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.