Sunday, December 2, 2012

On the need to radically modify the ritualistic part of TamBrahm weddings

We have now reached an inflexion-point-of-sorts in the evolution of TamBrahm'ness. A sad observation in almost all of the marriages I've been to so far is the commercialization of priesthood (which is known by all). But the other less-identified-but-more-relevant reality is the relevance of the "Brahmin"ness itself and the involvement of the stakeholders themselves in the festivities and rituals.
Simply put, there has come to be this vulgar obsession about the TamBrahm style of wedding.
The mantras, rituals, homams, etc have become commodities that add "traditional" grandeur to the event - spectacles. What kind of life the bride/groom has been leading *up to* the wedding and what kind of life they will lead *after* - both have become inconsequential. In many cases, the groom wears a Poonal a day before the Muhurtam, just to chant the mantras and perform the rituals.
I am less concerned about the mere survival of TamBrahminism than its blatant exploitation for cheap thrills these days. Simply because they have the capacity to acquire them, people these days indulge in this kind of sad show-off.
Why rape the same woman day in and day out, treat her like a slut 90% of the time and on the occasional day, deck her up like a chaste Goddess and parade her in public so *your* vanity is satisfied?
I will lay the blame chiefly on parents than children. I have no issues with youngsters of these days not adhering to the Brahminical way of life. My problem lies with the parents who, irrespective of their children's interest/desire, thrust the rituals and TamBrahm-marriage-related paraphernelia on their kids.
A comment by the bride in one of the weddings I was closely associated with - "Yabba, indha 'sitthu' (i.e. metti) + thaali erichal thaangala. First thing I'll do after I board the flight is remove them all." It is another fact that her mom used the Thaali as a decorative item in her wardrobe for most of the days.
"Meaning" is is simply absent.
One downright farcical event at another of the weddings was this - a fight between the bride's side and groom's side a few hours before the Muhurtam because someone from the bride's side went into the room in which the homam/ritual-related things were kept without being clad in madusaar. It would've been downright funny if it weren't potentially marriage-threatening. I obviously was more concerned that day, but looking back, it's funny. Both the bride and groom of that marriage are as far away from "Brahminhood" as one can imagine - high-level thanni-parties living in the US, eating out most of the time, taking bath occasionally (this is obviously about the guy), etc.
Inter-Caste Marriages
Out of the marriages I have attended, roughly 60% were intra-caste marriages. The remaining 40% ranged from Brahmin-non-Brahmin to Iyer-Iyengar to Iyer-Madhwa.
Vaadhyaar mamas have now readymade solutions for all kinds of marriages. According to them, anything and everything has an associated workaround. And why wouldn't they? They might earn less than marriage "contractors" but their profitability is easily more. Typically, a Brahmin-non-Brahmin marriage is simpler, since most non-Brahmins (at least in the cases I observed) are also awed by the grandeur of Brahmin marriages and choose to adopt a purely-Brahmin marriage. However, things get a little tricky in the case of Brahmin-Brahmin inter-caste marriages. Especially when each side considers itself to be even somewhat Brahminical and has its own set of Vaadhyaars. Luck is on your side if the Vaadhyaars are part of a clique - they will be able to seamlessly arrive at a weighted mean after factoring in the specialist rituals from both sides. Otherwise you are in for an amusing spectacle - the sight of the two sides making snide remarks at each other, pulling each other's legs, expressing each's superiority in as unsubtle a manner as possible.
One can only wonder what the effectiveness of the Mantras, Homams and all will be in such cases.
The poonal has been reduced to a dispensable commodity that plays a Daftary role in TamBrahm weddings. Special Muhurta pottus are available since most girls these days are allergic to Kungumam.

If you are someone like me - i.e. placed just slightly inside the "Brahminical" side of the thin red line (as opposed to being a very informed "correctly" practising Brahmin), the whole spectacle is amusing as well as sad.

This is where I have pinned my hopes on the supposedly objective and liberal generation of today - the kind who are more influenced by a self(read Brahmin)-hating, uber-cynical pop-icon KrishAshok-type than a religious guru who prescribes the do's and dont's for a Brahmin, in today's day and age. I really hope that they will not subject their kids to the kind of sham that their parents subjected them to - poonal, panja-kachcham, madusaar and what not.

An earnest request to parents - there is a simpler alternative available - there is apparently this "Arya Samaj" kind of wedding that has the usual share of religious incantations and stuff, but does not require one to be a Brahmin to do it. This is simpler, cheaper and is more conducive to the kind of life most people lead these days. Mainly - it is more meaningful. Please note that I am not demeaning the Arya Samaj marriage in any way. What I'm trying to say is that this is perhaps more in tune with today's way of life than the traditional TamBrahm marriage that Brahmins do.

PS: This appeal obviously doesnt apply to the mamas who down 3 pegs of Teacher's on the night of Day 0, chant "Mamo paatha samastha durithakshayadvaara..." in the vratham on the morning of Day 1 and do Kanya daanam on the morn of Day 2. You'll, in all probability, not get what I'm talking about.

Expected Questions -
  • "Who are you to decide whether someone follows and if they do, how well they follow 'Brahminism'?"
    Being a fellow-Brahmin, I am a stakeholder in the whole scheme of things. What I am expressing here are, needless to say, my opinions. I do not claim that they are right or that I am the sole protector of "Brahminism" - only that I wish a bit more respect is given to this culture (so to speak) called Brahminism, in the interest of our ancestors and Sanatana Dharma, as I understand it (however trivial it might appear).
  • "What is wrong in practising Brahminism while, at the same time, doing supposedly non-Brahmin activities like drinking, etc?"
    Again, valid point. There are basically 2 approaches to this issue - one, by expanding the already-broad contours of contemporary Brahminism and two, by retaining the existing "delimitations" [:P] and coming up with an alternative exclusivist approach. What I am doing here is the latter. Why - because I sincerely feel "accepting" and being more inclusivist will only serve to destroy the culture in the long-term, in case it isn't on the verge of being irrelevant already.
  • "Why at all should Brahminism, as you define it, survive?"
    No idea. I am assuming here, based on its existence all these aeons and looking at its role in shaping Sanatana Dharma, that there is some purpose to it. Based on this assumption, I think it should survive. It may very well also be that it doesn't need to survive at all.
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