wedding wish-list

Why I chose a green wedding, recommended by a Kannada writer in 1966

The ‘Mantra Mangalya’ recommends a union without rituals, hymns or lavish celebrations

Marriage ceremonies in India have become synonymous with extravagance and archaic rituals. Of course, weddings are a time for celebration, but is it possible any longer to celebrate in a simple and meaningful way? I found my answer in a short book named Mantra Mangalya, penned by Kuvempu in 1966, on the occasion of his son Poornachandra Tejaswi’s wedding. Even after half a century, his timeless advice still felt relevant.

The Kannada writer Kuvempu, as he was known by his pen name, was a thinker ahead of his time. Almost each one of his literary works carries a liberal message. The Mantra Mangalya, in particular, was written to encourage mutual values of respect and equality between couples.

According to the Mantra Mangalya’s way of doing things, weddings should be simple, cost hardly any money, and be environmentally friendly – something which the lavish weddings of today lack.

My introduction to Kuvempu’s liberal vision came in a rather contorted way. Despite the fact that some of his writing and poetry were taught in school, much of what i learnt from them came from outside the school premises. I had grown up to my mother reading stories written in Kannada, usually by KP Poornachandra Tejaswi. Tejaswi was Kuvempu’s son and a literary heavyweight himself. Like his father’s writing, Tejaswi’s work was also socially-committed. The way of life he sketched out was non-conformist, progressive, or rebellious, depending on how one perceived it.

When I was still in high school, my mother was reading Tejaswi’s Annana Nenapu, or Memories of My Father. She finished a chapter in which Tejaswi described his wedding – conducted in accordance with the simple and meaningful celebration that Kuvempu prescribed. As she put the book down, she said, “We would be immensely proud if you married this way.”

Tejaswi had married his wife Rajeshwari, sans all rituals. The ceremony was conducted in their house, the only hymns recited were from the Mantra Mangalya. A sample of the invitation letter displayed the same sense of brevity and simplicity. I had never imagined that half a century since the book was written, my wife Vidisha and I would follow the footsteps of Tejaswi.

The process was not easy. It almost never is. My parents were already convinced about Mantra Mangalya, but Vidisha was confronted with the considerable task of persuading her parents. Her family was sceptical about the idea of a wedding without rituals, and we were determined to have one without any. Despite everything, we eventually found a middle ground: my soon-to-be in-laws sought a astrologer, and he advised that the wedding be conducted in a temple on a particular day and a particularly auspicious time. They chose the large Nanjanagud Temple near Mysore. We agreed, since the final objective, after all, was to marry each other, whatever the circumstances of the actual wedding may be. On the wedding day, only very few of my closest friends and family knew that I would be marrying Vidisha under a tree in the temple complex.

Even then, things were not easy. First off, the venue was a large temple complex and since we were to be married on a Sunday, thousands of people were milling about in the complex, under our tree, the only Ficus religiosa in the area – famous for the local priest who always sat under its shade.

While I waited, several couples married each other under our tree and left. My bride and her family were nowhere in sight. Assuming that they were inside the temple performing some kind of ritual, I waited beside the tree, on a path named Moksh-marg or the path to Nirvana. As time passed, I began to worry. The numerous phone calls I made went unanswered.

Meanwhile, stuck in a crowded temple, Vidisha’s family members were desperately trying to wedge themselves between devotees trying to catch a glimpse of the stone deity. Eventually, I was informed by one of Vidisha’s relatives, that the venue we had originally chosen was too crowded. We had to go to another one nearby. Tempers flared on both sides and chaos ensued.

Eventually, we reached a new venue and realised what this day had meant to teach us all along: whatever happens is ultimately for the good.

A quaint mango orchard greeted us, away from the chaos of the temple. The river Kapila flowed by its side, creating an ambience that was immediately soothing for all the frayed nerves. Until this time, I had not been able to discuss the day’s proceedings with Vidisha. Her presence added to the deep serenity I felt at the orchard, away from the crowd.

One of Vidisha’s family members agreed to conduct the marriage. I was carrying two photocopies of the Mantra Mangalya, and the relative read out the advice it contained for a bride and groom. Here is a very brief excerpt of the 20 hymns:

“You are now liberated from all casts, sects, falsehoods, superstitions and other psychological or spiritual boundaries.

Time has no qualities, It cannot be earned, nor can it be created and can never be saved up. This makes every moment of one’s lifetime precious. You can transform time into ‘good’ and ‘bad’ times by your actions....

All humans are equal. Today, you have rejected all religions and traditions that preach men are superior to women. 

A wife and husband are not mutually dependent, nor are they to be ordered around. The wife enjoys the same freedom and is equal to the husband. 

Love is the only means to ensure a husband and wife’s life together. In the absence of love, getting married by tying the Mangalya, circling around a fire or performing all kinds of rituals, is in vain.”

Once these hymns had been read, we were declared to be husband and wife and all the requisite documents were duly signed. A mangal sutra was tied around Vidisha’s neck. Suddenly, we were surrounded by family members of all ages, thrilled to have been part of such a unique wedding. By the end of our wedding, Vidisha and I were the happiest people: we may not have achieved anything major or changed the world, but we had stood up for the ideals we believed in and that was a promising start to a marriage.

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Removing the layers of complexity that weigh down mental health in rural India

Patients in rural areas of the country face several obstacles to get to treatment.

Two individuals, with sombre faces, are immersed in conversation in a sunlit classroom. This image is the theme across WHO’s 2017 campaign ‘Depression: let’s talk’ that aims to encourage people suffering from depression or anxiety to seek help and get assistance. The fact that depression is the theme of World Health Day 2017 indicates the growing global awareness of mental health. This intensification of the discourse on mental health unfortunately coincides with the global rise in mental illness. According to the latest estimates from WHO, more than 300 million people across the globe are suffering from depression, an increase of 18% between 2005 and 2015.

In India, the National Mental Health Survey of India, 2015-16, conducted by the National Institute of Mental Health and Neurosciences (NIMHANS) revealed the prevalence of mental disorders in 13.7% of the surveyed population. The survey also highlighted that common mental disorders including depression, anxiety disorders and substance use disorders affect nearly 10% of the population, with 1 in 20 people in India suffering from depression. Perhaps the most crucial finding from this survey is the disclosure of a huge treatment gap that remains very high in our country and even worse in rural areas.

According to the National Mental Health Programme, basic psychiatric care is mandated to be provided in every primary health centre – the state run rural healthcare clinics that are the most basic units of India’s public health system. The government provides basic training for all primary health centre doctors, and pays for psychiatric medication to be stocked and available to patients. Despite this mandate, the implementation of mental health services in rural parts of the country continues to be riddled with difficulties:

Attitudinal barriers

In some rural parts of the country, a heavy social stigma exists against mental illness – this has been documented in many studies including the NIMHANS study mentioned earlier. Mental illness is considered to be the “possession of an evil spirit in an individual”. To rid the individual of this evil spirit, patients or family members rely on traditional healers or religious practitioners. Lack of awareness on mental disorders has led to further strengthening of this stigma. Most families refuse to acknowledge the presence of a mental disorder to save themselves from the discrimination in the community.

Lack of healthcare services

The average national deficit of trained psychiatrists in India is estimated to be 77% (0.2 psychiatrists per 1,00,000 population) – this shows the scale of the problem across rural and urban India. The absence of mental healthcare infrastructure compounds the public health problem as many individuals living with mental disorders remain untreated.

Economic burden

The scarcity of healthcare services also means that poor families have to travel great distances to get good mental healthcare. They are often unable to afford the cost of transportation to medical centres that provide treatment.

After focussed efforts towards awareness building on mental health in India, The Live Love Laugh Foundation (TLLLF), founded by Deepika Padukone, is steering its cause towards understanding mental health of rural India. TLLLF has joined forces with The Association of People with Disability (APD), a non-governmental organisation working in the field of disability for the last 57 years to work towards ensuring quality treatment for the rural population living with mental disorders.

APD’s intervention strategy starts with surveys to identify individuals suffering from mental illnesses. The identified individuals and families are then directed to the local Primary Healthcare Centres. In the background, APD capacity building programs work simultaneously to create awareness about mental illnesses amongst community workers (ASHA workers, Village Rehabilitation Workers and General Physicians) in the area. The whole complex process involves creating the social acceptance of mental health conditions and motivating them to approach healthcare specialists.

Participants of the program.
Participants of the program.

When mental health patients are finally free of social barriers and seeking help, APD also mobilises its network to make treatments accessible and affordable. The organisation coordinates psychiatrists’ visits to camps and local healthcare centres and ensures that the necessary medicines are well stocked and free medicines are available to the patients.

We spent a lot of money for treatment and travel. We visited Shivamogha Manasa and Dharwad Hospital for getting treatment. We were not able to continue the treatment for long as we are poor. We suffered economic burden because of the long- distance travel required for the treatment. Now we are getting quality psychiatric service near our village. We are getting free medication in taluk and Primary Healthcare Centres resulting in less economic stress.

— A parent's experience at an APD treatment camp.

In the two years TLLLF has partnered with APD, 892 and individuals with mental health concerns have been treated in the districts of Kolar, Davangere, Chikkaballapur and Bijapur in Karnataka. Over 4620 students participated in awareness building sessions. TLLLF and APD have also secured the participation of 810 community health workers including ASHA workers in the mental health awareness projects - a crucial victory as these workers play an important role in spreading awareness about health. Post treatment, 155 patients have resumed their previous occupations.

To mark World Mental Health Day, 2017, a team from TLLLF lead by Deepika Padukone visited program participants in the Davengere district.

Sessions on World Mental Health Day, 2017.
Sessions on World Mental Health Day, 2017.

In the face of a mental health crisis, it is essential to overcome the treatment gap present across the country, rural and urban. While awareness campaigns attempt to destigmatise mental disorders, policymakers need to make treatment accessible and cost effective. Until then, organisations like TLLLF and APD are doing what they can to create an environment that acknowledges and supports people who live with mental disorders. To know more, see here.

This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of The Live Love Laugh Foundation and not by the Scroll editorial team.