Santhal Marriage (Sagun Bapla) [Fully Explained]

Santhal Marriage - Sagun Bapla

Marriage is the third turning point in the life cycle of the Santals; it is the most vital event in the life of a santal individual; this is the reason why the process of contracting marriage and associated rites, rituals are complex and time-consuming.

Santals are basically monogamous; bigamy is rare and polygamy unheard of. Normally the marriages are contracted after the individuals attain adulthood

Thus the average age of marriage is sixteen for girls and twenty for boys; child marriage among them is uncommon and are present only in a few localized areas where the Santhals have a high degree of interaction with the non-tribals.

The santal couples normally live in the house of the husband after the marriage - the residence being patrilocal; however, in cases of ghardi jawae or Ghar jawae the custom is reversed - that is the bridegroom goes and lives in the bride's house.

The marriages are strictly contracted within the Santal community; thus, marriages between non-Santal and within the same clan is forbidden. There are stringent customary laws that prohibit such marriages; and if anyone dares to disobey, they are ostracised.

Santali Sagun Bapla

Types of Marriage

Santals follow several different forms of marriage depending upon different situations and circumstances. A brief description of each form is given below:-

1. Kirin bahu bapla:- In this form of marriage the bride is brought to the house of the bridegroom after the father of the groom pays the bride-price. This is the most common form of marriage prevalent among the Santals today.

This is also the most complex form of marriage comprising of a series of ceremonies and rituals spread over months together. A detail description has been provided in the following pages.

2. Kirin jawae bapla:- When a girl is made pregnant by a man who simply does not want to marry her or does not want to marry her because she belongs to the same clan, a husband is bought or arranged for the girl, the cost being borne by the offender.

This form of marriage, as is evident is resorted to providing social protection and sanctity to the pregnant girl.

3. Tunki Dipil Bapla:- This is a poor man's marriage undertaken by persons who are not in a position to bear the expenses of a regular marriage. In this case, bride-price is not paid; the bride simply gathers her few belongings and puts them into a tunki (bamboo basket) put it upon her head (dipil) and simply walks down to the groom's house.

4. Sanga Bapla:- This is a form of a marriage contracted between a widow/divorced woman and a widower/divorced man. The bride-price, in this case, is half of the kirin bahu bapla.

5. Ghardi Jawae and Ghar Jawae Bapla:- In 'ghardi jawae' bapla the boy(groom) after marriage goes to live in the girl's (bride) house; this form of marriage is resorted to by the parents with a number of adult girls with no sons or minor sons. All the expenses of the marriage are borne by the girl's side and no bride-price is paid.

The groom works for five years in the in-laws household in return of which he is given food and clothing and a calf during the marriage. In Ghar-Jawae bapla the 'groom' goes to live in the bride's parents house.

A father who has no male offspring but has only daughters accomplishes this form of marriage. By this marriage, the girl's parents ensure that their heir inherits their properties; thus, this marriage requires the formal approval of the girl's relatives and also the consent of the villagers.

6. Itut' Bapla:- This is a rare form of marriage in santal society. The boy has been in love with a girl forcibly applies 'sindur' (vermillion) on the forehead of the girl in a market place or any other public place. By doing this the boy ensures the girl to be his wife and at the same time overcomes any resistance from her parents' side.

7. Nir Bolok Bapla:- This is also a rare form of marriage wherein a girl had a sexual relationship with a boy, forcibly enters the boys' house(Nir bolo), thus forcing the boy to marry her.

The Santal Marriage

Marriage in Santal Community is a vital event and is an important milestone in the lifecycle of a Santal individual - the other two important events being the Birth and the Death. Because of its vital nature, a series of social ceremonies and rituals are associated with it; in fact, marriage is the biggest social (ceremony) event among the Santals.

Santali Bapla (Marriage)

The social ceremonies and rituals associated with the marriage among the Santals are extremely intricate and complex.

In order to understand and appreciate this one has to personally witness a marriage ceremony from beginning to end with a critical mind because all the rituals and ceremonies have an inner meaning expressing the relationship with their bongas (spirits) and also new social involvement of the 'couples'. Some of the major social ceremonies and rituals associated with marriage (Kirin bahu bapla) are described below:-

The Normal Period for Marriage

Usually, the marriage ceremonies among Santals are held from March to June; during this period there is not much of a work to be done and also there is adequate rice and other materials available in the households. This period refers to the normal arranged marriage (Kirin bahu bapla); however, exceptions do exist.

Major Ceremonies of Marriage

A few major customary ceremonies of symbolic significance are as noted below:

1. Raebar (match-making) : Raebar (match-making) is the first step in the process of kirin bahu bapla; the boys father appoint a responsible person to look for a bride and a series of discussions with the parents relatives of either side are made; finally he fixes the date and venue for the 'nepel' - meaning meeting each other between the prospective bride and bridegroom along with their relatives; the venue chosen is normally a public place - a market place, a fair or sometimes even paddy fields.

This is the first opportunity the boy and the girl along with a few relatives meet one another. The role of 'raebaric' in kirin bahu bapla is very important and hence the marriage is often called "Raebar Bapla".

2. Orak' Duar Nel (inspection of the boy's house): If during the 'Nepel' both the sides agree to the proposal, a day is fixed for the orak' duar nel - informal inspection of the boy's house by the girl's father along with the village headman and relatives.

On reaching the boy's village, they proceed to his house accompanied by the Manjhi and Jog manjhi of that village. After the normal customary greetings of 'abuk janga' (feet washing) they are given rice beer.

However, these drinks are taken only after rice beer libations are offered by the Manjhi ( of both parties) to the ancestral spirits of the boy and girl invoking their blessings. The girl’s party thereafter makes a preliminary inquiry from the Manjhi and Jog Manjhi whether the boy's family has been guilty of any social offense. They then retire for the night after having night meals. The following day the girl's relatives are shown the boy's house and fields; they then decide the gonon or the bride price.

3. Horok' Cikhna (betrothal ceremony): Traditionally 'horok' cikhna' comprise, of two individual ceremonies - the 'Jawae dhuti' and 'Bahu bande'.

4. Jawae Dhuti: In jawae dhuti, the bride's father, with uncles, the village headmen, Paranik, Jog Manjhi along with some other relatives and 'raebaric' go to the groom's village on a prefixed day.

On the arrival they are received and accompanied by the village headman and Jog Manjhi to the boy's house; then they are taken inside the house after the normal feet washing and anointing in the courtyard of the groom's house.

They are then offered Khajari-gur (parched rice and molasses) to eat and rice beer to drink.

Then the groom with a lota in hand is brought out of the house by a married relative usually by his maternal uncle or his sister's husband to pay respect to the guests.

He places the 'lota' in front of the brides' father, sits on his thighs. He is then offered some rice beer after which he rinses his mouth. The groom is then offered a new dhoti and some money; he then kisses him.

All other relatives who offer him pieces of cloth, shirts or money follow the same process. The Paranik then counts the money and the gifts received and announce the total amount in public. A goat is then sacrificed by the Jog Manjhi in honour of the family's ancestral spirits and the Jaher Bongas invoking them to protect the couple from all kinds misfortune. The relatives and the villagers then partake of the sacrificial meals.

6. Bahu Bande:- A similar betrothal ceremony is performed in the bride's house by the groom's party; various gifts are offered to the bride by the groom's party. Bahu bande is often set aside if the marriage is to be performed early.

These betrothal ceremonies signify the ratification of a contract between the two parties – the-would be bride's and groom's families; the gifts made during these ceremonies are regarded as the seals and testimonies.

Santali Marriage - Bapla

By this contract, the boy or the girl are prevented from running away and entering into any marriage, without the consent of both the families - in which case the gifts are to be returned. This is the reason the gifts are counted during the betrothal ceremony.

7. Taka cal and Gira tol:- The 'Taka cal' (paying the bride's price) ceremony is held in the bride's house. The grooms' father accompanied by the village headman, Jog Manjhi and a few relatives go to the bride's house. On their arrival at the bride's house, they are offered rice-beer after the usual salutations and welcome ceremonies; the bride's price is then decided upon and paid off; this is supposed to be the proof of legal possession.

All those present, then decide upon the actual date of marriage - the process being called the Gira tol. In the end, the meal is offered to everyone present after the usual invocation of the ancestral spirits for the well being of the prospective husband and wife.

8. Mandwa (Marriage shed):- Mandwa - the marriage shed is usually set up two or three days before the marriage in the bride's and the groom's house.

Before the mandwa is set up the brided's father gives three fowls, a pot of rice beer and some rice to the village-priest which he offers to the Maran Buru, Jaher Era and More-ko-turuiko; during the sacrifice the priests invoke these bongas to ward off any evil spirits and keep the village clean during the marriage.

The Jog Manjhi and Jog Paranik then ask the villagers to set up the mandwa. The central post of the mandwa called mandwa khunti is usually of the mahua branch with the canopy of the shed consists of twigs and small branches of mango, sal and mahua trees.

9. Dak'bapla (water marriage ceremony):- The Dak' Bapla - the ceremony is held one day before the groom along with his party (bariat ko) set forth to the bride's house. The ceremony starts with the anointing (Sunum Sasan) of the village folk gathered under the mandwa by the tetre kuri; the village headman and his wives are first to be anointed while the groom's parents are anointed last.

After this, the Jog Manjhi with a lota of rice beer, the tetre kuri carrying two earthen pots Sagun thilli (ominous pots) on head covered with yellow cloth (Sasan kicric), the grooms mother carrying Adwa caole, oil, Vermillion, dhubi ghas and three cowrie shells and two paternal aunts carrying a sword and a bow and arrows then proceed to fetch the ceremonial water.

They are all accompanied by village girls dancing (dak' bapla don) to the beating of dhols and rahar by the doms. Once at the pre-arranged spot, the babre-kora digs a hole at the waterside and allows the water to seep through. The Jog Majhi then plants three arrows around the hole and winds a thread five times around these arrows; covers the cowrie shells with sindur after which Daramdak' (Welcome ceremony).

10. Bariatko (groom's party) proceed, towards the bride's house amidst the beating of dhols and rahar; raebaric's wife carries a big basket - 'Daura' and the 'groom' and lomta kora are carried on a Rahi or palanquin. On reaching the bride's village, the bariatko initially camp at the west side of the kulhi; the 'raebaric' (matchmaker) then informs the bride's party of their arrival.

The bride's party along with the 'raebaric', godet and Jog Manjhi of the village then bring the groom's party to the majhithan. Here two pigeons are sacrificed to the Manjhiharam and Jaherbongas; rice beer libations are also offered.

After this the bride's mother offers molasses and water to the groom and lomta kora; the process is repeated by the close relatives of the bride. This completes the welcome ceremony.

11. Balaea Johar (Salutation ceremony):- After the welcome ceremony, the relatives belonging to the bride and the groom's family stand in two lines face to face. Then the groom's relative start saluting the bride's relative - the groom's father leads, followed by the male members and ultimately the female members follow. This process signifies the new bond and relationship being entered into through the marriage.

12. Gurjom ( eating of the molasses ceremony):- After the Balaea Johar, the gurjom ceremony is performed. This comprises of visits to all the households in the village by the groom and lomta kora where they are given molasses to eat and water to drink. The process strengthens the bond between the groom and the bride's villagers.

Sara Darhi:- The groom on arriving at the bride's house is washed, anointed with oil and turmeric and dressed in saffron clothes. He is then lifted on the shoulder of his babre kora; similarly, the bride's younger brother is lifted on the shoulder of his brother-in-law, both facing each other with a piece of white cloth separating them.

Then they sprinkle water over each other five times by dripping the mango twig with five leaves in a 'lota' of water. Then they blow chewed rice over each other. After this, the bride's brother offers a saffron turban (Sara arhi) to the groom. This ceremony is accompanied by a mock fight (paikaha/Natwa don) between the boys' and girls' party outside to the beating of the 'dhols' and 'rahar'.

SINDRADAN (Smearing of bride's forehead with Vermilion):- This is the essence and the most fundamental of all marriage ceremonies. The bride is anointed with oil and turmeric and is dressed in saffron clothes covering her whole face.

A few members of the groom's party then enter the house, put her in the Daura - (large bamboo basket) and bring her out. The groom is lifted over the shoulder of the babre-kora and faces East, opposite to the bride. Both, the bride and the groom sprinkle water over each other five times by a mango twig with five leaves being dipped every time in a lota of water.

Then the groom uncovers the face of the bride and applies vermillion from a leaf cup five times using his right thumb and little finger. The remaining vermilion is then smeared by the side of the bride's neck.

The empty leaf-cup is then handed over to the babre-kora who ties it to the cloth of the groom. The Sindradan is accompanied by the beating of dhols and rahar. One of the material aunts then ties the ends of the cloths of the newlyweds signifying that henceforth they are one and united.

13. Cumaura and Parchau (Waving and Purification Ceremony):- These two ceremonies are performed after the sindradan before the new couples are allowed to enter the bride's house. In the cumaura ceremony, the bride's mother carries a winnowing fan (hatak') containing some Adwa Caole. dhubi ghas and horo.

She waves the hatak' three times over the couples and lumtikora, lumtikuri and the babrekora each time scattering the contents of the hatak' at their backs. The process is repeated by other close relatives of the bride.

After the cumaura, parchau ceremony is performed. In this two maternal aunts of the bride come out of the house carrying two brass plates, one plate containing four leaf-cups - two filled with oil and two with molasses; the second plate contains two leaf cups of turmeric and five flour balls. The bride's mother anoints the couples and gives them molasses to eat and water to drink; then smears their faces with turmeric too.

Then the bride's mother takes the five balls of cow dung and flour and scatters them over their heads. The ceremony is also repeated by a few close relatives of the bride. After this ceremony, the couples are led into the house and served with food.

14. Gidi Cumaura (Second waving ceremony):- The couples along with their companions and the relatives as also the villagers gather next morning under the marriage shed. A mat is spread and the couples sit - the bride sitting on the left side of the groom.

Santhali Bapla Marriage Culture

On the left side of the bride sit the lumtikuri and babrekuri while on the right side of the groom sit the lomtakora and babrekora. The couples are then anointed and taken around the mandwa khunti thrice.

Then the bride's mother then comes with the Daura containing some dhubi ghas and Adwa Caole; she then waves the Daura three times over each one's head and scatters some dhubi ghas and Adwa Caole over their heads.

After that, she puts some money in the brass plates kept in front of each of them. The process is repeated by the relatives and wives of the village officials. The last to perform the ceremonies are the elder sister and cousins of the bride. All of them then go to the Manjhithan where the Jog Manjhi offers rice-beer libations to the Manjhi haram Bonga imploring him to protect the couples during their return journey and also in the days to come.

After this, all the villagers and relatives go to the eastern end of the village where the farewell ceremony is to be performed. As usual, a mat is spread out and the bride's mother gives the groom molasses to eat and water to drink; after this, she kisses him. She does the same to the bride.

Then the villagers stand on two lines facing each other to perform the Balaea-Johar ( farewell salutations); after this farewell, addresses are delivered by the Jog Manjhi of the groom's village and by the bride's headman.

The speeches highlight and stress upon the new social relationship entered into by two individuals as also by the members of the two villages. That the marriage is a union of two villages as much as a union of two individuals is indicated in the parting speech which says this:

.......from today our two villages have become as one ..... Formerly you were strangers and you used to pass by our village. Now if any of your people are passing this way.... he must stop and ask for a drink.

After the parting ceremony, the Jog Manjhi of the bride's village hand her over to the groom's headman; then the couples along with a few male and female members (lunti-baret) proceed to the groom's village. One of the groom's party also carries the mandwa khunti with them.

On reaching the groom's village the welcome ceremony (Daramdak'), the gurjom ceremony cumaura and parchau ceremonies are performed as in the bride's house. After one or two days the bride's brother is given a cow or a goat (bare-itat') to take home.

Santhali Marriage Bapla

The couples again return to the bride's house after three days. Here bride's father offers a goat honouring the ancestor spirits; rice-beer libations are also made imploring the protection of the ancestor spirits. All present partake of this food except the bride.

Thank You for reading. Stay connected for more articles. Johar.

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