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Kashi Yatra

Kashi Yatra

January 21, 2012

The neo-liberal market forces seemed to have rubbed off a bit on the Kashi Yatra.

Bamma is a 72 year old woman who has fulfilled all her responsibilities in life like getting married, propagating her genes, educating the kids, arranged-marrying them and seeing to it that her kids are doing the same as well. Now that she has grown old she has set her eyes on one last milestone - The Kashi Yatra

A Little Background Information

The Kashi yatra symbolizes giving up all worldly possessions and making “the final trip”. In the days of yore, it was often the last item in one’s bucket list because it was a dangerous activity that involved walking for weeks at a stretch (dangerous for a 70 year old), trekking across the Vindhyas (It’s more a  South Indian thing) through the jungle with tigers. A safe return was seldom guaranteed.

Going on a Kashi Yatra is making a statement. It is telling the world that you have seen enough of it, and that you’re ready to move on. To celebrate that otherworldly spirit, the custom is to renounce the one thing you like the most thereby letting a small part of you die as a token of respect for the God of Destruction.

This custom, despite very noble intentions, had a glaring loophole. Soon old men started renouncing the one thing they swear they love the most – their wives! To plug this loophole, the rules were made more specific. It can’t be “anything”. It has to be a food item – favorite fruit or vegetable to be more precise.

Bamma’s yatra

Cut to the 21st century, the tigers have been poached, the jungles mined and the Vindhyas are crossed by snoring in a sleeper class compartment. Bamma like all other Bammas has packed eight pieces of luggage for a three day journey. She is accompanied by her young grandson who is going through that awkward, indifferent, just-out-of-teenage-but-still-didn’t-get-laid phase where he thinks he is the sole victim of a 5000 year old civilization!

Bamma is very stout about following these sorts of customs and so she gave up the thing she loved the most – mangoes. (She is diabetic and is not supposed to eat them anyway)

Things have changed a bit.

For centuries, Renounce-your-favorite-fruit service was the monopoly of the Kashi-Vishwanath temple! Worse, renouncing was exclusive to senior citizens. However, neo-liberal policies of the last 20 years have rubbed off a little on religion too. You want to renounce your favorite fruit but do not have the time to go all the way to Kashi? Don’t worry, you can now avail the benefits of renunciation without even activating your roaming. You can do it anytime, anyplace. All you need is a face!

Yes folks, Shiridi and Tirupati offer some excellent plans. Their devotee-friendly staff is there seven days a week to help you renounce something you really like. Even the favorite-fruit-or-vegetable-only rule is relaxed.  I have a friend who at the age of 17 renounced meat in Tirupati. Something that was unimaginable 20 years back! Awesome, huh?

Note: Renunciation is still limited to food items. You can’t dump your wife in a temple yet!

Speaking of Wives

The Kashi Yatra is also an important aspect of South Indian wedding too. It’s a nice fun pre-wedding ritual which is acted out like a one act play.

The story goes something like this. Immediately after his student life, the young bachelor (the groom) has two choices – married life (grihasta) or an ascetic life (sanyasam). The eligible bachelor having been exposed to various ideas of post-modern masculinity (mostly through American sitcoms) is naturally commitment-phobic and thus prefers Sanyasam.

And so he embarks upon his journey to Kashi searching for the ultimate truth with the help of his The Essential Sanyasam survival Tool Kit which includes a pair of slippers, an umbrella, a bamboo fan, a copper jug with a handle (Telugu: mari chembu) and an Android Google Maps app (you know, for directions!)

And so, the groom begins his remarkable journey to Kashi.  In Tamil weddings, he is stopped on the way by the father of the bride who advises him on the superiority of the married life compared to the life of an ascetic (conveniently skipping the tribulations of marriage) and to prove his point, he offers his daughter for marriage.

In Telugu weddings, it is the brother of the bride who persuades the groom to marry his sister. And he persuades by placing a small piece of jaggery under his chin.

Now back in the days when weddings were memories, a small piece of jaggery sufficed. But in the modern photo-op weddings of today, the small piece is not very photogenic. So they had to increase the size of the piece of jaggery and it is now approximately the size of a brick!

The disproportionate size of the brick can be quite confusing for an outsider who doesn’t have this cultural context. It looks like the groom just cheated on his girlfriend and is running away from the village but her brother catches him and says, “You think you can dump my sister and run away? Marry my sister or else I will bludgeon you to death with this sweet yummy brick!

In short, a pure veg. shot gun wedding!

Image: Painting by Manish Khattri


  • zafar
    19.04.13 12:20 PM
    Witty, humorous and sarcastic as usual!
  • Chary
    28.10.12 12:10 PM
    Vow... a good explanation about the renunciation. Thanks for sharing..
  • sermi
    03.06.12 11:23 AM
    Ok just a small clarification on Kasi Yatra here. I agree about the Grihasta and sanyasam. But the object of Kasi Yatra (in weddings) is to denote that the groom steps out of the house to find his bride.The idea is,if he does not find one, he will take sanyasam and go off to Kasi. On the way, the father of the girl meets the guy and realizes he is a good groom for his daughter,hence requests his hand in marriage. Thus, since the guy has found the girl, he neednt do any more searching and also-doesnt need to retire to Kasi!

    But loved the article - me a regular follower of your blog :)
  • Gautham
    11.04.12 09:49 AM
    I had similar experiences with my Bamma too. Was fun travelling though. Lol @ just-out-of-teenage-but-still-didn’t-get-laid phase.
  • Jayanth Tadinada
    Jayanth Tadinada
    26.03.12 02:15 PM
    @Vasu: Well, it was part of a bigger post. I'll try to finish the rest and join the ideas.
  • Vasu
    24.03.12 06:37 AM
    Felt its incomplete. It ended abruptly. More to come?

    What's annoying in telugu weddings. I love them.
  • Sourav Roy
    Sourav Roy
    06.02.12 11:18 PM
    Great article! I wonder how a father will act on the ritual of Kashi Yatra when his Kannadiga daughter loves and eventually marries a North Indian guy.

    What if he sadistically lets the boy leave for Kashi and become a brahmachari, by not stopping him at all?

    Can the boy marry someone in Kashi?
  • Jayanth Tadinada
    Jayanth Tadinada
    22.01.12 07:06 PM
    @Sriram Vellanki: Yes, it is Mara chembu. My mistake, thanks for pointing out.

    @Venkat Rao: Thank you. Glad you enjoyed it :)
  • Jayanth Tadinada
    Jayanth Tadinada
    22.01.12 07:05 PM
    @Pavan: It isn't really annoying but the way it is morphed to suit the needs of a home video is funny. The five day wedding is compressed to a weekend, and hundreds of things like these.
  • Venkat Rao
    Venkat Rao
    22.01.12 06:59 AM
    Very good hilarious write up. I loved it
  • Sriram Vellanki
    Sriram Vellanki
    22.01.12 05:18 AM
    Good one Jayanth, loved it. Small correction it is Mara Chembu not mari chembu ;)
  • Pavan
    22.01.12 03:26 AM
    LOL... Very witty and a sarcastic take on irritatingly annoying Telugu wedding. I'm a telgite myself and I have seen all that.
  • Jayanth Tadinada
    Jayanth Tadinada
    22.01.12 02:30 AM
    @Priya Sreeram: Thank you :)
  • Jayanth Tadinada
    Jayanth Tadinada
    22.01.12 02:26 AM
    @Giribala: Yes, brinjal is one of Telugu people's favorite... probably the most renounced vegetable among non-diabetic renunciators!
  • Giribala
    22.01.12 12:35 AM
    Well written!! The renunciation part reminded me of people who used to renounce brinjal :-)
  • Jayanth Tadinada
    Jayanth Tadinada
    21.01.12 10:32 PM
    @Jaai: Thank you!

    I am glad that to know that the teaser did not give anything away ;)
  • Priya Sreeram
    Priya Sreeram
    21.01.12 10:28 PM
    ha ha !good one ;
  • Jaai
    21.01.12 04:40 PM
    This is really funny. :P You don't suspect it from the teaser, though. :D

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