Evolution, Revolution & Mutation of Kanyadaan by Manyavar

29 Sep,2021

 

By Sanjeev Kotnala

 

Sanjeev KotnalaMatriarchy, patriarchy, new norms and rules, purposeful intent, a lot is happening worldwide on equal opportunities and an unbiased evaluation of women’s contribution to life. Advertising is not left untouched. Brands are seeking a say in it with their camouflaged purpose-led communication.

 

They are trying to pick things that are now considered unquestionably questionable. However, they result from changes in life, society, expectation, experiences through the ages. In this evolution process, the new rituals with ignorance and misunderstanding of the original thinking and real purpose have crept in.

 

The evolution of societal role assignment has polarised roles. One party took a dominant seat, and the other was pushed back to such an extent that it now demands a revolution. It is no longer satisfied with the slow-paced evolution. There is a vested interest in the well-intended commercial businesses fuelling the fire.

 

There is a kneejerk reaction to a situation. What one understands is simple and somewhat controversial, might even be wrong. Revolution leads typically to mutation. And one mutation cannot be the answer to another.

 

Men are in a crisis and victims of the same social setup and value systems. Women are no outsiders to the deteriorated situation and misaligned understanding. It is natural for them to want a share of the material powergame. In that sense, many things are not about reversing the power gap but evolution to the desired status. Equal say, equality of opportunities and consideration for the women contribution is a result of the process. As a result, a lot of process and affirmative actions for women has been rightly introduced. Some of them are actions like the custody laws, divorce laws, triple talaq, opening of new frontiers, breaking the glass ceiling, the reduced taboo around menstruation, and laws against objectifying women. But it might not be enough or not fast enough.

 

Family and marriage should not necessarily be seen as patriarchal institutions invented to subjugate women. Behind the women’s demand for revolution is a demand for equality and respect. No one can find fault at it.

 

Many women readers could object to current rituals and expectations. They may rightly say, ‘I wish it was always like that, but it isn’t’, and they might not be far from the truth. The new push against female foeticide, child marriage. Parental leave. Push for education and resulting financial strength are positive outcomes. But it may take ages to happen, and hence the need felt for revolution.

 

However, society too follows a bell curve. There will always be a mix of bad and good, supportive and oppressive, facilitating and barrier creators, patriarchal and matriarchal POV. The right and wrong are contextual and much complex than a simple #Kanyadaan to #KanyaMaan.

 

Women have lived a complex life. They are the pivot of the family in more ways than one, juggling relations, maintaining relationships, balancing the budget, and making the  house a home. In fact, they dominate the transfer of legacy, culture, and social values to the next generation. In many ways, these contributions are so hidden that they fail to be realised. As a result, the lives seen through the societal lens of experiences are not comparable across genders.

 

However, does it not give brands a right to wrongly portray the situation and rituals of only one religion and suggest corrective measures? Why are brands blind to other religions traditions and practices? Do they lack a spine to do so? Or do they fear a violent backlash?

 

Yes, I am totally irritated with this appalling situation. And when brands try to define society and start commenting on it, they better be willing to share the repercussions, however well-intended their actions be.

 

‘Real-life needs a more intelligent, holistic, nuanced and science-based intervention and not one driven by ideological antagonism and resentment against patriarchy or rituals of a religion. (Comment picked up from a discussion in a closed WhatsApp group)

 

Patriarchy exists, however, it did not happen overnight. It is a social evolution based on circumstances. If the situations change, the rituals and their meanings are bound to change. But a revolution that mutates the mindset due to gross misrepresentation is not the solution.

 

Yes, differences exist, and they are bound to exist. Roles are assigned based on social expectations and situations, which were driven by pure biological needs, property consolidation, physical attributes, and the ecosystem. Some experiences may not be exactly right by today’s standards, and one is right to question them. It is life.

 

The truth: If you fight for women, you are a hero! If you fight for men, you are a misogynist! If you defend your religion, you are radicalised! And I am happy to be a hero, a misogynist and radicalised at the same time.

 

The concept of paraya dhan seems to be easily understood and exists across religions. Giving away of the bride has been wrongly established as a Daan or giving away the responsibilities.

 

The lives in the urban and rural world, the world of the haves and the have-nots’, the life in Bharat and India are different. The ecosystem is different. The lives are different, and the interpretation, naturally different. Somewhere female kids are seen as a burden and an asset for social alliances and growth in other places. And in a lot many places, the Maan of the family.

 

I am not against change and a brand trying to make it their purpose. In such a case, few things are essential. Authenticity and Consistency. And more than that, a proper understanding of the rituals. No lazy armchair analysis and no polarised communication emerging from a lack of misguided understanding. It will only result in poisoning the mind of the generation and further alienate them from the real meaning.

 

Brands can take the right way. Project the proper understanding and meaning. Remind and revise the culture and not just try pin-pointing the wrong, if any. The biggest problem is the freedom of making choices and decisions impacting their own lives. And most of these need to have a constitutional and law-based solution, not a one-film wonder. Till personal laws remain different, till a country is not governed under the same law and grant equality, equality of gender will remain a distant fantasy.

 

Having said so, I have a question for these well-intending brands. Is there no way to be good without pointing to someone else as bad? Am I been too idealistic? Or is being politically, societally and religiously incorrect the new politically correctness for the brands?

 

If someone really pursues the subject, they will understand that ancient Indian thinking, the progressive variety, has complete gender differentiation but much respect for women. And here I am, not even using the term Hindu.

 

Much has been said and written about this #Kanyadaan and #KanyaMaan. But the best that I read and endorse seem to be captured in the tweeted thread by @MumukshuSavitri. It correctly identifies it not as an Alia Bhatt ad- but a brand Manyavar advertisement featuring Alia Bhatt. And here, the brand is to be questioned and not the endorser.

 

Can Manyavar refute that Kanyadana and other rituals of the Vivaha ceremony in Hindu marriage are not patriarchal but show immense reverence and Mana for the bride? If not, they must apologise and withdraw this highly offensive ad and stop demeaning & demonising Hindu customs.

 

Can brands stop half-baked attacks and false representation of the Hindu religion? And while saying it, I am not asking the brands to look and project rituals in any other faith as wrong. I ask them to detest from interfering and objectifying, downgrading Hindus, the tolerant ones.

 

 

The tweet takes offence to the brand Manyavar claiming #KanyaDaan in Hindu Marriage objectifies women. And I #ignorantHindu share it for a wider reach.

 

…………………………………………..

 

THE TWEET TEXT . I have done minor correction in the text- and the original tweet can be read above. Few brackets in the below text are my addition.

 

In reality, no other marriage ceremony in the world honours & reveres the bride as wholly as the Hindu Vivaha (marriage) ceremony.

 

Marriage is seen as a means of spiritual growth; the husband and wife are co-partners in religious life and function. The wife is not a mere pleasure companion of her husband for the temporal life. Manu (9.26) states; The husband is said to be one with the wife. The wife is designated ARDHAGINI. i.e. the half part of the body of the husband as constituted by the wife. Women are created, by the Atman, as equal halves of man, thereby completing them, like halves of a shell complete the whole shell.

 

Undoubtedly, patriarchal distortions crept into Hindu marriages due to the dark age of Islamic rule when women were raped, molested & killed relentlessly. Social evils like child marriage & dowry arose due to the desperation of Hindus to marry their daughters & protect them. (societal evolution and mutation).

 

Authoritative Hindu texts, however, expressly forbid treating the bride as a material object to be exchanged. The Manu Smriti clearly warns that anyone selling their daughter for any price & treating her like property is assured a place in Hell.

 

None of these later patriarchal distortions in the Vivah rituals were sanctioned by original Hindu sacred texts. The Hindu Vivah has always based its essential rituals on the famous cosmic marriage described in the most ancient Rig Veda (Mandala 10, Sukta 85).

 

The Rig Vedic verses describe the cosmic union of the Sun with the Moon. Surya Savitri is the sun bride & Soma, the moon groom. The Vivah honours this celestial marriage by reciting the same Rig Vedic Mantras as a reminder of the sanctity & cosmic significance of Vivah.

 

Surya and Soma are the prototypes for all Hindu couples as human marriages follow the pattern of the celestial union. The bride & groom re-enact it to unify & elevate their lives & walk together on the path to Moksha, as Hindus believe humanity is a reflection of divine life.

 

The Nirukta provides the etymological basis of Vedic terms. It defines Kanya as derived from the root “Kan”, which means to illuminate. So the bride/Kanya symbolises the illumined Sun who fulfils creation & the groom symbolises the Moon who receives & reflects her light.

 

This deliberate usage of the word “Kanya” reveals the real intent of Kanyadaan. If it was about giving away a daughter, Putri or Duhita would suffice. The specific usage of Kanya emphasises the Rig Vedic view of the bride as the illuminating Sun, Surya Savitri.

 

Vedic rituals were later elaborated in many Grihya Sutras, like Apastambha, Bharadwaja, Baudhayana, etc., to understand the ceremony, rituals & local customs according to the Gotras. These rites demonstrate how the Hindu bride is revered & respected in every part of the Vivah.

 

From the initial betrothal ceremony (Kanyavarana) itself, tradition requires the groom to appear in his best clothes to ask for the guardian’s consent to the marriage. Once consent is given, he must first worship the bride & pray to her for good luck, health & children.

 

The bride’s guardians perform Kanyadana to bestow the luminous Surya (the sun bride) to be received by Soma (the moon groom). Ignorant people understood this to mean donation (dana) of an object when it actually refers to receiving her energy as Kanya-Adana.

 

During the Kanyadana, the guardians recite Mantras bestowing the bride as Lakshmi, who unites with the groom representing Vishnu. This is a symbolic transformation of the cosmic Surya & Soma manifested in earthly forms to mimic the ideal divine pair Lakshmi & Vishnu.

 

Kanyadana thus treats the bride as divine energy. It shows both mana (respect) & parigraha (reverence) for the bride, so for Manyavar to coin a new term, “Kanyamana”, is ridiculous. It indicates they know nothing about Hindu marriage & even less about the Sanskrit language.

 

After Kanyadana, the groom asks the guardian, “Who gives this bride to me?” And the answer is “Kama” (The God of love). This clearly shows that Kanya was not given away as an object but symbolically bestowed by the God of love when she is ready to share her life energy.

 

It is only after this that the Pani Grahana (holding hands) shown in the ad follows. The groom clasps the bride’s hand to receive prosperity & divine energy. In the Ramayana, Janaka tells Rama that he is accepting prosperity by grasping Sita’s hand during this ceremony.

 

After essential ceremonies such as Agniparanayana, Lajahoma, Asmarohana, Saptapadi are all performed, the couple is blessed by everyone. Then the couple does Suryadikshana (homage to the Sun) during the day or Arundhati darshanam at night.

 

Viewing Arundhati-Vasishta (Alcor-Mizar) indicates Hinduism’s profound knowledge. Most binary star systems have one-star stationery as the other rotates around it. Here both stars revolve around each other. Neither dominates; both support & travel in an ideal partnership.

 

Post-wedding during the Grihya Pravesh, the bride is worshipped as Lakshmi. She tips over a pot of rice at the threshold to symbolise prosperity entering her new home. With feet dipped in red lac, she walks through the home to leave auspicious footprints & bless her new family.(Will an objectified item given as Daan be accorded this respect)

 

In her role as Lakshmi, she also gives charity to Brahmanas & poor people on behalf of her new family. Dressed in the best garments & jewellery, she worships the family deities & temples. The Ramayana recounts how Sita & her sisters performed these rituals on reaching Ayodhya. (Was Sita a Daan to Rama?)

 

To Hindus, Vivaha is not a contract. It is a sacred process to endow the couple with abilities to refine their moral & spiritual traits as householders (Grihastha). It transforms lower desires into higher spiritual goals to attain Moksha together.

 

An analysis of the rituals practised in a traditional Hindu Vivah demonstrates that the bride is not just respected but worshipped as sacred illumined energy throughout the ceremony. No other tradition comes close to giving women such prominence & reverence.

 

Sanjeev Kotnala is a senior marketing and business strategist and educator. He writes on MxMIndia every Wednesdays. The views here are personal.

 

 

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