Being Women

Marriages Are Not Always Between The Living: Even The Dead Deserve To Get Married!

Have you heard about dead people getting married? Well, it is a prevalent custom amongst the Tulus in Karnataka and Kerala.

The fragrance of fresh Champa blossoms drafts through the door lined with marigold festoons. The threshold of Arun Kumar’s house is decorated with rice rangoli and looks welcoming. The women folk, dressed in their finest silks, and glittering gold, seem to be gushing about the marriage that is soon to take place. Men in white kurtas and dhotis instruct each other on trivia before the rituals start. The neighbourhood of a small Tulu village in coastal Karnataka is busy with marriage festivities. Everything is in place.

Except… The bride and groom. They are dead!

When the dead get married….

Yet, there seems to be no solemnity hanging in the air. It is as joyous as it could be if the couple were alive.


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Yes, marrying the dead, the ones who departed long before they could reach a marriageable age, is a custom in a Tulu community. They call this tradition Pretha Kalyanam in Kannada and Kule Madime in the Tulu language. These weddings are prevalent in Tulunadu, comprising Dakshina Kannada and Udupi in Karnataka, and Kerala’s Kasaragod. Every year in the Tulu month of Aati, in the monsoon, alongside ancestral worship, the Tulus observe Kule Madime.

Arun Kumar’s house is celebrating his cousin’s marriage who died when she was only 25 days old.

For people like us, who try to find logic and reason in any custom or ritual we celebrate, this is a difficult morsel to swallow. Yet, it doesn’t mean that what we don’t believe it doesn’t exist. And who are we to judge?

Logic behind this peculiar custom

Look at it from this angle.

  • One, it helps the parents believe that there is a wonderful afterlife for their children. It helps them enjoy a celebration that they would have not had if the departed soul was their only progeny. Participating in others’ happiness and having one for your own self are two different things. This marriage, however fake it seems, is real exuberance for parents with whom nature has been very cruel.
  • Two, the dishevelled parents, in their search for a similar departed soul, find another set of grieving parents. Two plus two four people have holes in their hearts that match in size, depth, and enormity. Like-hearted (why always like-minded) come together.
  • Third, because this ritual has to be conducted someday, the dead are kept alive through stories told to their younger siblings, offerings made to God for finding a suitable bride or groom, and money saved for this grand ritual. The departed still continues to live and is not pushed under the carpet like a dead fly. The memories can be haunting, but now there is a purpose to living each memory again.
  • Fourth, like all Indian parents find closure in their dutiful parenting after giving away their children in matrimony, these troubled parents, too, find closure in their grief. Aren’t such rituals meaningful?

But the youth choose to stay away….

What is missing in such rituals is the involvement of the youth.

Arun Kumar’s cousins find it absurd and a waste of time and money to attend such marriages. They find it shameful to tell their boss in a metropolitan city that they need a leave for their dead cousin’s wedding. They don’t forward photographs of this celebration in their office group or have a hashtag post on their Instagram. While in the village, it is all about music and food, these youngsters make absolutely no noise about it. The older people go about their traditional way and celebrate a ritual less known.

Given the decrease in infant mortality, this ritual will gradually die its own peaceful death. But till then, let’s understand, accept, and participate in the real union of souls.

Marriages are indeed made in heaven. Why not celebrate even if the person is in a heavenly abode?


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