By Dr. S.S. Toshkhani
It is the local customs and rites that make the Mekhal or Yagnopavit a unique experience. This is even truer of Kashmiri Pandit wedding rituals which have a firm Vedic foundation upon which distinctly indigenous Shaiva and Shakta structures are built. Called nethur in their native language, the Pandits regard marriage as the most important of all samskaras. While socially it is necessary for the perpetuation of the family and the race that it ensures through progeny, it has religious sanctity too. Through it alone one can pay off one’s ancestral debt as well as the debt one owes to the gods. Among the four ashramas of life considered necessary by the scriptures, Kashmiri Hindus hold the ashrama of the householder in the highest esteem because it provides support to the entire social structure.
Again like Hindus in general, marriage for them has always been a monogamous affair, a companionship for the whole life and a divinely ordained relationship. Among the eight forms of marriage prevalent in ancient India, it is only the brahmadeya that is current among them in which the father gives the girl to a suitable man of good character who belongs to a respectable family the respectability being determined usually by a sound economic position. Laugakshi and other Sutra authors consider it superior to all other forms of marriage: deva, arsha, prajapatiya, asura, gandharva, rakshasa and paishachi. In the Kashmiri language it is called andyapyath. Another type of marriage, which is actually only a variation of Brahma, is andyut or marriage by exchange. Only economically weaker or socially insecure parents resorted to this type of marriage, which involves a voluntary exchange of sons and daughters. In yet another type variation, known as ‘garapyath anun’, the bridegroom goes to the bride’s place and lives there as a member of her family. In all these types of marriage, however, the same kind of rituals are involved.
Although the ‘Laugakshi Grihyasutra’ says nothing about it, sagotra and sapinda marriages are strictly prohibited among Kashmiri Pandits. This is among the first things that are seen while examining the family of the prospective bride or the bridegroom. The Pandits are divided into 199 endogamous gotras among whom social precedence is governed by spiritual greatness or inferiority of the respective Rishis. More than even gotras, it is the social status and economic position of the family of the boy or that of the girl that matters. And social position was till recently determined by a high post held by the head of the family in government service for one or two generations.
The process of selecting a match for a boy or a girl begins essentially with matching the horoscopes. If the horoscopes do not tally, a match, however good otherwise, is generally rejected. As for the marriageable age, the practice with Kashmiri Pandits has been always to tie the knot in an age in which the two parties are well qualified to make choice and to give consent, except during the Muslim rule, particularly Afghan rule, when child marriages became common. This was because of Islamic influence, besides the feeling of insecurity generated among Kashmiri Hindus during that period. Child marriages continued in the community till the early decades of the Dogra rule, but later the situation changed.
After ‘gandun’ or betrothal, the ceremonies related to marriage begin much in the same way as in mekhal, with garanavay or the ritual cleaning of the house, manzyrath or the night when henna is applied to the bride’s (and the bridegroom’s) hands and feet, and divagon or the ceremony for invoking the blessings of the gods. There is a slight difference between the bride’s and the bridegroom’s divagon ceremony. In case of the bride it is a bit more elaborate and takes a longer time, probably due to remove the ‘pollution’ caused by her menstruation. The bride is also specially dressed up on the occasion and given the ear ornament dejihor to wear for the first time. The dejihor is an ornament that a married Kashmiri Hindu woman wears in both the ears in a way that it dangles from a gold chain or a cord. Though the dejihor denotes a Kashmiri Hindu woman’s married status, it is not a kind of mangalsutra that is to be worn by a woman as long as her husband is alive. A married Kashmiri Hindu woman on the other hand continues to wear the dejihor even after her husband’s death. It is not known when exactly the dejihor came into vogue, but it must be later development as there is no mention of it in any ancient Sanskrit text of Kashmir. Some people believe that it is shaped like a stylized shrichakra. If that is the case, as it appears to be, then it must be a result of the impact of Shaktism on Kashmiri life, which was quite strong in the early medieval times.
A day or two before lagna or the nuptial ceremony, the kulaguru or the family priest of the bride’s parents goes with a lagnachirika (“lagnachir” in Kashmiri) or a letter of invitation on their behalf, inviting the groom and his parents to attend the vivaha homa. The letter, which is in the shape of a beautiful scroll, mentions the exact day, date and auspicious hour of the lagna and also the number of wedding guests and Brahmans expected to come on the occasion. He is respectfully treated by the groom’s side, which accepts the invitation and pays him dakshina for his good offices. This is the last ceremonial act before the wedding.
On the wedding day the groom dressed in a newly stitched suit and a ceremonial turban, wearing a number of flower garlands, is all set for taking the wedding procession to the bride’s place. The wedding guests assemble for this in the courtyard of his house where he is made to stand on a vyug, a circular mandala symbolizing the cosmic circle, drawn in lime and clay colours. A plate of rice grains is placed on one side of the vyug with a coin and some salt placed on top. The eldest lady of the house waves a lighted lamp around his head. The bridegroom’s arrival is announced by the sounding of a conch (shankha). At the bride’s place he is again made to stand on a vyug facing the east amidst vanavun or singing of wedding songs by a company of ladies and a rousing reception by the bride’s side. A man stands behind him holding a parasol over his head. Here too an elderly lady of the house bearing a pot of water waves it around his head. This is known as ‘alat’ which according to popular etymology is derived from the Sanskrit aratrikra’ The bride is also brought out and made to stand on the groom’s left side, and the ceremony of waving lamps is repeated. The pair is then offered a piece of candied sugar or sweetmeat by the eldest lady of the house, which they are required to nibble at by turns. This, it is believed, makes their married life sweet.
The marriage procession is described in the Vedas. The Laugakshi Grhyasutra does not describe it but mentions what it calls “prasthanik karma” or the bridegroom’s departure for his fatherinlaw’s house. What is most interesting and worth noting is that after he performs a homa at his house, his sister accompanies him holding a sword in one hand and the hem of his garment in the other: “tasmin yathoktam upasamadhaya jayabhritibhir hutva pashchad bhagini sicham grihnati shastram grihitva”. They proceed towards a water tank in the eastern direction where the bridegroom, guarded by his sister in this manner, first “touches” the water and then proceeds towards the bride’s house.
In the Sutra period, the bridegroom was honoured by his fatherinlaw by offering him madhuparka or a mixture of honey, curds and ghee. The honey mixture was given to him in a bronze vessel with a bronze cover, which he partook of with the reciting of mantras. Like other Grihyasutras Laugakshi too describes the ceremony in detail, which later developed into a fullfledged reception and a feast for the entire marriage party. But this is only a social custom and not a religious ritual.
As the wedding guests are busy with the wedding feast, the bride and the bridegroom are made to perform a unique Kashmiri ceremony at the entrance of the bride’s house called dvarapuza, without which the bridegroom cannot enter the house to perform lagna or the nuptials. This ceremony involves worshipping the guardian deities of the entrance door, the door being taken to be ‘threshold’ between the outside world and the consecrated space inside offering a passage into a new phase of life. These deities include besides Ganesha, the first god who is offered worship for bringing auspiciousness and removing obstacles, Dharma, Adharma, Dehali, Khinkhini and Meruprakara devata”(gods of the ramparts of the divine mountain Meru). , They are worshipped according to the set procedure after being invoked and offered seat: “Mahaganpataye namah tvam pujayami/ Om pujaya Mahaganapatim Dharmam Adharmam Dehalim Khinkhinim Meruprakara devatanam idam asanam namah/” At this time the bride’s father also asks the bridegroom the purpose of his visit. “To hold your daughter’s hand in marriage, Sir”, the bridegroom replies, and promises that from that time onwards he would treat the bride’s house as his own home.
Bedecked with ornaments and clad in all her fineries, the bride now takes her seat on her father’s right side (“pita dakshina janau kanyam grihitva”). After both are anointed and appropriate mantras are chanted to drive away evil spirits, the ceremony of kanyadana or “giving the daughter as a gift” follows. It is an ancient ceremony performed according to the Brahmadeya system of marriage. According to the Grihyasutras, only the girl’s father has the authority to give his daughter in marriage, but in the Smriti period this authority was extended to other relatives also to take care of the exigencies arising out of untimely death of the father. The ceremony takes place at the exact auspicious hour of the lagna and is witnessed by relatives from both the sides, the officiating priest conducting it with appropriate mantras recited before the sacred fire. The priest makes the bride’s father or guardian address his soninlaw in this manner:” Sir, I offer you my daughter in marriage”, repeating the statement three times. Showing his inclination, the groom replies thus: “Sir, I accept this offer sincerely”. He too repeats his acceptance three times. Both the parties attest to the truth of this statement.
The bride’s father again addresses the groom thus: “tubhyam datta kumara dharme cha arthe cha kame cha tvayeyam parichaniya” [“Sir, I have given my daughter to you in the attainment of dharma (piety), artha (wealth) and kama (desire); you have to look after her”].
To this the groom replies: “mahyam pratigrihita vadhu dharme charthe chakame cha mahyam paricharaniya”. [“Sir, I have accepted the bride in the attainment of Piety, Wealth and Desire. Look after her I will.”]
This statement is also attested by the bride’s father, the groom and the officiating priest thrice.
The bride now takes her seat by the left side of her husband. The priest makes them sit face to face and looking at each other. Together they recite the mantras ‘ samana va akutanisamana hridayani cha” and ‘sam vo manasi samvrata’, repeating the resolve that their intentions shall be one, their hearts shall be one. These mantras are recited to suggest the commonality of interests between both the bride and the groom, and to ensure a relationship in which the minds and hearts, desires and thoughts of both are the same.
After the kanyadana, the bride and the groom themselves perform the rituals. Making offerings of purified butter to the svishtakrita agni in jaya, rahtrabhrit and abhayatana homas, the groom grasps his wife’s hand and addresses her thus: “This am I, that art thou; that I am, this art thou; the Saman am I, the Rik thou, the Heaven I, the Earth thou. Come let us marry. Let us unite our sperm to beget offspring.”
Athavas is the Kashmiri for ‘panigrahana’ or the Grasping of the Bride’s Hand, an essential ceremony of Hindu marriage. But while it is generally the bridegroom who seizes the right hand of the bride, in Kashmir the bridegroom and the bride both clasp each other’s hands, tightly and silently, without reciting any verses. This departure from the general practice is a significant regional feature, suggesting as it does that both the partners have equal responsibility in making their relationship firm and strong. They are made to sit near the kalasha, where they are left alone for sometime facing the east. It is a different panigrahana, however, that Laugakshi has described with the ceremony being accompanied with verses and the groom seizing the hand of the bride who is standing towards the west of the sacred fire. Herself gold complexioned, the bride is adorned with gold ornaments and looks gorgeous. Taking her hand in his hand the husband asks her to unite with him with the desire to have sons and be as firm as a mountain in her devotion to him:
hiranyavarnam suhritam shubhamanam kanyaya haste parigrihya punyami
sa putrakama saubhagya bhartre bhava vashiyan girivat sthiraya.
“This”, says Devapala, the commentator of ‘Laugakshi Grihaysutra’, referring to the above verse, “is recited in Kashmir presently.” The husband praises the bride for her beautiful and fresh looks, praying that all her wishes and desires be fulfilled by mere wishing. When this ceremony changed to the silent clasping of hands seen in athavas, cannot be said.
Lajahoma, a Vedic ceremony in which parched grains are offered into the sacred fire, is a feature of the Kashmiri Hindu marriage also. It is symbolic of fertility and prosperity of the married couple. The brother of the, bride or his substitute, who is called ‘layiboy’, pours out of his cupped hands parched grains mixed with Shami leaves into the joined hands of the bride who offers them to the Firegod. As she is making the offering, the bridegroom chants the verse ‘Aryaman nu devam kanya Agninayakshata’, which means: “The girl has made sacrifice to the god Aryaman, to Agni; may the god Aryaman loosen us from here and not from the husband’s side. Svaha!” What he actually prays for is that his bride should in no way be alienated from him so that they have a peaceful life at home. The girl on her part while strewing the grain into the fire with the corner of a winnowing (or any other) basket or with the fore part of her hand also prays: “May my husband live a long life of virility and success and may my relations prosper. Svaha! May this grain that I have thrown into the fire bring prosperity to thee and may it unite me with thee.” The girl drops the grain in three rounds as the mantras are repeated. The ceremony concludes with the recital of the hymn ‘Tryambakam yajamahe sugandhim patiposhanam’.
Ashmarohana or ‘mounting the stone’ is another Vedic ceremony that the Kashmiris follow, but with some difference. In this ceremony the husband makes the bride take some steps to the north and place her right foot on a stone so that her fidelity to him becomes as firm as a stone. In a Kashmiri marriage, however, the bride as well as the bridegroom both step on the stone and repeat the mantra: “Tread on this stone and be firm like a stone. Tread the foes down; turn away the enemies”.
When the last portion of the parched grains is thrown into the fire, the most important ‘Rite of the Seven Steps’or saptapadi is performed. The seven rounds that the bride and the bridegroom take around the Sacred Fire are essential for the legal confirmation of a Hindu marriage. Among the Kashmiri Pandits the custom is to make the bride step over seven coins (seven hundred rupee notes these days, seven heaps of rice grains originally) following the bridegroom. The mantras recited with each step are the same as those recited by Hindus everywhere:
ekam ishe Vishnus tvanvetu/
dve urje Vishnus tvanvetu/
trini rayi poshaya Vishnus tvanvetu/
chatvari mayobhavaya Vishnus tvanvetu/
pancha prajabhyo Vishnus tvanvetu/
shadritubhyo Vishnus tvanvetu/
dirghayutvaya saptamam Vishnus tvanvetu/
sakha saptapada bhava/
[“One step for sap, may Vishnu go after thee. Two steps for juice (energy), may Vishnu go after thee. Three steps for the prospering of wealth, may Vishnu go after thee. Four steps for comforts, may Vishnu go after thee. Five steps for progeny, may Vishnu go after thee. Six steps for seasons, may Vishnu go after thee. Seven steps for longevity, may Vishnu go after thee. May we be friends with seven steps.”]
The objects asked for in the above mentioned mantras are essential to make married life happy and prosperous. With these seven steps the bride enters the gotra of her husband and the formalities of a legally valid Hindu marriage are completed. It must be noted that here the bridegroom is regarded as an incarnation of Vishnu, the protector and sustainer of the world. He showers benedictions on the bride and says: “Be mistress to thy fatherinlaw. Be mistress to the other daughtersinlaw of the house, of thy sisterinlaw, of the children, property and all.”
Even though the nuptials are considered to be complete after the saptapadi, several symbolic acts still remain to be performed. One such act is showing the sun to the bride with the mantra ‘tachchaakshur devahitam parastat (‘May we look at the myriad eyed sun’). But if it is night she is asked to look at the Sacred Fire as witness ‘astamite agnim. She is also required to look at the Pole Star and Arundhati and other stars for firmness in her devotion to her husband. After this the priest asks the wedding guests and relatives assembled there to bless the bride. It is at this juncture that ‘sindura dana’ or the ceremony of applying vermilion to the parting of the bride’s hair is performed by the bridegroom at a Hindu marriage. This tradition is not mentioned in the Grihyasutras, and is not followed by Kashmiri Hindus. Nor is the varamala ceremony (ceremonial exchange of garlands) prevalent among them. Instead they have some peculiar rituals and customs of their own, some of which are quite interesting.
One such uniquely charming ritual is the ceremonial entry of ‘Ganga vyas’or of the River Ganga as the bride’s friend represented by a young girl belonging to the bride’s side. According to the Kashmiri ritual expert Pandit Keshav Bhatt Jyotishi, this takes place soon after the madhuparka ceremony. She comes as the bride’s confidant and is supposed to take her symbolically for a ritual bath. Nothing is known about the origin or purpose of this ritual, but it appears that in ancient times the bride was actually led to the banks of a river by her female friends for a bath. Later, during the Muslim rule this custom might have been discontinued for fear of religious prosecution. At present there is only an injunction to meditate on the allsanctifying Ganga water ”chaturvidam hi yat putam tachcha Gangodakam smritam”. The young girl from the girl’s side is supposed to be the embodiment of the holy river itself and functions as a witness to the purity of the bride’s conduct and the sanctity of the marriage ceremonies.
Instead of the ceremonial exchange of garlands between the bride and the bridegroom, the motherinlaw of the bridegroom (yajamana patni) ties an auspicious garland on both in Kashmir. This garland is known as mananmal or mangala mala. The turn of the bridegroom comes first who is worshipped as a manifestation of Shiva and Vishnu. The worship is performed in the following manner:
“Maheshwaraya namah dakshina pade/Ttryambakaya namah, vamapade/Ishanaya namah dakshina janau/ Shivaya namah vama janau/ Bhavaya namah dakshina skandha/ Sharvaya namah vama skandhe/ Rudraya namah shirasi/ Vishnave maharajaya samalabhnam gandhonamah”
[“The right foot (of the bridegroom) with the mantra ‘Maheshvaraya namah’; the left foot with the mantra ‘Tryambakaya namah’; the right knee with ‘Ishanaya namah’; the left knee with ‘Shivaya namah’; the right shoulder with ‘Bhavaya namah’; the left shoulder with ‘Sharvaya namah’; the head with ‘Rudraya namah’.”]
After having been worshipped as Vishnu with fragrance, ricegrains, flowers, lamp etc., the mananmal or the auspicious garland is tied to his forehead. In the case of the bride, various manifestations of the Goddess are worshipped with the mantras: “The left foot with ‘Gauryai namah’; the right foot with ‘ Gayatrai namah’; the left knee with ‘Savitryai namah’; the left shoulder with ‘Umayai namah’; the right shoulder with ‘Kantyayani namah’; the head with ‘Bhavanyai namah’.” Lakshmi, the wife of Vishnu, is worshipped with fragrance, ricegrains, flowers, lamp etc.. The right to left orientation in the worship of the bridegroom and the bride must be noted. At the end of the worship the groom and the bride are offered candied sugar (now it has been replaced by sweets and cash and also clothes) and the maternal uncle of the bridegroom is also honoured on this occasion by giving him the gift of sugar candy. The sugar candy, given to the maternal uncle is called ‘mama nabad’. Sacrificial fees and gifts are given to the officiating priests.
Sahashanam or the ‘ceremony of the common meal’ took place in a Hindu marriage at the bridegroom’s house after the chaturthi karma and later turned into a conjugal feast, Dr. Rajbali Pandey informs us. Now it is performed after what is known as “the second marriage”. Among Kashmiri Pandits, however, the newlywed husband and wife dine together on the day of marriage itself, the ceremony being known as ‘daybata’ (‘daya bhakta in Sanskrit). It is performed at the end of the vivahahoma with the choice dishes of the wedding feast given to the bride and the groom in one thali to eat after a portion of it is offered to the Kshetreshas or Guardians of the Quarters as sacrificial food. The couple is served the food in one plate and they offer a few morsels to each other. This is believed to bind. “hearts and minds together”.
There are several more regional rites and customs that are followed in a Kashmiri Pandit marriage. At the vivahahoma the bridegroom has to change his sacred thread having three folds to one having six folds the additional three folds being for his wife whose responsibility he now assumes. In another rite, the bride and the bridegroom are shown each other’s reflection in a mirror. This is perhaps because of the influence of Kashmir Shaivism, which regards the phenomenal world as a reflection of the Absolute Reality. They are also made to go three times round the fire reciting a hymn from the Vedas known as ‘suryavarga’. The hymn says that the universe is like a chariot, the sun and the moon being its two wheels. The chariot keeps going in the right direction because of mutual agreement of the two wheels.
Saraswati, the river and the goddess, both are remembered as the wedding ceremony goes on. A hymn from the Vedas is recited by the bride and the bridegroom in praise of the river Saraswati on the banks of which was once located the original home of the Kashmiri Brahmans. The river, says the hymn, distributes its sweet waters like a mother distributes her wealth to the daughter. Praising the goddess Saraswati, to whom they are so deeply devoted, the husband describes her as a gracious lady of resplendent complexion, beautiful eyes and eyebrows, and prays to her to protect the lifelong companionship between him and his bride.
The concluding and one of the most important rituals of a Kashmiri Hindu marriage is the ‘poshapuza’ or floral worship. The couple is made to sit under the canopy of a red shawl or any other red cloth and the parents of the bridegroom shower flower petals on them. Other close relatives also take part in this flower showering ceremony, regarding the bridegroom and the bride as embodiments of Shiva and Parvati. The verses recited at this time refer to the names of gods and goddesses, sages and seers, incarnations, warriors, famous kings and queens of the Vedic lore, pious mothers etc., perhaps to remind them of ideal children like them. With this the Kashmiri Hindu marriage rituals practically come to an end. The bride and the bridegroom are now blessed wishing them a firm and loving relationship and a long, happy and prosperous married life.