Recently, in one of my Whatsapp groups a lady mentioned with a lot of pride that while she had got her daughter married the traditional way, she had not done the “Kanya Daan” rite because it was regressive and demeaning to the girl child. This ritual is supposedly proof of our patriarchal society which treats the girl child as an object, a burden to her parents and that’s why she is off-loaded to another man, on coming of age. These twisted versions of our holy rituals are popularised so much that they become a case of ‘Tell a lie 100 times and maybe people will start believing it’. This is exactly how the Varna and Jaati system became the caste system. This is why many ‘intellectuals’ think that instead of protecting ancient temples, one should use their wealth to build hospitals and schools and so on…
Before we talk about kanyadaan, let us understand what daan itself is. Daan is not a charity. It is not alms given to a beggar (though even beggars use that term). Daan is action of gifting, through which one gains great Punya or Merit. A small story from our Upanishads to help readers understand better…
A small child Nachiketa was watching his father, King Vajashrava, giving daan during a Vishwajit Yagya. Since Vajashrava was a miser, he was giving away old non-milking cows to the Brahmins. Nachiketa was upset and tried to caution his father. When his father refused to listen to him, he asked him, “I too am your property, a useless property which will give no returns … to whom do you give me to?” Vajashrava gets furious and bequeaths him to Yama, the Lord of Death. Nachiketa learns about Brhman and the mystery of life and death from Yama, but that is another story. From this one can understand 2 things very clearly – daan should be only of a person or thing which is so valuable that one can’t bear to part with it, but still gives it away for the better of the self & the world (Vishwajit). Secondly, daan given cannot be useless – it has to be of use to the receiver, else it will not be daan.
Nachiketa calls himself his father’s property, since he wants his attention. Else, children are not their parent’s property at all – but please note, that even a SON could mistakenly think of himself as his parent’s property. So when today’s feminists think that as per Hindu tradition only daughters are thought of as property, it is a plain distortion of facts. Actually, neither the son, nor the daughter, neither a husband, nor a wife are thought of as property in any scripture. When Draupadi asks the same question during her vastraharan, the elders are forced to agree that Draupadi is not her husband’s property that she should be bet upon.
Today people think that giving Charity to a temple in return for having their name on the walls of the temple is Daan. People think that giving used clothes to beggars is Daan. But it is not so.
Coming to daughters and the ritual of Kanyadaan …
A daughter is considered to be very precious – she is the one who carries forward the legacy of our ancestors. She is the one who gives birth to kings and saints. “We are born of woman, we are conceived in the womb of woman, we are engaged and married to woman. We make friendship with woman and the lineage continued because of woman. When one woman dies, we take another one, we are bound with the world through woman. Why should we talk ill of her, who gives birth to kings? The woman is born from woman; there is none without her. Only the One True Lord is without woman.” (Guru Nanak, Var Asa, pg. 473)”. Though she is the most precious gem of her house, she is given away to another family whose lineage she extends.
A daughter is irreplaceable. That is why when she is given away to be the life-partner of another man, it gathers a lot of punya or merit to her parents. A kanyadaan is considered the most meritorious daan which only very fortunate people can engage in. It is an act of giving away a part of oneself to another, for the benefit of the Human race itself. Imagine a world without any daughters … can the human race continue? That is why in Hindu traditions a kanya is considered pujaneeya – worthy of worship. And see her gracious nature – she accepts the husband’s house, his gotra, his family – as her own. She brings prosperity to the house she was not born to. Like the rice which grows in a field, does not benefit that field, but benefits the house it is stored in, a daughter brings benefits to her husband’s house. The rice is elevated to a holy grain because of this & a wife too is called ‘Gruh-Lakshmi’ – a bringer of prosperity to the house. As per rituals, before she is married off to her husband, it is necessary that her husband should rise to the status of Narayan – he is supposed to keep her in his heart – Lakshmi lives in the Heart of Vishnu. She is a Dharma patni – a wife is instrumental in helping her husband attain the goals of Dharma, Artha (wealth), Kaama and Moksha.
To reduce her status to a ‘property’ and making any woman/girl feel that Hindu society thinks that way, is one way of making a woman or girl lose her self-esteem, her confidence. A woman without any self-esteem or having inferiority complexes is an easy target for planting nefarious ideas. This is exactly the kind of girl who will fall trap to ‘Love Jihad’ and/or immorality because she will feel that she needs to do something against her traditions to be considered as equal to man.
Kanyadaan is a mahadaan – one which benefits the giver and the receiver. To even make a kanya think that she is objectified when she given away by her parents to her husband, is a very twisted way of thinking. To put such thoughts in our men/boys that our kanyas/women are objects of desire is equally twisted. Our Hindu marriages are Sanskars, not Contracts like it is in Islam or Christianity. That is why we do not have a word for Divorce in our languages. Those who want to avoid kanyadaan because of misunderstanding the rituals, may opt for court marriages, but do not vitiate the sanctity of a Hindu traditional marriage by avoiding this ritual, calling it non-Vedic or patriarchal just because you do not understand the deep sentiments behind it.
While arguing in the group, the lady asked why ‘daan’ of the daughters are given and not of the sons. Simple – the sons cannot bear children. It is only the wife who has the power to bring forth a child in the family and extend the family. Another question asked was why the ‘gotra’ of the bride is changed. Well, it is because she is accepted into the groom’s family (kul) as a new family member, with her identity merged into that of the groom’s family. Can’t the groom’s ‘gotra’ be changed? Usually there is no ritual to change the groom’s gotra during the wedding rites. But please note that when a child (boy/girl) is adopted into a family, one of the rituals followed is the change of the ‘gotra’. After this, the child does not continue to quote his/her original gotra (lineage), but that of the adoptive parents. This is the traditional form of adoption in Bharat and it is still followed. So if anyone is interested in having a ‘ghar jamaai’ and calling him their son, all they have to do is get the ritual to change the gotra done. Simple. Why call the ancient rite of ‘kanya daan’ bad names for that?
And finally, did you know that Kanya Daan is the only Daan where the giver does not say “Na Mama, Na Mama” ie. “This (daughter) is not mine” … the parents never wash their hands off their daughter saying that “She is no longer ours” because the daughter never ceases to be a part of their lives. She is not an object or land where one cannot lay a claim to her love and respect after being given in marriage to the son-in-law. That is why daughters are always lovingly welcomed to their parents houses by the parents and siblings even after marriage. Even in difficult times, it is the parents and siblings who come to her rescue first. A few aberrations do not change facts. Kanya Daan is a Maha-daan.
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