On Thursday, I stumbled upon a tweet thread by a young (Hindu) lady announcing her new marriage. What caught my attention was the bold announcement of how they prevented a ‘colossal waste of money’ by having a simple wedding. At a time when we see lakhs and crores of rupees being spent on lavish weddings, it was a welcome change to come across those who choose to have a simple wedding.
However, my elation was short-lived.
In subsequent tweets as the lady sketched out what all they did in their marriage and how they saved money, it took me no time to realise what they did to save money was to simply discard the ritual aspect of marriage. In her own words, they did away with ‘thali/mangalasutra’ — or the ‘exchange of rings’ — and instead had a ‘simple ceremony’ with ‘exchange of garlands’. However, the concern for saving money did not stop the couple from arranging a cocktail party with karaoke, dancing, and cakes!
Well, ‘their life, their choice’ has always been my approach to other people’s personal lives. However, if somebody tries to project Hindu rituals as expensive and waste of money and try to mask their lack of shraddha in such rituals and traditions by assuming the moral high ground of saving money, all the while spending it on cakes and cocktail parties, I have a problem with that.
It is not the rituals that make the contemporary Hindu weddings expensive; the lavish gifts and grand social gathering do, which are used to assert one’s social position that makes the weddings ridiculously expensive. As Kanchi Paramarcharya, Sri Chandrashekarendra Saraswati had noted, “The marriage ceremony is in fact almost as inexpensive a rite as sandhyavandana. How much is to be spent on it? The newly-weds have to be presented with new clothes (cotton will do), a tirumangalyam (mangalasutra) with a piece of gold attached to it. Only a few close relatives need to be fed. At the time of the muhurta an auspicious instrument must be played. This will cost you a small sum. The other expense is the dakshina paid to the priest. All this is fully in accord with the shastras. Even a poorly paid clerk can perform his daughter’s marriage in this simple manner.”
In fact, a couple can get an Arya Samaj marriage with all the fire rituals for just a few thousand rupees. One need not even use golden maṅgalasūtra and instead use maṅgalasūtra made of turmeric sticks!
Why are the Hindu wedding rituals such a favourite target of Indian feminists and cultural Marxists? The answer is pretty straightforward. Their target is to dismantle Hinduism and Hindu civilisation, and demonisation of Hindu ritual practices is one sure shot way to achieve it. And there can be no better Hindu ritual than the widely prevalent and most visible practice of wedding rituals for such demonisation.
In April 2019, we saw India Gate Foods, a global food brand making an ad on how in Hindu marriages millions of kilograms of rice is wasted and how, if they are instead given to the poor, India’s hunger problem could be solved. Back in 2016, the Save Food Committee in Aurangabad had started a campaign called ‘Akshata’ where they conducted mass marriages where they used flower petals instead of Akshatas (i.e. rice smeared with haldi) and donated the saved rice to feed the birds. Then there is this web-article which suggests pom-poms, bird seeds, rose petals, glitters, dried flowers, and paper-planes as creative alternatives to using rice!
Do we really need to distort Hindu rituals to feed the birds? Can we not feed them even otherwise? How can replacing Akshatas with petals ritualistically help? Is there any basis for such a use in shastra or tradition? Things cannot get any more ridiculous than bird seeds and paper-planes.
Further, If the hunger problem could be solved by merely distributing rice to the needy, the government is already doing so through its ration shops and other such schemes for decades. If the global food brand were really concerned about food wastage and hunger problem, why has it not addressed the issue of food wastage in hotels and restaurants? By some accounts, there were at least 22 lakhs restaurants back in 2002. Today it would be many times more. Compared to this, the use of rice for ritualistic purposes in a wedding, even if we accept their own estimation of 2-5 kg per occasion, as shown in the ad, is minimal.
In the absence of any statistical study establishing what amount of rice is indeed being used in weddings for ritual purposes throughout India across different communities, the figure is unreliable. It is not my case that weddings do not involve food wastage or that there is no need to curb such wastage by spreading awareness. The conflation of the issue of wastage of cooked food, which is a legitimate issue with the use of rice for ritualistic purpose, is the issue.
How can one even designate such ritualistic usage as ‘waste’ to begin with? Does not such designation betray an underlying assumption that rituals are superstitious and meaningless and hence, they must be modified, distorted, or discarded to adhere to our so-called modern progressive scientific values? Such ads can only be construed as an attack on Hindu civilisation and a deliberate demonisation of Hindu marriage rituals.
Then, there is kanyādāna — the eyesore of feminists.
One can see hundreds of articles on the net claiming how the ceremony is gender-unequal and demeaning to women, how it reduces women to a material property and how it is a product of Hindu patriarchy that has oppressed women for centuries. Thus, it was no surprise to me when, in May 2017, it was reported that, during the marriage ceremony of Ashay, the son of then BJP vice president Vinay Sahasrabuddhe, the Kanyādāna was left out of the marriage ceremony. The report quoted Nayana Sahasrabuddhe, the mother of the bridegroom, as saying “I believe that a kanya is not a commodity to be given away as daan. The ritual also takes away all sense of agency from the bride and is as though her parents are abdicating the custody of her.”
If members of the BJP, the so-called Hindu party working to uphold Hindu civilisation, think about kanyādāna as reducing the girl to a commodity, what can be expected of common Hindu men and women? In his strong criticism of the incident, Dr Bharat Gupt, a well-known scholar and an authority on Hindu traditions, had observed: “This sort of bravado shows a complete ignorance of tradition and the meaning of the word daana, which is based on the act of giving.”
The Hindu concept of dāna is much deeper and wider in its scope than the modern notion of charity. Charity in contemporary understanding implies giving away of used items with an intention to help the less privileged. But, dāna has no such underlying implications.
Instead, dāna is considered a dharmic action, a kind of obligation that each individual has towards the rest of society. Such a dāna could be of food, of knowledge, of cow, of clothes, of sacrifices to the ancestors, of assurance, of life, or of bride at a marriage. Since when did knowledge become a material property? Can giving of life or of assurance of protection to others designated as prāṇadāna or abhayadāna be ever called as giving of material property? How can we interpret kanyādāna as reducing of women into material property to be owned by men?
On Quora, we can find queries like ‘What modifications are required to Hindu wedding rituals to make them gender neutral?’ If anything, such queries depict the huge impact of negative narrative that is being propagated against Hindu marriage rituals day in and day out. A good example of such a narrative is this article by Mitali Saran, wherein she suggests the need to re-write Hindu marriage vows to make it gender equal. A good response to the article has already been given by Aditi Banerjee that explains the nuances of Hindu marriage vows and why its sanctity must be maintained and we need not go into detail here.
The point is such propaganda is almost endless. Almost every aspect of Hindu marriage ceremony has been targeted on one or the other grounds. We have articles in feminist websites with provocative titles like ‘No Offence, But What The Sindoor?’ that proclaim that if a woman wears sindūra and maṅgalasūtra it means they are owned by men! We have website-articles with titles like ‘10 Sexist Indian Marriage Customs That Need To Be Banned’ listing kanyādāna, Kāshī yātrā, washing the feet of the groom, applying turmeric to the bride, changing name after marriage among other things as being sexiest deserving to be banned!
There is a serious dissonance between the modern narrative of Hindu practices and how Hindu texts and tradition itself has understood and practised these rituals. This dissonance is not accidental but deliberately manufactured first by our secular education that continues the colonial legacy of de-Hinduisation of society and then, by the breaking India forces who invest in propagating these dismantling ideas through ads and campaigns.
Kanyādāna, Kāshī yātrā, sindūra, maṅgalasūtra: every aspect of a Hindu wedding ceremony is being demonised and Hindu rituals at large are being dismantled.
Time to wake up and take action! Or else, we would perish like the Roman pagans.