Written by Savannah Stringer, King University, Abingdon, VA: Final Project for Religions of the World
Hi, my name is Savannah Stringer. I live in a wonderful small town named Abingdon in VA. I am happily married to my amazing husband. We got married back in March, so we haven’t been married long, but we were together five years before we decided to make it official. I am a dog mama to two dogs. I have a girl Weimaraner named Ophelia and a boy German Shepard-Pit Bull mix named Sammy. I don’t have any kids yet but one day I will. I decided to go back to school this fall to get the degree I have always wanted, and I am glad I made this choice.
Hindu Widows and Marriage Traditions
What happens when a Hindu woman becomes a widow?
They are treated badly when their husband dies
They their heads are shaved
They are not allowed to remarry
They wear white so people know that they are a widow
Hindu women who become widows are usually the poorest of the poor and when their husband dies, they become just a financial burden to their families. They are not shunned because of religious reasons. Ironically, they are shunned because of tradition. When this happens, they must shave their head as they are no longer allowed to wear their hair long. They are no longer allowed to wear jewelry, and they typically wear white and even their shadows are considered bad luck. Once her husband dies, she is immediately thought of as an object instead of a “she”—a woman with an identity. From now on she will be referred to as a “it”.
Why does a widowed woman have to wear white?
White is considered the color of mourning and is often the color she wears to the funeral service
It is believed that a woman needs to be in a constant state of mourning once her husband dies
She is compelled to wear a white saree for the rest of her life
White means purity in the Hindu religion and shows respect
Her husband is considered the biggest jewel in her life, so she must abandon any color once he dies
White gives the widow positive energy so that she can face life’s biggest challenges
It encourages the widow to seek God
Why are widowed women not allowed to remarry?
Various social and cultural reasons impose on a remarriage
It is believed they belong to a high-caste Hindu
They are only supposed to marry one time in their lives
Why do widowed women have to get their heads shaved?
It is a sign of bereavement
It makes them unattractive to men
It marks them as a widow so other people know
Why are widowed women treated badly when their husband dies?
They are a financial burden to their family
Family says that widows bring bad luck
They must do what they can to survive
They have to beg for things like food and water
They have to beg for money so they can buy themselves the stuff they need
Tradition in Hindu Marriage
There are nine main stages in a Hindu marriage and these stages are:
- Gau Dann and Kanya Pratigrahan
- Shilarohan and Laaja Homa
- Surya Darshan and Dhruva Darshan
- Ashirvada (Blessings)
- First, the bride’s parents welcome the groom and his family at the boundary of the house where the wedding is taking place. Then they apply red kum-kum (kind of powder) on their foreheads to mark them. Both families are introduced marking the start of the relationship between them. The bride and the groom then exchange garlands (jayamaala) and say: “Let all the learned persons present here know, we are accepting each other willingly, voluntarily and pleasantly. Our hearts are concordant and united like waters.”
- The groom is brought to a decorated altar called ‘mandap’ and offered a seat and a drink which is a mixture of milk, ghee, yoghurt, honey, and sugar.
Gau Dann and Kanya Pratigranhan
- Gau’ means cow and ‘Daan’ means donation. Today, the exchange of gifts, which is usually clothes and ornaments takes place. The groom’s mother gives a necklace (mangala sootra) to the bride. Mangla sootra is the symbol of marital status for a Hindu woman. ‘Kanya’ means daughter and ‘Pratigrahan’ is an exchange with responsiveness from both sides. The bride’s father declares that their daughter has accepted her groom and requests for them to accept her.
- Then a sacred fire is lit and the Purohit (Priest) recites the sacred mantras in Sanskrit. Offerings are offered to the fire whilst saying the prayers. The words “Id na mama” meaning “it is not for me” are repeated. This teaches the virtue of selflessness required to run a family.
- Then comes the ceremony of the vows. The husband is holding his wife’s hand and he says, “I hold your hand in the spirit of Dharma, we are both husband and wife”.
Shilarohan and Laaja Homa
- Shilarohan is climbing over a stone/rock by the bride which shows her willingness and strength to overcome difficulties while pursuing her duties. Both the bride and groom gently walk around the sacred fire four times. The bride will lead three of those times and the fourth time the groom will lead. This is where he is reminded of his responsibilities. Then the couple join hands then the bride’s brothers pour some barley, which is offered to the fire, showing that they all will work together for the welfare of the society. Then the husband will mark the parting of his wife’s hair with red kumkum powder. This is called ‘sindoor’ and is a mark of a married Hindu woman.
- This is the legal part of the ceremony. The couple will walk seven steps reciting a prayer after each step. These are the seven vows which they exchange. The first is for food, the second is for strength, the third is for prosperity, the fourth is for wisdom, the fifth is for progeny, the sixth is for health and the seventh is for friendship. In some regions, instead of them walking the seven steps, the bride will touch seven stones or nuts with her right toe. Then a symbolic matrimonial knot is tied after the ceremony.
Surya Darshan and Dhruva Darshan
- The couple will then look at the Sun in order to be blessed with a creative life. Then they look in the direction of the Dhruva (Polar star) and agree to remain unshaken and steadfast just like the Polar star.
- The couple is then blessed by the elders and the priest that way they have a long and prosperous married life.
It is important to clarify the misconceptions about Hindu marriages:
- Arranged marriages and child marriages. Hindu Scriptures prohibit the use of force or coercion in marriages.
- Arranged marriages are based on an agreement from both the bride and groom and should not be confused with a forced marriage.
- In the Vedic period, all child marriages were strictly prohibited. Later, due to political and economic changes, some new social traditions were started, and they differed from the Vedic teachings.
Child marriages and the tradition of wedding gifts were some of the changes which the reformist movements in the modern times have tried to correct. Child marriages are now banned by law in India, although the reports suggest that the practice has not been stopped.
Kapoor, A. (1970, June 24). 8 Dehumanising Customs Indian Widows Have Faced Through the Years. Retrieved September 25, 2020, from https://www.vagabomb.com/8-Absurd-Customs-Indian-Widows-Have-Faced-Through-the-Years/
Madhok, D. (2014, June 25). Indian womenwill never be equal as long as these 9 laws remain on the books. Retrieved September 25, 2020, from https://qz.com/india/224632/indian-women-will-never-be-equal-as-long-as-these-9-laws-remain-on-the-books/
Religions – Hinduism: Weddings. (n.d.). Retrieved September 25, 2020, from https://www.bbc.co.uk/religion/religions/hinduism/ritesrituals/weddings.shtml