K = Kanyadaan

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.

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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.

Published by

Dahlia

Email me at mysilverstreaks@gmail.com or tweet me @mysilverstreaks

21 thoughts on “K = Kanyadaan”

  1. This is, perhaps, one of your shortest posts in this series (and my longest comment) but is the most poignant! Kanyadaan is often considered to be of the same calibre as the Ashwamedha Yagna. The most important part in your write up is ” 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.” It is like the recent controversy of women demanding to enter the Shani Shingnapur temple. The demand is based on a perceived gender discrimination rather then on understanding the reason behind the practice. Our temples, as many would agree, is based on pure science. Whether it is their architecture (Sun Temple, Brihadeeshwara Temple etc), or the energies which are generated in the temple due to the type of mantras recited in these temples. Some of these energies are not suitable for women and thus their entry is proscribed here. There are other temples in India where men are not allowed. There is a reason for this too (though I am not aware of the reason for this).

    Oh, just as a sidelight, I too had the opportunity of doing a ‘kanyadaan’ though I am not the father of a Kanyaa! I do hope all my sins have been washed away!

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    1. That’s an interesting view and makes a lot of sense – thanks for sharing. Life is all about perspective, when I was younger, even though I hadnt heard about gender discrimination and stuff, I did resent so many things, but as I age, all this seems pretty inconsequential and unimportant – there are bigger more important battles to be fought. At least that is what I think – as of now 😉 Impressed and honored to meet the sinless one 😀

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  2. Love this tradition…. it is very sentimental, very touching, a moment to be cherished but to be taken seriously!! For me it was fun too, when my groom playfully started to scratch and tickle my hand…. and I was hard-pressed in controlling my giggles 🙂 🙂

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  3. I loved reading this post. Luckily, in the matriarchal Nair community we don’t have this concept of giving the daughter away, so i happily straddle both families. I have also never liked this ritual, the subject of so many tear jerker scenes on the big and small screens. Objectifying the girl, making her a possession. But very well written!

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  4. Hadn’t known that Kanyadaan was considered not only as “giving away the daughter” but also enables one to wash away sins..hmmm..so what about the groom’s parents?…any easy trick for them to achieve the same purpose?..for future reference 😉
    In our’s, the kanyadaan happens after all the marriage rituals are done….and is a very short one… 🙂

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  5. Wow! Quite an interesting perspective, esp the cleansing of sins.
    However, I beg to differ from smr on one observation : to my mind, it does not merely objectify the female; rather, it signifies the transition of responsibility (from father to husband) for her overall well-being, protection, safety, etc. – not because she’s an object, but because nature designed her DNA for predominantly softer skills of nurturing & caregiving, & his for hunting/protecting. Nature’s original layout may have gone in for a makeover, but hey…..the core DNA & the essential XX/XY distinction still exists (and she still needs protection from predators, doesn’t she?!). And the moot point here is also the formal acceptance of that responsibility by the life-partner, in the public domain. So the give-and-take appears to balance out fairly well, as in all of Nature’s endeavours. Well, all this is the subject matter of a more detailed discussion, but I plead that these should not be construed as sexist remarks – merely my interpretation of this ritual!

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    1. Sorry, Udita, I beg to disagree. ‘Softer skills’??? In most of nature the female is more aggressive than the male, in addition to being the nurturer. I object to the term daan- you can only ‘daanate’ something you own….

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  6. …..responsibility for! The meaning, significance, …..not the word per se. The word may be a distortion over the centuries, & I’m not conversant with the semantics, so I shall refrain from further comment.
    Ah, u bait me, craftily, into dangerous territory! But I prefer to recede from the shore…..
    As I said, a detailed discussion, in appropriate context, another time….for a meaningful exchange. Cheers!
    PS: Totally agree, she’s more aggressive, & yet is better at the softer skills…..that’s what makes her beauty lethally powerful !

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