A Whimsical View of Sita Kalyanam

Swami Matrikananda Saraswati

The following is a critique of the final day's events at the Sita Kalyanam program. It is derived from Western intellectual tools of cultural criticism such as semiotics and post-modernist deconstruction. These methods are applicable due to the event's public theatrical and ritual nature. This critique is whimsical in that it is not an in-depth study but rather is based on the personal impressions of a casual observer. My contention is that through the careful programming of events, the specific make-up of the invited audience and the selection of the couple representing Sita and Rama, Paramahamsaji orchestrated a farsighted and profound cultural gift. By doing so he also showed how multidimensional and subtle his compassionate mission is.

The wedding, as an event, combined ritual with elements of a theatrical 'happening'. For instance, the bride and groom, representing Sita and Rama, were a real couple who were actually married by the ceremony we all witnessed. As actors they had no lines to learn as such, rather they were told what to do as they went along. This leant a spontaneity and even a danger to the proceedings that was highly engaging in theatrical terms. Everyone felt involved by what was going on around them.

The most important aspect of the event, iconographically, was the choice of nationalities represented by the bride and groom. The bride was British and the groom of Indian origin. In terms of yoga and, indeed, Paramahamsaji's and Swamiji's teachings, the foundation of knowledge is Indian. Traditional notions of ideal monarchy, of which Rama embodies a classic example, represent wisdom and justice coupled with the practical ability to disseminate it. An ideal king is someone who is an example to everyone. Rama can be seen to represent, in this case, the unique light of knowledge India offers the world through such disciplines as yoga. Sita, played by a Westerner, represents, through the traditional concept of the wife who always journeys to the husband's house, the people of other nations who have come to learn from India and share in and support the process of dissemination. In this context the wedding represented the marriage of East and West to the benefit of all peoples.

At a local level, the subliminal message would have had a more profound impact. Here Rama is not only an ideal king but also a deity and mytho-historical hero. His marriage to Sita is of fundamental significance to the popular epic of which he is the central character and, in a cultural context, the pair represent the ideal couple. Sita embodies the qualities of the perfect wife. At a cosmic level, she represents the cosmic union of the masculine and feminine principles which is the core of most Eastern spiritual teachings.

By presenting the wedding the way he did, Paramahamsaji managed to link the spiritual, mythical and cultural elements with the lives of the villagers. He did this visually by incorporating local brides-to-be in the festivities. Immediately prior to the wedding he presented more than a hundred village brides with bridal kits, in honour of Sita, which they collected wearing their best sarees. The colour and spectacle of these beautiful women passing through the audience of wedding guests bearing their cases on their heads was only topped by the wedding itself. The effect was to tie each bride in with the mythic wedding enactment as it inferred that each one would herself represent Sita on her own wedding day. The overall message clearly reinforced the dignity of the everyday rituals of the local people by reminding everyone of their spiritual and cultural origins. Paramahamsaji also showed the villagers that people from all over India and the world are sufficiently interested in their culture to come and be wedding guests at such an event.

Through Sita Kalyanam Paramahamsaji managed to achieve what many overseas aid organizations talk about enthusiastically but rarely achieve: to reinforce people's belief in themselves and the value of their culture. This is perhaps the most subtle and profound gift compassion can bestow for it provides hope, self-respect and it feeds the soul.

Paramahamsaji's approach to 'helping' his neighbours is truly comprehensive; he provides the basic, physical essentials; the means to earn a living; education; medicine; housing and spiritual nourishment through the cultural activities he hosts at Rikhia and programs such as Sita Kalyanam. He is not concerned to associate himself with an image of compassion linked to esoteric spiritual idealism, he responds to what is actually required, in this case a wedding. Thus he continues to shower sannyasins with the same compassion he gives his neighbours by showing us how to tread the path of real spirituality.

If anyone had had any doubts about the impact of this event on the local community these would have been blown away by the spectacle of Rama's triumphal entry. As the local women started to sing the welcome song, thousands of people leapt to their feet or scrambled onto the enclosure walls to get a better view. As the car bearing Rama entered, the crush around it became so intense that it was practically lifted from its wheels and carried the 150 yards to its destination. The sturdy band of drummers was completely crowded out by dancers, and the cheering of the crowd was a roar. Fights almost broke out when we tried to separate Rama from the crowd as he emerged from the car. And then everyone sat silent as the couple passed seven times around the flames.