Tuesday, April 06, 2010

Rukhwat Memories....

When I was a child, marriage meant, that the girl went and stayed with the boy's family for good. In those days, one never really heard of couples shifting out into apartments and flats of their own, unless of course, the man worked in a different city, or was in the armed forces or civil services, where you kept moving around on transfers and got accommodation.

While the wedding rituals in my community have remained mostly unchanged, over the various decades, some social customs seem to have changed, and some have almost disappeared.

As children , besides staring at the bride, in tears, being escorted by her maternal uncle to the wedding podium, in her final moments as a Miss, enquiring about the dessert for lunch, keeping an eye on bottles of Coca Cola, staying away from some strict in-charge aunt, and laughing at some person who looked funny in the traditional Gandhi cap worn for the rituals, , one of things we liked to go look at, was something called Rukhwat.

This was something similar to what is called a bride's trousseau today. Except nobody registered names anywhere, things were rarely store bought, and assorted folks including the bride often got down to some serious arts and crafts, designed to impress the in laws. All the stuff, made for the bride (and sometimes by the bride) was displayed prominently on a longish table , usually with a nice tablecloth. This was the Rukhwat, and the bride took this with her when she went to her marital home. (Along with many other things not clearly defined, tangible and non tangible).

Once a marriage was fixed, there would be a flurry of arts, crafts, embroidery, paintings, cutwork on textiles, bead work etc. Various aunts and cousins would offer to make some Rukhwat item or items . Sometimes the bride herself would bring out all the tablecloth sets she embroidered, a few years ago, for an eventuality like this. Wool flowers and hanging braided branches , various door decorations to be put over a doorway (toran) in wonderful designs, was a typical item.

Back then in the late 50's , I remember seeing small besan (=garbanzo flour) sofa sets, and trains made of bread. My friends and I, who thought the world of besan laddoos, thought what a colossal waste of besan this was, but it needed a smart person to plan the consistency of the besan , so that the sofas stayed as sofas, and didn't go flat. The train made out of bread was a bit complicated, and while you could eat the sofas later, I don't think the bread was used later in any way.

Then for some inexplicable reason, the next most popular thing was a house made of injection bottles. In an amazing display of recycling sense, doctors would keep these empty injection bottles for such uses, instead of creating mountains of biomedical waste like today . The bottles were organised in layers and rows, and stuck together, and folks made some really complicated structures out of these bottles, which looked like really fancy palaces when placed under lights.

And finally, there would be a great set of homemade jams and relishes in a smart set of bottles, lots of homemade sweets beautifully packaged, and assorted edible goodies on display. Sometimes one would see a set of steel utensils, glasses and bowls, along with complicated embroidered bedsheets and tablecloths. I know of a case where the bride herself was a whiz at embroidering huge scenes from the scriptures and epics and the Rukhwat had a display of these on the wall behind the table. There was a pervading sense of wanting to "show" the "opposition" (boy's side)......:-)

Somewhere in the 80's , girls were getting educated more, working, and so there wasn't time to get so many things organized. Besides, consumerist behaviour was kind of kicking in. Corelle crockery and serving bowls sets were greatly prized, and these were displayed in the Rukhwat. Sometimes even pressure cookers made it there. The emphasis went from making it yourself to buying it.

Some enterprising folks went into business providing things like the 5 different jams, sweets, and even embroidered and framed Ganeshas, and other gods. There appeared to be an increasing emphasis on the outfits of the bride and groom and the jewellery. In some weddings you would get to see an entire range of cooking vessels, lids, tea sets and what have you.

This of course, didn't stop the guests from giftng whatever they wanted to the couple. It was nicely packed, supposed to be a surprise, and if turned out to be your 6th clothes iron, or 5th toaster, it was just too bad.

Today, people are all in a hurry. Even some of the wedding rituals are now done in their version 1.5 or whatever. Abridged. With all the mandatory things intact. All based on very material considerations like the cost of overshooting your time at the marriage hall, by what time most of the guests have to leave (if its a weekday), and if the groom is working abroad, then the most important consideration, is getting all the required certificates for the visa, post marriage. Wedding planning is now a profession.

And so you don't see much Rukhwat these days, unless you are in a smaller city, where the life pace is slower, and more peaceful. Today its all about "wearing" the show. The days when you embroidered stuff late into the night for a Rukhwat, with assorted nieces and nephews helping you do the sequins or whatever, are gone . You dont see aunts , in charge of the Rukhwat , insisting things be just so on the big day, and losing their temper at some mischievous nephew, who is having a great time teasing the younger girls who have made the stuff........

But there is the story of a girl, the daughter of a friend, who had braved some complicated limb surgery in her twenties, and showed immense courage and fortitude learning to walk again. I'd see her mother helping her with her walking exercises , with a walker, as she struggled to walk in our lane, late every evening , after her mother came home from work. She faced more than physical discomfort and pain, as there were looks, and whispers, and people wondering why this surgery was required at this marrigeable age. As is typical in India, people thought nothing of coming and asking you this, and her mother was an example of how you learn to count till ten, and keep your temper. This girl met a wonderful boy , the meeting arranged by a marriage bureau, and they hit off so well, and got engaged.

I called the entire family, and the boy for a kind of marriage shower(celebratory dinner), wrote a poem for the girl and her parents, applauding her spirit and courage, and framed the thing in some kind of wedding type decorative stuff and presented it to her. Her husband was greatly impressed by the story. When I travelled to Pune for the marriage, some 5 aunts and cousins of the girl had slogged over some wonderful arts and crafts in the Rukhwat, and there on the table, along with the finer artistic stuff, was my framed poem ! In her trousseau.....

Traditionally , everyone actually presents the bride with a coconut. It is not unusual to see a heap of coconuts in the room assigned to the bride's side in the marriage hall. Today, along with Rukhwats, embroideries , art work, wall hangings and stuff, even coconuts are not seen much .

But as in everything else in life, its not what you give , but the thought and spirit behind that counts.

In the small garden downstairs in my (late)parents house used to be a coconut tree. It was planted the year I was born. Twenty five years later , a whole coconut (the type you buy from the coconut seller to drink the coconut water and eat the sweet pulp) from that tree , was given to me by my mother, and was one of things I carried with me to my in-laws house . Over the years it dried up. It moved around with me as we shifted houses . I even painted it orange from the outside to match my curtains at one point. Sometime in the early beginnings of this century, it fell down, and cracked, possibly due to age. Inside was a shrivelled dry coconut ball. Around this time I lost one of my parents.

And so there are Rukhwats and Rukhwats. And then there are the Rukhwats of the Mind, your values which your parents give you, which you take with you, which stay with you throughout life. The material ones may change , based on customs, time, value, and attitude.

The mental ones go with you when you go.


  1. Hi Suranga,

    I thoroughly enjoyed reading your blog tonight and while I did so I enjoyed a lovely cup of tea - Gosh it does seem such a shame that a number of wedding customs are changing.

    Rob and I are going to my nephews wedding in 10 days and customs here too are changing... Couples used to hold a show of presents in my day. Nowadays they like to get money and it means they can spend it on whatever they like ....hmmm.(in my day- hehe.. that does make me seem old).

    I remember the excitement on the evening of the 'show of presents' when all the relatives and friends came and gave their oohhs and ahhs and always had wonderful things to say about the gifts... Happy days, full of hopeful thoughts.. Gosh how pleased we were to be getting a gift of two hand and a bath towel....

    Yes there are a number of things which have changed and not really for the better .. Oh my! I'm getting to sound like an 'old biddy'. Methinks it's time for bed!

    Hugs, Kate x.

  2. Ah, now I'm enlightened...Thanks for being so prompt...

  3. no doubt at all that you are right..the end of the post brought everything at one place..Yes me too remembers eyeing the Rukhwat along with ice-creams and colas :) I think kids at only people who enjoy the wedding thoroughly till date ! :)

  4. And hey,you know we had an elaborated wedding..with the original versions of mantras and rituals :) And I loved that ...no short-cuts ! After all lagna ekdach hota... :)

  5. I loved the post; each detail and description..

    you know, I am married to a south-indian, but they have been staying in Mumbai for last four generations.. so few of our customs and traditions are very much similar to Maharashtrians..the festivals that we celebrate are those of Maharashtrians and Telugus..and of course Gujarati..it sometimes get very confusing; but enjoyable all the more because of that as I keep forgetting what to do when..

    that coconut incident moved me..

    take care and once again; great post :)

  6. Even the mental ones are changing fast.. it is natural.. Sometimes I recall from my childhood that many old people around kept on saying 'things are changing fast..' .. so it happens all the times. Much depends on what side of 'age' we are :)

  7. Lovely post, with wonderful descriptions. I love this idea of Rukhwat. But its sad that these customs are fading away, due to changing lifestyles.

    And what with more materialistically tuned ppl, are introducing more customs to show off their money power - sometimes its so sad to see the display of money more than the ppl.

    Thoroughly enjoyed your post.

  8. I had to crochet, embroider and knit (almost at gun-point) a whole lot of things for my trousseau. I resented it, and rebelled against it all, but have still got a lot of that stuff with me.

  9. I have seen some of those creations made out of injections bottles, thermocol and fevicol were also used to create a base for these.

    I also know of girls who are made to join Oil Painting classes to make some paintings to take to their in laws houses.

    I loved the poetry idea... a new trend I like is where everybody says something nice about the bride, that's really sweet too.

    I can imagine you keeping that coconut with you for all these years... I have a dress my mom stitched for me - the first thing I ever wore :) My kids both wore it too and now I have kept it, in case they want it for their kids :)

    Always love your descriptions.

  10. I had forgotten those creations made out of bottles! They used to be displayed, some with back lighting! You also had paintings with thin slivers of broom sticks glued to form a lovely picture. Very nostalgic!

  11. Hi,
    I loved your post! My younger sister got married recently and since she had to return to the US for her college as well as to be with her husband, everybody thought she wont have any use for the rukhwat and there was no rukhwat as such. But my grandmother made sure she prepared at least a small amount of token vaLvaT, maltya, and colorful shevaya for her rukhwat.

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  13. India is so rich in traditions... Rukhwat is a really very sweet and close to heart one... though I haven't seen one in South India :)

  14. The values that parents gave stays forever. Even in their breaking or changing they stay as some kind of a North Star !

    Lovely post as usual. We have similar traditions in the South as well. Slightly different...but largely same !


    The coconut account had me completely floored. I had many goosebumps...! phew..

  15. The photo brought back instant memories of all the weddings at my best friend's house. Maharashtrian. This was the 80s, but I guess we were still small-town. And spent so much of our time making things, and wrapping things.

    Our own community set a lot of store by artistic displays. Boats, and birds, and other feats achieved with cellophane paper. :)

  16. kate Thank you for your comment, which actually felt like a nice chat, with tea being sipped in between....:-) And it is certainly a great pity that these customs are changing.....life is too fast...

    Bones Specially written for you. Now you can practice the besan sofas, though you will probably have to autoclave the entire injection bottle house ....

    Nu I absolutely agree. Only Kids enjoy weddings thoroughly. Ahaha, those coca cola icecream days !

    neha Thank you. And yes, isnt it wonderful that so many customs are similar....That coconut had special significance, if you know what "oti Bharna" means. Thats how I was presented the coconut by my Mom, when I got married...

    Aativas What you say about age is so true...

    Ums Thank you

    Ritu ...."crochet, embroider and knit (almost at gun-point).." LOL!

    IHM yes, there is a magic about these old things that we pass on....enjoyed hearing about the dress...

    Radha Yes, I seem to recall some of those broom stick things too....

    Kavs What a wonderful grandma ....

    Shilpa I guess folks have less time these days... so no Rukhwat...

    Kavi You know that coconut aged, like my parents; and its beauty was in the aging, and its constancy in my life, which gave a kind of mental strength. You know an era is over when it goes....

    Batulm Would love to hear more about the decorations you mentioned .....!

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  18. Such a beautiful post! The last lines were really moving.

  19. Oh I can see why this post was a Google hit. I loved it and it bought tears to my eyes - "And then there are the Rukhwats of the Mind, your values which your parents give you, which you take with you, which stay with you throughout life. The material ones may change , based on customs, time, value, and attitude." Makes me feel good given recent events in my life to read that. You are such a fantastic writer. yes and weddings today are very materialistic and its kind of sad when you look at the divorce rate as well. Thanks for sharing this one - I put a link to it on my blog.

  20. i read this once and was compelled to read it many times. Being a bengali I am unaware of Rukwat but i was moved by the real meaning of Rukwat. Pls.permit me to write a story on this.

  21. Wow! What a lovely meaning you have given to the Rukhwat! My mother who had been recently widowed at the time of my wedding, worked so hard to put together a rukhwat for me which everyone appreicated greatly at the time. But when I look at what she has realy given me, I am overwhelmed to see the richness of her gift... it has lasted me a lifetime and there will be plenty to pass on to my girls!

  22. Beautifully written. I am Gujarati married to Maharastian and came to know about Rukhwat only a month before wedding. I still remember, asking all my friends and relatives to come together, and make things as I personally did not want to purchase anything from shops! (talk about putting good impression on my would be family) That phase was awesome as we enjoyed every bit of marriage preparations.
    It's however sad that my three boxes of rukhwat was stolen while transferring stuff from wedding hall to home. Somewhere down my heart I always feel it was picked by the relatives to store for their daughters...

  23. Such amazing writing! So glad I came across your blogs through Shruti tai's page! In a short span of a few minutes, I went through and found some profoundly inspirational stuff and this piece is the icing on it all! Thank you for these wonderful blogs.

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  29. Thank you for Shared your Rukhwat Memories. Because Rukhwat Item List is the one of the major event in Marathi Wedding...
    I like different items of Rukhwat ..