The Life Cycle II
Dec. 11, 2000 saw the marriage of Saurabh and Mrnalini. Saurabh is the eldest son of one of my good friends in India. This picture shows the bride Mrnali garlanding Saurabh, which is one of the important moments in sealing the marriage. As you can see, they are both elaborately dressed and ornamented.
|Here Saurabh is putting the wedding garland on Mrnali. Like many Hindu marraiges, this one was arranged. Saurabh's parents had placed a matrimonial ad for him, but his mother found one reason or another to disqualify each of the 80 respondents. Mrnali and Saurabh's family had known each other for several generations, and so when her grandmother suggested that she might be a good match, both families agreed. There was no dowry as a condition for the marriage.|
|Every society has its evils, and in India the
custom of giving and taking dowry as a condition for marriage (from the
bride's family to the groom's) creates all sorts of possibilities for abuse.
Here a social reformer named Shri Nath carries anti-dowry signs in a
The orange sign identifies dowry as the source of evil, but the signs around his neck are far more pointed--the lower says that giving or taking dowry is a great sin, and the upper one simply says that those who take it are "dogs."
Hardwar, March 1998.
|Here's another demonstrator from a different
procession, who eschewed all gentle rhetoric: The bottom sign
contends that those who take dowry are "dog," the upper sign calls such
people "the offspring of prostitutes."
There's clearly a nerve being touched here.
|This is Manikarnika Ghat, the main place for cremations in the holy city of Benares. At the bottom of the steps is a corpse wrapped in a pinkish sari (showing the deceased was a woman), and at the bottom right is a pile of wood for a pyre at the bottom right. Benares is the city of Shiva, and death there is believed to bring final liberation, through Shiva's grace. In most cities the cremation ground is outside the town, but here it is in the center, teaching the lesson that the end of life can be neither repressed nor denied, but that one's consciousness of it should serve as a spur to undertake religious life.|
|Here's a shot of a man coming to Haridwar to perform the final rite for a dead person. This is asthi-visarjana, in which the bits of ash and bone from a cremation pyre are immersed in a sacred river, often the Ganges. The orange bag around his neck holds these fragments, as well as "advertising" to onlookers his purpose for coming. Haridwar is a major center for this rite, and many families have been doing it here for generations. In earlier times people might wait many years to do this, until they had a convenient opportunity to travel to a pilgrimage site, but with the advent of better transportation (trains, buses, and cars) it has become more common to do this rite within a few days after death.|
|Here's a a family performing the actual rite (they are at the left, which is actually toward the south, the direction associated with death). The white cloth containing the remains is visible in the center, and by the looks of it, what's happening now is negotiating the fee for the rite.|
|I originally took this photo because the boy
had the swastika drawn in ash on the top of his head--which I had never seen
before. This family group was hanging out on one of Hardwar's bridges,
probably waiting until the time to catch their train or bus back home.
For some time I assumed that the boy had come there for his mundan
(childhood head shaving rite) but it now strikes me that he is far too old
for this--meaning that he almost certainly had his head shaved after
performing funerary ceremonies, most likely for his father. This
reading puts a very different look on this photo.
|The final rites are the memorial rites for the dead, known as sraddhas. Certain sraddhas are performed right after the death, others are performed at regular (often annual) intervals following the death, and some are performed on special occasions. One of these is the sraddhas performed as part of the regular rituals at pilgrimage places, in this case Gangotri in the Himalayas. The man with the hat is the performer, the man in the dark coat a member a local pilgrimage priest, and in the stainless steel tray you see some of the items used in the ritual.|
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Page maintained by James G. Lochtefeld.
Last modified 23 December 2003