With Hindi film celebrities, activists and influencers distorting our rituals and customs to suit their fancy marriage narratives, here’s an attempt to understand the significance of our age-old Hindu wedding traditions, and why it’s important to keep their sanctity
This controversial take on Dharmic traditions observed during Hindu weddings began in September 2021, when Manyavar-Mohey’s television commercial showed actor Alia Bhatt urging for “kanyamaan” instead of kanyadaan. Pseudo-feminists instantly cheered her on without understanding the ramifications of an age-old custom being distorted by the advertisement creators. Proponents of Indic sensibilities called the company and the actor out but the damage seemed to have been done when young fans of Bhatt screamed ‘reform’ and ‘equality’ after failing to gauge the lack of research on the part of ethnic wear brands or how blatantly the script exposed Bhatt’s cluelessness about her Indian ethos and culture even as they held onto the misconstrued meaning of kanyadaan.
Even as we write this, the errant cat again got out of the bag with Alia Bhatt and Ranbir Kapoor fashionably pooh-poohing age-old traditions during their Punjabi wedding held recently. Dressed in Sabyasachi Mukherjee ivory ensembles, they took their pheras, merrily cutting the cake and sipping champagne at their nuptials. While their faithful fans fawned over their pictures that had more of a white wedding hangover than the characteristic Bharatiya Shaadi vibe, there were also voices that questioned their distorting Sanatani traditions usually followed during a Hindu marriage ceremony. The loudest being that if they do not believe in the customs followed for ages or the sanctity of marriage being almost like a religious affair for Hindus, are these celebrities not influencing the youth the wrong way at a time when the Hindu civilization is fighting an existential war what with west trends usurping age-old practices.
Considering there are still too many ignorant about the origin and significance of many Sanatani practices observed during a wedding and equate the act of kanyadaan to the commoditized concept of giving away a daughter as if she is a burden for the parents, the burden of responsibility definitely falls on celebrities and influencers who have an all-pervading reach over the youth of this country. This act of misleading is not a new phenomenon though. The erroneous narrative was single-handedly drilled into mass consciousness by Bollywood films that depicted brides and their fathers at the mercy of the groom and his family as if they are doing a favour by accepting the girl. Our ancient scriptures however reveal the complete opposite where the bride’s status is confirmed as Lakshmi Swaroop. The worst part is that despite having the right explanations at our disposal to set the narrative right, most Hindus slept through the process. This affected an entire generation’s understanding of the beautiful custom.
The Social Media Conundrum
Recently, a video clip went viral on social media where a bride questioned the very premise of kanyadaan, maangbharna and the pheras citing that they breach the notion of equality. The lady proudly stated how she ensured a ‘kunwardaan’ was held simultaneously with a kanyadaan at her wedding while she puts sindoor on her groom’s forehead. Since social media almost helicopters our lives now, these videos, loaded with faulty information, mislead those who aren’t well versed with the value of traditions of completing a Hindu marriage. Just like how last year during Diwali the campaign #NoBindiNoBusiness was misunderstood as being regressive without gauging how it only demanded that fashion, clothes and jewellery labels respect Hindu sentiments since they would earn revenues from Hindus during that time. The steady Islamisation of Hindu festival print and TV ads unnerved the initiators of the hashtag when Fab India released a print campaign where models looked more prepared for Eid than Diwali. Similarly, Malabar Gold’s recent Akshay Tritiya campaign hit a raw nerve with Kareena Kapoor Khan not sporting a bindi for the advertisement. Not valuing the significance of the bindi as per Sanatani culture is what detractors mentioned while criticising the commercial. The social media uproar straightened up Malabar Gold enough to rectify their mistake in the subsequent releases.
As mistaken identities eat away at the foundation of our Sanatani civilisation, the need to deconstruct the reason for believing in these traditions has become imperative. For years Hindu weddings have featured the rituals of kanyadaan, maangbharna and pheraas. These traditions sanctify a union gloriously because of the meaning they carry. Unless our youth understand what their basis is, it becomes only too easy to be misled by jargons spewed by deracinated activists, celebrities and intellectuals who unfortunately hold a vice-like grip over the consciousness of a large number of Indians.
Sindoor is not just a red powder
The sindoor, also known as the kumkum, is a symbol of fertility. In ancient India one of the primary aspects of marriage was taking a family forward, the groom’s applying kumkum on the parting of the bride’s hair enhanced her fertility while the bright red colour signified power and passion. Earlier the vermillion was prepared with organic or herbal substances such as turmeric, lime, alum, mercury or saffron. The application of this powder from the forehead to the point of the pituitary gland stimulated the reproductive organs of the woman as well as regulated her blood pressure and controlled stress. While this is the scientific explanation of the practice, the sindoor gave a radiant glow to the face of a married woman who wore it like an adornment. Soon, makeup brands commercialised this concept to manufacture synthetic kumkum that led to skin rashes and bald patches on women using it. High time we stop maligning maangbharna without realising how unscrupulous companies fooled consumers. Moreover, a woman’s decision of wearing the sindoor on a daily basis has no relation to the act of maangbharna observed at a wedding.
If during a wedding we care to understand our Sanskrit shlokas, it happens exactly this way till date where the daughter is considered not a burden but a fortune that is being parted with. Daan is not alms, bheek, charity or any such negative emotion in our culture. It is the parting of your good fortune for the betterment of another household and that of society in general
While gender equality activists might brandish maangbharna as a patriarchal ploy to relegate the role of women as child bearers, this accusation cannot be more deluded in the way it topples the very premise of love, understanding and respect between a couple in bringing a child into the world. After all, science hasn’t advanced enough to make men give birth and no one can deny the basic truth of Sanatan culture that establishes that the universe will cease to carry on unless phallic and yonic energies unite. This decimates the very concept of ‘women are merely child carriers’ because it goes against the powerful belief of women being the shakti behind life even as she is supported by a male partner.
Hindu weddings have featured the rituals of kanyadaan, maangbharna and pheraas. These traditions sanctify a union gloriously because of the meaning they carry. Unless our youth understand what their basis is, it becomes only too easy to be misled by jargons spewed by deracinated activists, celebrities and intellectuals who unfortunately hold a vice-like grip over the consciousness of a large number of Indians
While ‘feminists’ deride this mark of marriage with baseless explanations, archaeologist BB Lal in his book, The Saraswati Flows On: The Continuity of Indian Culture, chronicled how sindoor was worn by women of the Indus Valley civilisation for its medicinal value. The use of sindoor as cosmetics is also mentioned in Lalita Sahasranam, a text of Brahmand Puran which is one of the oldest Puran and composed roughly during the 5th century BC- 5th century CE. Adi Shankaracharya in the 8th century CE also wrote about the tradition of applying sindoor in his creation Saundarya Lahiri elevates the relevance of sindoor to much more than merely a powder mark for a married Hindu woman.
The value of the Kanya in a Kanyadaan
If weddings were indeed done by the truest form of Sanatani traditions, weddings would be an elaborate affair where the bride and the groom’s family get to know each other while every intricate ceremony is observed. In the age of fast track weddings, that sadly isn’t an option in most cases. Hence, it becomes even more important to understand what a kanyadaan actually meant because there were many steps that rounded up to the actual giving of a daughter who was seen as Mahalakshmi while the groom is Mahavishnu. Essentially our weddings were marriages of the Gods as even the Gods followed these same customs.
Kalidasa’s Kumaarsambhav has chronicled the ritual of kanyadaan wonderfully during the Shiv Parvati vivaah. There are two Daan that have the highest status in Sanatan culture, one being that of a kanyaa, who is Lakshmi Swaroop. No one willingly parts with their Lakshmi (a good fortune in the name of health, well being, peace of mind and prosperity). When a father and a mother do that, they are in a higher position to give away their fortune (non-philosophical concepts like ‘giving away the bride’ don’t exist in the Sanatani tradition) to the less fortunate. They attain the position of a king and a queen almost. But since our Dharma is absolutely anti-Aham or arrogance, the givers fold their hands and say, “We are giving our Lakshmi to you.” To this, the father of the groom and the groom fold their hands and express gratitude saying, “Thank you for bestowing on us your Putri Ratna (a gem of a daughter). This scene is elaborated in great detail in Valmiki Ramayana between Raja Dasharath and Raja Janak. Kanyadaan is the only ceremony where both the giver and the receiver sit with cupped hands (subservient position) because ultimately the decision to move from the father’s love and care to the husband’s is the bride’s. Her decision is extremely important here.
If during a wedding we care to understand our Sanskrit shlokas, it happens exactly this way till date where the daughter is considered not a burden but a fortune that is being parted with. Daan is not alms, bheek, charity or any such negative emotion in our culture. It is the parting of your good fortune for the betterment of another household and that of society in general. Now, if only ignoramuses read up and understand the beauty in our dharmic traditions before they lunge to insult them.
A note on the Kashmiri Dejhoor
After The Kashmir Files showcased many of Kashmir’s lost Hindu cultural heritage, there seems to be a trend-setting in on donning the Dejhoor through a conchal cartilage piercing. While it is understandable that youngsters hop on to the wagon of fashion, here’s what we also need to learn is that those long earrings are a beautiful symbol of matrimony worn by Kashmiri Pandit women after marriage. They are a mark of deep spiritual meaning and pure love from her parents (the bride always shall be their khanmaej koor or beloved daughter) and inlaws. The Dejhoor is a golden aabhushan, an ornament comparable to a sriyantra, which is a symbol of being a suhaagin, a saubhagyawati. It is different from the mangalsutra , but a representation of being dvija or twice-born according to the laughakshi paddati. In the early Aryan civilization, every woman was supposed to be invested with a sacred thread. Later the mangalsutra took the place of the Brahmasutra-Upanayana throughout Bharat except for Kashmir. In Kashmir a new system came by where the Dejhoor was worn during Devaguna Sanaskara or initiation before the actual Panigrihan Saptapadi. During the ceremony, it is worn in a red thread narivan via a conchal piercing. After the wedding ritual is completed the red thread is replaced by a gold chain and athoor is added to it. While many would wear this thinking it’s a fashion statement, there does exist a fine line between cultural appropriation and appreciation.