The changing face of Ladakhi marriages

By Hajira Bano Balkhang Leh, Oct 22, 2014
Leh :
Imagine lavish expenditures, loud crackers, the bustle of relatives of all sorts, glistening jewellery and huge piles of food. Welcome to the world of obscenely festive Indian marriages. Marriages here are synonymous with festivals; Indian marriages are often accompanied by adjectives such as boisterous and pompous. May be it is our way of celebrating the significant occasions of our lives in the most memorable and perfect way possible, but saying that it goes a little overboard wouldn’t be wrong.

Following suit, Ladakhi marriages too have taken a turn in the same extravagant direction. Although we do retain a traditional fervour in our marriages but the cost of maintaining the tradition has gone up several notches. The picture of parents anxiously counting expenditures and checking bank passbooks trying to figure out a way to get through the marriage smoothly is just too probable. Gone are the days when marriages were considered a sacred union of two souls; now it is more about the quality of clothes, lavishness of feasts and the amount spent on the marriages, all tending to inch towards the higher side. The idea of marriage has now disgustingly become that of a business deal between two families rather than a chance at making and cherishing new relations. Thankfully our society is yet to be counted among the ones nurturing dowry system as a much loved son, but that still doesn’t do anything to cover the fact that the expenditure incurred on marriages is no less than the ‘formal dowry’. This is just a path leading to strengthening of the roots of this much debated, much detested evil in the soil of our culture as well. And then sooner than we will realise, the girl child, who is as revered, as cherished in Ladakh as the boy child, will bear the brunt of a reputation that she never wanted or deserved; that of being a burden on her parents, of being a liability than an asset she is.

In contemporary times even in our society parents offer Raktak to their daughters; these are gifts given to a bridegroom's family along with the bride in form of cash, jewellery, electrical appliances, furniture, bedding, crockery and utensils, with a precision that makes you wonder if the bridegroom has lost all his property in some tragic accident and now the bride’s family is rushing in with interim relief!

Notwithstanding the fact that these gifts are given with consent and often with some joy by the bride’s family but if unchecked it might soon turn into a ritualistic demon, where demands for these ‘gifts’ will be considered normal and even legitimate. Sooner or later, as is the case with any socially acceptable trend, the ritual of giving gifts by the bride’s family will become a norm with obligations on the girls to think about their existence in terms of monetary gains to the men they will marry.  

Looking at the cost of the jewellery, the amount spent on arranging the ceremony and on buying these gifts to the bridegroom, and of course at the relation of the spending to the social status of the person in the society, one just begins to feel nausea taking over. An urge to throw up at the logic and rationality involved in defending this extravagant show of riches, is but natural. And then again what is most horrifying and terrifying is the silence of the people that constitute the society; the hesitation and carelessness towards this increasingly threatening trend is the basis of it metamorphosing into a welcome addition to our ‘traditional values’. To make a fair point for the elite and capitalists, it is understandable that social occasions would become more glittery and expensive with upward social mobility but at the same time can we ask ourselves, ‘can’t we settle for less?’

These days in Ladakh lakhs of rupees are spent on marriages; on buying heavy gold and a variety of expensive dresses, most of which has no value after a certain period of time. Adding to it is the quantity and variety of meat served at marriages and well there are the always unsatisfied and critical taste bearing people, for whom everything is below standard if the family has failed to arrange seven different types of meat and varieties of vegetables. Sometimes it feels like a competition where families are running towards that unattainable pedestal of being an elite, rich family that can afford to spend its hard earned money on stones and peoples’ opinions.    
The way out, the ultimate answer to this issue is austerity. Austerity should be preached both by religious leaders and educational institutions, given the fact that they are the basic institutions in any society, revered and worshipped beyond reason. Marriages are occasions of new social bonding and one of the few occasions when we revert to our traditional roots in ceremonies and clothing. It is a time of celebrating an important milestone in our lives, one that often marks the transition of two adults into a relation where they start sharing their life together.

The criticism of our marriages shouldn’t make me a cynic, a person against the celebration of important occasions in our lives but I merely plead the case for the values of sanctity and simplicity to be upheld. Marriages should be explanatory of the love, care and understanding between two people and not a show of money for the society. Marriages that are celebrated with simplicity set an example for those who are not socioeconomically on the higher side in the social setup; simple marriages are in fact a solution to transform marriages from back breaking herculean task to cherished occasions of spreading love and warmth.

Tailpiece: I am done preaching here, for that is best left to preachers of values and religion. Let us not make marriage a race of displaying our wealth and position in the social hierarchy. We already have too many social evils to deal with, let’s not create another Frankenstein.

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