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Leaving behind outdated traditions: It’s time to evolve the doli ceremony

By:
Gurshabad Kang (@gurshabadkang)

If you've been to a Punjabi wedding, you have most likely experienced the Doli ceremony. It is the final phase of the wedding, and happens after the religious ceremony at the Gurdwara.

The bride and her close relatives go to the bride's parents' house along with the groom. The couple usually sits together in the living room filled with muffled cries to receive shagan - usually cash gifted to the bride and groom by their relatives during auspicious occasions to represent their blessings for prosperity and good fortune. 

This is where the bride bids a tearful goodbye to her family, and throws handfuls of rice -- a symbol of prosperity, over her shoulder in her family’s direction as an expression of her gratitude towards them for taking care of her and feeding her since childhood. 

She is then sent off in a decorated car with her husband. 

Upon entering her new home, the bride is greeted by her in-laws and her mother-in-law who performs a couple more rituals for the prosperity of the new marriage. 

Next, everyone plays games and officially "meets'' the bride as part of the family.

However, this centuries-old ceremony made sense back in the day, because women married young and only left their parents' homes once they were married. 

There weren’t many forms of communication, and usually the groom's family lived in another town or district. 

There were also heavily observed cultural restrictions placed on new brides, including being unable to visit their families on their own whenever they wanted. Travelling was also not an easy feat, as transportation was not readily available. 

The Doli ceremonies back then were actual goodbyes, because the bride was uncertain when she would be able to see her family again.

But does it make sense to continue these traditions when their purpose no longer serves the modern South Asian women's circumstances?

In today's South Asian diaspora, there are endless forms of communication including FaceTime, and brides are normally free to visit their families whenever feasible. 

This whole ceremony is based on the bride’s emotional ties to her parents and her home, and the purpose is to provide closure. It signifies how her life is completely changing as she leaves her home for the first time to move onto the next phase of her life as a married woman. 

However, this is no longer the typical trajectory of a South Asian woman’s life. Women are accomplishing a lot more in their early adulthood than just getting married.

Some women are moving out of their parents' homes simply because they work and are financially independent enough to do so.

Many more women are also pursuing post-graduate education and marrying later in life, which means a lot of them leave their parents' homes for education long before they leave for married life. 

The Doli ceremony is meant to represent the first time a woman moves out of her parents’ home, which is no longer synonymous with her wedding. 

If the tradition is to be truly practiced for its purpose, then we should technically be having Doli ceremonies every time somebody’s daughter moves into a dorm room.

The second part of the ceremony takes place at the groom’s parents’ house, because that’s traditionally where the bride lives after leaving her parents’ house. 

A generation ago, the bride moving in with her new husband and in-laws was a typical and common occurrence.

This doesn’t make sense for today’s generation, because many married couples don’t live with the groom's parents after their wedding. 

As people are marrying later in life, with greater independence and stability, they are living on their own. This further dilutes the ceremony’s entire ritualistic purpose in today's world. Why are the traditions happening where neither the bride or groom plan to live?

It is especially frustrating to see the patriarchy and gender roles fully on display during the ceremony, particularly when comparing the bride's home during the ceremony to the groom's home. 

The bride and groom are both entering a new phase in their lives and have had the same wedding, but why must their experiences be widely different due to gender? 

Why does the beginning of married life have to be a somber event for the bride and her family, but an exciting and fun filled one for the groom? 

The bride is expected to experience bittersweet emotion and cry because she's supposed to be sad to leave her parents. 

In fact, brides are criticized if they don’t cry, and are made to feel ungrateful and cold hearted if they seem "too" happy, even though it is supposed to be the “happiest day” of their lives.  

Meanwhile, nothing is expected from the groom, because apparently his life is seemingly unaffected by marriage. He gains a wife, but beyond that his day to day life remains relatively unchanged. What compromises do we place on the men?

I recognize that it's crazy to suggest that there should be no tears and we should surpass the ceremony altogether. It is understandable that a wedding is an emotionally heightened event and that there are bound to be tears expressing many emotions, including happiness and excitement. 

However, it’s the expectation of specific sentiments particularly from the bride that’s  problematic. 

It is completely fair to cry at a wedding; however, it is unnecessary to romanticize and hold specific expectations of the bride's experience, especially when no such thing is expected of the groom. 

For this reason, it is time to reconsider the ceremony's rituals, and evolve their purpose to better fit and serve today's diaspora. 

There shouldn’t be an expectation for the bride's family to be sad for losing their daughter when they can be joyous for gaining a son. 

Instead, a bride and groom can both cry from pure happiness as they add to their family and gain another set of parents rather than losing their own, because the sentiment of leaving one's parents due to marriage is archaic.

Just as the groom is not any less of a son when he becomes a son in law, the bride is not any less of a daughter to her own family when she also becomes a daughter in law.

The bride's family doesn’t have to sit around watching the bride cry, they can also play games and get to know the groom, as the groom's family already does. The ceremonies can be altered to best fit those performing them, and that is the beauty of evolving with the times.

It's important to remember that we as a society make ceremonies and rituals, not the other way around. 

The world is constantly shifting  along with culture, so it is fair to suggest that our ceremonies and rituals should reflect that revolution.

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About the author: Gurshabad’s educational background in Biology and Psychology is inspired by her lifelong pursuit to seek and decipher the human connection. She loves McDonald’s fries, long walks on the beach, and telling people how to correctly pronounce her name. She regularly forces her friends to sit in her car & record a podcast aptly named Sitting In The Car. You can find her but more importantly her dog, @gurshabadkang on all platforms.

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