A few days back I attended a Vivah Sanskar – Hindu wedding – in Patna, Bihar. I was invited by the family of Mr Swayam Prakash, coordinating editor of Hindustan Times in Bihar. I was astounded to witness de visu how much we have in common, but also some differences in customs and traditions. Over 181 years of implantation in Mauritius, it is remarkable how time-bound practices are maintained even in the era of globalization and internet.
One thing in common with all Hindu marriages, whether in India or in the Diaspora, is that they are all governed by the Solah Sanskars or sixteen sacraments which refer to the Hindu rites of passage from birth to death.
The Vivah Sanskar has come down to us from the Vedic Period. Manu says that “the whole Veda is the first source, the sacred law”. The Hindu marriage ceremony entails not only rites and rituals, which take their origin from the Rig Veda, but also other household manuals known as Grihya Sutras. The Grihya Sutras are many and in ancient times each family had their own Grihya Sutras.
Customs and traditions vary from place to place
These are known as the Smritis. As the people of Indian origin in Mauritius hail largely from the Bihar-UP region as well as from several other states of India such as Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra and Gujarat, they have also brought along the customs and traditions prevailing there. Customs vary according to (1) deshacharas, (2) kulacharas, and (3) jatya-charas. The tying of the auspicious yarns, wearing garlands, tying of the garments of the bride and bridegroom are not found in Grihya Sutras but nonetheless have been handed down as gramvachana – what the elders of the locality prescribe by tradition. That is why one notes several such variations that accompany the main Vedic rites.
According to my observations at the wedding, I noted the following variations from what is generally obtained here among people of Bihari/Bhojpuri origin. The family of the bride Shivpriya, a secondary school teacher belonging to a middle class Bihari family in Patna originally hails from North Bihar, precisely in Chappra from where many Mauritians trace their origin.
Haldi dinner, uniquely Mauritian
The evening I arrived on 28th January 2016, I attended the haldi ceremony at the bride’s place. The haldi ceremony was very much a private affair, whereas in Mauritius it has assumed the character of a big event. Any guest invited may apply the auspicious turmeric paste on the bride and bridegroom in Mauritius.
The haldi dinner is also a typical Mauritian fiesta. The Grimitias had to use locally available foodstuffs in the hard days of immigration. This has become a generalized form of haldi dinner whether at the elite’s or common man in the village, where all are served food together on banana leaves : nowadays synthetic ones. This is irrespective of status and class.
In Patna, it was absolutely a private haldi dinner with only family members and friends being present. Thirty years ago one used to sit on the mat and eat in dried (patal) leaves. Nowadays, modernity has changed many prevailing habits in India too. Men and women eat together. The way the haldi is applied is more or less the same as practised here.
The next evening was an entirely woman affair. All the womenfolk of the house lent themselves joyously to mehendi application to the extent that we had to be served tea and snacks by helpers as both our hands were decorated with intricate mehendi applications. The bride of course had the bridal mehendi par excellence with very intricate designs on hands and feet.
Women of the family sang Bhojpuri wedding songs and some danced. But our Geet Gawai can be said to be a very unique manifestation in the whole world, not even seen in Bihar, in the way it is held here. Women group together here and are called upon to come and perform at the homes of brides and bridegrooms. It has also become a small side business too. As most weddings in Mauritius are organized over the weekend, the Geet Gawai here falls on Friday evening. The women in Patna sang every evening beginning from the day I arrived.
On the third day, that is the 30th January, the evening was one of joyous gay abandon in the family. More singing among women took place, with families pouring in from all over the country. Accommodation is arranged in guest houses, hotels, etc., and close ones sleep on the mattresses laid down on the floor as we used to do here too sometime back. Friends kept pouring in.
The marroh or wedding altar still made of bamboos was perched right on the roof of the flat and beautifully decorated as is required. In Mauritius, we make more elaborate marrohs undertaken by contractors now as we receive guests running into several hundreds for the haldi ceremony.
The wedding proper was held in two parts. The first was the Jai Mala where the bride and bridegroom exchanged garlands in a big pavilion in front of all the guests. The huge wedding pavilion was very similar to what we have here. The “barat” came with much fanfare – band baja, ghora, lots of feu d’artifice. VIPs included the Chief Minister, Shri Nitish Kumar, ministers and MPs and other dignitaries just as over here. There were hired singers to entertain the guests. After the Jai Mala, dinner was served by caterers – with a paan corner. The food was as everywhere in India, a lavish affair with a horde of varieties, but strictly vegetarian, with the typical Bihari menu: litti chokka. But the domela as we do here in Mauritius though Bihari is typically Mauritian.
Whole night wedding ceremonies
That was the first, ‘public’ part of the wedding. The second part which I attended throughout was more of a private ceremony at home with only family members and close friends. The various preliminaries to the wedding were the same as we do here with mati korai imli ghontai, guratha by the bridegroom’s elder brother, as were those associated with kanya dan. The girl’s mother gave the kanyadaan. Lawa milai by the girl’s brothers was performed.
The sindur dan was done in full view of everybody, with no veil as is done here, and the bridegroom applied the vermilion colour profusely on the hair parting of the bride. After the sindur dan they changed seats, and the pandits explained the seven vows to both. The gifts brought by the bridegroom were a very big assortment of different jewellery sets, several saris, fruits, sweets, etc., in large baskets.
After the wedding, the bride and bridegroom went to the kohbar where the dwar chaikai by salis (bride’s sisters) and gharbharai and kheer khawai were performed. The wedding ceremony started at 10 pm and ended at six in the morning, a whole night affair. There was no lavish chawthari as we have developed in Mauritius, but the close members of the dulha (Vimlesh Kumar) were treated to a meal before they hilao the marroh, to tell the gods and goddesses gently that they may now depart after having given their blessings.
At 7.30 am the bidai ceremony took place with the bride’s brother wiping her feet as she sat crying in the bridal car. As in all Hindu families, this is a very poignant and emotion- packed situation. Later in the evening, the bride’s parents and close relatives were invited to a reception/dinner at the dulha’s place.
By and large whether in Mauritius or India, the main wedding rites common to all Hindu marriages are the (1) Kanya Dan ceremony, (2) the saptapadi (which is often confused with saat phere), (3) the invocation of the seven vows in front of the sacred fire – Agni who is the main witness to the wedding. The parikrama around the sacred fire comprises four rounds by the bride and bridegroom according to most Grihya Sutras. But the Hindi cinema has popularized the concept of saat phere. These days Sangeet based on Bollywood dance items is performed on marriage occasions by youngsters of the family both in India and Mauritius.
Dr Sarita Boodhoo is the author of the well-known book ‘Kanya Dan’, a reference on Hindu marriage
* Published in print edition on 26 February 2016