Marriage Customs in Goa

The first step if you want to get married in Goa is the act of the proposal or the utor. Among the agricultural communities and other labouring castes the encounter takes place in the early hours of the morning. Among the wealthy it takes place late evening.

The ultimate proposal is worded in a very poetic manner, as in a typical Kunbi community.

Says the boy's family to the girl's ( it is always the boy's family that has to ask for the girl's hand in marriage in the Catholic community), 'We have smelt the perfume of a sweet flower in your garden. We have come to ask for it.' Replies the girl's family: 'In that case you may take this fire stick and enter the house.' The fire stick is a symbol that they are in favour of the match.

After the utor begins a long series of dos and don'ts, well after the day of the marriage. The betrothal is sealed when the bridegroom sends the gift of fulam (flowers and sweets). These are to be distributed to the neighbours.

The bride then gets her denem (trousseau) ready. She takes with her several items in sets of seven each. That makes seven towels, pillowcases, bedsheets, handkerchiefs, nightgowns and even seven undergarments. Seven is thought to suffice her for a very long time.

The saddo takes place a few days before the wedding. It is the name of the dress and the ceremony of cutting and sewing the dress. Saddo is to be worn on the first day after the marriage. It has to be red in colour or red and white. All neighbours gather and the professional ovio (songs of praise) singers are called in. The tailor sews the dress while the women sing in the background. There's coconut cake and tea to go around for everybody. The people leave a tip for the tailor on their way out.

Both the families have a bhuim jevonn  before the wedding. This is a ritual meal in honour of the ancestors. All kith and kin  have to be present for this meal. In the well-to-do Catholic houses today it goes by the name of bikariam jevonn, (meal for the poor). It has taken the form of a charity luncheon for the poor, as ancestor worship is regarded as a            pre-christian tradition. 

However, the poor are asked to pray for all the family's ancestors. A couple of days before the wedding is the ceremony of chuddo.These are the bangles worn by the bride for her marriage. The bangle seller is brought in, and with friends and neighbours singing ovios in the background, the bride downs 30 green and red bangles, 15 on each hand. Green stands for fertility and red for a married life. Traditionally married women had to wear glass bangles throughout their life. They had to be broken on the coffin of the husband.

The bridegroom's family has the privilege of asking for an ojem; a gift of several sweetmeats and bananas, from the bride's family. These are later distributed to neighbours and relatives. 

The kunbi traditionally held group marriages a couple of days before the Mell, the spring festival which is today merged with Carnival. Between 25 to 30 couples got married. The entire village would resound with the ghumots (earthen drum) and dulpods. A day before the marriage, the bride's toilette begins. The ros is a ritual where the bride is ceremoniously massaged with coconut juice. It is meant to make the skin smooth and soft. A large bowl is placed before the bride, who sits in the bathing room. Each relative drops a coin in the juice, takes a palm full and massages the bride. When all the juice is over, the woman who had ground it gets the money.

The bride has to fast on the day of the wedding. Once she steps out of the house, turning back to take a look is considered taboo. If she drops a kerchief or her purse, she should not retrieve  it either. She gets another one if it is at hand. The items are left to the devil who might have gone with the bride, had she picked them up.

Before proceeding to the church or temple the bride goes to her immediate neighbours for their blessings. After the wedding reception is over (which is usually late in the night), the vorr or the bride's marriage party and the bridegroom's family see each other off at the shim or border of the village. This is known as the portonem. 

Both parties draw an imaginary line across the road with the foot. One male representive from either family stands on each side of the line, and snaps a blade of grass in a mock tug of war. Each one throws a glass of feni on either side of the shim for the guardian spirits and have a sangvonn  for the guardian spirits and ancestors seeking their protection for the newly wed couple and their families.

The  parties then vend their way home to the drumming of ghumots and dulpods and singing of  ovios all the way, but not before the men have had their 'one for the road'.

The saddo or the dress to be worn on the first night should not be washed by the bride. She should leave it in the wash bucket with a currency note tied to the skirt. The first relative who chooses to wash the dress gets the tip.

On the third day the new son-in-law is invited for lunch at his in-laws house. It is his first visit. The party includes the bridal couple and their relatives and friends. It is customary for the son-in-law and his friends to lift off any item that they like, provided it is small enough not to be noticed. This is a joke played on the bride's family.

As soon as the bridegroom's party leaves, the bride's family gets busy trying to find out what is missing — a hand mirror, an ash tray, a cell torch, a crystal wine glass, or probably your favourite perfume! As a tradition you cannot ask for the things back. But the generous sons-in-law of today religiously return all items after a day's suspense and a good laugh.

  By Bernadette Gomes