March 9, 2012
The Newari girls of Nepal celebrate the greatest day of their life not just once, but three times. A girl is wed for the first time at the age of 6 and a second time around the age of 9. Both weddings are not to men though, but to gods.
The first wedding is called Ihi or Bel marriage, in which the girl is married to a bael fruit (stone apple) representing Vishnu. The ceremony includes all rituals of a Hindu wedding and lasts for two days. The fruit has a peculiar quality of never rotting and is seen as a symbol of fertility. The girl has to keep and treasure the bael fruit it is married to, so it can never become a widow in later life.
The second wedding is called Barah and occurs before the first menstruation of a girl. For 12 days, the girl is locked in a darkened room and no man is allowed to see her. On the first four days she has to observe a special diet. Other women come to visit her and teach her to use make up, prepare her for the first menstruation and teach specific rituals adult women have to observe, like giving offerings to the gods. These days are also days of singing and dancing with other women. On the 12th day, the girl bathes to become pure for the wedding. Then she puts on the traditional wedding dress and jewellery to be married to the sun.
These ritual weddings can be of great help in later life, when a woman’s ‘real’ husband dies. Widows were generally met with disdain in Nepali society: The two first weddings mean that a Newari girl can never become a real widow. After all, who would dare to classify the marriage to a God as secondary!