The marriages of yore were tales of commitment and togetherness despite all odds. When two people got married, they were bound by a pledge of staying together for the better or the worse. The customs, the community and family ensured that marriages that were made in heaven were made to last on earth.
The unbreakable vow
“Guess what! We have finally found a nice match for Chinky! The boy has his own business!” I could make out the excitement in my friend Aparna Chauhan’s voice on the phone. For over a year, she had been trying to get a nice match for her 25-year-old daughter.
Though the news was good, somehow, I wasn’t as excited as Aparna. I was happy for her but then I remembered the last couple of times when I received similar calls from her. In those calls too, she sounded as excited as she had now. She had told me that the boy and the family were good in every way. However, both the alliances broke within a year of fixing.
After this news, I met Aparna and Chinky for coffee. Chinky seemed besotted with her fiancé! She was constantly messaging him and after a few minutes stepped out to talk to him on the phone. I asked Aparna if she was sure about this one.
“Oh yes! The boy and his family are quite good. He likes Chinky and he was the one who wanted this alliance to be fixed,” she said.
She saw the look on my face and said, “I know what you are thinking. I know I said the same thing about the other two alliances. However, there the case was different. In one, the boy liked some one else but he was being forced by his mother. In the second one, the mother and the boy wanted Chinky to leave her job and stay at home. While initially they were okay with the idea of her working, they soon changed the idea.”
“What if this happens again?” I asked her.
“So what? Big deal!” said Aparna. “There are so many divorces happening in our community. I am not going to compromise on anything when it comes to Chinky. It is better to break an alliance before marriage rather than face a problem and a messy divorce! I have told Chinky that we would be happier with her being unmarried than making a wrong choice or being divorced!”
Just then Chinky came back. She had heard our conversation. “ Look Aunty, I am a fan of Shahrukh Khan and I love his advice in Dear Zindagi when he tells Alia Bhatt that finding the right partner is like shopping for a chair. You keep trying one chair after the other until you find that perfect chair which is just meant for you.”
The Perfect Chair
Marriage has been a part of almost all stories, whether legends or fables or fairy tales or even jokes. One of the most popular quests of princes and princesses of yore was to find the perfect mate and live happily till the next war. However, that was more of a spur of the moment romance and not the ‘chair testing’ that has become the norm today!
When I was a child, I was introduced to this idea of marriage through the typical Bollywood movies where the wife and husband pledge to remain bonded with each other for eternity. I remember watching movies like Hema Malini’s ‘Meera’ where marriage was the end aim for every respectable woman. 80s was the era when movies like ‘Sada Suhagan’ which talked about the unbreakable bond between a husband and wife left a huge impact on the society.
But today, matters have taken a different turn. Getting a divorce is as common as eating bread and butter. There are new cases of divorces everyday which impact entire families! I wonder if the search for the perfect chair has really gone too far!
Just the other day, I happened to watch Sanjay Leela Bhansali ‘Padmaavat’, especially the scene where Padmaavati, (played by Deepika Padukone) rushes to commit Jauhar with the other women of the fort to not just preserve her honour but also fulfil the oath of remaining together in life and death with her husband. What a romantic notion it was to live and die to protect one’s love! But today, the scene seems to have completely changed! The very flame of romance seems to have extinguished by the modern world’s practicality! How is it that in this clan where the men and women who were once ready to give up their very lives for each other are now no longer interested in even staying together? I decided to delve into this matter.
A scientific process
“In my time, the search for a groom was a scientific process,” says Vikram Singh, a resident of Jaipur, who has been married to his wife for the last 20 years. “The relatives and friends of the family looked for ‘samdhis’ or people who were similar to them in wealth, status, thinking and culture. Their aim was simple- to find a girl who was younger to the man by at least five years or more and was brought up in a similar environment so that she is able to adjust well in the new home with ease and develop a comfort zone of her own.”
‘It takes a village to do a marriage’
Getting the right groom was only the beginning. “In the earlier days, marriage was not just the responsibility of the parents of the girl’s parents. The entire village or community pitched in from the very start,”says Sagat Singh, a farmer who lives in Churu district of Rajasthan. “The girl’s maternal uncle was responsible for giving the ‘myra’ which was essentially clothes, jewellery and even money to his sister for the marriage. This money helped the parents to not only organize the trousseau of the bride but also take care of the marriage expenses. Apart from this, everyone in the village contributed money for the kanyadaan which was then gifted to the bride as a stridhan. Even if each person contributed 100 rupees in a community of 300 people or more, they could raise a substantial amount which would be then given to the girl as a part of the kanyadaan ritual. Now, in the cities and even many villages, you hardly see anything like a custom like this. Now the entire pressure of the marriage falls on the parents.”
Agrees Bhawani Shekhawat, a resident of Jaipur, “These days, relatives hardly help in searching for a prospective partner. Then the wedding has also become a costly affair for the parents. To add to it, the prospective groom and bride don’t want parents to interfere at all.”
“Kanyadaan is perhaps the most misunderstood ritual in a marriage. Most people do not understand the true meaning of Kanyadaan in a marriage especially amongst the warrior class,” says Pallavi Singh, a writer. “Some people feel that ‘kanyadaan’ is the ritual where parents donate their daughter to someone else. However, the custom involved ‘gotradaan’. Gotra means lineage and broadly refers to people who are descendants in an unbroken male line from a common male ancestor. When the bride marries the groom, the father of the bride, offers his daughter’s gotra to the fire god (agni dev). In a way, he gives up his right on his daughter’s lineage so that she becomes a part of the groom’s gotra or lineage. This is also why the girl wears the clothes and jewellery brought by the groom’s family in the pheras and kanyadaan and even changes her surname. It is simply to signify that she is now a part of their family.”
The Love Factor
Some years back, my grandmother and me were watching Shahrukh Khan’s movie Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jayenge’. At that time, I was in my late teens. Being the die-hard romantic, I kept sighing in scenes where Shahrukh Khan fights, connives and plans for his love. I asked my her, “Is this true love where this guy is trying win the girl and her family?”
My grandmother laughed and said, “I did not know or understand love when I got married to your grandfather. There was no such condition. For me, marriage was similar to an arrangement, where my job was to take care of him, his family and our children. After my marriage, I interacted with my parents once or twice in a year. In those days, the girls were not encouraged to come home in the early years of marriage because they had to adjust and get used to the new home. My role was quite clear, I had to take care of the home and family and your grandfather had to provide for the family and me. I only discussed the really important issues with your grandfather. For everything else, there was Janaki Dadi (the lady who accompanied my grandmother from her parental house as a companion).”
“Why couldn’t you talk to the other Rajput women in the village?”
She said, “In a village, though people love socializing, but there is a lot of politics. When a bride comes to her husband’s home, initially, she cannot trust anyone because almost every one in the village is related to her husband’s family in one way or the other. If a new bride happens to tell them something, it becomes a gossip and spreads like wildfire. When I came as a bride, women of the village tried to get friendly with me because they wanted to know the inside scoop. That is why Janaki was sent with me. In the olden times, most Rajput families followed this tradition. Since, the problem of getting a girl married was universal, they used to send an unmarried woman, preferably a girl their daughter has grown up and is friends with. The girl was later married in the same village and could live close to their daughter.”
“So, weren’t you tired of the constant ghoonghat and all the norms that you had to follow?”
“ After marriage, I was adopted by a family here in the village. They acted like my local guardians. I could confide in them and once in a while even go to their house where I wasn’t required to keep a ghoonghat or observe any of these rules.”
This was quite a revelation! So, I asked her the age-old question. “Did you and grandpa ever go on a honeymoon?”
My grandmother scoffed at the very idea. “ Honeymoon? These are all your modern-day inventions. For us, the word honeymoon never existed. After marriage, I got busy with the household and he continued with his work. It took me time to understand his world and the entire family supported that. We only used to meet in the night when all the family members had retired for the day. We talked and discussed things but we had our own lives too.”
A commitment for life
“I never saw my wife before marriage,” says Kaushal Rathore, a resident of Jaipur who has been married for 40 years now. “My father and uncles chose the bride for me. It was only after marriage that I slowly got to know her as a person. The journey hasn’t been easy. We have had our fights and disagreements which have lasted for days and weeks. Once or twice, she even packed her bags and went back to her parents’ place. When she did that, my family cajoled me to go and bring her back. At no point in time, we thought of divorce or separation because for us, marriage was a commitment that could never be broken.”
To be continued..
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