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Ceremony -Begging to be Married

The Gaddi tribe in the Kangra valley practices unusual rituals during the nuptials

He looked so aloof, it could have even been passed off as indifference. Dressed in a yellow dhoti with ash smeared on his forehead, a bow and arrow in hand, he bore a strong resemblance to Lord Shiva. This evidently eligible bachelor belonging to the Gaddi tribe in the Kangra district of Himachal Pradesh was getting married but didnít seem to share the enthusiasm of everyone else around him.

Marriage is very important among Gaddis. If one does not marry, he/she is doomed to die a devilís death, believes the community. Wedding festivities are spread over three days, but it is on the second day that the actual ceremony really begins.

On this day, women conduct the rituals. The ceremony begins with the groom begging his mother for a chance to lead his own life. He has to go to her with a begging bowl, seeking her permission to go ahead with the wedding. In keeping with a well-rehearsed script, the mother must send him away with the choicest food, which means that his wish has been granted.

In the verdant hills of the Kangra valley, a marriage procession is a colourful affair. The bright colours of the costumes are in sharp contrast to the green of the surroundings. The women adorn themselves with heavy jewellery. Big nose rings, heavy silver chanderhars, jo-malas and kapor-ki-malas are a common sight. The hair is decorated with a central chiri and a pair of smaller pieces of jewellery are worn behind the ears. A silver chaunk is considered important head gear. Bangles are a must, for no self-respecting women will be seen without them. Most of the jewellery is made from silver and the use of gold is relatively rare.The Gaddi woman likes to show off her jewellery and costumes and a marriage is the perfect occasion to showcase them.

On the first day of the celebrations, Gaddi women sing traditional songs invoking various gods as well as the sun, moon and the earth. After much singing and and revelry, the feast begins. The menu for a wedding usually consists of food items like babroo, lahoda (fried blood cutlets), vegetables, fried mutton, and tea or sur (alcohol). As a rule, mutton is not cooked at the brideís place. For breakfast, halwa or any other sweet is compulsory.

The Gaddi marriage is a fascinating re-enactment of the wedding rituals of Shiva and Parvati. The ceremony begins with Samhut where the purohit worships all the gods-Brahma, Vishnu, the kuldevata (the family god), Navgraha and Kumbha. After the ceremonial bath in the courtyard, the groom, covered in a blanket is made to kick an earthen plate containing burning charcoal and mustard. This simple ritual is believed to ward off the evil eye. The groom has some mock choices to make as well. The priest asks him to choose between a worldly life (jatera) or the life of an ascetic (matera). To opt for the former, he symbolically discards the clothes of a jogi. Then, he takes a ritual bath at Badrinarayan, Trilokinath and Manimahesh by washing his hands, feet and face with water from a vessel kept at the doorway. He is dressed by the purohit and the nai (barber). The sehra, presented by the maternal uncle, is tied to the turban by all the gotris (close relatives).

Traditionally, the groom was carried off in a palki, a far cry from the Maruti 800, which was arranged for this wedding. At the auspicious hour, the bridegroom is taken to the toran, a ceremonial gate specially created for the occasion, where the brideís parents and purohit receive him. The actual ceremony takes place in a mandap-like structure called the bedi. It is decorated with geometrical figures made of rice flour, turmeric and vermilion.

These days, there are variations in the kinds of marriages that take place amongst the Gaddis. The most authentic of them all is dan-pun or dharampun, where the marriage is arranged by the parents without any pre-conditions. However, the most commonly practised one is the bata-sata or marriage by exchange, in which a boy gets a wife in exchange for a girl married to his wifeís brother. Ghar Jawatri or Kamash is one of the rarer forms in which a boy, usually from a poor family serves his would-be in-laws for a period of time, almost like an unpaid domestic help. This form of marriage is on the decline.

Revelry and merry-making are an essential part of Gaddi weddings. For this bold, honest and hard working community, this is a perfect occasion to let its hair down.

Late at night, when the havan fires had died down, the 110-year-old grandfather of the groom stumbled into the gathering in an inebriated condition. With a half-empty whisky bottle in his hand, he looked completely out of sync with the celebrations. He paused for a moment, perhaps sensing that he didnít quite fit in with the changing times. But that didnít stop him from taking part in the celebrations.