Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Modernity with Ancient - Marrying a Tree

It was widely reported in media recently that Aishwarya Rai was married to a tree to ward off evil effect she would have had on her husband due to the reason that she has a "Manglik Dosha" in her horoscope which is caused by certain planetary arrangements when a person is born. A Manglik person when married to a non-manglik person can lead to unnatural death of the spouse, separation or marital strife. In Hindu tradition, to ward off evil influence of Manglik dosha, a person can marry a tree like Peepul or Banana or a clay urn before marrying the person. This way evil influence is diverted to the tree or urn rather than on the person. In case of marrying the clay urn, it can be broken leading to believe it or not, making the girl widow (and a man widower , if man performed the ritual). Aishwarya, who reportedly married a Peepul tree in holy city of Varanasi, can actually annul her marriage to the tree by “divorcing it". Though I dont know if these reports are true, it is undeniable that Bachchans were on a spree of temple visits before Ash and Abhishek marriage was announced. Their almost weekly visits to temples and some arcane poojas and rituals they performed became regular breaking news on "hyper" Indian TV channels. Aishwarya Rai called most beautiful women by many, a former Miss World and one of top Bollywood actors, marrying a tree might sound a rather fantastically absurd spectacle to many who would have believed that Bachchans are too foward looking, glamorous and modern to follow such archaic practices, but it is hardly a surprise since India as I keep saying is land of amazing paradoxes. It is perhaps only in India that a family who uses and promotes some of most modern consumerist products, drives some of most expensive cars and can afford most glamorous lifestyle can also get their would be daughter- in-law married to a tree to ward of an evil which many would reject as a superstition and downright medieval practice.

Some of feminists and forward looking groups have criticized Bachchan family in promoting such superstitions. Considering the clout Bachchans have over ordinary Bollywood loving Indian masses, it is no doubt that their act would give a legitimacy in minds of many impressionable masses of such practices and beliefs. Many modernists have openly termed such beliefs (Manglik) as offensive to women in India. In our country, it is mostly women who go through extreme pressure to get married by a certain age and if they are Manglik, it becomes very difficult for them to find a match. Even a lawsuit has been registered against Aiswaraya Rai for promoting a kind of discrimination based on some arcane planetary positions and their influence. Though Astrology is not an exact science and some also term it as a mere superstition, nobody can deny that it is very popular and wide spread. I don’t want to comment on Astrology and whether notion that a person’s life and events can indeed be influenced by mere planetary constellations. One can perhaps reject Astrology as an ancient practice or superstition which has no place in modern 21st century world one can argue that there might still be some truth in it. After all This would ultimately boil down to the primal discussion of whether we have free choice in life or are things predetermined for us. The answer to this solely depends upon the point of view one takes.

Nevertheless, I find Aishwarya marrying a tree interesting from a different perspective since such incidents speaks about a state of our society. What this incident proves is that in India Modernity does not necessarily mean rejection of old. Here modernity is just another layer over other many layers of existence. In India, new can co-exist with old without much of a conflict. Here old customs can be reinvented to suit modern sensibilities and habits, like horoscopes can be matched by computers. Sanskrit speaking, gurus and swamis can get replaced by jet settings, English speaking, globe trotting swamis. Old Spartan and austere ashrams get displaced by air-conditioned; all amenities new age spiritual retreats. Here modernity can sleep with ancient without any guilt. And that perhaps also explains seemingly paradox of one of most beautiful and glamorous women of India marrying a tree to safeguard her marriage. Some people have also expressed shock that a girl like Aishwarya who is educated, internationally known and one of highest paid actress could not stand against absurd beliefs and practices and meekly toed the Bachchans. The fact is that Aishwarya apart form being a glamorous actress, who was recently charged with promoting obscenity through on-screen kiss in one of her movies, is also daughter of a rather conservative, parents with middle class values, who wants to see her settled with a nice boy from a cultured family and like all middle class indians she has been taught to always respect parents and thier beliefs. As for as some of feminists allegation against Bachchans that they are in a way promoting discrimination against women based on a horoscope, it is worth mentioning that marriage in India is anyway extremely discriminating affair for majority. We still marry only within a selected group which we chose (or discriminate) based on region, religion, caste, sub caste, gotras, colour (fair brides) and obviously horoscope. As I said before, In India, modernity is just a veneer we put over century old customs, beliefs and traditions.


Anonymous said...

is there anythng in this world u cant wrte on.

Anonymous said...

i dont know if you are the same Gaurav Sharma - The astrologer....well just wanted to tell you that these beliefs in India are so very rare to be eradicated ...I wish more and more people come across and tell that astrologer is so very unexact and based on so many assumptions...anything that happens correct is just by chance. Neways, even Aishwarya had to bare the brunt and tomorrow if anything happens to Abhishek, she will be the first one to be blamed!!
God bless the couple and hope that astrologers dont make her life miserable .. Thanks for highlighting the issue about women!