A make-believe marriage in the hope of the real

A make-believe marriage in the hope of the real

A mock child marriage ceremony in a coastal Odisha village

Just days after Durga puja every year, people in Odisha celebrate Kumar Purnami. An interesting feature of this colourful annual festival is ‘Kumari Bibaha Utsav’ or a mock child marriage ceremony.  Young, unmarried girls in the villages, particularly in the coastal districts of the State, organise the unique event with the belief that it will help them to find a handsome and able husband.

“Earlier, this fascinating ritual was confined to a few villages in coastal Khurda district, mostly on the outskirts of capital Bhubaneswar. But now it has already started spreading to villages in other coastal districts like Puri, Nayagarh and Cuttack,” said 70-year-old Banchanidhi Mohapatra, a resident of Tomando village near Bhubaneswar.

The mock child marriages are held just like the real marriage ceremonies with all the rituals and practices. However, the only difference is that the two minor
children who perform the roles of bride and groom are girls. Similarly, girls also play the role of parents and other relatives of both bride and the groom. Even an
unmarried girl performs the duty of the priest who solemnizes the marriage.

As Kumar Purnami approaches every year, young girls in the villages start
collecting funds from the village elders for the mock child marriage ceremony. They zero in on the two female minors of the village who would play the roles bride and the groom.

On the day of the festival, the marriage procession starts from the groom’s
residence after a brief puja in the village temple. The marriage procession has nothing mock about it. There would be baratis who would be dancing to the tunes of accompanying band party playing hit numbers from the Bollywood as well as Odiya movies. Fire crackers are and an air of festivity abounds. When the ‘groom’
arrives at the bridal residence to a grand traditional welcome by the father of the ‘bride’ that is eerily real. Soon after, the “young couple” tie the knot in front of their friends and relatives amid chanting of hymns and slokas by the priest. All present bless the newly wed a long a prosperous married life!

Soon after the ‘marriage’, all the invitees (the villagers and sometimes others from neighbouring villages too) partake a sumptuous meal, followed by the last
act-the ‘bride’ leaving her father’s place and stepping into her husband's home. The mock ceremony comes to end and all in the village go back to their respective homes.

The village elders enthusiastically support the young girls in organising the unique ritual. Apart from contributing money, the elders also help in arranging logistics like the band party and attires for the ‘bride’ and the ‘groom’. The young boys of the village also chip in to help in organising the event. “We believe that the unique ritual not only helps the young girls to find a good husband but also helps in the overall prosperity of the village”, said 57-year-old Bimala Das, a resident of a village near Bhubaneswar which organised the event this year.  Every year, girls married into other villages return to their maternal homes to witness the mock child marriage they were once part of.

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