Negotiating a Marriage

Very often personal narratives can reveal more about a society than formal sociological analyses. The  following personal accounts of marriages show that a very great deal rides on marriage negotiations, and this is not so much about dowry as it is about other issues---rank, standing in the caste, and personal prestige.

Names and places have been changed in the accounts that follow.

Terms:

Srotriya - Brahmans of the highest grade
Jog - Brahmans of the second grade
Jaibar - Brahmans of the lower grade ["commoners"]
Saujan - a special feast held when someone is "promoted" from a lower rank to a higher one, incorporating them into the interdining community
bhoj - symbolically weighted feasts at which only people of roughly equal rank and in good standing will be invited. To outcaste someone is to refuse to eat with them.
Babuan - a member of the royal lineage
adikarmala - list of names prepared by genealogist of families with whom marriages can be made without danger of transgressing rules of incest
barat - the all-male marriage party that accompanies the groom
kohbar - the room where bride and groom meet for the first time; and a ceremony held in that room

"My father only negotiated for five days. He didn’t find out what anybody in [my husband's village] could have told him about the family: that I never could be happy there! My father-in-law never wanted the marriage. I think the negotiations were done by my husband.

My father-in-law is not well respected because of his mistress. At my marriage when I first arrived in my husband's village, there was a big scene at the feast (bhoj). It happened this way. My father-in-law sent his mistress’s son-in-law to fetch pan for the guests. When he did this, he used a special form of Maithili only used with in-laws. All ninety Srotriyas immediately stood up as if to leave, since if this man was the relative of that son-in-law, it meant that the son-in-law was also their relative. This disaster was averted at the last minute when my father-in-law locked himself in a closet for the rest of the feast!"

CH: Tell me more about this son-in-law.

"He is wealthy, and he had run off with the daughter of my father-in-law’s mistress. People said, 'The daughter is just like her mother'—that is, she married once and was widowed, and at a Dussehra festival she met this man, a Jaibar, and ran off with him. She is very beautiful, so probably my father-in-law’s mistress was once beautiful. She claims that she is even now more beautiful than me! Because of all this, my father-in-law is on bad terms with his relatives, as I told you with the trouble at the feast."

"My own brother-in-law! I wasn’t consulted, no one ever consults me, I just got a telegram to come to Patna to his wedding and find he is marrying a Jog! I was furious. At first I wasn’t going to go. Nutan was there. I sent a telegram. . .

Nutan: Three telegrams!

" . . . to send Nutan home. My father-in-law sent his brother to persuade me, but I was so furious he didn’t even dare bring up the subject. . . . I was worried. My brother-in-law wanted an educated girl, so he had to marry a Jog, and so many Srotriya girls he had turned down! I had a marriageable daughter to think about. If my community boycotts him, am I going to be able to marry my daughter? After he has insulted so many Srotriya families, who is going to take my daughter? Finally even my father-in-law came. . . So finally I agreed to go. But everyone knew how angry I was.

"I was so worried about marrying my daughter! But I was lucky. I got a good boy from a good family, a Babuan. And now I have no more worries. But I was so worried. Would my community boycott me and cause trouble at my daughter’s wedding? I was very worried about this. I first went to my father-in-law and showed him the adikarmala and asked him to choose a boy for my daughter. Then I went back later and said, 'Do you approve of this family? Of this family?' And he said, 'yes, yes.' I said I need his advice because I am just a young boy and know nothing of these matters, and he said, "Never mind, I’ll take care of everything for you."

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

First he describes the famous marriage of the maharaja's sister in the 1930s:

"When the maharaja married his sister, he gave her to a poor Brahman from Biththo village. But this poor Brahman was First Shreni [rank]. The bride was 10, the groom was about 20. In her dowry he gave her "Mohanpur," a big house in Darbhanga, which is now an Ayurvedic College. He had it built for her. He also gave 1,000 acres five kilometers from Darbhanga. She never went to live in Biththo. They only had one son. When their son married, the maharaja gave the bride a necklace worth nine lakhs rupees (Rs. 900,000) and she is still called the "naulakha bovasin," or "Nine-lakhs bride." She lives in Allahabad.

CB: Tell me about how your aunt became the Maharani.

"The king approached my uncle to marry a girl from our family. This was because one of our ancestors was guru to Maharaja Narendra Singh. The prince came every day to our village to study with his guru, my ancestor. Because of this, and because our family was highest Jog and were famous as scholars and Tantrics, they wanted a girl from here. . . . The king came with servants, Brahmans, his staff, but not a true barat. At night after the fire sacrifice they left and took the bride immediately. They took her to the [marriage house] in Rambagh Palace. . . .He built Choti Maharani a separate suite in Nargona Palace since the second queen had died there.

"Two or three years later they held kohbar here at our village with the queen and did respects to our Kula Devi. A huge barat came, big musicians, dancers, kings from Gwalior, Jaipur, Jodhpur, they all came, but stayed in Darbhanga. Only a few came here. The king set up temporary arrangements. Danby was the general manager to the maharaja and he arranged this, tents and everything. . . . This was around 1942. . . . It was in this very house. This place where we are sitting was his treasury for expenses. There were camels, horses, elephants, cars, palki. The palki was decorated with gold. The whole village was wired for electricity just for the duration. He distributed saris and dhotis for ten villages around. Everyone got them. All the British came in dhoti, pag, rudrakshmala, sandal.

"Saujan was held on the fourth day of the second big ceremony. Father and uncle went to a Sotipur village and Srotriyas ate with them and they had a feast. From that day they were promoted. By this feast the community ratifies the king’s decree. Each person who ate with father and uncle was given 2000 rupees because of the risk."