Hindu weddings have been glorified and romanticized by movies and tele-serials.
In smaller towns they are still an almost 10 day affair and loads of fun.
Some marriage rituals are hated and deemed abusive by the feminists and the Un/Mis-informed Hindus.
Kanyadaan being one.
It is also considered by the Ritualistic Hindu as a means to wash off one's sins.
I don't want to talk about the Ritualistic Hindu...who anyways could not care less about the meaning of any ritual he/she follows and only worsens by attaching superstition and 'sky-will-fall-down-upon-you-if-you-don't' consequences to it.
I want to talk about the Un/Mis-informed Hindus...the ones who don't really know. They are not completely responsible for not knowing because it was never taught anywhere. The things they have learnt from family is unfortunately all rituals and no substance. They have grown up hating what they have heard and not surprisingly so.
We are Hindus. We are 'secular' by nature. We do not favor Hindu versions of Madarsas or Sunday Bible Schools. Hindus attending any such Center of Learning face the risk of being labelled as Communal.
So where does the Uninformed Hindu go to check his facts on Hinduism? Probably the book - "Hinduism for Dummies". The book sadly has also been written by dummies. So after reading even one such book...the righteous and any self-respecting Un-informed Hindu especially woman will go red in the face screaming to the world at large that the rituals are demeaning and she would rather go to hell than practice the 'shameful' ritual. I was once that Mis-informed/Un-informed Hindu...as someone said I am now the Rediscovering Hindu :).
What surprises me is we take so much care before choosing our doctor, our child's school, our home, car etc etc etc And pick up any over the counter book on Hinduism and start to judge. The hand me down tit bits about the Dharm....do we care to double check the facts? Have we taken pains to find the truth behind the muck that has collected over the years by malpractice? I did not until very recently.
Re-education and Reform are vital.
Anyways coming back to the point.
Kanyadaan. Kanyadaan or Panigrahan or Hast-milaap is not derogatory to anyone least to the girl and her family. It is a common factor in all Hindu marriages irrespective of the region. Terminology and ritual might differ slightly.
The word Daan has to be understood in the Shastriya terms. Daan is not a sign of weakness but the greatest strength. It does not mean 'donation' which brings in a sense of unequal relationship between the giver and receiver. That is wherein lies the problem of language. You cannot replace the word Daan with Donation. If you do so, you misinterpret. I also wonder if the Christian practice of the Father of the Bride "Giving Away" his daughter has similar connotations. Have not heard many questions on that though. Our Rishis consider a husband and wife equals. There is no 'better half' because they are considered One. "Tdetat Ardh Dwidalam Bhavati"
Lets look at some of the marriage rituals:
When the institution of marriage was being set up by Rishi Manu the question arose who will go to whose house? The girl graciously offered to move to the boys house BUT only when the boy comes to get her.On his knees, on a horse, in car, a Moped, a Bullet....any means of transport of his choice...so the Baraat/the Grooms side goes to girl's house. Dancing themselves silly and high on alcohol is, I stress not mentioned in the Shastras.
Some of the rituals(may vary in degrees from state to state):
VarPooja/Dwaar Pooja: Is a ceremony where the groom is welcomed and considered Vishnu swaroop. This was a psychological move. To reduce the anxiety of the brides parents (they were naturally worried if the boy was good enough for their daughter). We can control somethings and not all. Hence the parents were to place trust in God and assume that the boy at their door seeking their daughters hand in marriage was Narayan. All the things used to welcome him are also symbolic and signify something.
VarMala: Symolizes the concept of Samarpan (surrender) and Union (Ekya)
Hastmilaap/Panigrahan/Kanyadaan: Is when the Father of the bride places the bride's hand in the groom's hand and he takes it saying "Dharme ch arthe ch kame ch aham natichrami"Meaning he promises that in dharm (in my way of life), kam(in my desires for worldly pleasures) and arth (financially) I will never harm you. Not only does he accept the girl as his wife but also becomes responsible for her happiness and well being.
The Father of the bride touches the Groom's knee/shoulder/whatever which is also known as Madhurpak puja is not a way of saying Please allow me to 'donate' my daughter to you (sick!) but he is sending the message that you are now Shreshta -the best (of course nothing but the Best for one's daughter) and if you are not you better become now :) The practice of holding a piece of cloth..Antarpat signifies the Groom's Last Chance...it says if you are not capable of taking on this responsibility you better leave before its too late. In some states this is when you hear the cry of Saavdhaan Saavdhaan!!(your last chance to run if you are an incapable insecure chauvinistic fool) The blunt honesty blows me away:) I love my Dharm :)
SaptPadi or SaatPhere: Is the heart of the Hindu marriage. There is an exchange of 7 fundamental priniciples of an ideal marriage. The groom (the Pandit/Priest does the honors of course) tells her 7 principles and expects the wife to follow and vice-versa.
Mangalsutra/Sindoor: Is symbolic and reminds the woman of her husband's presence and his love. It is considered a sign of Saubhagya or Good Luck. Of course I feel unashamedly happy and lucky that I am married to man who loves me. At times though I also feel it is not me who needs the reminding so much as the brainless men who say "Will you be friends with me " (Creep!)
If the husband is not worthy...well then who needs reminding? Do away with the husband and the symbols, I guess.
Now, to be honest even I did not like the idea of leaving my parents house when getting married. The fact that we have not been living with either set of parents since our marriage is technical but a vital detail. It is understood that our parents will stay with us whenever they want or feel the need.It applies equally to both sets of parents.
Now coming to the heated debate and the billion dollar question which in today's age is merely symbolic, is : why should the girl go the grooms house?
Well for me now as I see it I amongst the two of us (husband and I) was better capable of going into another family, treating them like my own(most of the times:)) and loving them back with the same intensity. I was also more capable (something which is intrinsic to me as a woman not a learned behavior...may not apply to all for a variety of reasons)of aligning the two families and creating an unbreakable bond between them. I again had the emotional intelligence and practical as well to not let one family suffer at the cost of another. I could flit and fit in both households with ease. My husband barely manages to remember his own birthday or the important festivals. I don't even expect him to remember the names of second and third cousins wife and children's names on either side of the family. So I the "Samarpan ki Devi and Mamta ki Moorat" took pity on him and went to his house. :)
This is my strength. I now see it as a gift. A power!!!
P.S If one thinks the Husband is the better gifted one in this department...surely the order of things must be reversed :)