The patriarchal history behind Indian wedding customs often goes missed or unconsidered when merrymaking is in order. No doubt, weddings are happy occasions but the baggage they carry is heavier than the bride’s shaadi lehenga.
First, hardly anyone has the energy for intelligent analyses during the week-long wedding festivities rich with food and drink. Second, the stronghold these traditions have commanded over years and ages is sturdy enough to go unchallenged. Third, it is what it is, because parampara, pratishtha, anushaasan.
It’s a sign of changing times, albeit gradual, when women today choose to subvert patriarchal tradition to begin their married lives on a more equal footing than what rituals demand. Like this bride who drove her husband home after the bidaai or this priestess who officiated Dia Mirza’s wedding.
Regressive Indian Wedding Customs We Should Do Away With:
Among the most sexist defenders of patriarchy at Indian weddings is the kanyadaan ceremony, where the bride’s father ‘gives her away’ to the groom. Like passing an object from one hand to another. Why are we accepting of the misogyny inherent in this custom that deems women as forever-dependent?
West Bengal’s first Hindu priestess Nandini Bhowmik too has critiqued the kanyadaan custom. “I do not perform kanyadaan as I consider the practice regressive in which women are treated as commodities. I try to keep the rituals short and simple,” she said in 2018.
At a lot of Indian weddings, the bride is expected to touch the feet of her pati parmeshwar, because he is next to god. In a new turn, a lot of grooms are now bending down to reverse the ritual. But are either really solving any purpose save for dramatic photo ops? Can respect between them be professed through touching feet?
Feet-touching between two persons of the same stature seems to me to be a wholly redundant practice; because what kind of authority does someone who is your equal have to ‘bless’ you? Just hug it out instead.
Despite the existence of the Dowry Prohibition Act (1961), this custom – degrading, needless, and dangerous – continues unbounded. In Kerala, within a span of two days, the death of three women reportedly linked to this issue surfaced consecutively. Read here.
What does the ordeal behind Vismaya Nair’s marital life rife with dowry harassment and consequent domestic violence signal to us? How many more women will have to face assault over wedding gifts not lavish or expensive enough? The state is taking measures to reform the culture, but are we to give this grossly objectifying ceremony up?
4. Kashi Yatra
This ritual, prevalent largely in Tamil wedding ceremonies, plays on the age-old sexist trope of the female as a distraction from the path of dharma and enlightenment for the male.
Here, the groom ups and leaves mid-ceremony as if to take the route to Kashi in search of the true meaning of life. During the act, he has to be lured back by the bride’s parents, who justify to him the various spiritual merits of marriage. (Gifts are added to sweeten the pot.)
Just take the route to Kashi without saying ‘yes’ to the marriage then no?
5. Bidaai tears
The marriage is not complete until the bride bawls, cries, or at least sobs a little at the end of it. Even if all that the woman can manage are a few crocodile tears, she is told to shed them just for the rasam. But if a woman isn’t a bundle of sad emotions about moving out of her home and into a new life with her partner, must she really pretend otherwise?
If ‘a happy bride is the prettiest bride,’ then let her be so even at her bidaai.
Views expressed are the author’s own.