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Unorthodox Hindu Marriages


"From the blameless nuptial rites of men spring a blameless progeny ; from the reprehensible, a reprehensible offspring ; let mankind, therefore, studiously avoid the culpable forms of marriage." (Mane iii. 42.)

IN the preceding chapter, the marriage rites and customs of the ordinary orthodox Hindus, and especially of the Brahmins, have been described with some detail. The Brahmanical rites may, to a certain extent, be taken as representing those of most orthodox Hindus. The details differ in different castes, and especially amongst the various and multifarious divisions of what are included under the name of Sudras, but there is a general resemblance in the main points of importance. There are, however, a vast number of people who, though nominally Hindus, do not strictly follow the rules and regulations of the Brahmanical religion. This fact is manifest, in more than any other way, in the rites and ceremonies connected with marriage. To some extent these people have, in the course of long centuries, become absorbed into the elastic fold of Hinduism using that word in its widest meaning. Strictly speaking, however, in a large number of cases, whilst nominal Hindus, they are really mere demon worshippers or something very akin. In giving some description of these unorthodox marriages, I take something that stands, as it were, midway between the Brahmanical or orthodox ceremonies, and those which are almost if not entirely foreign to them. As representing those that stand midway between the two we may take the Mala weddings as fairly representative.

The name Mala is a Telugu one for Pariahs. The lidlas of the Telugu country do not appear to be so low in the scale of actual society as the Pariahs of the more southern parts of India, and they form a large percentage of the people. It is true, they are outcastes who cannot, strictly speaking, take a place in the caste system at all ; but they worship, after their own fashion, Hindu deities, and seem to adopt Hindu prejudices, more and more, as they rise in the world through that industry for which they are noted. Most of this class are connected with agriculture, either as farm labourers or small farmers. Many of them, especially in the irrigated section of the country, own fairly large farms and are tolerably well off. It will be seen in the following details of their marriage rites and ceremonies, how many things there are which are evidently in imitation of the true Brahmanical rites, and also wherein they essentially differ.

When a marriage has been agreed upon amongst the Midas, the father of the youth, accompanied by several of the head men of the village, proceeds to the maiden's abode. This may be in the same hamlet, or in one at some greater or less distance. A consultation is then held between the friends of both parties as to the value of mutual presents, and, if all is agreed upon, the youth's father produces a rupee, to which the maiden's father adds half a rupee. This money is at once expended in drinks for the friends at a neighbouring drinking-shop, after which a feast is given by the bride's people. At this time the girl's people fix upon a day when they will visit the young man's home. At the time agreed upon, the young lady's father and friends proceed to the youth's home, where there is more drinking and feasting. Upon this occasion, a fortunate period having been duly fixed upon, the day for the wedding is definitely settled.

The next thing is the prathanam, or formal betrothal. This often takes place on the same day as the wedding proper, especially if the parties all belong to the same village. The youth does not appear upon this occasion, and the maiden sits quietly in the house ; the prathanam takes place at the bride's house. The elders and friends of both sides sit in opposite groups, when the young man's father hands over the jewels, cloths, and various other things which he has promised as presents to the bride and to her people. The friends on both sides then formally express their willingness to give and receive the bride or bridegroom, as the case may be. When this has been done, a skein of thread, adorned with saffron to represent the mangalasutram cord, is produced, and round it is entwined a cloth brought by the bridegroom's people, or failing that, the turban or head-cloth of the head man of the youth's village. This is then taken hold of by the elders from both sides and is carried to the place where the maiden is seated in the house. It is then carefully placed round her neck. This constitutes the prathanam.

The marriage itself takes place at the young man's house. As a rule, the ceremony is performed at night. Should it take place in the day-time, a young bull must be given by the youth's people, which, after being branded, is set free to wander about at its own sweet will, and to be ever after considered as a divine being. This, however, is only done by comparatively wealthy people, as a bit of ostentatious display. The dasari, or Midas priest, must be present on this occasion, and also a band of musicians. There will always be a large concourse of friends and relatives. Probably in imitation of the Brahmanical ceremony described in the previous chapter, a place is prepared in the house on the western side near the wall, upon which a number of earthen pots duly adorned with various colours, and called in Telugu ariveni or aireni, are placed. These usually number eleven or thirteen, two of which should be very large. Brahmins do not use the ariveni ; but they are always used at the marriages of Sudras and in some cases of Vaisyas and so called Kshatriyas. A skein of yellow thread is wound round the mouth or opening of the pots. In front of these various lamps are put, which must be kept alight for five days. In front of the lamps earth, which has been fetched from the tank and in which nine kinds of grain have been mixed, is scattered about. This earth is called in Telugu pants bangaram, or golden produce, and it is brought from the tank, with much ceremony, by five women, accompanied by a band of music. A. cloth is held. up over them as a canopy.

In front of the house door, a pandal or temporary shed is erected, underneath which a small star-shaped mound of earth is prepared, and adorned with coloured pigments. This is called in Telugu pendli arugu, or the marriage mound, and it is kept adorned for some time until it is washed away by the rains, or in some other way disappears. By the side of this are placed four low stools, and the bride and bridegroom are brought forward and seated upon two of them, the other two being occupied by a female relative of the bride and a boy relative of the youth. All sit facing towards the east. The priest then proceeds to tie on the forehead of each of the pair the ornament called basikam, already mentioned in the previous chapter as being made of sticks and coloured thread. That on the youth is triangular in shape, whilst that on the maiden is oblong. These are worn during the whole of the marriage ceremony at any time when the rites are being performed. The nails of the hands and feet of the bride and bridegroom are then paired by a barber, or by one of the musicians. After this coloured rice is applied to the forehead of the couple by some of those present. The pair are bathed and adorned with gay clothing, after which they return to the pandal where they are tied together with the Brahma knot already described.' They are then made to stand in front of the prepared place, when the Brahma knot is untied, and a cloth is held up between them as a temporary curtain so as to hide them from each other. A silver ring is now placed by one of the musicians on the second toe of each foot of the bride, and a small vessel containing rice is tied up in her cloth round her waist. After this each one of the couple places the right foot upon that of the other. The cloth screen is now held horizontally between the pair, and over this they place their hands into which the priest pours rice made yellow with saffron. The priest now ties a green leaf, which has been rolled up, to the wrist of the bridegroom as a temporary bracelet. The bridegroom, then pouring the rice from his hands into the cloth, proceeds to tie a similar leaf to the wrist of the bride. These mock bracelets must stay on for several days. The mangalasutram is now brought forward with much ceremony, and the bridegroom ties it to the neck of the bride. During this operation the priest says a Sanscrit blessing to the following effect.'


"We adore Brahma the eternal, invisible, immaculate, in whom are all perfections and who is the support of all the worlds.

They alone are pandits (learned men) who know him who is the eternal light to the three worlds, who is the creator, preserver and destroyer, the Omniscient God.

Worship Ramachendra who, born of the dynasty of the sun, is associated with Sita and Lakshmanna ; who is served by Hanuman and others, whose whole nature is love, yea who is the very personification of love.

We adore Rama who sits on the golden throne, who is worshipped by Brahma and others and who is the giver of all good things.

0 supreme God ! at what time any worship thy lotus-like feet : that, to them, is an auspicious time, that is a propitious star, that is a favourable lunar day, that is a lucky conjunction of planets.

(The priest) must repeat the eight nuptial blessings. He must repeat the proper mantrams at the feet-washing ceremony and when the mangalasutran is tied on, also when the hands are clasped and when the rice is poured on each others heads. When the Brahma, knot is tied, then we must visit arundhathi.

Ye having worshipped the gods near the ariveni and having made obeisance unto them, peace be unto you."

After the tying of the mangalasutram, which constitutes the binding rite of the whole ceremony, the youth again takes up into his hands the rice which he had poured into the cloth. The bride. holds hers in her hands all this time. He now pours his rice upon her head and she pours hers upon his. This rice is supposed to represent pearls. The screen cloth is now taken quite away and the cloths of the couple are again tied together in the Brahma knot. The friends who are present then scatter rice upon the heads of the pair. The bride's father brings forward a ring and a new loin cloth which the priest takes, proclaiming in a loud voice that the father has given these things to the bridegroom ; the latter then puts the ring on his finger. The friends on either side now present to the pair the wedding presents they may have brought—money or cloths or ornaments or brass and copper vessels. It is considered the proper thing that presents of equal value to those thus received should be returned to those who thus present them, and much-ill feeling arises when this is not done. After this, the fathers of both parties walk round the sacred place three times, each carrying one of the pots. When this is all over, the priest 1 takes the couple and shows to them the star arundhathi, to which they make obeisance. The young couple now join hands, the bride groom hooking his left little finger into that of her right hand. Thus joined together they go to the house and stand in the doorway of the room in which are lights and coloured pots. Inside the room there are some female friends who sing for sometime. The newly-married pair give them a present of some money. They are then allowed to enter and stand before the ariveni pots and lights to which they do obeisance. I give two specimen songs translated from the Telugu language. The first is supposed to be a dialogue between the bridegroom, who is standing outside the house with his bride, and his sister who is inside. He wishes to enter the house and she refuses admittance, in order to extract from him the promise he at length gives. The song is sung antiphonally by two groups of the women. The shower of pearls and diamonds spoken of is an allusion to the pouring of rice by the couple over the head of each other after the tying of the mangalasutram.


" The white pearly shower has now fallen ; Your sister is drenched to the skin. Dear sister unbolt the closed door, Why tarry, oh! please let us in.

The white pearly shower has not fallen ; Our sister's not drenched to the skin. How can we unbolt the closed door ? 'Tis now that our quarrel begins.

The shower of great diamonds has fallen, Your sister is drenched to the skin. Dear sister unbolt the closed door, Why tarry, oh ! please let us in.

No shower of great diamonds has fallen, Our sister's not drenched to the skin. How can we unbolt the closed door ? 'Tis now that our quarrel begins.

The shower of rich gems has now fallen ; Your sister is drenched to the skin. Dear sister unbolt the closed door ; Why tarry, oh ! please let us in.

No shower of rich gems has now fallen, Our sister's not drenched to the skin. How can we unbolt the closed door 2 'Tis now that our quarrel begins.

I'll give you a sheet and young heifer ; My daughter I'll give to your son. So sister unbolt the closed door ; Why tarry, oh ! please let us in.

The bridal pair are now admitted into the house where they take up a position before the ariveni. Then all the women in concert sing some such song as following :—THE


" Oh potter ! Oh potter I go make ariveni, We'll have a fine wedding at home.

Make clay ariveni and small ones of silver, The time for the marriage has come.

The potter has kneaded the clay all so deftly, With legs all so crooked they tell.

On Tuesday he chose it, on Friday he shaped it, On Sunday he finished it well.

The potter's wife smiled so to see ariveni

In honour of Lakshmi thus made.

She took them and placed them with joy and with laughter, To stand in the house in the shade.

I This is an allusion to the custom by which the bridegroom's sister asks for her son. the hand in marriage of the bride's future daughter.

The priest he is witness that all is done rightly, The Brahma knot sacred is tied ;

And Cupid who clasped the two bracelets is witness, That all is done well for the bride.

Why do we this worship to our ariveni

For sons to be born to this pair.

All these will be granted with wealth and contentment, And joy with which naught can compare."

By this time it is daylight and the company all separate for some time, after which the newly-married couple and their friends, accompanied by the usual musicians make a procession through the village. A white cloth is held over the couple as a kind of canopy, and a supply of betel is also distributed to friends on the way. If the couple are farm labourers, they will go to the house of their master and receive something by way of a wedding present. The procession is usually on foot, but sometimes the bridegroom will be on horseback with the bride sitting in front of him, if she happens to be a little girl ; otherwise, if the people are well-to-do, she may be seated in a palanquin, or she may walk by the side of the horse. When the procession is finished, the couple worship the village goddess, usually represented by a rough stone image, placed under a tree or on the bank of a tank.

This procession is followed by a great feast given by the father of the bridegroom, and for which a pig is often slaughtered to form the wedding dish. After the feast, a game is sometimes played, in which the young couple are hoisted up on men's shoulders. They throw coloured powder at each other as they are danced around. This is called degata or the hawking game. On the fifth day the temporary bracelets are taken off with some few ceremonies, and the bride goes on a visit to her mother's house. One of the ceremonies, on the taking off of the bracelets, is for the head man of the village to place some boiled rice in the bride's hands, when she, standing before her husband, says, " In trouble and in joy I will always cleave to thee and will never leave thee." - She then places the rice in his hands and he says similar words.

The marriages of the Madigas, or skinners and tanners, are performed in much the same way, only there is usually more spirit drinking than is the case with the Malas, and consequently there is more brawling and noise.

For the nuptial ceremonies of the non-orthodox tribes, which will now be described, I am indebted to the Government Manuals of the Nellore, Madura, and Nilgiri Districts, reference to which will afford much interesting information concerning the various tribes in question.

The marriage rite of the Yeruklas is said to be of a -very simple character. These are a tribe of wandering gypsy-kind of people, whose temporary huts may be seen on the outskirts of villages throughout the country. They are said to practise polygamy, and the marriage ceremony usually takes place on a Sunday. Various kinds of worship are performed on the previous day, but on the Sunday fixed upon, rice mixed with turmeric is poured on the heads of the couple and the mangalasutram is tied round the neck of the bride. This simple ceremony completes the marriage.

Amongst the Yanadies, another migratory aboriginal tribe who gain their livelihood chiefly by hunting, and making and selling mats and leaf-plates, and gathering and selling firewood and other jungle produce, the marriage seems to be based on the consent of the parties themselves. The man and woman arrange the matter between themselves, and afterwards at a gathering of friends betel is distributed, the mangalasutram is tied on, and the woman is taken to her husband's house.

Hitherto I have been speaking of things as they are in the Telugu country. Farther south, in the Tamil speaking parts, there are many varieties of the marriage rites amongst the various aboriginal tribes.

The Karakat Vellalans, for instance, who live on and near the Palni Mountains in South India, have very peculiar marriage customs. The ceremony is performed in a booth, erected for the purpose before the house door of the bride. The bride and bridegroom are seated on the floor with their faces towards the east. A lamp is kept burning on a stool near where they sit, whilst a measure of grain and a rude image of Ganesha made of cowdung, is placed near them. After both have prostrated themselves before the symbol, the bridegroom receives the mangalasutram from some of the relatives present, which he proceeds to tie round the bride's neck. At the same time a bowl of milk is brought, in which a few leaves of the peepul tree have been steeped. The relatives on both sides then sprinkle some of this milk upon the heads of the pair. The newly-married couple then prostrate themselves before their several relatives, and the day's ceremony is concluded with a feast and a formal distribution of betel. This concludes the marriage ceremony. On the following day the bridegroom gives a grand feast, when various marriage presents are distributed to the bride and her relatives.

Amongst the Maravans, a people dwelling mostly in the extreme southeast of the peninsula, the marriage ceremonies are very strange and unusual. After a marriage has been agreed upon by the principal members of two families, a few ,of the relatives of the intended bridegroom go to the house of the bride, and then, with or without her consent and, even perhaps without having sought the consent of the bridegroom, they tie upon her neck the mangalasutram whilst conch shells are blown loudly outside. They then escort the bride to the house of her husband. A feast is given which lasts for several days. Processions are formed through the streets and a cocoanut is broken before an image of Ganesha. These and a few other ceremonies conclude the marriage rites. There is one curious custom which must be noted when these people have not the means to pay for the feast and other expenses. They simply tie on the mangalasutram, upon which the parties live together as man and wife. The other ceremonies, however, must be gone through at some time or other, when means admit of it. Should the husband happen to die before the defect has been supplied, the friends and relatives at once borrow money, if they have none by them, and proceed to complete the marriage ceremonies in the presence and on. behalf of the corpse. The dead body supposed to be the bridegroom is placed on a seat with the woman by it. After this gruesome ceremony, the mangalasutram is taken off the woman and she is free, as a widow, to remarry.

Amongst the KaHans, an important caste in the south, a marriage alliance depends upon consanguinity, and it is entirely irrespective of the wishes of either parties to the contract, or even of their parents. When a wedding has been fixed upon, the sister of the bridegroom, with a present in her hand, goes to the house of the parents of "the bride and ties some horse-hair round the bride's neck. She then takes her, accompanied by some of her relatives, to the house of the bridegroom where a feast is prepared. After, the feast the pair are conducted to the house of the bridegroom where a solemn exchange is made of vallari thadis or boomerangs. Another feast is then given in the bride's house, and the bride is presented by her parents with some rice and. a hen. The bride and bridegroom, now husband and wife, then repair to his home and the marriage ceremony is complete.

There is a caste of cultivators in the south called Tottiyans, who perform their weddings as follows. Two booths are erected, outside the limits of the village, and in each of them is placed a bullock-saddle, and upon these are seated the bride and bridegroom, whilst the relatives and friends congregate around. The attendant priest addresses the assembly, after which the price of the bride, usually so much grain; is carried under a canopy of white cloth to the house of the bride's father. This procession, which is heralded by music and dancing, is met by the friends of the bride, who receive the grain, and they all go together into the house. Here betel is distributed and mutual congratulations exchanged, after which the whole party is led to the bride's booth by the priest. Arrived there, the priest receives at the hand of the bridegroom a small chain of black beads and a tiny circlet of gold. The priest then proceeds to tie the chain round the bride's neck and attaches the circlet of gold to her forehead, with which ceremony the marriage is complete. This is succeeded by the usual feasting, without which it does not seem possible for a marriage to take place anywhere.

There are people of a very low status like the Poleiyans, for instance, whose marriage ceremony merely consists of a declaration of consent made by both parties at a feast to which all the relatives are invited.

I now proceed to describe the nuptial rites of the hill tribes of Southern India which are of the most simple and primitive character./

Amongst the Todas early betrothals are common, and the agreement is ratified by an interchange of buffaloes. When the time comes for the marriage to be consummated there is another exchange of buffaloes.

This account of Toda, Kota, Kuramba, Irula and Badaga ceremonies is taken from the " Rilgiri Manual," compiled by the late Mr. Grigg, I.C.S.

The only ceremony is that the woman bows down before the man and he places his foot upon her head. This humiliating acknowledgment of submission on the part of the woman is not what one would have expected in a tribe where polyandry is practised. The wife is installed in her position by proceeding to perform some household duties, such as cooking and drawing water.

The Kotas, a tribe dwelling on the slopes of the Nilgiri Hills, perform their marriages in the following manner. It is usual for the couple to be betrothed when they are quite young and, when the girl becomes of a marriageable age, she is sent for to the house of her future father-in-law. The usual marriage feast is given, followed by music and dancing, and the ceremony is concluded by the bridegroom's mother tying the mangalasutram round the bride's neck.

Amongst the Kurambas, who are also dwellers on the Nilgiri slopes, there seem to be no marriage rites whatever. When a couple decide to come together, or even after they may have been living together for some time, a feast is given to their friends and the marriage is complete.

With the Irulas, another Nilgiri tribe, there is no marriage ceremony, neither is there any previous betrothal. When a youth comes of age to choose a wife, he finds one for himself and the matter is ended.

The Badagas, who are dwellers on the Nilgiri plateau, are said to be the descendants of Canarese colonists. Amongst this people marriages are contracted without 'any special rites and the marriage tie is held by them very loosely. After a couple have agreed to come together, a time of probation is allowed during which either of the parties may draw back and decline to go on further with the connection. A man may make several of these temporary alliances before he definitely decides upon a partner for life. There is some feasting when a definite alliance has been agreed to, and that is all there is by way of rites and ceremonies.

Nothing has been said in this chapter of the polyandry and polygamy which exist as institutions amongst some tribes and nations of India ; nor have I touched upon the question of divorce which, though unknown amongst orthodox Hindus, is freely practised amongst some castes and tribes,

( Originally Published 1908 )

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