Jan 24, 2009

Gaudaan... Vastradaan... Annadaan... Bhoodaan... Kanyadaan?

Kanyadaan = kanya (girl) + daan (donation) = Literally, the donation of one's girl/ daughter

Kanyadaan is often dubbed as 'mahadaan' - a donation of the highest order. As one of the irrefutable rituals of a Hindu wedding, the father of the bride is entrusted with the 'sacred responsibility' of performing kanyadaan as one of the greatest daans of his lifetime.

The idea of 'donating' one's child generates from our patriarchal norms and traditions which are unabashedly male-centric. The focal point of the universe is thought to be men, and women, instead of complementing them, are marginalised at the peripheries. Women are seen as merely an instrument to fulfil masculine purposes - particularly that of 'putra-praapti' or begetting sons so as to keep the lineage alive.

For producing male progeny later in her life, an unmarried female has to be kept 'chaste' and 'pure' by her father as part of the larger plan of survival of human race. Her personality, spirituality and psyche is expected to be so moulded as to unquestionably fit into her pre-destined role of the second sex. Nowhere is it ever mentioned that begetting daughters is a desirable (or even one of the not-so-desirable) goal of society, even though they are as much a part of evolutionary progress as sons would be.

Nothing is more atrocious than the concept of 'kanyadaan'. It is against the basic human values. In fact, shockingly, parallels can be drawn between 'gaudaan' (donation of a cow) and kanyadaan. Cows are useful to the extent that that they produce milk and calves, hence they need to be fed and kept properly. Similarly, the practice of kanyadaan draws from certain religious ancient texts which actually mention that a woman's place is at home where she should be given sufficient food, ornaments and clothes to wear - all so that when her husband comes home from work, he finds her attractive for producing male progeny.

Marcel Mauss wrote: "To give something is to give a part of yourself." This worries parents, especially fathers, making them extremely cautious about their daughters' marriage arrangements. Kanyadaan quite literally takes part of the girl's father with it - in the form of her father's blood, and his money. On the other hand, the gift of kanyadaan is likened to a gift to God. The daughter’s husband is akin to Vishnu, while the daughter herself represents Lakshmi (not surprising, considering the amount of dowry she brings to her marital home).

According to the scriptures, a daughter is the finest gift a man has to give to another man. Though he loves his daughter, he cannot keep her. In fact, to keep her past her puberty was considered a great sin for a father in olden days, which was why tiny pre-pubescent girls were married at a very early age, often as young as five or six.

However, the humiliation of the daughter, now a daughter-in-law, doesn't end there. Her acceptance involves the receiving family in risk. Conveniently overlooking the absolute dependence of the lineage on her reproductive powers, the ideology of marriage focuses on the dangerous substances the bride brings in her blood to mix with the husband’s patrilineage.

"The boy will enter the householder stage and he is taking the girl to enter; hence it depends on the girl. If she isn’t of good blood line, his whole grhastyam is spoiled. So purity of blood is essential." So say the 'wise'!

What is even more baffling is that often traditions like kanyadaan are not questioned, since on the superficial level they are not perceived as being overtly gender discriminatory. However, the problem is they serve to perpetuate gender inequality and reiterate a woman's tertiary existence and male supremacy. This plays on a woman's psyche and strengthens the in-built injustices of society where women are subject to violence and abuse, even death. Another problem is that since kanyadaan takes place during a wedding, gender-sensitised citizenry are also hesitant to disrupt the ceremonies to protest against this regressive practice.


@lankr1ta said...

Hey, this is very dear to my heart. i did not have a Kanyadaan at my wedding. And it was between me, my mother( she did the rituals, the Arya Samaj way is really great for people wanting a "traditional" Hindu ceremony) the priest and to an extent my husband. We did a "pranay bandhan" thing( they do it if you are insistent enough). And well, no one was even the wiser- no one follows the Sanskrit anyhow! Though there were raised eyebrows after the ceremony, but you know what, who cares what anyone else thinks.
So in case anyone says it is "not possible" obviously they did not try hard enough.

Indian Home Maker said...

I and many other women I know have protested against this. Mostly parents use emotional blackmail, it gives them joy to donate their daughters....
And I published Some Gems from Manusmriti ;)

Surbhi said...

Lucky you have a supportive family. I plan to discuss this with the guy I'd marry when I do. If he stands with me against this, my mom (who's critical of superstition otherwise but not when it comes to me) won't say anything. After all, miyan-biwi raazi to kya karega kaazi. And if the guy doesn't understand, he doesn't deserve me anyway!

Surbhi said...

Sure my mom would emotionally blackmail! I know it. That's why I'll conspire with the guy. No way she'll blackmail her damaad!
Cheers for the Manusmriti (eerie how it is so similar to MNS!) post. Its a vile document, and as I said we're lucky it wasn't imposed on us!

chandni said...

nice post!

Surbhi said...

Thanks a ton! Keep visiting. Loved that post on Karvachauth (I'll be doing one on it next). Where do I find someone like the Boy?

@lankr1ta said...

Surbhi, I do not know about the "regular" sanatan dharma pandits- the Arya Samaj will do it- they are reformist. Regular pandits would object to a widowed mother performing the rituals too- I had absolutely insisted that no one would step in for my mum for the ceremony( not that the religious part meant anything for me)so we did the Arya Samaj rituals. They are a reformist sect and preach equality of women- so it works there. Regular Hinduism is very misogynistic. And you will get a lot of flak from older people.
Any regular Hindu ceremonies treat women like chattels, whose only purpose is to act as moving accessorie with their men. Any Hindu cermony- be it a Satyanarayan Puja or a Griha Pravesh Puja or anything requires the man to perform it and his wife to sit by him, as his side kick( with a very small role). It is ugly- and gets worse because too often the priests performing it and the more religious blind followers, do not know waht the scriptures really say, but instead love to pass around the tradition-diluted version- where women might as well be vermin.

Surbhi said...

Unfortunately in my family (esp. my Mom, coz Dad can't confront her esp. when it comes to religious mumbo-jumbo) are contemptuous of Arya Samaj and see them as equal to atheists. I am one and it pains my Mom some. She's not the everyday-pooja-in-mandir types, she just lights an agarbatti and prays for like one minute at home. But she miraculously turns blindly religious when it comes to me.She justifies it by saying she loves me so much she'll believe in superstitions too for my 'well-being'. That's what irritates me. And I'm so sure she'll force me into Kanyadaan, which is an abhorrent practice. So I'll take the guy into confidence and condemn it together (so Mom doesn't feel hurt and I get to do what I want)

Solilo said...

Very timely post as I have been reading about domestic violence everywhere.

You are apt when you say it is similar to godaan. How can anyone give their child away?

I would still like the custom of joining the hands together and instead of kanyadaan let it be termed fpr togetherness-for love.

Blogrolled you.

Surbhi said...

Very true! I think instead of 'kanyadaan' something like 'gath-bandhan' or 'pranay bandhan' like Alankrita said sound unbiased, respectful, and appropriately romantic too.
Thanks a ton for blogrolling me!

Anonymous said...

Kanyadaan is not similar to Godaan. According to the Hindu ritual and slokas chanted during the ceremony, the father is saying that his daughter is precious to him and he requests the groom to promise him that he will keep his daughter happy and will do his duty as a husband. He has to promise the father that he will respect her wishes and treat her with the utmost love and honor. He is glad that he has been given the goddess lakshmi herself to bear his children. He has to bind himself to the grihasthanam. The girl or her family has equal rights in vetoing a groom if he is found to be less stellar than assured. The women still maintains right within her family being asked to be a part of the sraddham after the death of her parents. Moreover, in those times, the dowry was controlled totally by the bride. It was her safeguard, her personal insurance against any catastrophes. That practice has become horrible. Movies and regressive religious politics has managed to make this whole ceremony into one that is seemingly male oriented, but the truth is the women has as much rights in choosing her groom and in going along with the ceremony as the groom has.

Aathira said...

Very nice post.

I also do not plan to have any Kanyadhaan! Lets see how I work that out though!

Surbhi said...

The sentiment behind the practice may or may not be noble. That isn't the topic of discussion. What irks me is the name. Its called KANYA-DAAN. This literally translates to 'donation of a girl', just like vastradaan is 'donation of clothes' or annadaan is 'donation of food'. Why is it called a 'daan'? Doesn't it show a misogynist mentality of considering a girl as a commodity that can be 'donated' or 'given away'?
Think about it. I'll welcome a healthy discussion with your viewpoint.

Surbhi said...

Go, girl! Get your guy to understand and support you fully - it makes it half as easy for emotional parents to be convinced.

Surbhi said...

One thing you mentioned is so very true. Popular media and regressive politico-religious ploys have indeed worked against half the population. Actually, its far less than half now.
I agree, dowry was not called so earlier. It was 'streedhan' and was aimed at making the bride feel independent in terms of finances and resources. But thanks to a consumerist society, coupled with patriarchy, we have dowry, a national and moral shame of humanity, laughing in our faces today.

Anonymous said...


I'm glad to find a fellow blogger who agrees with me! And it seems that many of the commenters do to, that gives me hope!

I just wrote about Kanyadaan yesterday in my blog. If you have time, please check out my blog and share your thoughts. I'll be sure to add you to my blog roll.

Krish Ramsaran said...

Hi all, I am currently in my second year in Vedic (Arya Samaj) studies and I am in the Vivaah Sanskaar stage and i read all the posts about kanyadaaṇ I think it is more cruel to "donate" oneś child than to rather entrust her to someone. Kanyadaan should be a thing of the past when women were regarded unequal to the menfolk. Thanks to people like Swami Dayanand and all his followers who actually gave women the respect they deserve. According to Arya Samaj kanyadaan was replaced with kanya grihanaam which is the entrustment of the bride to her grooṃ In this age of domestic violence on the increase people tend to take advantage of the misconceptions which were inculcatered in our people. Women have their place in society and a widow must be allowed to give her daughter away at her wedding there should be no way someone else must replace heṛ