Wednesday, November 3, 2010

The Tree Bride

Since the topic du jour is marriage customs, you’re probably expecting me to write about Bollywood-style weddings or perhaps the marriage of the American pop star who got hitched in India last week. But you already know plenty about both those topics.

Instead, I’d like to share an unusual marriage custom I’m pretty certain most of you would not have heard about. Granted, it’s an old one, about a hundred years old, but still unique.

One of our grandfathers was a young postmaster in a rural part of India. His parents had passed early, and his job required him to move every so often, leaving him to mostly fend for himself among strangers. In one of these small towns, locals married him off to one of their daughters, and as was the custom in those days, she would be a very young girl who soon after puberty would join him officially as his wife. But before that rite of passage occurred, the poor bride contracted tuberculosis and passed away. The young postmaster was again married off to another very young maiden in another village, and this girl too met an untimely death. Now the relatives were worried. Do we marry him off again? They took their concerns to their local pandit (or priest), who warned the groom against a third marriage, which could be unlucky (as in, three strikes and you’re out).

According to the priest, the young widower would have to marry, that’s right, a tree, so that a future marriage with a human wife could then be considered a fourth marriage rather than an ill-fated third one. The family agreed, and the groom had little choice but to abide by his elders’ wishes and go along with it. All the usual rituals were observed, the bride was a lovely little plantain, and soon after the ceremony, the poor bride was tragically cut down in her prime, a sacrifice to rid the groom of bad omens. I’m pretty sure wife number four, who went on to become the family matriarch and celebrated her golden anniversary with the serial groom, was the original source of this story. Though the groom had only briefly met his previous wives, being the successful fourth wife had to have been some kind of scandal back then, and possibly even a badge of honor. (I’m only guessing, of course.)

What unique or unusual marriage customs have you encountered in your travels?


  1. Love it! The poor young man. I'm sure after the second death his life was very hard for a while.

    I can hear the rally shout in the small village - "Long live wife number four!"

    Great job, Supriya.

  2. OMG, Supriya, I actually remember reading about a young Indian girl being married off to a tree – for a similar reason. She was on a journey to her future husband’s village, but when she arrived, the groom got bitten by a snake and died on the spot. The relatives married her off to a tree for the same “bad luck” kind of reason...

  3. I heard Aishwarya Rai had to marry a tree before she wed Abhishek. It's a strange tradition, but I always feel bad for the trees. I want them to survive. :) Why not marry a rock? hmmm, now that's an idea.

  4. Thanks, CJ! The other thing is he had not met his previous two wives; they were child brides so he might have caught a glimpse of them at the nuptials but I'm not even sure about that. So how does he mourn two women he hadn't met?

    Lina, you are better read than I am. I never heard of this custom till I heard this story. It still fascinates me.

    And Lavanya, LOL! Not a very green tradition, huh?

  5. What a fascinating story, Supriya! I just love it and could picture our groom marrying his beloved tree. :-)

  6. What a great story, Supriya. An ingenious solution to a dilemma, even if it is tragic that the tree had to be cut down. I suppose polygamy was out of the question (that is no tree & fourth wife)? The again, maybe it was the death of the third wife, i.e., the tree, that was supposed to end the streak of bad luck.

  7. Recently Aishwarya Rai did the same thing (marrying a tree) before marrying her famous hubby as well. Apparently this still works....

  8. It must be working for the tradition to carry on so long that even today's Bollywood megastars are following it. Thanks for stopping by, G.