If I asked you to list the most misogynist Indian Hindu wedding traditions, how many could you name? I’ve selected the nine most obnoxious wedding practices from across India for those of you either new to Indian weddings or angry feminists like myself.
Even the name, literally “maiden donation” in Sanskrit, reveals the deep misogyny at play. This not-so-lovely ritual where the father of the bride gifts her as a donation to the groom tops our worst offenders list and remains a mainstay of Hindu marriage ceremonies the country over. There are some rebels, however, like this BJP vice president and his family who omitted this horribly sexist ritual from his son’s wedding.
The history bit: Vedic marriages required consent and brides were considered the groom’s equal. Some researchers suggest that the Manu Smriti laws, the foundation for Hindu jurisprudence (and literally interpreted as such by the British), caused reduced equality of women. Women were now under lifelong guardianship of men (father when unmarried, husband when married, son when widowed). Virgins represented a threat to their father’s status and thus needed to be officially transferred from the father’s house to the new husband’s family. The Manu Smriti recognises kanyadaan as the greatest daan (gift) of all and is full of deep emotions between the father and daughter. Lovely.
What’s not so lovely is religious symbolism at play, with the groom considered a representation of Lord Vishnu and the lucky lady offered as a gift for him. The parents of the bride are thus absolved of all earthly sins and are said to attain moksha (liberation from the cycle of birth, death, and rebirth) through this ritual.
Why misogynist? The suggestion that women’s virtue needs protecting and owning by men, and that women can be passed as a gift, literally and symbolically, between men.
(Above: Bride is gifted as a donation to the groom during the kanyadaan ritual. Picture from here).
2. Kashi Yatra.
This mostly South Indian Tamil (and supposedly light-hearted) ritual sees a bride’s parents beg their future son-in-law to go through with the wedding. Even more nauseating? It involves the groom’s sudden urge to pursue higher learning and ditch his wedding in favour of asceticism. He carries an umbrella, walking stick, and towel containing lentils and rice. Sexy.
Why misogynist? This ritual clearly stems from the Vedic period when a man would renounce his worldly possessions at the right age and spend the rest of his golden years living in a forest seeking religious wisdom. Why is this only an option for the groom? What if his wifey has had enough further down the line and wants some peaceful forest time? The expectation that only men can pursue religious learning underpins this ritual.
Let him leave during the wedding, I say. And let the woman focus on her own studies as a strong, single woman.
(Above: A groom trying to ditch his bride during the Kashi Yatra ritual. The umbrella covers him from his in-laws’ tears. Picture taken from Pintrest).
What’s more fun that getting rubbed in used turmeric paste? Calling out sexist wedding rituals, obvs. Traditionally this practice requires the bride to be smothered in turmeric paste that the groom has touched. How hygienic. In the Bengali version, the bride sits below the groom’s elbow as the yucky water washed off from his hands trickles down on her. Sort of erotic, I guess? A bit like our filthy British practice of sharing bathwater. Count me out, people.
Why misogynist? Bride sitting in a subservient position; bride being bathed in groom’s leftovers. Need I say more?
(Above: Yum, what’s more enticing that getting covered in a paste that’s just been scraped off your intended’s sweaty, hairy body? Picture from here).
- “Pati Ka Aashirvaad”
The unfortunate idea that the husband is equal to a god is illustrated in some weddings where the bride bends and touches the groom’s feet, and in others where the bride and the family wash the groom’s feet. Mr. B has stinky feet and already gets foot rubs anyway (TMI, I know), so that won’t be happening in front of our nearest and dearest. I can understand why, in “the olden days” before shoes and such, when the diligent groom would walk miles (kilometres, if we’re being international) to the bride’s village, that she would honour him by washing the dirt off his feet. Do we really need that today, when grooms arrive in cars, on horses, or in helicopters? No, no we do not.
Why misogynist? We show our Indian parents, in-laws, and elders respect by touching their feet. In marriage, that respect should be equal. I’ve never seen a groom touch his bride’s feet. The groom is able to bless the bride, but the bride cannot bless the groom. And I’ve never seen a groom wash his bride’s feet, have you? The patriarchy stinks more than Mr. B’s feet.
Women leaving their natal homes to move in with their new husbands and his family is bad enough (and responsible for the centuries of crap girls and women have endured by their parents not investing in their education as they’ll be “someone else’s responsibility soon”).
Even more offensive is bidaai, where brides repay the debt they owe their parents for raising them. Rather than, “thanks for all the love, support, and belief in me”, in some parts of Eastern India the bride states “I have paid back all your debts” and chucks some rice at them. How touching.
(Above: “Cheers for putting up with me being a burden and marrying me off, ‘rents. My debt is now cleared.” Picture from here).
Another batshit crazy belief is that women with dodgy horoscopes (called manglik) cause their husbands to die. To get around this troublesome superstition, wifey must first marry either a Peepal tree or a doggy woggy. The evil curse is thus effectively shifted to the unfortunate tree / pooch.
Why misogynist? Despite what Akshay Kumar would have us believe in Toilet: Ek Prem Katha when he married a cow, manglik men do not have to go through with this ritual. Hmm… Double standards, much?
(Above: Even heroine Aishwarya Rai has a manglik dosh. Abhishek is her second husband, the first being a tree. Picture from here).
- Pot Balancing.
A bizarre Bihari ritual where the bride’s mother-in-law places a pot on her head when she enters the groom’s house for the first time. The bride must then touch the feet of her elders and do other chores while balancing the pot. More pots are added and the already overwhelmed wifey must continue balancing them. This ritual is supposed to help the bride achieve the perfect balance between her duties in the home and as a wife.
Why misogynist? The expectation that a woman’s role is as domestic help is so 1950s England. Where’s the corresponding ritual teaching the groom to maintain a balance between housework and married life?
- Mother-Free Wedding.
In some Bengali weddings the bride’s and groom’s mothers are banned from seeing the wedding. It is believed the mothers will bring harm to the wedding and the marriage. Of course, there’s a mythological story behind this tradition, involving Bengal’s favourite goddess, Durga. It goes something like:
Goddess Durga is scoffing a meal…
Kartik: “What are you doing Mummyji?”
Durga: “Once your new wife moves in she might not let me eat properly. However, this is just a cover for the insecurity I feel as a stereotypically overprotective Ma worried that this new harlot is going to steal you away from me.”
Kartik is astounded (and a sucker for emotional blackmail): “If there’s even a possibility of that happening, Ma, I’m not getting married.”
And there we have it, a fine example of the Indian mother’s skill for emotional manipulation. Kartik never did get married, poor chap.
By not attending the wedding, the mothers-in-law are apparently allowed a final opportunity to relax.
Why misogynist? The belief mothers are dangerous and want to harm their children enough they should be banned from the wedding. Surely that dodgy uncle with a proclivity for booze and fast women and sexist views should be banned?
(Above: Kartik, the eternal bachelor, compensating for a lack of wife with a peacock. Picture from here).
Women in North and Western parts of India wear a mangalsutra and women in South India wear a thaali, both are necklaces that indicate marriage. Bangles of various materials are also worn, including conch shell and coral in Bengal. Bridal jewellery should only be removed upon widowhood. That’s a lot of paraphernalia to wear.
Sindoor, or vermillion, is worn in the parting of a married woman’s hair to symbolise marriage. Bindis of various colours and sizes are also worn to indicate a woman is married.
Why misogynist? The expectation that married women are demarcated as such while men are not expected to wear any jewellery (though wedding rings are becoming more popular). Have you ever seen a man wearing sindoor? No, me neither.
These are my top nine worst offenders. Which dodgy rituals have I missed?
I’ll leave you to guess which ritual has caused tension in our house during the planning of Mr. B’s and my upcoming shaadi.