Tuesday, 16 August 2011

Institution of Marriage in Kashmir: A Case Study of Degradation in Traditional Culture

Increasing degradation in the value base of Kashmir culture is reflected in its different institutions and customs. The present paper focuses on the institution of marriage and customs associated with it, especially in Muslim community of our Valley, and highlights the divergence between traditional form and present day artificiality, mannerism and corruption of the same. It points towards capitalism as the key culprit in the process of degradation that has converted a great institution that strengthened relationships into a meaningless system of rituals that not only drain our economy but also reflect our moral and spiritual lassitude. The paper also addresses the cause of increasing divorce rate and failure of the great institution in its traditional sense in present day Kashmir. A need to revive the traditional basis of our cultural practices by a critique of existing institutionalized form is emphasized.
What is culture and why is culture so important? What are our sacrosanct cultural traditions with regard to marriage and why are they sacrosanct? What is the meaning and significance of a host of rituals and practices connected with marriage in traditional set up of Kashmir? Is there a connection between cultural practices and metaphysics or spirituality? These questions are hardly discussed by our scholars. This is unfortunate. This is possibly because we have lost the understanding of metaphysics in the light of which alone can we explain all things traditional from the style of the cap or dastaar to embroidery or design of houses. Rituals or customs connected with marriage have, generally speaking, deeper significance than we generally assume. They have higher meanings. Marriages are made in heaven and everything connected with them is ultimately, in traditional cultures, related to heaven. There are no mere customs for the sake of customs or social expediencies. Every action, ritual, ceremony has besides social significance spiritual or metaphysical reference. Nothing is merely secular or mundane for people that take belief in transcendence seriously.  Do we know why to marry? Why to celebrate marriage? What makes marriage sacred? How are things to be rightly enjoyed in God and nothing to enjoyed outside Him? Why is marriage half of faith? Why do we directed to share some food with our kith and kin on wiliema?

Here people marry because they are supposed to. The question of preventing sin by fulfilling our biological desires in a legal or sanctified manner doesn’t matter for them. If that mattered people would opt for early marriage unlike  our ancestors which observed early marraige. The question of fulfilling our iman too is irrelevant for most people. Why do we invite relatives and friends on the day? Because we are supposed or otherwise people will take us to task for not inviting. Why are we supposed to accept invitation even if it is at a great cost? Because otherwise we will earn displeasure of family or society. Here marriage is, mostly, a ritual dictated by social forces rather than any meaningful or even comprehensible event that is spiritually fulfilling and culturally enriching.

Traditionally it was believed that wife is a companion for life not an object of either lust or love as understood in popular romantic terms. It was a sacred bond that could hardly be revoked ordinarily. Today it is a social contract only with all sanctity gone. We have hardly added anything beautiful to tradition but only corrupted it. No wonder that our marriages are failing at such an alarming rate. More than 80 percent marriages are disappointing  in terms of meeting of emotional and mental horizons because we have false ideals and expectation which can’t but  crumble in the face of hard reality. Today people are sexually frustrated and of love they hardly know much. Very few know the virtue of lowering gaze. Lust is almost in every eye in the street or bazaar or bus. Our culture prized modesty above everything and today we hardly feel any need to worry about immodesty.

Why do we marry? This is hardly known to anybody and hardly anybody bothers to know it though people go on marrying, breeding and dying in a meaningless way. Saivist metaphysics and Islamic tradition have a complex system of ideas to answer this question. Marriage of bodies is the lowest rung on the ladder of essentially spiritual ladder of marriage leading to union with God or attaining self-realization. Sex is sacred and body is a temple of God according to Tantric Buddhist, Saivist and Islamic perspectives which constitute our Kashmiri heritage. Here most people know of marriage of bodies only. Some do cognize marriage of minds, souls and hearts but very few of the marriage of spirits. In traditional civilization all things have symbolic significance and have many levels of meaning and function. For Islam iman is incomplete or even invalid without marriage as the Prophet Saw has stated so emphatically. Sex gives us the foretaste of paradise. The joy of physical union is at root not carnal but spiritual according to both Saivist and Islamic traditions. Women manifests divinity as Ibn Arabi has explained. Two worlds that are to be realized according to Sufis are constituted by men and women. The Prophet of Islam (SAW) was given special power to enjoy superlative joy of physical union. Some of the most revered saints in the history of Islam have been great lovers having multiple wives and many children. All these traditions are best understood in light of Islamic metaphysics and spirituality For Islam all things are essentially sacred, holy. There is nothing merely and exclusively profane. Islam has no hesitation to employ sexual symbolism for its heaven and Sufis have been masters of erotic symbolism.
Now we come to other questions. Marriage with whom? The Prophetic injunction that we should select spouse on the basis of beauty of character rather than the beauty of body has hardly been understood. I think that arranged marriages were based on intuitive understanding of this injunction. For a lasting relationship and for appropriating spiritual  significance of marriage the beauty of the body is not of great significance in Islamic perspective. One should be able to enjoy all things in God or see God equally in all things. It is indeed a saintly attitude that can genuinely assert jiski bewi kali uska bi bada bnam ha….. Body, wealth, status, family honour are the things which are kept in consideration while tying the knot. No wonder that most of our marriage are failure from spiritual perspective. Divorce rates are increasing because of faulty understanding of psychology and the relation soul and spirit or psyche and nous.
Couples must love and seek each other madly and consent to be martyred for the sake of love. Individuation is possible only if anima and animus – feminine and masculine parts of our personality are integrated. Deep down none seeks a women or a man or mere physical union. Everything is dear to us for the sake of the Self or God and not per se. Humans are condemned to seek God in everything they adore or seek. What do we really love in our beloved? God’s manifestation or imagio dei in it. We marry because we are not God who alone is perfect and bayniyaz. We are made perfect by seeking that which we lack. Lust or biology can’t explain our behaviour and that mystery and wonder called love. God is Love. We must love or we perish. Hell is the state of absence of love. Hell is when the Great Beauty refuses to lift its veil. Marriage is such an important thing because the God of Beauty and Love is partly accessible through it. For the Prophet (SAW) prayer and women are on a par in terms of satiating our eyes or hearts. Living for the other is the key to joy and beauty of life and marriage is a means to it. We love our spouse/children above ourselves and forget our misery  for their sake . Our objects of love are means of grace as they serve to lift us above the petty illusory egos. We are so attached to our families because we know anything higher than our ego through it. And joy is possible only when we transcend ego. Marriage and love dissolve ego and that is why they are sacred. Inviting people and sharing food etc with them are a means of collapsing ego. Serving is worship. Sharing cracks the shell of ego. Gifts are divine because they slice  up our ego. Martrydom is so highly praised because it is the utter destruction of self directed individuality. We must consent to give everything to God because everything is God’s. Gifts are one such mechanism of giving our tghuings to non-other/ neighbour/ God. We must rise above lusting desiring self and diiferent customs sanctioned by Tradition effect precisely this aim.. That marriage will never fail which is based on the recognition that we are brides and bridegroom is God, that our spouse is, at root, beautiful because God the Creator is beautiful. All quarrels are based on wrong view of self or ignorance of our true vacation. Divorce becomes unavoidable when we refuse to realize justice and cure ignorance.

Islam, like other traditions such as Hinduism and Buddhism, enjoins that every action must be done to please non-self or God, to humble ego, to destroy the illusion of our autonomy, to perfect the process of surrender of our will to Divine Will. Any action or custom that fails to achieve these things is condemnable. Applying these criteria let us evaluate our thoughts, desires, ambitions, motives, compulsions in marriage related actions or ceremonies. We live and act for the sake of maintaining our image, our prestige, our social status. We sacrifice all ideal and values for vanity. We are slaves to social opinion. We fear lest people make comments. We honour principles and God less than social opinion. We consent to live hypocritically for its sake. Applying insights gained from the study of traditional metaphysics and spirituality which informed our culture on the particular institution of marriage especially wazwan, as attempted in the coming piece for GK, we see we are fast eroding our cultural values and all bastions of culture must seriously think over the issue. Marriage is no longer affordable  for most Kashmiris and it requires years of preparation and loans etc to complete all the imposed formalities and customs. Wazwan, as presently in vogue,   embodies almost all the evils of a degenerate and corrupt social system. It needs revival on traditional lines and that would be a great contribution towards preservation of culture and making possible timely and simple marriages.

I wonder why we can’t adopt buffy system instead of the trami one which leads to wastage though traditionally people didn’t waste food and considered it ideal to lick trami clean. Traditionally Kashmiris considered it sacrilegious to trample on food or waste it but today it is sin not to throw away as waste significant quantities of rice and meet. Traditionally people volunteered to help, mostly in jins (kind) rather than in cash, and brought almost everything from utensils to rice and firewood to the host. All the villagers or community people around were informally invited. In Ladakh this tradition still continues. Everybody was welcome and attended as per his convenience. A great festive spirit was operative. A real get together often for days was organized. Today there is hardly any real festivity as formalities are too burdensome and demanding too much attention to allow any festivity. There is vulgarity rather than simplicity which is the key to real joy in ceremonies. Traditionally mehndi alone sufficed to beautify the bride but today parlours are deemed necessary which make it a point to disfigure God given shape. Traditionally beautification of bride and bridegroom coasted hardly anything and yet people didn’t fail to look beautiful and graceful. Traditionally groom’s family used to arrange feast by sending a ram to bride’s parents and much of wardan was to be furnished by the bridegroom’s parents. Thus the Islamic injunction that bride’s family should not be put under any financial burden was observed. Goulmeuth didn’t have the present form which is a kind of usury. It helped the poor  to arrange the feast. The culprit for degeneration is capitalism and hegemony which most people are unable to understand. We are economically no longer able to sustain marriage ceremony and most people need to finance it by taking loans. Golden lies are perpetrated in the form of gifts of gold items. Austerity drive is the need of the time. Capitalism has degraded our culture to such a degree that we have even lost the consciousness of loss. Where is the culture of sharing, of voluntary service, of gifts of which no ledger was kept, of beef served with grace and elegance inn Muslim marriages, of shireen that supplanted all the hundred kinds of sweets and burfis, of kulchas that were served to all and the sundry, of festivity that knew no formalities? Religion is the heart of culture. Sans religion culture is degenerate and a means of needless bondage and formalities.  Traditionally dower was something really needed by the bride in new home. Today it is greed rather than need that defines it. Money hardly came in the picture anywhere in traditional marriages. Today money alone makes the mere of marriage go and is omnipresent. We have sold our soul of culture to the Mammon of money. Capitalism has dried up all the sap of love, fellow feeling and care for the downtrodden in our community.
There is no place for thaikun in Islam that bases itself on the recognition of illusoriness of separating individuality and thus ego with its associated pride. Timov kor badi nahyi khander (they  married with  great fanfare). Luk kya wanan agar kamae pich ein (What will people say if less number of guests come?). Too lavish a wazwan and tent and zool are all manifestations of social ego and that is why amount to major sin or even shirk. People associate partners with GOD not by constructing idols of stone (that is a lower form of it)  but by worshipping ego and believing that they too exist besides the only Existent. Only God has the right to say I and not man. When anything is done to please people and not God, to puff up social ego that is real idolatry. How can proud people enter heaven? In hell burns only the self-will. ‘We are nothing and God is everything’ as implied in one Quranic verse. Printing more expensive invitation cards, preferring zen or alto to maruti for  groom  in baraat, spending money on decorating the groom’s car ( a few flowers of one’s own garden are enough to distinguish it and preserve the symbolic value of a special person on the occasion, gifting gold or diamond in different ceremonies of marriage, opting for Lhanga instead of our traditional shalwar qameez, preferring disposable glasses, trays, bowls , plates when we have steel glasses or plates we normally use in houses, gifting sweets in highly decorated baskets, serving pastries which are mostly wasted as guests can afford to take only some part of it and many guests can’t afford even that much—all these are mainly for ostentation or show off and thus antitraditional practices disallowed by both religion and traditional cultural ethos.
Wazwan in its present form, I strongly believe, needs drastic change. It is a bane on our society. A huge industry has grown around it that fools and loots us. It is not indigenous to Kashmir. It has been imported from Iran (though its not being indigenous is not per se an argument against it. I mention it only to inform those naïve culture bastions who defend wazwan as our glorious cultural tradition.). It is no longer economically or ecologically sustainable. Gluttony is a major sin in all traditions of the world including Buddhism, Hinduism and Islam – the three religions that have shaped our heritage. More than three meet dishes – if at all meet is ecologically now a valid option for functions – and a couple of vegetables or salad qualifies as wastage. Chicken has been a new innovation (bidat) to wazwan. Paneer is a burden. Four ristas, a gushtaba and a single kabab, around 60 percent of the present size and one piece of rougan josh for  four persons suffice both for our taste buds and the stomach if we have no depraved appetite. No need of lifafa and no need to wait for any guest as well if we adopt buffay system. And this has been the standard especially in rural areas till recently. I think this should be adopted again. Beef is more economical and should be reintroduced. No disposables, no tokri, no coke, no trays, no niceties of culture industry are really needed. We have been doing so well without them. Our preference for mutton is a prejudice that costs us a great deal. In America beef costs much more than mutton and in terms of nutrient value and even, for most purposes, in terms of taste not inferior and perhaps superior. Rabbit meat should be introduced for functions both to boost rabbitory and prevent cardiovascular problems. We have been taught, unconsciously, to prefer mutton and disdain rabbit meat. Let us focus on home industries to meet requirements of wazwan. It is fasting that our traditions consider as virtue rather than eating too much. We are asked to keep stomach slightly unsatiated in Islam and modern wazwan implies overfeeding. Food poisoning, other gastric disorders, metabolic dysfunctions, obesity and many cardiovascular disorders are a contribution of wazwan. I am not counting the huge cost on environment leaving it to my brother who teaches ecology and is therefore more competent to speak on it to debate. I know wazwan tastes so sweet as to corrupt our faculty of judgment and conscience. Let us enjoy it only if we can afford and if our neighbors too can afford, if our ecology allows it, if our biology allows it, if it no wastage accompanies it, if we don’t strain our stomachs. Let us simplify it but in practice we are reluctant to simplify it. Wawan is a delicacy and could still be cherished but minus wastage and other harmful consequences. Civilizations` are built by hardy people who can afford to fast and they are destroyed by overdose of lusts or desires amongst which appetitive lust reigns supreme. There are hotels where a meal costs more than five lacs. There are people who give money or gold to guests accompanying groom in baraat. Our addiction for extravagant wazwan is a sign of decline of our culture. We seem to be doomed if we still don’t feel revulsion at the wastage, ostentation in current form of wazwan and the social forces that compels people to take loan and serve people a feast. If people come uninvited to condolence parties why can’t they afford to come for marriage parties in like manner? If huge gatherings are served food with such efficiency and economy on condolence days why the same can’t be done on the days of marriage? There are other reasons – ideological ones that benefit capitalists – that dictate so-called cultural practices of sending an invitation card and making it a point to arrange a wasteful feast. I know there is a difference between condolence and khusi but who says that we can’t celebrate and eat without wasting, without show off, without borrowing money for arranging simple dawat – dawat-shiraz –, without feeling compelled to invite? We are slaves of rotten cultural practices and social ego. We have no courage to loosen our chains. Let us invite informally our kith and ken and keep the option of non-attending open to them so that nobody feels strained or compelled to come. Let us invite them on phone only to avoid formality of dapan-dawat. Let us truly celebrate our wedding by circulating an open invitation on kahwa and keep some food ready with few dishes for those who have to travel too far for dawat. All our well wishers will feel free to come. Doing anything  under the dictation of social opinion is like listening to a sermon by a beast and this is the sign of doomsday according to the Quran (Dabatul arz of the Quran has been thus understood by some scholars).

The Kashmiri wazvan has progressed from a being a collection of few less expensive and self-nurtured vegetables to a dazzling feast of more than 50 varieties of meat and other preparation beyond routine rista, goshtaba, kabab and roganjosh etc. The fondness of an average Kashmiri for wazvan reflects our ecological ignorance and environmental insensitivity. How much natural capital goes into the production of such huge quantities of meat, in comparison to vegetable production, is a big question that calls for urgent attention. The dishes served in Kashmiri wazvan are not only anti-environmental but highly unhygienic with myriad of negative health impacts. It costs approximately 10 times more natural capital and energy to produce 1 kg of meat than that needed to produce 1 kg of tomato or beans, though nutritional (protein) value of dal is equivalent to or better than meat. Meat production not only pressurizes our pristine pastures but the grazing pressure also leads to soil erosion, especially in forest lands.

To conclude the present form of wazwan and many other practices associated with marriage are socially, ethically, religiously and environmentally questionable and seem to be degenerate residues of once living meaningful traditions


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  2. I want to marry Indian Kashmir girl.

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