A Gaddi marriage within the secretive Himachali shepherds
A Gaddi marriage is a class apart. The shepherd community in the tribal areas of Himachal Pradesh has been able to keep its roots intact and believes in promoting traditional marriage forms. Lovnish discovers the cultures of the Gaddi community as they come together to celebrate their marriages.
The evening melted away quickly as the winter sun set behind the majestic Pir Panjal Range in Bhanjraru, a small nondescript town in the remote Tissa region of Chamba. A marriage party passed by in all its pomp and gaiety. Out of curiosity, I asked Tek Chand, the care taker of the rest house I was lodged at, if this was one of those traditional gaddi marriages I had heard a lot about. He replied in the affirmative. I was witnessing one of the common Dan Pun marriages of the gaddi community, the most prevalent and considered the purest form of marriage among gaddis.
Tek Chand, who himself is a local gaddi, explained the five distinct types of marriages solemnized in their clan – the Dan Pun, the Bata Sata, Jhanjrara, Jhind Phuk and the Ghhar Javantri marriage.
Dan Pun marriage
As the name itself specifies, Tek Chand indicated that in a Dan Pun marriage, the girl is given as dan(charity) to the husband. However, with changing times, the old traditions and customs have vanished from this kind of marriage and gaddis have succumbed to the trends of modern days.
A notorious smile came on the face of Tek Chand when he started to describe the Bata Sata system of gaddi marriage. He himself had married this way and his real sister was married to the wife’s brother. In this kind of marriage, the real or cousin sister of the boy gets married to his wife’s brother. However, this way of going about a marriage is extremely rare as a Bata Sata wedding is considered inferior to the conventionally celebrated Dan Pun system of marriage.
The Jhanjrara form of gaddi marriage seemed to be the most interesting to me. Tek Chand explained that a Jhanjrara is where consent or elopement by decided by a mutual understanding among the relatives. If a girl elopes with someone, the husband fixes the date and time for the Jhanjrara to be held.
The bride is dressed in new clothes and the threads of suhaag (auspicious matrimony) are tied to the chak, which in arranged on her head. In case, the husband happens to be rich, he offers earrings to the bride on this occasion. The ceremony takes place under the night sky and is reported in the concerned panchayat and the local police station. Interestingly, the civil courts in the region have also recognized this form of marriage among the gaddis.
Jhind Phuk – a marriage form not considered as respectful among the gaddis. I could easily sense the uneasiness on Tek Chand’s face as he explained the Jhind Phuk or Brar Phuk form of marriage. His cousin sister had embraced this way of marriage and Tek Chand explained that she had been living in isolation, ever since.
In a Jhind Phuk gaddi maariage, if the girl elopes without the consent of her parents, the couple solemnizes their marriage by burning a bush and going round the fire eight times. The couple either holds each other’s hands or ties the bride’s sheet to his own girdle. No sacred rituals are performed in this marriage as no priest attends the same.
When Hari Got Married – a trailer of the documentary film on a Gaddi marriage, by Ritu Sarin and Tenzing Sonam
This is another of rare form of a gaddi marriage. In this, as Tek Chand explained, the boy has to work as a domestic servant in the house of his would-be wife, either seasonally or part time. The duration of this service could be anywhere from 2 to 8 years. The marriage ceremony is solemnized only once the boy retires from the service of the girl’s family.
By the time Tek Chand summarized his gaddi marriage experiences, it was time for dinner and I headed to the dining room for the delicious Madra which Tek Chand had prepared for the evening. What’s a Madra, you ask? Well that would have to be another day!
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