Mass Weddings and Group Marriages

February 16, 2007 at 10:46 am | Posted in Mass weddings | Leave a comment

Group marriage is a dubious term. refer http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Group_marriage. Mass Weddings is nearer to what I propose to talk about. Churches, Hindu religious and philanthropic organisations and Muslim Social Workers and Mosque bodies sometimes conduct mass weddings of couples uniting each couple in holy matrimony according to the respective religious rites and rituals and customs. Some radical social groups also conduct mass weddings and cross culture and cross caste and cross religious matrimonial alliances. I am not writing a researched piece here. I am just writing subjectively because I was also instrumental in my small secretarial way in the conduct of mass weddings.

I will now be more specific to my involvement in the wedding projects of mass weddings conducted by two Social and religious organisations. Around 1980 I started serving as Personal Assistant with an honorary social worker and socialite, a lady who was already in her gradious, dignified, mellow seventies. The wedding projects had already been initiated about a year before I took up this job. A group of like minded philanthropists from all walks of life had come together to form two Social Work organisations. There were industrialists, educationists, Army Officers (retired), Police Officers (retired), lawyers, doctors, as members and office bearers of this organisations. Among the patrons of the organisations were a real Nawab who is equivalent to an M.P. in protocol, a retired U.N.O. high official, a Vice Chancellor of a University, one or two former M.P.s also tossed in. There were members from both the sexes. The two organisations had their separate Chairman or President, Secretaries and Treasurers, and sub-committee Chairmen. The whole show was directed in the capacity of Executive Patron, by Mrs. Osman Ali Khan. The revered lady herself belongs to the family of a leading group of industries headed by her husband. She is generously endowed with sons and grandchildren. Though she was active and honorary office bearer in over 50 to 100 different social and other organisations, she was active in just a few of them and directed all her energies for the mass wedding projects.

The projects worked in the following manner. Social Aid Charitable Trust conducted annually the mass weddings of 10 couples each of Christians, Muslims and Hindus,  30 couples in all. Islamic Cultural Trust conducted the mass weddings of 30 Muslim couples every year. The two projects timed the dates of the weddings in a way that when one project is completed for the year the other was initiated, never overlapping the dates.

When the previous year’s project is completed and the accounts audited and approved by a Chartered Account, the committee members convened for the first meeting of the next year’s project. The audited statements were approved, wedding applications were distributed to the members to be passed on to prospective couples. The committee did not undertake matchfixing of the couples which was left to their respective families to finalise. Only very poor girls whose parents could not afford the wedding expenses leave alone procuring the essential articles and utilities they require to set up a modest home, can apply for the wedding when they are already betrothed and are in need of assstance to conduct the wedding. Hence the bridegroom is supposed to earn enough to take care of his core family of wife and parents and the eventual children. When the members give a feedback about the availability of prospective couples, when we have a few couples available, the first interview meeting is held.

The Wedding Interview Sub-committee members sit and interview the prospective couples present. The groom is expected to be over 21 and the bride over 18. They are expected be accompanied by parents or guardians at the interview. Only the couples are interviewed and parents are expected to corroborate with their wards’ responses. Intercaste or inter communal or inter religious alliances are not encouraged as a policy though I cannot vouch for surreptitious conversions because we don’t know. It is made sure that the previous years’ married couples under the project do not get selected and married off once again giving them an edge over the others.

Once the filtering is over and the couples are selected, they are given the choice of choosing a bicycle or a sewing machine among the other common gift items to be presented to them. Those opting for sewing machines, the girls are sent for training in tailoring in the Associations’ own tailoring institute, bus fares being provided for conveyance from their homes to the institute. The interview process is repeated on subseqent occasions as and when sufficient number of other applicants are ready, bringing the total to an exact thirty couples to be married. They all have to wait patiently with their chastity belts firmly in place till the common wedding date is announced. Normally the wait will be a couples of months at least.

In the meanwhile efforts are on to collect cash and gift articles in kind as donations from the regular roll of donors and appeals are distributed through association members to bring in donations from other new sources. The donations also start coming in, from individuals, organisations, and even a foreign contribution rarely. The spectrum of donors is really colourful, from all walks of life transcending religion and caste.

The distinctive feature of gift articles distributed to the couples is that they are specific to respective religions, like Quran for Muslims, Bible for Chriostians and Gita for Hindus. The other gifts are a one gram gold tali for the bride, silver anklets and toerings, cosmetic jewels, mats and pillows, kitchen utensils, bicycle for the groom or sewing machine for the bride, woolen blankets, dhoties, sarees and blouses, shirts, combs, mirrors, toilet items like soap, talcum powder, lunghis, kerchiefs, ladies undergarments, and what not for setting up a modest home on their own. They even include rice, dal, sugar, oil, etc.,

When all the selections are complete, donations and gifts collected, then the committee deliberates a date and fixes a chief guest for the wedding, the venue for the wedding, the religious arrangements likeHafiz to conduct Muslim weddings and Pandit to conduct Hindu marriages. The protestant and Catholic committee members take care of conducting the weddings of the flock from their respective churches to be solemnised in a the churches.

The wedding day is a gala affair. Each couple is expected to bring four elders from their respective families, which includes a witness in case of the Muslim couples, for all of whom lunch and dinner is provided by the committee with the largesse from philanthropists. As a rule children are barred from attending, not the children of the wedding couples of course! The weddings will be over before noon at the latest, and the couple eat their lunch and then the brides get ready for simple make up for the Reception in the evening to be presided over by the Chief Guest. Appropriate music, either recorded or real like the Nadaswaram for the Hindu wedding, is provided in the background.

The Reception Hall is made up brightly and beatuifully and colourfully with festoons and decorations. The thirty sets of gift sets are displayed in proper order around the hall, with the names of couples tagged to each. Towards the evening it is all abuzz with activity, and the signatures of all couples obtained by the Hafiz conducting their weddings in separate Nikahnamas, and the couple also sign separate lists for having received the costly gifts.

Before the Chief Guest arrives the couples are seated in a row on the platform. The invitees start arriving in time before the arrival of the Chief Guest and the meeting starts with a prayer. After the Chief Guest delivers his address and benediction to the couples, other speakers also deliver their speech shortly, and three couples respresentative of the three religions are ceremoniously handed over the gift articles. The whole proceeding is recorded on video and still photographs for records.

When the Chief Guest and others complete greeting all the couples, they adjourn for refreshments and disperse. In the meantime, the couples are called one by one, handed over their gift articles and food packets and seen off, they having made their own arrangements to transport the gifts and themselves. Usually the whole function is over before it is too late for the couples to return to their homes, and thus the function comes to an end.

The Committee and wellwishers sit for their dinner along with the Chief Guest and other invited guests, take leave of each other and wend their way home.

These couples are called for a review when the next year’s project is afoot, to enquire about their wellbeing.

Over a thousand couples have benefitted by the two projects. Many other organisations in other regions of Tamil Nadu and even in Andhra Pradesh, and even individual philanthropists have emulated this noble example and condcuted mass weddings according to their capacity making poor people happy and settled in matrimonial bliss.

I have retired from my service with these organisations over six years ago and I am not in touch with them anymore because of my personal loss of my wife, and I have now settled to a sedanary life taking care of housekeeping for my son and daughter in law. Neither had I been in touch with them nor had I heard about them after leaving Chennai. Theirs was a creditable service and it was my good fortune to have been associated with the projects in my own small insignificant way.

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