Nandita Das

Discovering a ritual beyond rituals 

  • January 1, 2010

The year 2009 at times flew past in a wink and at times weighed so heavy that I wondered if it would ever pass. There have been much analyses in the media as to whether the year was good or full of miseries and economic disasters. It is all about perceptions and what the year meant to each individual. For me personally, it was quite a landmark year. My first film got released early 2009 and later in the year I at last found my soulmate. Two big milestones, but in reverse order! In any case, I have never broken down life in terms of years and find it more like a free-flowing stream that has a continuum beyond the calendar.

I seldom distinguish between my personal and professional life. My beliefs, engagements and life choices have been in synch with my professional ones. However, I did debate whether I should share this very personal journey of finding the right marriage ceremony with strangers. I realised that everything that I have shared with unknown audiences throughout my life has been personal at some level. Having said that I do hope this is not just my angst and desire that I share, but also something that will resonate with all those who are in search of rituals that are not ‘ritualistic’.

I have been a great believer in love, but not so much of marriage. At least not the kind I often see around me. But having found somebody special, my desire to seal this bond made me want to marry. While this isn’t the first time I will be experiencing this, it always feels like nothing before as the emotion, the person and what it means to me are so unique and special. But I didn’t want it to be just another ceremony where hymns in incomprehensible language are chanted, or where the vows between the man and the woman are so unequal and patriarchal that it defies one’s basic human beliefs. I also wanted something that was relevant and sanctified the promise we have made to each other.

I knew about the Ashram Vidhi, a marriage ceremony evolved for the Sabarmati Ashramites by Kaka Kalelkar under Gandhiji’s guidance. It is a simple ceremony for partners who want to bond at every level, with equal vows and a belief in the philosophy of vasudhaiva kutumbakam, i.e., the world is one family. It took the best parts from the shastras and left out what Kaka Saheb thought was unnecessary. It fusses about nothing—the priest doesn’t have to be of any particular caste or religion; requires very basic things that are easily found at home or the Khadi Gramudyog; the language is the spoken Hindustani; the short ceremony reinforces friendship and companionship, and the best part is that Kanyadaan is optional! Gandhiji and Kalelkar felt the charitable word ‘daan’ cannot be used for a human being and it was unthinkable to donate one’s daughter. So they adopted the word Samaashray, meaning the partners chose to be interdependent. I am so glad my father will not be donating me to anyone!

As my mother is the director of the National Gandhi Museum, it was easy to find the booklet that has the Ashram Vidhi. But getting excited about this simple and progressive ceremony didn’t help till I found the right person for the rites. My mother put me in touch with Arunbhai Bhatt, a 76-year-old social worker, who along with his wife had worked with Vinoba Bhave, who had also contributed towards developing the Ashram Vidhi. Arunbhai had performed the vidhi 30 years ago for his friend. When we met him, he quoted Kabir: “Pothi padhi padhi jag muwa, pundit hua na koy, dhai akhar prem ka padhe so pundit hoye (Reading big fat books never made a priest, the one who knows two and a half letters of love is the true priest).” We knew we had found pure intent and love, two musts for our priest.

As you read this, the Ashram Vidhi would have sanctified our relationship. Sadly, I would not be contributing to newspaper prophecies like ‘Indian weddings to spur an economic boom in the country in the next 10 years’. But for those of us who want simple and progressive weddings, the Ashram Vidhi could be a choice.

Virata Parvam


Director: Udugula Venu

Language: Telugu

Character Name: Shakuntala

Key Cast: Kundan Alexzed, Chakrapani Ananda, Banerjee

Feastivals and Awards: NA

Film Stills: 9

BTS: 11