According to Hindu wedding rituals the act of marriage, akin to the exchange of rings, is sealed in the tying of the Mangalsutra literally translated from Sanskrit as the ‘Sacred’ (mangala) ‘Thread’ (sutra). It’s also known as Thaali or Mangalyam. It consists of a pendant – a gold ornament containing holy symbols or symbols extolling womanhood (could be interpreted as the female form of divinity), and chains on either side made of black beads strung together using thick gold string or just a plain gold. Usually (and this depends on the community you belong to), during the wedding ceremony the ornament is strung on a thin cotton rope covered in turmeric paste by priests, who go on to perform many homa-s (rituals), get the people attending the wedding to bless it and finally, about 2 hours in, the groom is asked to hold the Thaali. He proclaims to all, that he is about to tie the sacred thread, as a symbol of his life, around the neck of this auspicious woman and he wishes her a hundred happy years of life.
Then, amidst showers of rice and flowers and much beating of the Melam and blowing of the Nadaswaram he ties the first knot. The next two are tied by groom’s sister (or of similar relation). These Three Knots have been interpreted in many ways. The meaning I find most relatable: the first knot symbolizes the union and commitment of the couple, the second the union and commitment of the two families and the third an assurance from the groom’s family to ensure the bride’s well-being.
These are The Three Knots that pronounce the man and woman married in the eyes of the Hindu community; earn respect from Indian society; suddenly demand attention when you are almost thirty and mostly consume every waking moment of your paternity.
Importantly, for the subject at hand, these are The Three Knots that made me untie and re-examine all my priorities, evaluate my dreams and question all my beliefs. They did not push but downright erased all boundaries that I had drawn up. Impressively, they did the same for my family.
It all started one cold but sunny day in October 2012, when I decided I wanted to marry outside my community, language, country, race and religion.
It was easy to say ‘Yes’. My husband and I had had a long and loving relationship. We wanted to commit the rest of your lives to each other. For a while already I had been dreading, at times vocally to the sympathetic colleague or friend, about the impending ‘big reveal’. My family had NO idea that I was in love with a Swiss white man whose religious convictions go as far as none whatsoever. I had gone to great lengths to keep it so.
Most of us (Indians) are not allowed to have a ‘relationship’ openly unless you are to be married in the imminent future. No, don’t rush to conclusions – my family is unorthodox in many respects. My parents have one heck of a story to tell and I will share that some other time. But for now let me be clear that my parents would NEVER arrange my wedding unless I would have asked them to. The fact that ALL Indian parents arrange weddings for their children is a MYTH. Spread the word. All that I wasn’t allowed to do is to ‘date’ for years and then get married since, you know – people talk and what if something happened and it’s not really respectable although you should know each other well enough before the marriage and the remainder from the list-of-intrinsically-contradictory-messages that Indian parents send. The only condition was that he be a Hindu. Easy enough I thought naively when first told. Now, if only love asked for passports and religious affiliations…
I told them. No. Correction. HE told them, over Skype. He was so brave. He had drafted a letter to read out to my dad. I had never seen him nervous, until that morning. He did so well. My dad on other hand – not really. They acquiesced of course. They didn’t have much of a choice. But they were left shell-shocked. I had never ever gone against my parents’ wishes before (as far as they were concerned). I always had great grades, always admired and liked and forever the perfect child. I was the golden dream that they shyly paraded in front of their friends, relatives and neighbours. I can’t say that I didn’t do it all willingly. I enjoyed the attention at times and academics did come easier to me than others. It wasn’t all bad but it wasn’t all good either. I demolished parts of my personality to accommodate the guilt that parental pressure brings. They were never aware of it and maybe they are reading this now with surprise (*Waving* Hi mum and dad! I miss you guys!). It took some weeks before my dad could even say hello to me and we were well into making wedding arrangements before he even had anything positive to remark. My mother, well, you know mothers – they feel before they think. She felt happy that I had found love but she thought that my choice had been unreasonable. After a short while of deliberation she was all set to organize the wedding. She did erase all her boundaries for me. She has a knack for doing that for those she cares for. Her love is truly limitless.
It was a tough year for us – my parents and me. Almost everyday there was a new hurdle to overcome or skirt around, without damaging the tenuous string that held us together, in organising an inter-racial wedding. First, my extended family had to be taken onboard. Some thought I had crossed the line and some even said it out loud. The wedding rituals were then altered to accommodate the non-Hindu. Compromises were made. Next we mentally prepared for the meeting of the families who don’t have a language in common. They both use English – one heavily accented and the other too fast-paced and heavily laden with colloquial references. In the end nobody understood anybody really. I was never in doubt of marrying my husband but having a Hindu wedding stretched my limits of patience, physical strength and even comprehension. Beaten, battered and bruised; then cleaned, dressed and made-up – I finally got my Three Knots.
I didn’t appreciate it then that I was embarking on a social experiment that would last a lifetime. It started with garlands at the airport for the Swiss/European guests in India in 2013, to 2014 – when my mother-in-law experimented with Indian cuisine the whole time my family visited us in Switzerland to a future with no prospect of having a closed mind.
who after witnessing how truly happy my marriage is recently apologised tearfully for not having understood our love from the very beginning.
who after decades of being intractable has become so accommodating that it restores my faith in people.