Amongst Hindus, kanyadaan is considered to be one of the most pious acts. Kanyadaan enables the parents to wash away all sins, including those of their previous births.
Before the knot is tied, there is a formal and poignant ceremony wherein the father of the bride literally ‘gives away’ (daan) his girl (kanya) to the groom, hence kanyadaan. In this ritual, the father puts his daughter’s right hand is put into the groom’s right hand (Hastamelap, which means joining of hands) while reciting sacred verses. The bride’s mother pours holy water on bride’s father’s palms, which flows into groom’s and then into bride’s palms, symbolizing the continuity of life, repaying the debt to their forefathers and the passing of the family heritage to the next generation.
Today, many consider this ritual to be sexist and objectionable. Frankly, I did too. But one must understand that these rituals are being carried out in accordance to the rituals set in the Vedic period ( c. 1500 – c. 500 BCE) when the Vedas or the holy scriptures of Hindus were composed. Since then, thousands of years have passed and there are various interpretations of the texts. Moreover, the sentiments behind many of these customs have been lost, misinterpreted or reinterpreted with modern sensibilities.
In a way, this may be considered a classic case of ‘actions speak louder than words’. The symbolic act of ‘giving away’ of the daughter is highlighted while the conditions laid down by the bride’s father and the groom’s subsequent acceptance and vow (chanting the sacred verses) are ignored (or conveniently forgotten). More often than not, neither the bride nor the groom are aware of what exactly they are promising as Sanskrit, the language of the sacred texts, is not understood by most. It is heartening to see however, that today, in many weddings, the presiding pundit takes pains to explain the meanings of the vows being taken.
On the day of the wedding, the groom is considered to be Lord Vishnu to whom the bride’s father entrusts his daughter with the following chant: ‘I am giving away this beautiful daughter of mine adorned with gold ornaments to you considering you as Lord Vishnu, with the hope of attaining Brahma’s region. I am giving away this daughter to you for the upliftment of my ancestors with The Omnipresent Lord, all elements and deities as witnesses’.
The groom should say, ‘I accept this girl for the fulfillment of dharma (righteousness), and for acquiring progeny’. The bride’s father gives away his daughter with the condition that he should ‘not violate the regulations with regard to dharma, wealth (artha), desire (kama) pertaining to her’. In accordance, the groom vows ‘not to violate the regulations – but more on this later.
Rather than focus on the act of kanyadaan (and denounce it), it would perhaps be more appropriate to revive and stress the sentiments and intentions behind the ritual.
Quote of the day: “A gift consists not in what is done or given, but in the intention of the giver or doer.” ― Seneca
Look forward to your opinions and reactions 🙂
For more information about the blog please click here and for the readers of Moonshine, here’s Chapter 53.