Marriages, they say, are made in heaven, except that these marriages are for those already in heaven. It is called ‘pretha kalyanam’ ( marriage of ghosts ), a custom still prevalent among several communities in Kasaragod district, especially in villages bordering Karnataka.
Outsiders and city-slickers often dismiss them as superstition, but the communities here believe that such marriages are a way of honouring those who died young, before they had a chance to marry or died soon after they tied the knot. The weddings are as formal and sanctimonious as it gets in real life, the only difference being that instead of an actual bride and bridegroom you have their effigies. Sajirag P P, a teacher working in Kasaragod, witnessed one such wedding near Perla recently.
“Ever since I heard about this strange marriage, I was curious to witness one,” he told TOI. The wedding was between Rameshan and Sukanya, both of whom died many years ago when they were hardly two or three years old.
On the day of the wedding, the bridegroom’s family reached the bride’s house along with the decked-up effigy of the groom, and also new dress for the bride, which they draped around her effigy. After garlanding each other, the departed souls became man and wife, and the families took leave after a feast.
The groom’s family took both the effigies with them. In the night these two effigies are kept under a ‘saptaparni’ (Pala tree) or a similar tree near the house of the groom thus concluding the ritual. “Instead of seeing it as superstition, we should look at the emotional attachment that a family has towards a dead one and the belief that actual salvation is possible only when marriage is solemnised,” Sajirag said.
Such ‘ghost marriages’ are conducted as per the suggestion of astrologers who are consulted following certain bad omens that indicate that not all is well with the dear departed.
The family then searches for a suitable bride, who is also dead. The marriage is solemnized only if both the families agree and also only if horoscopesmatch. As is the case of normal marriages, relatives and friends are informed after the date is fixed.
The custom was prevalent among many communities, including Thiyyas, in the past, but nowadays only a few communities like Koppalas and Mavilas do this, according to Sreelakshmi B, a BEd student from the district who did her dissertation on this ritual. “Though we mockingly say that it is of no use to analyse the horoscope of the dead, here the families find solace in matching the horoscope and solemnising the marriage of the dead,” she said.