I recently made a post on both Instagram and Tiktok about my mom performing my Palla Rasam. This post went viral. You might ask yourself, “what is the big deal?!”
It is a big deal—to me, our Sikh community, and clearly the over 275K people viewing and commenting on these posts.
More recently, couples have started making adjustments to wedding traditions in order to adapt to the times and their family context. Different circumstances have led to changes to Indian wedding rituals and ceremonies.
Some couples do a Rokh (a union between both families prior to the wedding) or alter engagement ceremonies, opting for more intimate proposals. Other couples have made changes directly to their wedding ceremony such as not having brothers escort the bride around the Guru Granth Sahib Ji, not having a Doli or not having the Doli leave the bride's home.
These were all changes I made at my wedding, but the one that stood out the most was my Palla Rasam.
In a Sikh wedding, there is a very important tradition in which the groom’s Palla (scarf) is handed to the bride to hold before the circumambulation of the Guru Granth Sahib to complete the four Laavan, marking a traditional Sikh wedding ceremony.
Why is this so significant?
For centuries, the Palla Rasam has traditionally been completed by the father of the bride, symbolizing him essentially “giving her away,” although there is no direct equivalent to the exact meaning in Sikhi. In addition, in India, marrying off your daughter (Kanyadan) is considered the biggest Punya, an attribute that forms good karma and as a result helps guarantee the next life will be better.
Men take pride in Kanyadan as it is said they secure good Karma in their next lifetime and thus, believe it is their right to do the Palla Rasam.
However, not all brides have their fathers present on their wedding day.
Growing up, I went to numerous Indian weddings like all other Sikh kids. At a very young age, I began developing anxiety around the “Palla Rasam,” knowing I did not have a father to complete this ceremony for me. My female friends and cousins would always talk about how emotional this experience will be for them and I could not relate.
Instead, I felt anxious thinking about the ceremony, let alone how to answer this question if they asked me. The father always seemed so glorified in giving away his daughter andI did not see any way out of this ceremony. I would often wonder which male in my life was important enough as a father figure to step in this role?
I grew up with a divorced single mom, and while my father was still alive, he was not a part of and did not contribute to my life. My mom raised me on her own and sent me to university for both my Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees. I am currently a qualified occupational therapist and will be starting my PhD in September 2022.
My mom raised me alone and was there for me through all of the ups and downs of my life. When there was tuition to be paid, she worked overtime to make the deadlines. When there were other expenses, she was the one keeping the roof over my head. So why would another male step in as a “father figure” to complete the Palla Rasam and collect the “good karma”?
The choice to have my mother complete the Palla Rasam became very controversial within my family and was met with a lot of questions.
But I too am the type of individual that is naturally inclined to question norms and traditions. At a very young age, I watched my mom fulfill roles that were considered a “father’s role,” and people questioned her. Meanwhile I did not understand what was wrong with it, as it is what helped our family function.
As a keen student who asked many questions in class, I began asking around the age of 12, who decided these norms? Where did traditions come from? Where does it say in the paath (prayer) that my mom cannot do these things? What do these traditions and norms signify? Can they be modified? Are they in alignment with God?
It was also important for me to then distinguish between religion and culture.
Religion and faith are the fundamental way in which humans understand their experience based on God’s word. Culture or cultural norms and traditions are associated beliefs and behaviors of a specific group of people with the same religion/culture, that are passed down from generations.
When planning my wedding, I reached out to a female granthi, named Rajkanwal, to perform our wedding ceremony and to discuss whether the Palla Rasam is a religious tradition or a cultural norm.
We arranged a meeting prior to the ceremony which ended up being one of the most beautiful experiences of my life. We sat down and discussed Sikhi, paath, meditation, and Sikh marriage. I proceeded to ask if my mother could perform my Palla Rasam and without hesitation, Rajkanwal said yes.
The Rehat Maryada, which is the Sikh Code of Conduct, states “the girl’s father or the principal relation should make the girl grasp one end of the sash which the boy is wearing over his shoulders….”
Nowhere does it state it has to be a male figure or a “father figure” only.
After the meeting, I went home and decided my mom was doing the Palla Rasam.
This quickly became one of the most important conversations in my family, when the priority instead should have been the importance of laavan for my husband and I, what changes we were about to face, and being present in our faith to take the laavan.
My mom was hesitant to complete this task, as she felt she would offend others and potentially dishonor her family. She had phone calls from elderly men from my dad’s side of the family calling after years of no contact stating how they have the right to do the Palla Rasam.
This made me very upset, because where were all these people while I was growing up? My mom had mixed feelings between how I felt and the joy of them coming back around during such a big event in our lives.
At the end of the day, I wanted to do what made my mom happy and ultimately she wanted to do this Rasam. She raised me alone and now that it had been confirmed she was not going against God’s word or her faith, she had the confidence to tell me she would do it but was not sure how others would react and did not want to ruin my wedding.
In addition, some even called my mom to ask why a female granthi was performing my ceremony.
Among all the chaos, my husband comforted my mom by telling her that he watched her raise me, she should be the one doing the ceremony and that no one in his family will object to assure her that it will not ruin the wedding. My best friend and I proceeded to walk my mom through all the pros and cons, and ultimately, my mom did my Palla Rasam and I have no regrets.
She was so happy post ceremony and everyone came to tell her how beautiful the entire ceremony was. My wedding ceremony reflected my truth and that is what made it so beautiful.
After the wedding, I shared a post about this decision on social media, and I received a lot of feedback—both positive and negative. I also discussed this on Sher-E-Punjab radio with the radio host Gurshabad Kang, where again we also received both positive and negative feedback.
Ultimately, the positive feedback was mainly from those who want their moms to perform the ceremony or those who wanted to, but were not fortunate enough to have the choice.
The people that commented on the posts or called in on the radio with negative comments on the other hand, were fixated on the tradition being centuries-old and that men exclusively had the right to perform the Palla Rasam.
Some stated that it is honourable for a Chacha, Mama, Thiyah, (one of the uncles) etc. to step in and that ultimately society is “built on men’s shoulders,” according to someone who called in to the radio show.
In today’s society, women work as hard as men in building communities. They run homes, businesses, and have high educational levels. A woman can accomplish any task assigned to her, so why is she not held in the same light as a male? Guru Nanak Ji himself held women in high regard stating, “from her, Kings are born.”
Other negative comments were based on a lack of understanding of the difference between religion and culture. People were confusing the religious customs such as the purpose of the Palla Rasam with norms developed over time or written in the Rehat Maryada such as who does the ceremony.
Since the post, I have had many brides directly message me to discuss their concerns around their upcoming wedding and how they want to change rituals/traditions, but are experiencing backlash. Many brides have messaged me to tell me this inspired them to be able to have their moms do the Palla Rasam. It was amazing to know that I am not alone and that I was able to provide a voice of reason for other brides.
If you’re a future bride who is considering adapting the Palla Rasam to fit your family dynamic, my advice to you is that you absolutely should. I hope one day down the road that another future bride does not have to spend weeks leading up to her wedding—one of the most amazing milestones of her life—trying to explain, educate, and even argue for her mother’s right to perform the Palla Rasam.
Because I did it, and I have no regrets.
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