Marriage in Santhal Adivasi community is sign of a prosperity and beginning of new life. In spite of some social upheaval in social norms during the past century in Santhal communities, one can find the institution of marriage is very strong. Bapla is a Santhali word which means marriage. Marriage have significant place in Santhal society. In Santhal like most ancient societies needed a secure environment for the perpetuation of the species. Although in many views, Santhals marriage as a private expression of their love for one another, but for centuries Santhal matrimony has been a very public institution impacted by tradition, culture, religion and Santhali laws. Santhals marriage is private as well as social obligation. Without joyful night by singing, dancing, drumming and playing flutes Santhal marriage is not considered.
History of marriage in Santhal:
Discourse of Santhal’s marriage starts with two names Pilchu hadam and Pilchu bhudi. Folklore is believed that, Santhal’s world started with them and they were the first couple to get married. Rest followed and modified in due course of time.
Anthropologists have documented a diverse variety of marriage practices in Santhals cultures. Edward Westermarck defined Santhal’s marriage as "a more or less durable connection between male and female, lasting beyond the mere act of propagation till after the birth of the offspring.”
The anthropological handbook Notes and Queries (1951) defined marriage as "a union of a man and a woman such that children of the woman are recognized as legitimate by both parents”.
Meaning of Santhal marriage:
The ritual of marriage generally comes in the life of all boys and girls in Santhals. Monogamy is the usual form of marriage. Bigamy is also allowed. Levirate and Surrogate marriage are possible depending on the situation. Pre-marital relation within lineage group is not allowed. But in case of other lineage group it is excused and finally results in marriage or social segregation. Marriage may take place between boys and girls of two lineages but generally it is avoided. They generally follow village exogamy. Usual way of acquiring bride is by bride-price (Gonog) and through the consent of parents of boys and girls. But marriage by exchange, elopement service and love may also take place followed by customs only.
The Santhals have different category of marriage. Their marriages are exogamous and these marriages called as `Bapla` are of twelve types namely Sanga Bapla, Kadam Bapla, Kirin Bapla, Upagir Bapla, Tunki Dipil Bapla, Itut Bapla, Nirbelok Bapla, Diku Bapla, Sange Bariyat, Haram Bariiyat, Gardi-Jawain.
At the end or mid of every marriage, the bride price is collected. A woman made pregnant by another male can be socially accepted and converted in marriage. Divorce can be obtained easily; however, some alimony has to be given whole divorcee. If marriages are undertaken within one`s own group, such couples are ostracized and chased away from society. There is also the practice of the son-in-law staying in his in-laws` house.
Marriages in Santhals are regarded as pure and sacred. It is therefore done with all customs. First few steps are common in every type of marriages. Parents of boys or girls will appoint an interlocutor called Raibaar. Raibaar is that who, mediate in initiating talk about marriage proposal to either family. Generally Raibaar is known by both the family, and have jesting relation with both boy, girl and parents too. Each process customs are followed strictly by the Raibaar and parents of boy or girl. One can divide the whole process in different phases.
Phases in Bapla:
Phase 1: (Sar Sagun) Talk initiated by Raibaar to both the families.
In this phase Raibaar take initiative to visit both families. He talks mostly with parents (if parents are dead, then head of the family) about the other family’s interested in bride for their son/brother. Raibaar allow girl’s family to have discussion with other family members. After few weeks or couple of day’s times, if girl’s family shows interest will inform Raibaar. So, that he can inform boy’s family for the further processes.
Phase 2: (Orah duar njel) Visiting of parents and relatives to each other’s home
If girl’s family shows interest in the proposal put up by Raibaar. It means they are ready to go for further process, which is visiting to each other families. By visiting each other’s families, they will not only examine the condition of living, status and other things but also check how the family members are and presenting themselves in front of other family members. For that reason not only parents, relatives also visit to observation and discuss in various issues. After going back to respective home all family members come together and share point of their observation and all will give their opinion for the proposal. But in most cases final decision is only depends on the parents of the boy or girl.
Phase 3: (Horah chinah) Final decisions and conveyed by Raibaar.
After family has come to the final decision they will convey their decision through Raibaar. And it is his responsibility to convey other family. If the decision is negative, the process will end in this phase. If the decision is positive, the process will continue to next phase of marriage. Both parents will convey their decision to Majhi (headman of village) in order to get social sanctioned and involvement. It is rarely possible to arranged marriage without Majhi and villagers. Process also includes with substantiation by presenting cloths (most often) for to be bride and groom and the process is called Horoh Chinah.
Phase 4: (Taka chal) Express decision to Manjhi (or Majhi) (headman of the village) and arrangement of marriage.
Parents will convey their decision of marriage to other family boy or girl by going to Majhi’s home. After got confirmation from parents, Majhi call Jogmajhi and assign him to prepare for marriage. Majhi, Naike, Jogmajhi and villagers are also stake holders of marriage in village. Many customs are incomplete without the help of Majhi, Naike and Jogmajhi. And villagers play a vital role in helping marriage’s whole processes. Taka Chal is the custom included with the process. In this process groom’s family has to hand over meager money to bride’s family.
Phase 5: (Newta) Invitation to relatives and final preparation of marriage
After conveying decision of marriage to Headman, family members will be relaxed because they know the Majhi will take care of the customs and ceremonies. Family members will be busy inviting their relatives, friends, near and dear once. But first invitation is always to the Majhi.
Phase 6: (Bapla) Holding of Marriage
Different categories of Marriage:
1. Sangha Bapla (Ader bapla): Sangha Bapla (Marriage) is referred to marriage done by elder brother’s wife by younger brother in case of death and lost. It is common understanding between bride and groom side. Also need consent from wife of elder brother. This marriage is done in order to prevent anyone from widowhood. Society accepts followed by some rituals and customs by more hor (five eminent people of village) villagers, naike and manjhi haram (headman). In brief it is required a man to become the husband of a deceased brother’s widow.
2. Kadam Bapla: Kadam Bapla is generally done under kadam tree with all rituals and customs. This is oldest kind of marriage in Santhal community. In olden times, Santhals had no strong witness then nature. Kadam tree is useful and considered to be sacred in Santhal tradition. Now a day’s even branch of Kadam tree is solving the problem- if kadam tree is not available.
3. Kirin Bapla: Kirin in Santhali means purchase. Kirin Bapla is referred to purchase of to be bride from her parent’s home. In Santhali family, everyone in family contribute to occupation, which is agriculture. Therefore, each family member is considered to be manpower. To compensate manpower one has to pay certain amount for bride to their parents. It is not considered to bride price but a customs for identify value of bride.
4. Upagir Bapla: Santhal community is open towards interaction to male or female. Any male or female get along and come to common consent of getting marriage. Society accepts such kind of unionism and considered as marriage. It is without the information of parents but, later on parents are being informed by messenger of village i.e. assigned by Headman. Such kind of marriage occurs from haat (village, daily or weekly local market), pata (mela or community celebration of some occasion). There is special function for newly married couple called Tiril-Tarob. Where villagers have rights to ask and clear their doubt about both of them. This custom is done through a representative by headman. The entire question is being asked in indirect way to maintain the decorum of custom. Question like, have you ever married? Is being asked as “have you crossed anyone barricade before?”
5. Tunki Dipil Bapla: This kind of bapla is also known as Rahi Chaudal Bapla (portable house for bride). After finishing all customs bride sit inside decorated rahi chaudal to groom’s house. Bride has to be taken only in Rahi Chudal by the villagers/relatives from groom’s village.
6. Itut-Sindur Bapla: Process of applying vermillion in mid of forehead of bride by the groom is called Itut. Usually the process is done in door of bride’s home. This process is part and partial of marriage custom. And Itut custom is being done after completing certain years too.
7. Nirbelok Bapla: This kind of marriage is fixed in the childhood by parents. Nirbelok means who is not attended the age of adult.
8. Diku Bapla: Replicating Hindu methods of marriage or other than Santhal custom is called Diku Bapla. Diku in Santhal means outsider, term Diku was being used to denote British or any outsider in pre Independent India by Santhal Adivasi.
9. Haram Bariyat Bariyat: Haram mean old man in Santhal. Marriage led by Haram hor.
10. Sange Bariyat or Sange: Marriage accompanied by many.
11. Ghardi-jawain: In such marriages, groom is liable to stay in bride’s house after marriage. This sort of marriage is mostly with single girl child family or elite Santhal family.
Some Santhali Marriage terms used above:
Gonog is a bride price, that groom has to pay to the bride’s family. Generally it’s a pair of oxen. It helps the family in agricultural activities.
Merhed-Sakom: It is to be a distinctive feature for married person (especially bride). So that she can be identified by others in social occasions and other functions or in general day to day life. It’s a special kind of bangle only for married women. It is social obligation to wear Merhed Sakom to all married women. There is special function for wearing of Merhed Sakom in the process of marriage.
Daram-Gande: If bride is having elder sister and not married. This process is to respect her by presenting pair of cloths. It is social custom, by which she will not be able to touch groom after marriage. And also, if groom is having elder brother, bride is not supposed to touch him after marriage.
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