Saturday, March 03, 2007

Reviving Swyambhar ?


Recently couch potatoes were treated to public outrage on a news channel. It came from viewers as well players in a drama unfolding in Bhopal where a young bride chose the Varmala ritual in the wedding proceedings to take a stand. Bypassing her waiting groom, the young lady placed her garland around the neck of her boyfriend who had been invited to the wedding.

The groom’s side and practically all the male viewers who phoned in were almost apoplectic over the bride’s perfidy in handing out such an insult to the groom, his baraat and Bharatiya Sanskriti which demands strict obedience of parental orders by girls. The sense of outrage over the bride’s INSULT to the groom and his baraat and her attack on Hindu sanskriti had to be seen to be believed.
What was that all about??

Our hoary traditions prescribe a Swyambhar wherein the bride selects her groom in an open assembly by placing a garland around his neck. Over the centuries the demands of patriarchy have transformed this Lady’s Choice into a Varmala ceremony wherein the bride is usually compelled to place the garland around a groom of her parents’ choice.

How much of the outrage was male ire at the Bhopal lass who had reinstated the original Swyambhar concept, obviously in the face of parental pressure to drop her boyfriend and marry the groom of their choice

The very stridency of the male outrage over the terrible loss to the groom’s family, not of his bride, but of the prospective expenses on the wedding dinner they had planned on the return back home sounded obnoxious. The groom’s family had apparently already given their caterer a down payment for the five hundred odd guests they were expecting.
The obvious question: all this concern over the waste of expenses of the groom’s side? The world and his wife knows that the major expenses in an Indian wedding are on the bride’s side, from trousseau and gifts to all and sundry , to dowry and staging the actual wedding with all its peripheral pre and post events, all expensive affairs with lavish settings, sumptuous food and gifts galore. Would the bride’s family not suffer much more losses? Why did no one think or comment on that?

Dowry is an ancient tradition which is spreading its evil tentacles even in those communities which never knew it before; this serves to load the dice against the arrival of the girl child in any family. With all the leaders of society leading the trend away from simple dowry-les weddings, it is any wonder that commerce is taking over where tradition left off. All the TV channels and magazines are replete with ad campaigns and coverage of lavish spreads of jewelry, designer clothes and accessories, marriage melas and fairs, bank loans to fund all that razzmatazz etc. The icing on that cake is of course, all those weepy saas bahu soaps.

What, one wonders, of all those thousands of weddings over the years, in which the groom’s party had wrecked trauma, havoc, ruin and even death by walking away from the mandap over dowry issues or even just how well they were or were not received and looked after by the bride’s family!! One wonders whether the male viewers phoning in their vehement outrage had even remembered that aspect even subconsciously.

Considering the dramatic sequence of events as it unfolded, obviously the bride had failed to move her parents on her choice and had been willy nilly railroaded into the wedding, with perhaps little help from the young man of her choice; she had apparently had to practically order him when she rang up to invite him for the wedding. Was that perhaps why the last minute mustering up of courage to place the garland on the correct neck, leaving him as much surprised as her family and baraat was aghast?

Yes, one would definitely have wished that the bride had been more discreet and not made her preference known so publicly; but perhaps that is the point: that when she told her parents in private, they were not moved. Hence a public show to force their hands?

The preponderance of male viewers calling in to breathe fire and brimstone against the errant bride, with only two rather subdued female call-ins, raises another question :
Were the female viewers in most of the middle class homes who may have sympathized with the brave bride, inhibited from expressing their sympathy and solidarity ? WHY ? because the telecast took place at eventide when they would have to do with their Papajis and Bhaijans breathing disapprovingly over their shoulder, as menfolk are wont to do when their womenfolk are on the phone?
For all the tall talk and headlines of women racing ahead, ghar ghar ki kahani still prevails, does it not? Hats off to the young lady from Bhopal who resurrected the Swyambhar tradition.

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