Rites and Wrongs

How Satyashodhak weddings resist Brahmanical rituals

Guests offer tribute to Bahujan icons at Ainkya Pawar’s Satyashodhak wedding in Wada town. At his wedding, people who made a monetary gift to the couple could pick up a copy of either Gulamgiri or Shetkaryacha Asud, Jotirao Phule’s two best-known books. Courtesy Ajinkya Pawar
30 June, 2021

On 25 April, 32-year-old Bhanuj Kappal was scheduled to get married in Goa in a Satyashodhak ceremony—a type of wedding that eschews the services of a Brahmin priest, Brahmanical rituals and unintelligible Sanskrit verses. The bride and bridegroom also write their vows—they decide what goes into those vows—which they recite on the day of the wedding in front of the guests. Kappal’s wedding, which had to be postponed due to the second wave of COVID-19, is among the growing number of Satyashodhak weddings in Maharashtra and beyond.

Jotirao Phule co-founded the Satyashodhak Samaj, or Truth Seekers’ Society, on 24 September 1873. The organisation’s primary aim was to revolt against the hegemony of Brahmins and their ideology that preached the enslavement of the lower castes. It was also supposed to be a non-Brahmin alternative to the Brahmin-dominated social-reform organisations in western India at the time, such as the Prarthana Samaj and the Poona Sarva- janik Sabha.

Many communities employed Brahmin priests to officiate at pujas, weddings and funerary rites. This eventually led to the creation of the hereditary office of a joshi—Brahmin priest—in many villages of Maharashtra. Many non-Brahmins believed, and some still do, that a religious ceremony would be incomplete without the presence of a Brahmin priest. Brahmins also had a monopoly over Sanskrit, the Vedas and Puranic rituals, which gave them immense power in the religious and social spheres.

Satyashodhaks did not believe in the superiority and authority of the Brahmins and wanted to strip them of their religious power. Their first plan of action was to stop inviting them to officiate at religious ceremonies. The organisation’s first annual report mentions that one member, Ganapat Alhat, carried out his grandmother’s pindadana—a post-death ritual—without a Brahmin priest. Another member, Vyanku Kalewar, stopped giving feasts and donations to Brahmins on Ganesh Chaturthi, and instead started feasting people with disabilities and donating clothes.

Tejas Harad is currently writing a book on the lives of Savitribai Phule and Jotirao Phule.