We no longer see many arranged marriages. Instead, most of us find love at school, at a party, on dating apps, in Ubers, etc. Today, we are finding love on our own terms. That’s why weddings today are incredibly joyous occasions - a moment to celebrate the love between two people and the union of two families.
When it’s time to get married, we want that celebration to be a display of our personalities (as bride and groom) and affection. We plan our wedding for nearly a year - to include fun coordinated dances at the Sangeet, beautiful outfits, open bars for our friends; and we hope everyone breaks it down on the dance floor at the Reception. Amidst all of this though, many couples go through their actual wedding ceremony and have no idea what is happening nor understand what each custom represents. Why do we do this?
Last year, prior to getting married, I spent a lot of time researching each part of the Wedding ceremony. I wanted to learn more about the seven steps around the agni (fire) and the meaning behind the Mangalsutra before getting on the mandap in front of hundreds of people and committing my vows. However, as I continued to research, I learned about the Vidaai ceremony, which happens at the end of the wedding ceremony; and I felt that my personal beliefs did not align with this custom. That’s why I decided to remove it from our ceremony.
In English, Vidaai means “Goodbye,” and it’s a ceremony is all about bittersweet farewells. Traditionally, the Vidaai represents the final stage of a wedding, where the bride’s parents say goodbye to their daughter, and they are officially “separated.” The ceremony is a mix of overwhelming emotions. There is usually dramatic background music playing and everyone is weeping.
The bride’s parents and family accompany her out of the wedding. Before the bride leaves them, she may throw rice behind her as to symbolize a repayment to her parents for all that they have given her throughout the years. The father of the bride then hands her off to her new husband, which almost feels like a “changing of the guards.” Then, the couple gets ready to drive away in their car (usually a very extravagant car these days).
Brothers and cousins of the bride sometimes help push the car to represent their acceptance of the new husband and their marriage. However, often times, female friends and family of the bride stand in front of the car, preventing the couple from leaving until they are paid off to accept the new husband. The groomsmen and male relatives eventually remove the girls in order to help the groom take his bride away.
Okay, so where did this tradition originate from? I learned that, historically in India, brides were given away to kings and princes as a gift or property. In true “Game of Thrones” fashion, if a kingdom had to surrender or if a treaty had to be made between two kingdoms, a girl was given away as compensation. Over time, these arranged marriages evolved and became based on astrology, caste associations, etc. A bride would often meet their groom and his family for the first time on their wedding day. The Vidaai was actually an emotional moment because the bride was joining a family she barely knew, and her parents may potentially never see her again.
Let’s fast forward to today. We are knowingly and happily marrying our husband, and we do not feel like we are being given away. Instead, we proudly feel like we are bringing two families together. In a time where our American culture reinforces gender equality and female strength, why do we still partake in this antiquated Indian tradition? What is the right balance of displaying ourselves as bride and groom, but also abiding to generations of family traditions?
Are we supposed to follow traditions because they existed for so many years? Or do we make a conscious decision to mold and modernize these traditions for our generations to come? As I get older and learn more about my family, I’m truly unsure of the right answer.