only women speak, is the power of repressed thoughts and desires expressed in their own ways. The custom specifically embodies the power of art to rewrite the narratives that subjugate women. It inspires them to be creative and use whatever is at their disposal to create a new story altogether. Customs like these then strengthen the agency and power of women by encouraging womanhood and sisterhood.
Celebrates the togetherness of a family
Furthermore, if women are enthusiastically participating in the custom, it should be an informed choice. She should be aware of all the hidden patriarchal conventions and how it is not the reality. This being done, the participation then will be the choice of the woman who might be a part of it just for the sake of the festivities. Besides, if the custom is really about the prosperity and happiness of the house, it is the equal right of the sons and fathers to be a part of it. The equal participation will then overshadow the deeply gendered aspect of the custom and celebrate only the togetherness of the family.
Before two to three days of Diwali, unmarried women of the houses in Bihar begin collecting articles, toys, lights, diyas and other decorative materials to make a beautiful house, better than the last time at least. It is believed that the ritual of Gharonda is conducted by the daughters only until she is married off to a new house.
A new narrative for every festival
Festivals and its customs are undeniably problematic since it is being followed from very old times. But it is also an important part of society as it embodies happiness and togetherness of the families and societies. Rather than radically breaking down such old pillars, let us celebrate it with a different perspective: remove the dust of the orthodox traditions and just respect it for its antiquity that has no connection with the present. Let us celebrate the festivals for togetherness and happiness that respects the voice and smile of every person. Being myself a part of the Gharonda ritual, I look at it only as a moment of joy when my family gets together and I hope it means the same or something better for everyone who is a part of it.
Rudrani Kumari is an intern with SheThePeople.TV