Secret behind traditional bride price of INR 12 in Santhal wedding

Sarees begin to replace cash in tying marriage bond between two Santhali clans


August 8, 2022

/ By / New Delhi

Secret behind traditional bride price of INR 12 in Santhal wedding

Santhal marriage known as ‘Hor Bapla” in Sathali is the most complex social and religious ceremony of the Santhals (Photo: Sir Binod Marandi)

The Santhal, one of the largest tribal groups in eastern India, has retained several of its age-old traditions, many of which may appear strange in today’s world. One such tradition concerns the bride price of INR 12 that every prospective groom has to pay his in-laws during the traditional Santhali marriage. Media India Group unravels the story and the significance behind this custom and its evolution in recent times.

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A traditional Santhal marriage, known as ‘Hor Bapla’ in Santhali, is one of the most complex, social and religious ceremonies of the Santhals living in a vast territory in eastern India and even Nepal and Bangladesh. The Santhali wedding season begins in the month of Falgun (March) and continues up to Josthi (June). The Santhals believe that a marriage is not only communion of two individuals but also the occasion to strengthen the kinship between two families and even the entire villages. There are total 10 forms of marriages practiced in Santhal Parganas or areas where most of the Santhals stay, with only minor changes in the wedding practices and customs.

The most popular or common form of Santhal marriage is Kirin Bahu Bapla in which the father of the groom pays INR 12 as bride price (Gonon taka) to the father of the bride, the last step in preparation of a traditional Santhal marriage ceremony.

The custom dates back to several centuries, say locals. “The INR 12 price was a symbolic custom that acted as the foundation of the rights of the husband and his family. It is also believed that the amount INR 12 symbolises the twelve clans of Santhal tribe, which are Hansdak’, Murmu, Hembrom, Soren, Kisku, Tudu, Marndi, Baske, Besra, Chonre, Puria and Bedea,” says Bless Emmanuel Tudu, who founded The Tribe India, a website focused on tribal issues, and is based in Dumka.

The legend has it that the first Santhali persons on the Earth, Pilchu Haram and Pilchu Budhi, who were brother and sister, got married among themselves as per the instructions Marang Buru, the Great Mountain whom the Santhals worship, in order to create human society. A long time passed, and all of them were living in a place named Khoj Kaman. They had seven boys and seven girls as children. They made the decision to keep boys and girls apart because they were afraid their kids would make the same error that they had done. Pilchu Budhi led the women in gathering firewood and leaves, while Pilchu Haram led the men in fruit gathering and hunting.

One day, the small boys and girls ventured outside by themselves. While the girls were having fun in the shelter of a tree, the boys had just got back from hunting. The enticing melody of the song performed by the young girls filled the Bir or the forest. The song appealed so much to the boys that they went into a trance and joined the girls in their fun-loving activities. During the process, the boys and girls formed themselves as partners according to their age groups. The oldest boy partnered with the oldest girl, while the youngest boy with the youngest girl, and so forth.

While it was the Marang Buru’s will that Pilchu Haram and Pilchu Budhi got married, and though they had warned their children to take precautions so that they may not make the same mistakes again in the future, but the same mistakes were made. Maran Biru saw that his warnings and advice on not to repeat the practice of marrying their blood relations had been ignored by the tribe that had become crazy with lust.

Seeing this, Maran Buru became furious and rained fire for seven days and seven nights to destroy everything that was living on earth. Only the holy couple and its children who were on the Harata Mountain survived. They came down and made their home at the foot of the Harata Mountain.

After this, Haram and Budhi divided them into clans, i.e. Hansdak, Murmu, Kisku, Hembrom, Marandi, Soren and Tudu. Besides these original septs, five more clans were made, namely Baske, Besra, Pauria, Core and one which has been lost today is called Bedea (12 clans).

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So the bride price of INR 12 acts as a remembrance of the 12 surnames of the Santhal tribe and a reminder that people with the same surnames cannot marry to each other. It also talks about the evolution of all 12 clans, contributing to the formation of the whole Santhal tribe.

Gonon Taka acts as an official ceremony that fixes the marriage bondage and is also a parental agreement, which states that the boy and the girl can finally marry each other,” Chrisostom Besra, a priest from Dumka in Jharkhand, tells Media India Group.

It is the process of last step before the Santhal marriage takes place, which depicts the official confirmation of fixing a wedding between the two people. The Gonon Taka is given to the bride’s father by the groom’s father in front of the whole community. Gonon Taka is not given directly to the bride’s father but through 6 individuals namely Manjhi Hadam, or headman of the village, Jog Manjhi, his helper, Paranik Naike, priest of the Santhal tribe, his helper Kudam Naike  and Godet, the messenger of the village. The presence of these six persons plays a vital role in any functions of the Santhal tribe.

Today in some parts of Eastern India, these tribal practices have been evolved with the time. While INR 12 was a big amount decades ago, today it is not worth much and hence the custom has switched to giving sarees instead of INR 12.

“At present in some parts of the tribal area, this practice have changed. Since the value of INR 12 is very less so they take three or five sarees instead of INR 12 but both the parties have to agree upon this. Though the practice is changing, people during marriage still use the word-Gonon Taka meaning bride price,” Joanna Hembrom from Bhagalpur in Bihar tells Media India Group.

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