Family Values, Religious Sanctity Keep Indian Marriages Together’

A strong sense of family values and religious sanctity are two important factors that keep marriages together in an Indian family, says Kiran Chadha, a former bureaucrat, writer, motivational speaker, philanthropist, and adventure lover, who points out that 99 percent of marriages stay alive in India against just 60 percent globally. She also feels that the pandemic and the WFH (work from home) norm can be a blessing in disguise. Because “if everybody learns to share work and accommodate each other”.

Indian Marriages Celebrations“In spite of India’s different regions and religions, there is a common thread in Indian marriages that have kept them intact in spite of the institution being under strain in various parts of the world. To my mind, there are five,” Chadha. The author of the meticulously researched “Magic of Indian Weddings – Timeless Traditions, Sacred Customs” (Rupa), told IANS in an interview. “First is the importance of family life in India. Second is the religious sanctity of marriage ceremonies. Third, are the social compulsions. Fourth is the union of two families of the bride and the groom. Lastly, is the legal aspect of age and progeny.”

“Because of this, the rate of divorce in Indian Marriages is only one percent as compared to the rest of the world. The word divorce has no equivalent in Sanskrit or Hindi. This was unheard of till the Britishers came into India. The global rate of divorce is close to 40 percent, which is astounding. I again point out that families in India play a positive role in the progress of matrimonial lives of their children,” Chadha explained.

The book came about through her fascination for weddings. “I find weddings magical. There is a feeling of overwhelming joy. All wait for the auspicious time of the saat pheres, kanyadan and doli. It was the curiosity to learn, what is it that has held this institution alive for thousands of years. I wanted to know what each custom entails; what do the shlokas mean. Why the mauli? Why the kalash pujan? all in Indian marriages. I often asked the scholars or the learned religious heads to explain. But got information in bits and pieces,” Chadha said. As writing became her calling after she retired from the government, she decided to research about the intricacies of weddings.

“Initially, I had envisaged a treatise on the Hindu weddings. And only later, I expanded the scope of my research to include wedding celebrations all over the country to include Christian, Muslim, Parsi, Sikh, Jain, Buddhist and tribal weddings. All covering the traditions and rituals from Kashmir to Kanyakumari and from the east to the west. “My endeavor has been to explain to the new generation that marriage is not just the big fat Indian wedding events with more entertainment and less substance. This institution of Indian marriage is a commitment. A lifelong commitment”. “Each ingredient used, from the coconut to the rice flakes to the Mauli, Agni, candles, flowers bear testimony to the rituals while each of these symbolizes a belief, a norm or a practice. In all weddings, both religion and society play an exclusive and inclusive role,” Chadha elaborated.

As the scope of the subject is as large as the scriptures. And books already available, she read many books, searched the libraries. Also went through some of the old scriptures too, though briefly. She read on Hindusim, Catholicism, and Islam apart from available notes on the Indian marriage rituals and superstition. And also in Indian marriage dresses too. These all are in different regions to study the sequences of the ceremonies and get authentic nomenclatures.

She also met religious heads in temples, gurudwaras, churches, and the Arya Samaj. Also met the residents of various states to validate her research. What are the additional precautions marriage couples need to take in these pandemic times with WFH increasingly becoming the norm, schools reopening, and the space for physical social interaction shrinking et al? While this might not be an issue for couples above 50, how do younger couples give each other space?

I discussed this with a few couples. For WFH couples, the lockdown and pandemic have been either a blessing in disguise or a total catastrophe. Space not only in terms of time but space as in the number of rooms a family has played a vital role. All are required to draw on their inner strengths to be accommodating and adjusting. Where there was enough space, couples and children managed well. Others, who had to work in close proximity lost control of their lives,” Chadha said.

“WFH can be a blessing if everybody learns to share work and accommodate each other. This should not mean that you are working all the time since you are at home. Whether they are Indian marriages or others, my advice is to maintain office times, dress up well, take short breaks, close the office (in his case computers) and spend quality time with the family. And also play with kids and yet reserve special private time for your spouse and help each other at home. Those above 50 need to busy themselves with hobbies. So they do not feel left out and yet remain occupied,” she added.

Chadha took up writing a post a personal loss when she decided that she must carry on in life both productively and positively for her children and grandchildren. The tryst started in 2015 and her first work was a coffee table book, “Dalhousie� through my eyes”, a pictorial history of the quaint hill town from where she hails, right from its founding by the British in 1859. The book covers schools, the NGOs, history, the landmarks, the fauna and flora, the hotels and some bungalows of those times. The book was released in 2017 to rave reviews in the electronic and print media and was taken up for a special session in the Khuswant Singh Literary Festival in Kasauli in 2019.

The second work, “Echoes of the Heart� Dil Se” is a poetry book with verses and poems both in English and Hindi. The book has reached some 600 libraries in India for the visually handicapped through the Braille format. “This book is my emotional ode to myself; mostly penned during the lockdown and is not for sale,” Chadha said. With two PhD’s in the subjects of petroleum and iron ore, her quest for knowledge continues in her current role of an author and a poet. During a very successful career in the Indian government spanning 36 years, in different ministries, she traveled extensively to more than 50 countries. She made a mark in Geneva as an excellent orator who spoke on the future of iron ore exports from India. She has written many papers and her exposition on the Second World War was published in 2001.

Awarded the Shresht Putri Award by the Governor of Himachal Pradesh in 2002, Chadha’s love for the Himalayas stems from her childhood as an avid trekker with a group ‘Himtrek’ that has undertaken challenging treks all over the Himalayan range, including Mansarovar & Mount Kailash. She imbibes her values from her alma mater, Sacred Heart Convent, Dalhousie. Her interests include reading, music, knitting, dancing and trekking. Post-retirement, apart from writing, Chadha is also engaged in social and welfare activities and started the NGO ‘Swachh Dalhousie’ in 2014.

What next? What’s her next project?

“Writing keeps me positive, occupied, and productive. My next project is about the friendship during lockdown between a seventeen-year-old girl and a seventy-year-old successful woman. Who mentors who are the theme as it is slowly taking shape in my mind,” Chadha concluded.

Biography Of Last Travancore Ruler Silent On His Dewan’s Machinations

A biography of the last Maharaja of Travancore that attempts to provide an “authentic” account of his accession and his legacy is, however, silent on the shenanigans of his Dewan, Sir C.P. Ramaswami Aiyar, to retain the independence of the province in 1947 and his deal with the British to export the states valuable mineral resources, while the author obfuscated on the two issues in an interview with IANS.

Opinion is divided over whether the Dewan should only be seen as a wily strategist trying to position his state globally by leveraging its mineral resources — monazite sands in Travancore were said to be exceptionally rich in thorium and uranium. The other view was that he was manipulative, feisty and virtually ran the state and dominated the ruler, IANS had reported in November 2020.

“The bottomline, though, was that he was sharp and prescient enough to realise that the rare earth material was a strategic resource that would give Travancore a leg up in directly dealing with western powers, bypassing the Indian state, at a time when they were trying to build their arsenal against the backdrop of the Cold War. Hence, in its efforts to stay independent, it was expected that the British would be benign towards him and Travancore because of the thorium deposits,” the IANS story said.

Veteran editor Sandeep Bamzai’s book “Princestan, how Nehru, Patel and Mountbatten made India”, revealed for the first time the full story of how Jawaharlal Nehru scuppered Ramaswami Aiyar’s plans for Travancore’s independence on the back this strategic power as the ambitious Dewan worked on a deal with Lord Wavell, the Viceroy.

Thus, the question that was posed to Aswathi Thirunal Gouri Lakshmi Bayi, the niece of Travancore’s last Maharaja, Sree Chithira Thirunal, and the author of the book “History Liberated” (Konark) was: There are plenty of references to CP Ramaswami Aiyar but the book is silent on his attempts to compel the Maharaja to opt for Independence and his pact with the British to export a valuable mineral.

The answer: Sir C.P. Ramaswami Aiyar Did Not compel the Maharaja to opt for independent Travancore. There are quite a lot of references on independent Travancore in the book itself, so I would request the interested party to go through it. Such an important decision, which is a moot decision, a fundamental decision, affecting the very existence of Travancore, such an important decision can never be one-sided. And to say that Sir CP compelled is also wrong. Whatever very important decisions were taken were taken after much care, after much thought and mutual discussion. It was not a dictatorship or of somebody sitting and just ordering about. It is not like that at all. It (topic) is a very huge area, and I have to my best ability dealt with it in the book.

“I have not gone too much into detail about the valuable mineral export etc, and I did not try to also because maybe did not occur to me at the time, that is one aspect of it. If it had maybe I would have included it. Secondly, the book was becoming quite voluminous even as it is. Somehow I think it did not strike me perhaps. I have no real explanation for that,” Lakshmi Bayi added.

The author was also silent on the road ahead after a Supreme Court judgement, in the wake of a decade-long battle, giving the erstwhile royal family a greater say in the running of the Sree Padmanabhaswamy Temple, considered one of the richest in the world because of the treasures it holds, and how this wealth could be utilised in a fruitful manner.

“I do not wish to respond to questions relating to the temple or whatever the wealth that it possesses, or its administration – all those things are not part of this book. Only one correction is regarding ‘treasure’. ‘How can the temple’s treasure’- treasure is a misrepresentation because whatever is a treasure, maybe I am wrong, if I’m wrong I may be forgiven and corrected. Treasure is normally found underground, or at least it is something which is stumbled upon, accidentally, nobody knows about it, and it comes as a huge surprise or whatever it is. Here, that the temple had this wealth was very much known. If it is treasure then the state can claim part of it. This (the temple vault) is not treasure, it is wealth. That is the difference. There is a difference in the nuances in wealth and treasure, it is not just nuances, the dictionary meaning of the two are different as well,” Lakshmi Bayi replied.

Still, “History Liberated” would be of interest to the lay reader as it provides a peep into the past of the Travancore royal family, which traces its lineage to the Chera dynasty that has its roots in the early centuries of the Common Era.

The last Maharaja, Sree Chithira Thirunal (1912-1991), had ascended the throne in September 1924 when he was just over 11-years-old (after his maternal great uncle Sree Moolom Thirunal passed away), but the reins of the kingdom were placed in the hands of his aunt, the Senior Rani Setu Lakshmi Bayi, who ruled the kingdom as Regent till he would come of age, i.e. after he turned 18.

However, this set off a tug-of-war in the royal household, between the two factions – one belonging to the Senior Rani Setu Lakshmi Bayi and the other to the Junior Rani, Setu Parvathi Bayi (Sree Chithira Thirunal’s mother). There were thinly concealed attempts to prolong the Regency by the faction related to the Senior Rani, by portraying the young Maharaja as mentally unfit to rule, to the British colonial powers who would take the final call on whether to invest Chithira Thirunal with full powers. There were also three alleged attempts on the life of the young prince.

However, the plans fell through after Chithira Thirunal proved his intelligence and ability to govern during a meeting with the then Viceroy, Lord Willingdon, who appreciated the young Maharaja’s mental acumen and declared him fit to rule. Chithira Thirunal was invested with full powers as king in November 1931.

The author then details some of the major steps taken by the young Maharaja – like the epoch-making Temple Entry Proclamation Act in 1936, a major social reform that won praise from Mahatma Gandhi himself. The Act opened up the doors of Hindu temples to all castes, doing away with the earlier system of barring those from lower castes from entering the temples.

Chithira Thirunal also set up Travancore University in 1937, launched the Sri Chitra Tirunal Medical Centre, which even today is a premier medical institute in Kerala, the Travancore Bank- which later became the State Bank of Travancore – and launched a host of other reform measures to help his people.

Chithira Thirunal was the Maharaja of Travancore till August 1949, after which he was appointed Rajpramukh of the united states of Travancore and Cochin. He had signed the Instrument of Accession in August 1947, along with the 500 plus other princely states. His role of Rajpramukh ended with the birth of Kerala state in 1956.

“Many people have been for quite some years asking me to write a book on Maharaja Chithira Thirunal, who was so dearly beloved to the people of this land, whose memory even today brings tears to the eyes of many of the senior people; even to the young people who have never known him, for many of them he is so special. But I had been putting it away due to a number of reasons; but as the years progressed, I felt that if we do not do something and write when we are able to, if in my generation somebody does not write there would be nothing very authentic about Maharaja, my maternal uncle, and his mother, Maharani Setu Parvathi Bayi, my grandmother,” the author told IANS. (IANS)