The Maithils – III

In the previous post, I just touched upon the point of dowry considerations replacing the elaborate match-making procedure within one generation. Well, I know that dowry has been a rather wide-spread disease in various parts of the country, still some specifics from what I have seen in Maithil society. If a family has several daughters, the planning starts pretty early, except in case of parents who would be considered “reckless”. When daughters start approaching age, parents and relatives start talking about the “rates”. 3 lakhs and a motorcycle for a bank clerk, 5 lakh and one car for a bank officer, can go upto 10 lakhs+ for engineers/doctors/IAS officers etc. etc. (I take no legal responsibility for these rates, there might be the effects of inflation, excess/short supply, low/high demand, information distortion or almost anything else in the presently prevailing rate!). Being the only son, having considerable family wealth and having few or no sisters to be married can increase the rates. It is talked about so naturally that it has become a joke amongst the employed young men that they have found out how high their “rate” is after the marriage of a colleague employed on a similar post. Also those parents are often cursed who increase the “rate” by giving more than what is normally expected for the groom of a particular stature. “They have enough money; what will happen to others!” Negotiations are often carried out around the specified rate. For a not-so-beautiful girl, or for a girl too tall to get a husband whose height she would suit, readiness of the parents to pay a higher rate than normal may be the only way out for getting married.

So, next time you try to do a match-making, make sure you have taken into account the match between intended and expected rates!

This is the situation despite the fact that some other communities in the same or nearby areas have not been afflicted by a similar disease. Bengalis and Lalas, for example.

And what is the result of relations founded on such bases. Any wide-spread family-problems are yet to be seen, but yes, decreasing respect for family ties, antagonistic relations even between husband and wife, ego-problems etc. are surfacing here and there. I recently heard the story of a girl married in a family, which was highly respected in the village. She refused to follow any norms of the family; not because she found them restrictive or anything, but because “they have got me married for my father’s money not for me. Why should I care?”. Poor husband is a silent spectator, because at his heart he concedes with her resentment and the parents are of course wondering about what to do with their “respect” gained over generations!

Bleak the situation is, but fortunately, it is not devoid of all hopes! There are better cases around, though presently few in numbers. Let me see if this generation, which has seen the greed take over the society, does something better when it reaches the state of parenthood.

Going into the history of dowry, as would be known to anyone, who has prepared a speech in the school-days on dowry system, that it has been there for long. But not as a forced obligation, rather in the form of “stree-dhan” (wealth of the woman), which people have often defended as a compensation for no inheritance for girl-child in the family wealth in the patriarchal system. The arrangement does not seem bad, so long as it is according to the wishes of the bride’s family and not a negotiation parameter in the marriage. Accordingly even in the earlier generations there used to be some money given to groom’s family, but mostly it would be spent by them on the jewellery for the bride. So, eventually it stayed with the girl in that form – as a security in bad times. And of course, as I mentioned, it was not a forced or obligatory amount!

I am tempted to go to the situation of women from here, but I would resist it for the time being. It will come later on and deserves being dealt with separately.

I will come back to other aspects of marriage ceremony. I shall not be the right person to report the finer nuances of various rituals of marriage since the last time I attended a marriage ceremony, I was rather young and could not afford to stay awake the whole night. Also found sitting through other day-time riutals little boring. But still, what ever my limited knowledge permits, I shall try to put here.

“Kohbar Ghar” is an important part of the marriage. This is the room where the bride and the bride-groom stay. Several rituals are also carried out in this room. Though this is not necessary, in each home, a particular room seems to become a permanent “kohbar”! As in it functions as a “Kohbar Ghar” for all the daughters of the family.

Decoration of “kohbar” invariably leads to the mention of Madhubani Painting. Madhubani Painting is characterized by filling up the spaces with closely spaced parallel lines. Various patterns are made using these lines with contrasting colours. There might be other aspects, which I do not know of. However its a pity that this art is getting lost, not just in the urban areas, but in several rural areas as well. Newer “art aesthetics” are replacing the old heritage. Many modern methods of decorating the room are being employed these days.

Other interesting aspects is some of the tests that the bride-groom has to go through at various point of time during the ceremony. There are not serious customs, but rituals for the sake of entertainment. For example, once he has to list the names of his ancestors for last 7 generations! (Marriage is the only time, probably, when the “vanshdhar” tries to find out the name of anyone beyond his grandfather.) If he can not do it, he gives people reason to tease him. Similarly, he has to recognize “besan” and “maida” (what are these two called in English?) by simply looking at them. This is during the night with the help of whatever light is available – supposedly a test of his vision -) In another ritual, the bride and a sister/friend/cousin-sister of the bride are made to sit side-by-side, both of them wearing “chunari” and their backs facing the groom; so that their faces are not visible. Bride groom has to identify the bride. As it happens, there is a fixed side (don’t remember right or left) on which the bride sits; still for fun’s sake, bride-grooms usually fail to identify the right bride and then it could be a reason for jokes for the life-time beetween Jeeja and Saali. Then there is “dehar chhekai” (blocking of the entrance)- the sisters/friends of the bride would not let the groom enter till they are given or promised something they want. Similar to the ritual of hiding shoes in some other parts of the country.

Amongst other things, there isn’t a tradition of “sagai” or engagement. Instead there is “phal-daan” (offering of fruits), in which the elderly male members of bride’s family come to the would-be bride groom’s house and offer fruits and other stuff related to worship to the Gods (I am not sure if it is very particularly “kul-devi/kul-devta” – it could be). “Phal-daan” marks finalization of marriage. These days some people are going for engagements adopting the fashion from other communities.

There is also a tradition of “kanya-nirikshan” (”Inspecting the girl” is probably the literal translation. But it isn’t supposed to be as brute as ‘inspection’ implies). I am not sure of exact purpose of this ritual. It seems till previous generation, it used to be more of a formality – not a deciding factor. I do not know if it was carried out at all. Seeing the girl before deciding the marriage was certainly not a fashion, but this has become extremely common these days and I dare say the way people sometimes behave in it is pathetic. It does literally become inspection! While we stayed in Purnea, there were a couple of instances, when our house was chosen for this purpose for some of my cousin sisters living in nearby villages. And though in all those cases people from bride-groom’s side behaved pretty well (and thank God no rejections came -though those sisters of mine were not at all “good-looking”!); still to see the pressure it creates on the girl makes you feel really bad. And I have heard weird stories of the kind of demands placed on the girl, when people come to “see her”. They would see her in all different possible clothings (at lease saree and salwar-kameez), make her wash her face to see if she has put up make-up to “hide” something, ask her to walk – God knows what! It’s disgusting.

Earlier, and even now in villages, there wasn’t a tradition of feast for villagers or people on bride’s side, except the meals that would be cooked in the home for all staying there. “Daughter’s marriage” was supposed to be a place, where help is extended; how could one eat! This, I don’t think, is particular to Maithil Community though. Guess in some for or the other, this concept prevailed in most parts of North India.

Entertaining “Baratis” also means lots of waste, even now, of food. The feast for baratis can go on for hours and hours. They will eat, talk, laugh, get angry (there aren’t many occasions, when somebody or the other does not angry over something or the other!), get pacified etc. etc.

The marriage does not take place under a roof. It has to be under open sky (and that’s a pain during winters or rainy seasons, but whatever). Even the mandap can not have a roof. The decoration has to be adjusted accordingly. Of course, it is another one of the rules, not being followed very strictly. If the marriage is taking place in summers, or in rainy season so that you have gotten wet during the wedding, well its a pain for you. You can not take a bath or change clothes untill the morning of fourth day. You meaning – bride and bride-groom, of course. (Whosoever thought of this idea!) Okay, but don’t take it to be a trial of four days; since in the evening of the marriage you would normally take a bath. Then it is next two days. The day after you will take bath in the morning. So, it isn’t as bad as it appears at first:-)

Take the marriage of any community in India, and you can possibly go on and on. So, I will possibly stop here. But wait, this is the story of only till the fourth day of marriage. Next one year is laden with other celebrations and festivities.


I have changed it in the original post. But for those of you who have already read it, I was wrong in saying that “Maithili” has the effect of Hindi! Maithili is an older language that Hindi (as are Bhojpuri, Awadhi, Braj etc.). In fact, along with Bhojpuri and other dialects of Bihar, Maithili has affected what the Hindi grammar books classify as “Bihari Hindi”. If you want to get a taste of “Bihari Hindi”, do not go by the mimickeries of Mr. Yadav. You can, of course, hear him directly. Else, check out some book by Phaneeshwar Nath Renu. Or listen to Manoj Bajpai in the “movie” shool – this was the best example of Bihari Hindi, I have seen in Hindi Movies.

(Now that it has reached upto third article; more can be expected!)


One thought on “The Maithils – III

  1. Since I am removing the Haloscan Comments, I am copy-pasting the comments I got on this post here.

    This is something related to the reason behind dowry. The daughters have an equal part in parental inheritance if there is no will. This law came into being after independence (1956 I guess) but what generally happens is this:
    “The Hindu Succession Act gives Hindu women an equal right to parental property (while providing separately for inheritance rights of matrilineal communities and joint families) in the absence of a will; but lawyers say that despite this, women sign away their right to their father’s property at the time of marriage accepting dowry as a recompense for a share. Women are also reluctant to exercise their right for fear of causing a breakdown in the relations with their natal family.”
    abhaya | 12.11.04 – 8:51 pm | #

    but there are seperate rules for joint families which generelly keep the property in male line.
    In fact I saw a movie starring Ashok Kumar (Naya Kanoon I guess) in which they showed the effect of thsi law on the families. So brothers were not willing to spend a lot in their sister’s marriage and all that but as always, there was a happy ending.
    I am not sure why they made this law but one reason could be to discourage the practice of dowry?
    abhaya | 12.11.04 – 8:54 pm | #

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