By Kavita Dogra
Surrounded by bright colours, Bollywood tunes, a crowd of people and loads of food a Hindu wedding can be an overwhelming experience. Everyone is dressed in elaborate traditional clothing; and there is an incredible feeling of joy and excitement in the air that is welcoming for anyone attending. At a typical Hindu wedding similar to most others the bride is the center of all attention but not just for one day. There are about 4 events but some of these events like Mehndi (Henna) and Sangeet (Music) are combined into one and done separately on each side. The way in which rituals are carried out at a wedding is mostly based on the couple and their family’s desire, some follow all traditions and others pick and choose.
The leading up ceremonies get everyone together, they are just another excuse to eat a lot of food and dance your night away. These ceremonies give friends a chance to interact with the family of the bride and groom more intimately and also make new friendships with others around. The day of the ceremony is when religion takes center stage, lots of prayers are said, and the couple takes circles around a fire promising varying things to each other. A vital and perhaps most symbolic ritual for the day is called Kanyadaan also known as giving away of the bride. Kanya means girl/woman and Daan means giving/donation in Hindi. During Kanyadaan the groom is to promise the father of the bride that he will help her achieve dharma, artha and kama. This ritual is considered auspicious and dutiful but is also an example of how Hindus give out of duty to their God. A concept we will discuss in further detail a bit later.
The internalization that a daughter at some point is their husband’s responsibility not her parents or fathers in particular is incredible. Once married the onus is solely on the husband but in a very emotional and heartbreaking way the parents don’t think of their daughter as their own anymore. This is mostly symbolic but this sentiment is also what makes the Vidaai an almost unbearable departure for the bride from her parents. This occurs at the end of the wedding ceremony and symbolizes the bride’s departure from her parents into a new life with her husband. As the bride walks away, tearful but hopeful she throws 5 handfuls of rice over her head, so that it falls on the person or people behind her. The rice is symbolic of prosperity and wealth but is also a way of the bride giving back to her parents by wishing that the house she is leaving behind will continue to flourish.
Giving a daughter away occurs in many traditions across the world but in the Hindu ritual there is sacred verse recited and an internal belief on behalf of the father that his daughter is not his anymore. It is believed that once the parents give away their daughter they are washed away of their sins. This brings back the earlier point of giving out of duty and to be closer to God. Hindus do not donate out of a social obligation to help out their community but because it brings them recognition and improves their quality of life after death. Laid out in the religious texts for Hindus is a responsibility to give to the poor or needy and therefore charitable donations are made out of a religious obligation, they believe it to be their dharma (duty). Because they believe in reincarnation and karma that depends on actions in this life affecting in what form you return to earth in your next life, giving is made into a custom. It may sound as though giving in a Hindu tradition is selfish but in fact according to the scriptures acts of generosity have no reward if the attitude with which a gift is given is negative. The value of a gift is merited by the attitude of the donor. Charitable giving is a part of the Hindu culture in a different way than we have come to understand in the western world, it has its ties in religion and occurs at specific occasions. A daughter is perhaps the most priceless gift a man can give but unless he does so with the right intentions even that gift will not bring him closer to God.
“Give. Give with faith. Do not give without faith. Give with sensitivity. Give with a feeling of abundance. Give with right understanding.”
Ilchman, Warren Frederick, Katz, Stanley Nider, Queen, Edward L. Philanthropy in the World’s Traditions. 1998. Indian University Press.
Kanyadaan. Accessed online: http://weddings.iloveindia.com/indian-weddings/kanyadaan.html
K.S. Sripada Raju. Philanthropic Perspectives of Hinduism. Accessed online: