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After the young man's father has solicited the girl, and offered the presents he takes with him, her own father defers his answer until one of those little lizards, which creep on the wall, making now and then a small shrill cry, gives a favourable augury by one of its chirps. As soon as the lizard has spoken as the superstitious Hindus express themselves) and given a favourable prognostic by its assent, the father of the girl declares that he will voluntarily bestow her in marriage on the son of him who asks her; after which a great number of ceremonies are performed, answering to our betrothment, and communicating to the future husband a right to the girl, which prevents her from being given to any other. These ceremonies are followed by an entertainment; after which a fortunate month and day are selected for the marriage, upon due consultation with the astrologer or the Purohita.
There are, properly, but four months in the year in which marriage can be celebrated; namely, March, April, May, and June. Nuptials for the second time, may indeed be solemnized in the months of November and February; but, in these two months, so much attention must be given to the signs of the zodiac and many other matters, each more trilling than another, that it is not easy to find a day in which all the favourable circumstances combine.
The custom of restricting marriages to those four months, arises, like almost all the other customs of the Hindus, from superstition. But I conceive that the principal motive which originally induced them to fix on those four months as a fortunate time for marrying was, that the country labours being then all closed or suspended, on account of the excessive heat, and the preceding harvest furnishing the means of supplying what the ceremony requires, they look upon that period as affording more leisure and better resources for this important concern than any other season of the year.
The ceremony of marriage lasts five days. In the course of it, all those rites are exhibited which have been described in speaking of the ceremony of the triple cincture. These we need not repeat; and such as are peculiar to the wedding festival, not being in a better taste, we shall content ourselves with mentioning the most important of them.
The bridegroom and bride are first of all placed under the Pandal, or alcove with twelve pillars, as formerly described. This is a common and very useful appendage to the principal houses in India, being erected before the principal door, and covered with boughs of trees, so as to shelter the house from the heat of the sun, and at the same time to afford a convenient recess for strangers who come upon any business with the owner of the house, when perhaps it is not convenient, nor even admissible, for him to enter into the dwelling.
The Pandal, being on this occasion decorated in the most superb manner, the young couple are seated under it upon a little mound of earth, with their faces turned towards the east. The VOL. XIV.
married women then advance, performing before them the sites of the Arati, as they have been already described.
It being desirable to render all the gods, and even the lowest of them, propitious, the whole of them are invited to the wedding, and they are besought to remain there during the whole entertainment of five days. The same prayer is preferred to the god's ancestors; and the grandfathers, whom they have seen, are entreated to seek and bring with them their more ancient progenitors, whom they themselves could not have known.
A particular sacrifice is then offered to Brahma; which is the more remarkable that this god, in consequence of a curse denounced against him by some penitents of former times, has no temple and no regular worship in any part of India.
I ought not to omit that, before any thing is undertaken, they take care to place under the Pandal Vighneswara, the god of obstacles. He is greatly honoured, as has been mentioned, because he is greatly feared. And although the extreme ugliness of his appearance has hitherto kept him without a wife, they never fail to pay him the utmost attention in all public ceremonies, lest his displeasure should cast some impediment in the way of their happy accomplishment; which is the more to be apprehended from his being so prone to take offence.
As it is necessary, in circumstances so important, that the bridegroom should be pure and exempt from all sin, he is called upon to offer a free gift, on the second day, of fourteen flags to one of the Brahmins, in expiation of the faults he has committed since his investiture with the cord.
This act of charity is followed by a sort of interlude, which appears very absurd after the progress they have made. The bridegroom shams an eager desire to quit the country, upon a pilgrimage to Benares, to wash himself there in the sacred waters of the Ganges. He equips himself as a traveller, and, being supplied with some provisions for the journey, he departs with instruments of music sounding before him, and accompanied by several of his relations and friends, in the same manner as when a person is really proceeding on that holy adventure. But no sooner has he got out of the village than, upon turning towards the east, he meets his future father-in-law, who finding the object of his expedition, stops him, and offers him his daughter in marriage, if he will desist from his journey. The pilgrim readily accepts the conditions, and they return together to the house.
After many other ceremonies, the recital of which would be tedious, they fásten on the right wrist of the young man and on the left of the girl, the kankanam, which is merely a bit of saffron; and this particular ceremony is conducted with more state and solemnity than any other during the whole course of the festival. It is succeeded by another not less remarkable. The young man being seated, with his face turned towards the east, his future father-inlaw approaches, and looking steadily on his countenance, fancies
that he beholds in him the great Vishnu. With this impression, he offers to him a sacrifice; and then, making him put both his feet in a new dish filled with cow-dung, he first washes them with water, then with milk, and again with water; accompanying the whole with suitable mantras.
This being finished, he must direct his fixed attention and thought to all the gods united; then name each of them separately, one after the other, as far as his memory can serve. To this invocation of the gods, he subjoins that of the seven famous penitents, the five virgins, the ancestor gods, the seven mountains, the woods, the seas, the eight cardinal points, the fourteen worlds, the year, the season, the month, the day, the minute, and many other particulars which must likewise be named and invoked.
He then takes the hand of his daughter and puts it into that of his son-in-law, and pours water over them in honour of the great Vishnu. This is the most solemn of all the ceremonies of the fes. tival, being the symbol of his resigning his daughter to the authority of the young man. She must be accompanied with three gifts, namely, with a present of one or more cows, with some property in land, and finally with a salagrama, which consists of some little amulet stones in high esteem among the Brahmins, worn by them as talismans, and dignified even with the homage of sacrifices.
This ceremony, which appears to be the foundation of the marriage, is succeeded by another but little less in importance. All married women in India wear at their necks a small ornament of gold called tahly, which is the sign of their being actually in the state of marriage. When they become widows this ornament is removed with great form, as will be afterwards described. There is engraved upon it the figure of Vighneswara or Lakshmi, or of some other divinity in estimation with the cast; and it is fastened by a short string dyed yellow with saffron, composed of one hundred and eight threads of great fineness. Before tying it round the neck of the bride, she is made to sit down by the side of her husband; and, after some slight preliminary ceremonies, ten Brahmans make a partition with a curtain of silk, which they extend, from one to another, between them and the wedded pair, whilst the rest are reciting the mantras, and invoking Brahma with Saraswati, Vishnu with Lakshmi, Siva with Parvati; and several more; always coupling each god with his consort. The ornament is now brought in to be fastened to the neck of the bride. It is presented on a salver neatly decked and garnished with sweet smelling flowers. Incense is offered to it, and it is presented to the assistants, each of whom touches it and invokes blessings upon it. The bride then turning towards the east, the bridegroom takes the tahly, and, reciting a mantram aloud, binds it round her neck.
Fire is then brought in, upon which the bridegroom offers up the sacrifice of the homam; and, taking his bride by the hand, they walk thrice round the fire while the incense is blazing.
Last of all, he lays hold of her ankle with his right hand, and brings it into contact with a little stone which he holds in his left, and which is called the stone of sandal, doubtless because it is a kind of paste formed out of that odoriferous wood. In going through this ceremony, the bridegroom must have his thoughts fixed on the great mountain of the north, the native place of the ancestors of the Brahmans.
The meaning of the ceremony we have described is not difficult to divine. By the preceding one, we see the surrender of the girl to her intended husband by her father. Here, the acceptance of her is signified by the bridegroom binding the tahly round the neck of the bride. The homam and the three circuits which the young couple make round the fire, indicate the ratification of a mutual engagement between them, as there is nothing more solemn than what is transacted over this element; which, among the Hindus, is the most pure of the deities, and therefore the fittest of all others to ratify the solemn oaths of which it is the most faithful memorial.
We have now gone through the principal ceremonials appertaining to marriage, with the omission of not a few of smaller importance. But perhaps we ought to subjoin the following one, which is considered by some to rank as high as the preceding,
Two baskets, made of bamboo, are placed close together; this species of wood being preferred, on account of its being thought more pure and less subject to be defiled by handling. The new married pair go each into one of the baskets, standing upright. Two other baskets are brought, filled with ground rice. The husband takes up one with both hands and pours what it contains over the head of his spouse. She does the like to him in her turn. They repeat this till they are weary, or till they are admonished that it is enough.
In other casts, it is the assistants that sprinkle the heads of the new married couple; and perhaps it signifies only the abundance of temporal blessings which are implored on their behalf. It was practised in other nations with corn; and it still, in some measure, exists among the Jews. In the marriage of great princes, pearls are sometimes used in place of rice or corn.
On the evening of the third day, when the constellations appear, the purohita, or astrologer, points out to the new married pair a very small star, close to the middle one in the tail of Ursa Major, and directs them both to pay it obeisance; for it is Arundhati, he says, the wife of Vasistha, one of the seven famous penitents.
Next day, before dinner, the bride rubs the legs of her husband with saffron water; and then he rubs hers in the same manner. I know not the meaning of this ceremony, or indeed whether it has any. Ceremonies of some kind the Brahmans must have; and they appear to have found nothing more serious than this to fill up the present interval.
While the assembled guests are dining, the bridegroom and bride also partake, and eat together from the
same plate. This is a token of the closest union; and two persons the most intimately connected cannot show a more evident mark of their friendship than this..
Vell may the woman now continue to eat what her husband leaves, and after he has done; for they will never sit down again to a meal together. That is never permitted but at the wedding feast.
On the last day, a ceremony is practised remarkable for its singularity. When the husband offers the sacrifice of the homam, and when, in the usual form, he is casting into the fire the boiled rice sprinkled with melted butter, the bride approaches and does the same on her part with rice that has been parched. This is the only instance that I know where a woman may take part in this sacrifice, which is the most sacred and solemn of all
, excepting the yajna. All these ceremonies, with many others, which it would be tedious to detail, being concluded, a procession is made through the streets of the village. It commonly takes place in the night, by the light of torches and fire-works. The new married pair are seated in one palanquin, with their faces towards each other. They are both highly dressed out; but the bride in particular is generally covered over with jewels and precious stones, partly the gifts of her father and father-in-law; but the greater part are borrowed for the occasion.
The procession moves slowly; and their relations and friends come out of their houses, as they pass; the women hailing the new married parties with the ceremony of the arati, and the men with presents of silver, fruits, sugar, and betel. Those who receive such presents are obliged, under the like circumstances, to repay them in their turn. I have sometimes seen these marriage processions truly magnificent, though in a style so extremely remote from ours.
Thus ends the solemnity of marriage among the Hindus. The pomp which attends their elevation to this state shows the importance which they attach to it, and also the respect which they entertain, or at least once entertained, for the sacred bands which inseparably unite the husband and the wife.
I will say nothing of the entertainments mutually given by the relations of the two parties after their marriage. Those by whom they are given, and the ceremonies which accompany them, differ so little from what I have already described, in speaking of the admission to the triple cord, that I forbear to repeat them. But there is one thing well deserving of remark; that amongst the almost infinite variety of ceremonies made use of on the occasion of marriage, there is not one that borders on indecency, or has the slightest allusion to an immodest thought. This is particularly to be noticed amongst a people, who in all other circumstances in life, where feasts and shows occur, make a merit of openly and unreservedly violating the rules of modesty and decorum.