The First Mass Marriage

Chaitanyadev –the Social Reformer

Gautam Kumar Das

Chaitanyadev brought forward an outstanding social reform introducing the mass-marriage among deserted men and women of low-born classes in the social history of Bengal. Materialisation of such social reforms was assisted by Sree Nityananda Abadhut and his son Birbhadra by the instruction of Sree Chaitanyadev. The then members of the low-born inferior caste like kanthawaala, kortabhoja, kanfuta etc had been exploited by the upper caste members of the society on regular basis. Ordinary people were considered as depressed class because of their birth in the low-class family belonging to the scheduled caste, although almost all those members of the upper class had the general characteristics of voluptuousness, libidinousness, lewdness, sensuality etc. Some low-born people even were perished with the torture of the people of upper class. Along with those exploited and oppressed people, there were huge number of widows—masterless, husband-deserted, abandoned women in the society. They were gradually involved with various unsocial and antisocial activities either willingly or pressure exerted upon them from different magnitudes. Neither they had the place to live, nor did they have mere dignity in the society. Sree Chaitanya was the savior to those unfortunate, ill-starred, down and out people returning them into the original track, place and source of the society through his unique and novel social reforms. Sree Chaitanya's principal colleague Sree Nityananda Abadhut organized the ceremonial rites of rescue of the fallen, although the prevalence customary name was marriage by exchanging strings of beads (kanthi-badal) or Vaishnavite conversion. The exchange strings of beads made human recognition of a personal companion entitled to the obedience and greatly devoted to faith and lifetime worship of Lord Krishna.

Performance of marriage ceremony for an ordinary family was then very costly. The bridegroom's party had to pay then a lump sum amount of Rs 30 to Rs 50 to the father or guardian of the bride. A charge of Rs 1 to 6 was paid not only to the Brahmin priests for performing marriage, but to the barbers with the almost same amount according to the financial position of the both side party. Those brides and bridegrooms were at first examined a few days before the marriage ceremony. The bridegroom was ordered to walk and asked her name, her father's name, residential address etc in order to check whether she was lame or dumb. Sometimes the girls after being married were driven away from the in-laws house despite fulfilment of all necessities on her behalf. Even the women were sent to their paternal house when consecutive daughters were born. On contrary, the deserted-male were generally widower. Both these male and female including society-driven people gathered at Ramkeli to enlist their names in search of a life-partner. If the society approved the second time marriage, there were seldom among the low-born people to bear the huge cost of ceremony.

A religious ceremony including pious yagyyo (oblation of fire) had been held upon the free spacious lawn in front of the temple that was once erected by Rup–Sanatan–Sreejiv Goswami at Ramkeli on the auspicious day of Sankranti of the month of Jesthha (1st week of June). The willing people had to enlist their name with the fixed rate of subscription before the authority of Ramkeli temple in order to go through the vaishnavitasion. The process of vaishnavitasion had been commenced on and from the midnight touching the tithi (auspicious day) of sankranti (last day of the Bengali month). The actual ceremony of the acceptance of partner as vaishnav or vaishnavee was started when the disciples had to take a proper bath in the ponds named Radha-Shyam and Lalita-Bishakha and wear fresh cloths for the physical purity. Vaishnavees, the women members stood in a line with the cloths entirely covered with their bodies. Only a finger, the little one of her left hand was exposed to represent her. The male partners had to take oath about their post-marital phases and had to select their life partners catching the little finger of the vaishnavees only exposed and viewed as public. The duly selected couple, vaishnavs and vaishnavees waiting in row, were permitted to start their new life after being recalled the important conditions and oaths laken earlier. This social reform encouraging these husband-deserted, society- abandoned women including all the uncouth, aged, even the blind and lame women helped the revival of the right of living through this social process of keeping togetherness. Thousands of people in this system returned back to the society with dignity although this social practice of kanthi-badal does not exist at Ramkeli of late. In his Statistical Account of Bengal, Maldah, W W Hunter (1876) also reported about the gathering continued for five days where the vaishnavs opted to get married in strict accordance with the rites prescribed by Chaitanya. Ramkeli mela was arranged within the surrounding areas of old Gaur, adjacent to the Sagar Dighi, on the last day of Jaistha, corresponding to the month of June, every year. Pilgrims visited the fair from all over Maldah, and also from the neighbouring districts. They were almost Hindus under the vaishnav category and their number was estimated to around 30,000 heads (in 1876). Ramkeli mela is held in every year at the same place of old Gaur, but the event of mass-marriage between vaishnavs and vaishavees has been stopped for more than one hundred years.

Vol. 49, No.26, Jan 1 - 7, 2017