Tying Nuptial Knot With A Bong Bang
Tying the nuptial knot in India is a grand social event. It is an elaborate cultural performance too. A marriage ceremony is a record of the transformation that is ascribed on two souls and it also signifies the acceptance by the society as they enter into a conjugal life. Here, in India, which still preserves a significant portion of its feudal traditions, a marriage is just not a matter between two persons but an entire clan. The families of the bride and the bridegroom along with their relatives have to nod their acceptance for the wedding to happen.
India, being a land of diversity, is known for its array of customs and rituals in different regions. A Hindu marriage ceremony in West Bengal is very different from that of Andhra Pradesh and many a times religion assimilates with region; hence a Christian, Muslim or Hindu wedding ceremony in Bengal may appear similar in practices but may be in complete divergence with the nuptial ceremony of the respective religions in Kerala. My Bengali lineage and the privilege of being the witness of my own marriage (which would not have been possible without me) urges me to write about the wedding performance from this eastern region of the country.
Like any other cultural performance, a Bengali matrimonial ceremony has lengthy and elaborate rituals which has social and sometimes political significance. They can be categorised as pre-wedding rituals, main wedding rituals and post-wedding rituals. Marriage is also considered sacred and an enchanting act which is why it is performed amidst of Vedic chants (in Hindu weddings) that renders it pious with a belief of ensuring the maintenance of the sanctity of marriage throughout the couple’s life. Blowing of conch and ululation by women are characteristic of a marriage in West Bengal and these accompany almost all the rituals that comprise the wedding, with a purpose of drawing the attention of all the invitees and it is also a kind of social declaration from the family to the rest of the society.
Pre-wedding rituals begins in the day before the marriage when the elders of the family from groom’s side bless the bride with gold ornaments and husked rice mixed with Doob grass, these signify wealth and prosperity in their future life. Similarly, the groom is also blessed by the bride’s family. This ritual is named as Ashirbaad and it symbolises acceptance of the bride and the groom in both the families. In the same day, the couple-to-be are offered with a grand lunch in their respective houses followed by jokes and sharing of lighter moments with relatives, signifying a bachelorette party.
At the dawn of the wedding day, the girl’s hands are adorned by a pair of red and white bangles (Shakha and Pola1) by seven married ladies and a meal of curd and flaked rice is offered to her which is supposed to be her meal for the day. The meal of curd and flaked rice, after which the ritual is named, Dodhi Mongol also prevents the occurrence of any gastric problem because of fasting throughout the day. The wedding day is a long, tiring day for both the girl and the guy and is signified by a series of rituals before the main wedding could take place in the evening or night depending on the muhurath2.
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Main Wedding Rituals
The main wedding starts with the arrival of Bor Jatri7, when the groom along with his family arrives at the wedding venue. Mother of the bride along with other women of the family welcomes the groom by showing him the light of a lamp, sprinkling trefoil and husked rice placed on a bamboo winnow or a tray and the groom is then served with little sweet and a glass of water. Once bor arrives, the wedding ceremony begins. The bride is carried to Chhadnatola (the place where wedding takes place) by her brothers (cousins), in a low wooden stool, with her face covered by a beetle leaf held in her hands. Kone takes seven rounds around the standing groom in the same way as she was brought to Chhadnatola. The ritual of Saat Paak signifies that the lives of the couple are bound with each other for next seven births. This is followed by Shubho Drishti, when the bride uncovers of her face and both the bride and the groom look at each other. This tradition had huge significance in earlier days, when the girl and the guy were not allowed to see each other before marriage and looking at each other in that auspicious moment of wedding (shubho lagna) symbolised enshrinement of love and bliss for entire life.
The day after the wedding marks the beginning of post-wedding rituals. The girl of the family has to be sent with her newlywed husband, and a sombre mood embraces the bride’s family. Before leaving her home, the bride offers Kanakanjali to her mother, which signifies that she repays all debts of love and care associated with the family as she is going to be the part of a new family thenceforth. The bride is welcomed in the groom’s family in a similar manner as the groom was greeted in her family. The new bride is considered pious in her new family and she is made to enter the house with a small fish in her hand which symbolises luck. On that day, the bride and groom are kept in complete separation from each other and it is called as Kaal Raatri8. This custom is also meant to help the couple get a refreshing sleep throughout the day after their tiring ordeal in the main wedding. The day following Kaal Raatri is called Bou Bhaat. The new lady of the family cooks and serves everyone in her husband’s family and then she is ushered with gifts and blessings from the guests. Her husband offers her a set of clothes and jewellery in front of everyone in the family and vows to bear all her responsibilities throughout his life. The evening of Bou Bhaat is marked by a grand reception of the couple when the family of bride visits the new couple with tatvas i.e. gifts for both to ensure their first conjugal night to be memorable. This night ends the long drawn wedding rituals and the couple is left alone in a room with a bed decorated with flowers (hence it is known as Phool Sajja) to enjoy the conjugal bliss.
This kind of a ritual demarcates gender roles prevalent in the society and also highlights the patriarchal nature of the Indian society but these rituals are significant as well as they preserves the cultural folklore and tend to defy homogeneity i.e. homogeneous Indian-ness.
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- Shankha and Pola = Bangles of Conch shell and Coral
- Muhurath = The auspicious moment of marriage determined by calculating the positions of stars
- Viddhi = Ritual of offering prayer to the dead ancestors
- Gaye holud = Ritual of applying thick turmeric paste to the bride and the groom on the day of wedding
- Phool Sajja = The occasion of first conjugal night to be enjoyed by a newly married couple where they are adorned with flower and their bed is laid with flowers
- Tattva = Gifts exchanged between the family of the bride and the groom
- Bor Jaatri = The family of the groom is referred as Bor jaatri when they arrive at the wedding venue
- Kaal Raatri = The night following the wedding night when the bride and the groom are not allowed to meet each other