Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Aishwarya Marries Tree(s)--A Setback for Feminism?

Aishwarya Rai, who has been in the news lately because of her engagement to Abhishek Bachchan, has apparently been ritually married to not one but two trees before her real marriage (thanks, Antahkarana). The aim is to counter the astrological effects of being born a Manglik:

But Ash is reportedly blighted with what in astrological terms is described as “manglik dosh,” which means that the planet Mars (mangla) and possibly even the planet Saturn are in the seventh house. People with manglik dosh are prone to multiple marriages, according to San Francisco Bay Area Vedic astrologer Pandit Parashar. That means Ash’s marriage to Abhishek could either end in divorce or his death.

In Hindu tradition, in order to offset the evil influence of manglik dosh, a woman should marry a peepal or banana tree before she ties the knot with her fiancé. Or she could even marry a clay urn, which should be broken soon after the nuptial ceremonies, signifying that the bride has become a widow, and the manglik dosh problem has been solved.

It’s not known if Ash has married, or plans to marry, an urn, but she reportedly has married a peepal tree in the holy city of Varanasi, and a banana tree in the southern Indian city of Bangalore. (link)

The Indian media is reporting that a case has been filed against the Bachchan family by lawyer Shruti Singh to the effect that these types of practices promote untouchability. She has also suggested that it's offensive to women.

There has been some discussion of this event on the blog Feministing, and one commenter there points out that the practice of marrying a tree can also be recommended for men, though I haven't been able to confirm that. (If true, that would definitely weaken the case that this is a misogynistic ritual.) Other commenters have suggested that this is probably pretty harmless in the big scheme of things -- especially since honor killings, dowry killings, child marriages, and forced marriages are still problems in Indian society.

What do you think? Is this "backward" practice part of a slippery slope (only one step away from things that are much more problematic), or something basically harmless? What do you think of Shruti Singh's claim that this practice promotes untouchability? I must admit I don't know very much about Hindu astrology, and so can't say what role caste plays in these practices in general.

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Blogger apu said...

Manglik as a conept does apply to both sexes, and Manglik men have as much trouble finding a person to marry, since astrology dictates that they also cannot marry "normal" non-manglik women ! I would call this superstition, but not misogyny per se. Ofcourse in the Indian social context, the pressures for a woman to be married by a certain age are higher. But I dont think this would be a major factor with Aishwarya.

11:36 PM  
Blogger Suvendra Nath said...

Did anyone ask the tree how it felt about this? It must be so humiliating to be able to marry only to save the real marriage that will follow its death or divorce. But perhaps it can take comfort in the far worse fate Urns must suffer. At least the tree isn't smashed to pieces.

12:36 PM  
Blogger Jay said...

I've never encountered a society more obsessed with marriage than India. It's pretty silly and insane, not to mentioning so unfair to those whose lives are controlled and ruined by it.

2:52 PM  
Blogger fairman said...

All this hoopla has made for great press and discussion, but it should be noted that Amitabh Bachchan himself denied the whole thing in a Jan. 29 CNN-IBN interview:

"Suhasini Haidar: There has been this common belief that a lot of puja that is being performed is actually to solve the astrological defects that hinder Aishwarya -Abhishek’s relation.

Amitabh Bachchan: I think that is more media-created than anything else. There is no truth in these rumours at all."


10:35 PM  
Blogger Amardeep said...

Fairman, I saw that denial at CNN-IBN too, but I wasn't sure what to make of it.

I have to admit there is a chance this Peepal tree thing is all either a misunderstanding or just false.

On the other hand, the details have been pretty specific -- especially the part about the two trees. It's also unclear to me why Aish hasn't denied it if it is in fact false.

10:53 PM  
Blogger kuffir said...

the astrolgers, quoted in the press, aren't telling us the whole 'truth'- a person with strong manglik dosha, as aishwarya appears to be, usually is advised to marry another person with a similar dosha. marrying a non-manglik person could result in the death of the partner... marital discord is predicted in the case of persons 'suffering' from milder variants of manglik dosha.. divorce never figured in the hindu scheme of things when this 'knowledge' was first propounded.

though in theory both men and women could suffer from manglik dosha, it's usually the brides-to-be who are expected to be 'clean'... and are subjected to this kind of scrutiny and purification rituals. also, a women with manglik dosha is an easy target (for abuse etc.,) in conservative homes struck by any kind of 'misfortune'.

it is a misogynistic practice.

1:25 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Aishwarya Marries Tree".
I know Abhishek's acting is wooden, but that seems a bit harsh...

Come on, it's what you were all thinking...

4:23 AM  
Blogger Red said...

I have a friend whose great grandfather was married to a tree to break a spell of bad luck which involved three of his wives dying.
On the flip side the tree wasn't cut down when their family home was sold for development since she was a member of the family.

The is the best solution to afforestation. Marry a tree and look after it, in sickness and in health..

7:35 AM  
Blogger Gaurav said...

Though Ash marrying a tree might appear shocking to many, it is hardly surprising for those who know India. I have a post on my blog:

6:39 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

If the tree marriages are true, Aishwarya then should be stripped of all the honors - Miss World, and as one of the most influential women. Superstition or not, beliefs or otherwise, this practice is demeaning and insulting to women who are working hard to be validated. Same goes for Amitabh Bachchan - not fit as goodwoll ambassador.

5:36 PM  
Blogger notter said...

it is funny!!! educated people doing such foolishness...if influential people like them are so superstitious, we cannot blame the people in the village who are not educated

i agrre with shruti and feel that aishwarya and bachchan should both be put behind bars for promoting superstition!!!

1:38 AM  
Anonymous agentorange said...

Lucky tree!

9:52 AM  
Blogger saurav said...

What you cannot understand , may not necessarily be a superstition.
Vedic knowledge is not a superstition . Vedic astrology is very scientific and has been recognized to be far more accurate than Western astrology. Every planet and heabely body has its effect , gravitaitonally. Because of moon occur the High and low tide. Similarly , during birth, if a particular planet is closer, its kind of effect has been well studied and calculated , generations back. We mistake by considering modern science as the latest.

12:44 PM  

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