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Hindu marriage and Indian soap
The traditional Hindu marriage which Indian indentured labourers brought from India beginning May 30, 1845, is now big television business with 1.2 billion potential viewers on the Indian sub-continent. In Trinidad and Tobago most of our Hindu ladies are locked on to Zee television, an Indian-based television station, telecasting from India. Even in Canada, USA and the United Kingdom, these Indian television shows have large viewership.
Previously in Trinidad, Hindu marriage generally took place during the ‘mango season’—June, July, August. A Hindu marriage was strictly a vegetarian affair and not only curried mango was then in abundance but also other vegetables like bodi, pumpkin and caralie. Now the food dynamic has changed and the Hindu wedding has became a year-round affair.
On Friday December 14 last, two young qualified doctors got married under the strict supervision of their parents and the officiating pundits of the Maha Sabha, led by pundit Baldeo Maharaj. Location was the family temple, the Dattatreya Ashram at Calcutta Settlement, Freeport.
Dr Panduranga is the son of well known educator and president of the Pundits Prashad (council) and Dr Sanjana is the grand-daughter Col Mahendra Mathur of India, now resident in T&T. Although these young doctors are steeped in the western scientific traditions, the person who held the key to the ‘yea’ or ‘nay’ of the marriage was pundit Baldeo Maharaj whose duty is was to “bitha the ganna.”
This exercise of checking the astrological compatibility of the two parties is as old as Hinduism itself and is now being adopted by number of evangelical television offerings of finding suitable couples. Pundit Baldeo and his calculations weighed heavily on this marriage taking place.
I had the honour of delivering the feature address and in some small measure advising the couple since I myself underwent such a ceremony in 1953. The marriage lasted until the passing of my wife Shanti. The pundits always advise young couples that marriage is for a life time and in my case, deceased pundit Krishna Maharaj of Caroni Village officiated.
Pundit Krishna became famous by refusing the nation’s highest award, the Trinity Cross. His family received posthumously the highest award when it was changed to one more secular.
In such an intellectual setting I could not resist the history of Hindu marriages in T&T. In 1845 and for many years after, no women or very few women were brought to T&T. And even when nature began correcting the balance of the sexes, our weddings were described as “Bamboo weddings.”
What it meant was that friends of the families and villagers would build a tent made of bamboo which virtually cost nothing. It was only in 1945 that the British Colonial government recognised the legitimacy of Hindu marriages through the Hindu Marriage Act of 1945. As a show of conscience, the colonial authorities permitted “subsequent legitimisation” of Hindu marriages.
In that ceremony of Pundit Panduranga and Sanjana I reminded them that the first Hindu doctor to maintain his religious identity was a former President General of the Sanatan Dharma Maha Sabha, Dr Deonarine Omah Maharaj.
Today, however, across the world various peoples and cultures are paying attention to Hindu marriages, its culture and its traditions. One of the most prestigious daily newspapers in the world, the New York Times, on its front page of December 26, 2012 ran a story with a picture titled Indian TV ‘I DO’, which meant to “honour and obey mother-in-law.” The story carried over and occupied the whole of page A12.
Datelined Mumbai, India, Alessandra Stanley wrote: “The extended family is still the bedrock of Indian society, where modernisation meets its match. Soap operas here are outlandish—some so stylised and wildly melodramatic they verge on camp. But they are also oddly prosalic; expressions of duty, deference and parental obligation that inform everyday lives.
“The rules can seem confounding to outsiders: India is a country where female infanticide can be a soap opera plot point in prime time but scenes of casual dating are taboo. In this realm it is the mother-in-law who is the metronome on Indian family values, issuing orders, giving advice and setting the rhythm of acceptable change.
“That may be a fantasy, but matriarchal interference (call it guidance) is marriage Indian-style. When Indian women discuss the need to “adjust” to matrimony, they don’t just mean adapting to a new husband. They mean moving in with his parents, grandparents and siblings, a custom that is still the norm, even in prosperous families.
“Women like to see their favourite characters express their own feelings, so the mother-in-law identifies with the mother-in-law, the daughter-in-law with the daughter-in-law,” is how Ekta Kapoor explains soap opera transference.
Ms Kapoor, a 37-year-old television and film producer who currently has five shows on the air, became queen of the Indian soap world with her break-through series, “The Mother-in-law was once a daughter-in-law, too,” one of the all-time hits of Indian television that ran from 2000 to 2008.
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