The Maligned Hindu Wedding

The Hindu Wedding - the extravagant, "feed the whole town" and "bring together the whole clan" kind of wedding, has been under attack for several years - if not decades by the liberals of this country. Incidentally, the same group that is attacking the Hindu wedding is at the forefront of the so called "Social Justice War" to ensure prosperity to the lower strata of the society. The attackers of the Hindu wedding are proponents of forced wealth redistribution, and go as far to rob Peter to pay Paul. They imagine themselves as modern day Robin Hoods, who want to deprive the evil rich Hindu of his / her ill-begotten wealth and give it to the poor. They argue that the Hindu wedding is a grotesque exhibition of wealth; a kind of "in your face insult" to the poor, and hence must be curbed. We should look at this accusation in a bit of detail.

Let us consider a typical 3 day traditional Hindu wedding. A brief summary of a Hindu wedding goes as follows:

About two days before, the bride's family reaches the "mandapam" or the marriage hall. From then on, until the third day morning, they and all those who come to the wedding need to be fed. The chef's team would have purchased vegetables and groceries to feed a 100+ people for three days. The milk man has to deliver milk to make coffee for the guests. The coffee merchant and the tea merchant have to deliver their merchandise too.

The decorators come in a few hours before dawn on the day and start beautifying the place. The mandapam has to be decorated with lights; and that means renting out the lights. The flower vendor drops off the flowers before dawn. The fruit vendor / vegetable vendors do the same. The food has to be served on plaintain leaves, and those have to be bought from farmers too. There are of course water bottles / cans to be served / placed, and paper cups used for coffee, tea, fruit juices and water. All of these have to be bought.

Next to arrive is the "nathaswara kutcheri" or the "music troupe". They come along with the vaideegars - the group of priests who officiate / solemnize the wedding. The priests have their own list of things to buy, such as kumkum, sandal, other items for the ceremony like samit for the yagna. The music troupe often requires a mic / loudspeaker set to make sure their music is heard all over the mandapam - and these sets need to be hired. Of course, no wedding is complete without its cameraman and a videographer. In some cases, there are also hoardings that are made.

Then comes the groom's family / and the other family members from the bride's side. These are typically in the 100 people - 200 people. Many of these people spend their money on public transport / autoricks / cabs to reach the venue. When so many people aggregate, one needs to arrange for seating, bedding and other material comforts. In the hotter months / climes of South India, often we need special fans (water based coolers) to keep the guests comfortable. These again have to be rented.

Almost half of the guests are women, and many of them buy at least new piece of clothing to wear at the wedding. Some of them (close enough to the family) even buy jewelry. Many people buy bric-a-bracs for gifts - mostly in the form of clocks, household items, crockery, utensils, and sometimes jewelry for the newly weds. In an increasing trend, people sponsor a trip for the newly weds to a nice tourist location as a sign of their affection.

Now comes the food. The kitchen in a Hindu wedding runs almost 24x7. Nowadays, locally made ice creams are a staple dessert in Hindu wedding meals. These are bought, rather than made on-site. Milk and other perishables have to be provided hot, round the clock. This needs a team of kitchen workers who take care of all that is necessary. These people are essentially employed for 2-3 days in a row. When 100+ people stay and eat, there is a massive clean up required: there are janitors who stay in the employ of the mandapam; and the wedding organizer pays for their wages. The kitchen runs almost 24x7 for 3 days.

When all is said and done - there are return gifts, coconuts (bought from farmers), betel leaves (again from small merchants), and in many cases blouse bits bought from local textile stores - neatly packed in printed plastic bags / printed cotton bags, and given away to all the guests - with a heart felt smile.

We are not even talking about the sarees and dhotis that are bought straight from the looms; dresses for children that the marriage party buys; and the other accessories that are often rented for the single day wedding (for decorating the bride). How can one forget the retinue of the bride that beautifies her for the occasion? Or the hair stylist? Or the Music troupe (this is a second one) that plays blaring songs, much to the enjoyment of almost everyone except the elders of the clan during receptions? In some cases, the reception itself is preceded by a ride by the groom and the bride ("maappillai azhaippu") in a vintage looking rented car. How can be forget that?

Now - a typical family man:: a infinitely small part of our society spends a large amount of this life's savings, voluntarily, without any government diktak, on all of this. This act is called "flaunting one's wealth". Now, I want to list out the beneficiaries of this voluntary act:

The chef and his group of cooks; his kitchen / support staff; the vegetable vendor and the grocery merchant (and by extension - several farmers), the decoration staff (unskilled labor), the manager of the mandapam and his support staff; the janitors of the mandapam (daily wages), our photographer and videographer - the person who rents out the equipment for music troupes, the hoarding maker (in some cases), the kutcheri group - which is basically ensuring cultural continuity of more than a 1000 yrs, the priests and their apprentices (again, a cultural practice of more than 2000 yrs), autorickshaw drivers, private bus agencies, tourist cab services, the small merchants who sell puja items, the farmer who grows coconuts, betel leaves - the small vendor in the market selling betel leaves, the flower vendor, the milk vendor, the coffee merchant, the tea merchant, the small shop grocer selling children's food, the textile manufacturer, the handloom owner, the textile shot, the jeweler, the goldsmith whom the jeweler employs, the orchestra for the reception, the person renting out the decorating lights, the person selling the plastic decoration items, the person making the plast decoration flowers, the person renting out plastic chairs, dining tables, beddings / mattresses ... the list is literally endless. It is indeed very difficult to find one skill / job / type of worker who is not touched by a Hindu wedding.

In western countries, there is this notion of "injecting cash into the system" - or "economic stimulus". The government does it when the people are either too cash starved, or too wary to do it. Here, in India, we do it voluntarily - we call it "Hindu Weddings". Instead of providing charity to the poor - which is twice demeaning (to the giver because it is vain, and to the taker because it is demeaning), Hindu weddings provide jobs to skilled and unskilled people alike. It stimulates the economy, while providing people a chance to earn their own money. They are earning their wages for an honest days' job. Can somethings like manual labour for clean up be changed? Yes - and in due time they will be. Busing tables is a typical job for an American teenager - it is no different from what a janitor does in a Hindu wedding. Why is it demeaning for them?Is all this burdening the bride's family? Yes. But increasingly, the groom's family is pitching in too. That a problem exists, should be reason to weed out a problem - not become a reason to kill an entire self-sustaining economic / wealth redistribution system like the Hindu Wedding.

We should start looking at our own culture with more respect that it currently gets. Our systems are economically sound, and work with the trickle down effect in mind. Remember that we are providing sustained, unforced economic stimulus - all year round - through decades, every time someone disses an extravagant Hindu wedding.

You want India to become a 10 Trillion $ economy? Start with encouraging more Hindu weddings.

SBM

Comments

  1. Yes! The Sanatana Dharma is a way of life that never forgets the interconnectedness of every species in the world and through a system of Asramas, Dharama based injunctions provides for a harmonious living together respecting rights and responsibilities in equal measure.

    The traditions of Hindus are manifestations of this thought process, provided a moderating mind exercises them without exceeding the golden mean. For the very same Dharmic injunctions advises against excess of anything.

    A good balanced spend, that is in line with the economic capabilities, that ensures adequate compensation, and balanced enjoyment without exceeding limits is Sastric (Scientific) as well Dharmic (Righteous)!

    Your article has brought the interconnectedness and economic banefits of a voluntary system of redistribution out very well. By adding the point about moderation, it would make it more complete.

    The rumbles are getting better!

    ReplyDelete

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