1. Initiation of the process through a societal and communal approval
2. In the Tai-Phake community, legal marriages are conducted socially and with the community’s approval. It is, in fact a social custom—an ancient tradition, that has been in continuance untouched over time.
In case of a socially approved legal marriage, the process initiates with the selection of the bride-to-be. When that is done, a jyotishi is approached, and on a shubh date as decided by him, a few relatives of the groom approach the girl’s family and invites them to forge a relationship of their daughter with their son. In this offer, the groom’s relatives offer a bundle of tobacco and some money tied in koupaat ( the leaf of a wild plant; paat is leaf). This symbolically marks the initiation of the relationship.
The bride’s family after parleys with their society, and relations decide upon the relationship and after adequate exchange of views between the two families, a jyotishi is approached and a specific shubh date for the wedding is decided upon, and preparations are begun.
3. Selection of the groom
a) Selection of a groom: In the Tai-Phake community, the bride and groom cannot belong to the same clan. On the other hand, a family can bring in a bride from a family that has earlier given away a daughter in marriage to that particular family. On the other hand, a family that has erstwhile been offering its daughter’s hands to a particular family/clan cannot bring a daughter from that family.
b) Assessment of bride/groom : From the day the groom’s family formally makes an offer of the relationship, and lays down the necessary conditions, the two children of the respective families are deemed as bride/groom. The packet that is offered, in accordance with the condition, is symbolic of the promise that this relationship will henceforth be sealed. In case, somebody accepts a girl whose family(and consequently who herself) has already given its word to another family(through the acceptance of that packet), it is a punishable offence.
4. The ideals of a married life
a) as known generally
b) songs and parables that teach this
c) the advise that the elders bestow on the groom—
Conjugal life is a life of responsibility; in fact it is one of life’s greatest responsibilities. In the Tai-Phake community, conjugal life is believed to begin from the day of their marriage. On that day, the elders of the community offer their valuable advice to the newly married couple; and it is upto the latter to follow the advice and precepts; such that their married life is happy and ideal.
5. The duties/responsibilities of the husband and the wife
It is the duty as well as obligation of the bride/groom to follow the advice and precepts that their parents and the elders bestow upon them on the day of their marriage. Further, as husband and wife, they ought to perform their social/communal responsibilities and carry their tradition forward in the best possible manner.
6. Separation, re-marriage, excommunication—dependent on intimate relations
The Tai-Phake society recognizes marriage as a beautiful chapter in a person’s life—both from social conventions and from the humanitarian point of view. The groom accepts the wife as his lifelong companion through fair weather and harsh weather. So is the case with the bride. Therefore in the Tai-Phake society, relatives do not get involved with separation process. On the contrary they try to desist the concerned parties from a break-up of their marital relationship.
7. Age of the bride/groom at the time of marriage
Traditionally the Tai-Phake community emphasizes and associates the issue of adulthood with that of marriage. They believe, that prior to adulthood the bride/groom are both unaware of the sordid realities of life as well as the responsibilities of the world.
8. Agreement that establishes the relationship of marriage
As mentioned above, in the Tai-Phake society, the children enter into a kind of agreement when they reach a certain age. For it is only then that it is believed that they have matured enough for their responsibilities. However, not all children might want to enter into this agreement. It is said that children fall under wrong (immodest) influence when they are yet to reach that agreement-age. However, since this agreement is a law in this community, disobedience or violation of this rule is met by social and constitutional (the Tai-Phake community’s body of laws) action.
The agreement is reached with the consent of both families, as mentioned above. Till date, the outside law courts have not been engaged in the marriages of Tai-Phake community. There is no definite or stipulated time frame of this marriage agreement. It may extend from a minimum of one month to a year. The agreement depends on the full mutual consent of the bride and the groom as well as their respective families and relations.
The formal meeting of the two families takes place through a mediator or a kotoki. At the time of this formal get together, no gifts are exchanged. It is only at the time of the wedding that gifts are accepted from friends, relatives and other invited guests. However, there are no provisions for dowry or other such (material) demands in the Tai-Phake society. Gifts are to be given in accordance with the giver’s choice.
9.The rites and rituals related to the marriage:
Since antiquity, instances of polygamy in the Tai-Phake community have been few and far between; similar is the case with women—who generally do not have more than one husband. One husband/one wife is the general norm. Since the rites and rituals associated with a Tai-Phake marriage are customary and have been handed down for generations, great importance is ascribed to the continuance of convention in the form of strict adherence to the traditional customs such that the culture and identity of the Tai-Phake community is kept intact.
The marriage rituals can be generally deemed as social. In case of a situation where lovers get married, without the consent of their families and without entering into any agreement (marriage-agreement), a mediator sorts differences (if any) between the two families, and the marriage is converted into a social ritual and is held in a fully traditional way.
10. Prohibitions upon marriage rites:-
Some of the prohibitions or inhibitions upon marriage have been mentioned already.
If a child is born out of wedlock a marital relationship is forged between that man and woman without going into the social rites and customs, provided marital relationship between their respective families is possible (as discussed above in 3 above). On the other hand, if marital relationship between the two families is not possible, then the relationship is considered illegitimate. Then, a board sits in discussion with the man, and a agreement is signed whereby of all expenses of the woman as well as her child is to be made by the man (till the child becomes an adult). Further, it may even be possible to have a mutual consent(between the man and the woman)in effecting a separation, and forging new marital ties with a woman or a man(respectively) with whom it is possible to get married(in accordance with point 3 mentioned above.
In case of (such relations between/with) neighbours or relations, the measures taken are not very harsh. As in the previous instance the legitimacy/illegitimacy of the relationship is seen and action taken accordingly.
11. Exchange of gifts
There is no hard and fast norm for exchange of gifts in the Tai-Phake society. As mentioned above, it is only at the time of the wedding that gifts are accepted from friends, relatives and other invited guests. Gifts are to be given in accordance with the giver’s choices.
The items of necessity for a married life are to be provided not merely by the bride’s family. Along with them, the invited guests too contribute such items; and that is considered a duty of sorts for the guests. This implies that the household of the newly-weds is being set up with the support of the society.
As mentioned before, instances of divorce are rare; therefore there is no ancient tradition that lays down norms for distribution or custody of the gifts in case of such a separation. Today, it is generally seen that after consideration, the gifts are the responsibility of the groom’s family.
12. Marriage procedure
In Tai-Phake society, the tradition of marriage-exchange according to the constitution is natural.
Instances of lovers eloping is not unheard of. In such a case again, the legitimacy/illegitimacy of the relationship is adjudged. After that, following the established norms, the groom’s family surrenders before the bride’s. For, the elopement, the groom’s family has also to pay a fine (as a punishment) to the bride’s family. This is compulsory.
In this society, there are hardly any instances of marriage by hereditary considerations. If suddenly a man dies, then his unmarried younger brother can marry his widow. This is not a must. However, marrying one’s father’s widow is strictly prohibited.
Remarriage for a widow or a widower is possible but only on legitimate grounds.
The bride and the groom are cautioned against aberrations the time of their marriage itself—when the elders offer them advices. Secondly, the society (the people of the society) which acts as a mediator between the two families caution against aberrations of any sort(since this considered with great importance in the Tai-Phake society). Of course, aberrations are a rarity in this community. So there are no hard bound rules laid down for such behaviour.
Divorce, as mentioned before is effected after mutual consent of both the husband and wife and their respective families. Such that both are freed to marry a second time. In such a case if it is legitimate the samaj offers no hindrances. Since separations a quite rare, there are no prescribed rules for alimony, or compensation. The decision is reached upon mutual understanding and discussion.
In the Tai-Phake community expenses and the society are intertwined in a unique manner with the marriage procedure. Apart from the community feast that is offered during the wedding, at the final stages of the marriage, (at the bride’s place) a sarai decorated with flowers is offered to the bride’s parents, elders, relations, brothers and sisters, other people present—where a certain amount of money is kept—for all the people, and their blessings are sought. The
money that is enclosed in the sarai is in accordance with the respective statures of the people (according to their age).
The Tai-Phake belief is that devta exists (resides ) in every family. In every sanctified ceremony, offering a sarai of flowers is a must. Therefore, in the weddings, the devi-devta residing in the homes are to be paid obeisance to. At the end of the marriage ceremony, seventy rupees on the flower sarai, and four uncooked and four boiled hen’s eggs in two bell-metal thalis are offered along with prayers (chanted by the head of the family) to the deities in the household for the peace and happiness of the newly married couple.
The major strain of tradition of the Tai-Phake marriage has remained basically the same over time—despite minor variations. For instance, the norm of offering a flower decorated sarai was not there earlier (in the distant past). Then, there was the tradition of the head of the bride’s family demanding a certain sum of money (this again was not specified by any rule) from the groom’s family. Generally this amount demanded extended from a hundred and forty to about fourteen hundred. The pretext of this financial exchange was accrediting a price to all the expenses which the bride’s family had borne from the day of her birth till the time she attained adulthood. Otherwise, the girl would be indebted to her mother—and that was a considered to be a sin by the Tai-Phakes. This tradition with time evolved into the token offering of the flower decorated sarai.
Provisions for entertainment are made in the weddings, but the bride and the groom cannot partake of these entertainment; rather they are to welcome the guests with reverence.
The Nishiddha ritu is related to marriages (rather marriages fall in this ritu) in the Buddhist followers in the Tai-Phake community. During the period from Aahari Purnima to the Aahin Purnima (Aahar - the third month and Aahin - the sixth month in the Assamese calendar)—no religious activities are undertaken.. Also no religious activities are to be undertaken during Bohaagi Sankranti (the Sankranti in the month of Bohag or Baisakh). Again, in the Pooh month i.e. the ninth month of the Assamese calendar too forbids organization of any kind of religious ceremony. All other months apart from these - enable marriages to be held in the Tai-Phake community.
In the wedding, the food served is shared (rather the expenses are shared) by the bride’s and the groom’s families. Especially the groom’s family is to take the greater share of responsibility of the food that is to be served. This is a custom of the Tai-Phakes.
At the end of the marriage ceremony, when the last round of blessings is offered at the groom’s house, the bride and groom gain the freedom to live together henceforth as man and wife.
As far as changes are concerned, the changes that have taken place over time have been a fallout of logical reasoning in the course of peaceful deliberations. There is no scope for any heated argument at any place.The foundations of this Tai-Phake society rest in the wizened and strong hands of the elders of the society—who not only offer valuable guidance but whose decisions are the final word in such deliberations.