According to Hindu wedding rituals, the act of marriage, akin to the exchange of rings, is sealed with the tying of the Mangalsutra, which in Sanskrit means ‘Sacred Thread’ (‘Mangala‘ – sacred; ‘Sutra‘ – thread). It is also known as Thaali or Mangalyam. It consists of a gold pendant with chains on either side, which could be either plain gold or in the form of black beads strung on a thick golden wire. The pendant is engraved with holy symbols or symbols extolling womanhood that could be interpreted as the female form of divinity. Usually (and this depends on the community you belong to), during the ceremony, the pendant is strung on a cotton rope covered in turmeric paste by priests, who go on to perform many homa-s (rituals). They then have the wedding guests bless the Mangalsutra by passing it around on a plate, and finally (about 2 hours into the ceremony), the groom is asked to hold it up high and proclaim to all that he is about to tie the Sacred Thread, as a symbol of his life, around the neck of the auspicious woman seated on her father’s lap, and that 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 the groom’s sister (or someone of a 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 Three Knots pronounce a man and woman married in the eyes of the Hindu community, bestow respect from the Indian society, let you legitimately demand pampering even though you are well into your adulthood, and mostly consume every waking moment of your parents’ lives ever since you were born (if they happen to be Hindus).
Importantly, for the subject at hand, these are The Three Knots that made me untie all my ‘knots’ and re-examine all my priorities, evaluate my dreams, and question my beliefs. They not only pushed, but downright erased, all boundaries that I had drawn up. Impressively, they did the same for my family.
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 (to be shared in the future perhaps). But for now, let me be clear that my parents would NEVER ‘arrange’ my wedding without my consent. 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 ‘date’ for an extended period of time, 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 my parents put to me was that the man I choose as a husband be a Hindu. Easy enough I thought naively when first told. Now, if only love asked for passports and religious convictions…
It all started one cold but sunny day in October 2012, when I decided I wanted to marry outside my community, 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 our lives to each other. I had been dreading for a while now (at times, out loud to a sympathetic colleague or friend) about the impending ‘big reveal’. I had gone to great lengths to keep my family from knowing that I was in love with a white Swiss man whose religious convictions go as far as none whatsoever.
One day, I told them. Correction: HE told them. Over Skype. He had drafted a letter to read out to my dad. I realized that until that morning I had never seen him nervous. He did so well, and was so happy afterwards. My dad, on other hand, was not.
Ma parents 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 knew). I always had great grades. I was always admired, liked; 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 hadn’t done it all (overachieving, that is) willingly. I did enjoy the attention at times. 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 in a bit of a shock (*Waving* Hi mum and dad! I miss you guys!). It took some weeks before my dad could even say ‘hello’ to me. We were well into making wedding arrangements before he had anything positive to remark.
My mother, well…you know mothers — they feel before they think. She was happy that I had found love, but she thought that my choice had been unreasonable. After a short period of deliberation she was all set to organize the wedding. She erased 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. In organizing an inter-racial, international, inter-faith wedding, we faced a new hurdle almost everyday, which we either overcame or skirted around as deftly as we could, without damaging the tenuous string that held us together. First, my extended family had to be brought onboard. Many thought I had crossed the line, and some even said it out loud. The wedding rituals were then altered to accommodate the non-Hindu groom. Compromises were made. Next, we mentally prepared for the meeting of the families who didn’t speak a common language. They both ‘used’ English – one slow and heavily accented, and the other fast-paced, mixed with tamil movie references. In the end, nobody understood anybody really.
I never doubted my decision to marry 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.
It hadn’t yet dawned on me that with those Three Knots I was also embarking on an observational study that would last a lifetime. It started with garlands at the airport for the bewildered and bemused Swiss/European wedding guests in 2013, and continues in 2014, with my very Swiss mother-in-law’s decision to experiment with Indian cuisine (!) the whole time my family visited us in Switzerland. Now, onwards to a future with missteps, miscommunication, and misinterpretation, but with no missed opportunity to open our minds and hearts, to learn from our differences, and to love unconditionally.
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.