It’s in the nature of every social animal; they inherit some traits from their surrounding and adapt themselves accordingly to better suit their existence. Humans too adapt themselves; morphing themselves to suit their respective environment. So people are bound to share culture, adapting to what suits best to them and foregoing those they consider to be a hindrance or a malpractice with respect to time. With time cultures merge making it indistinguishable from the other. So do the origin of rituals and true motives of our ancestors in establishing the said rules and regulation known as culture.
‘Widow’ is a term that comes short of expressing the woes of a widow, especially in a country such as Nepal which still resides in a rigid framework decided by a patriarchal society for their own self-serving interest.
Widow system is very much widespread and deep rooted not only in rural areas but also in urban cities. In our society, a widower can marry just after 13 days of performing final rites, but a widow is not allowed to get re-married or groom herself.
Initially the Newar community did not practice it due to its culture known as ‘Ihi’ or ‘Bel-Bibaha’. But as many other traditions, ‘Ihi’ has been morphed into a life-less ritual where it is practiced but not understood.
‘Ihi’ is an age-old tradition in which a girl is married to an ever-fresh fruit ‘Bel’, which is considered to be an incarnation of lord Vishnu due to its non degradable characteristics.
According to legend, goddess Parvati once asked for women to be spared from being a widow, to which Lord Shiva came up with a solution of a holy matrimony to lord Vishnu thus preventing any custom of a widow system.
And not only this, due to a girl being already married, the procession during marriage ceremony is negated, thus shortening the whole ritual. In addition to this, in Newari culture, a marriage can be nullified by returning ‘Suparis’ given to the bride from the groom’s side during the marriage ceremony resulting in a more powerful bride. But this too has been lost due to the amalgamation of cultures.
At present, the true significance of ‘Ihi’, although practiced in the Newari society, has been lost, driving widows into a forced system of abstinence from marriage, even though there isn’t a word for a widow in Newari.
Yet, a widow is so much shackled; tied to her husband’s life; she is considered unlucky and barred from participating in her own children’s marriage. Hence, it’s time we revived age-old traditions and return to our roots.
Sarthak is student at Pulchowk Engineering College