The practice of ghoonghat is the practice of a bride covering her head in the presence of elders, most especially elder men in her husband’s family. This means covering her head in front of her husband’s father, his elder brothers, his elder male cousins, and uncles.
A group of veiled Indian women. Photo by Nevil Zaverl via Flickr.com.
It varies from region to region, how much the woman has to cover. In fact, as this tradition applies in my husband’s family, I have been told to cover my head a dozen different ways by a dozen different people. Mostly, I will use my pallu (the loose end of a saree) or a scarf and cover my head, pulling the fabric over my forehead to cover my eyes. However, there are many ways of observing ghoonghat.
Women also tend to cover their heads (up to the hair line) for elder women when they are in the presence of their husband as well. This is a form of modesty.
Photo by Bold Content via Flickr.com.
This is an old tradition that still hangs around today, not every family follows this tradition. In fact, many families do not.
Here is an exerpt from my journal the third day of living in my husband’s home, just after our marriage:
You Are Ashamed
“Starting not from the time I entered his home, but from the time I settled into the hotel, I was made to cover my head. It started with a dupatta (a headscarf) which is all I had at the time. I didn’t know what I was doing, and it felt strange. I felt awkward. I didn’t know how to wrap the scarf properly. I didn’t look good, and looking back, I did it completely wrong.
But as with all things, no one bothered to explain it properly. Even if I asked. Lastly, the person for whom I was covering my head had done a great injustice to us, once. Therefore, I did not feel as if I should have covered my head, a symbol of respect, for him. Under these circumstances, I felt as if I was being shamed.
“Hide your eyes, hide your face. From this moment forward, you should be ashamed of yourself.”
At least, that’s what it felt like…”
A few points I would like to make on this exerpt, now:
- Whether or not I felt it was necessary to respect someone who had disrespected us, didn’t matter. In India, respect is given to elders and those with power whether or not they have earned respect.
- That uncle came to redeem himself.
- My husband’s family had no expectations and they made that clear. It was my choice to wear a saree or not, my choice to cover my head or not. I chose to. Regardless of how much I struggle with it, it is a choice I made.
- You can usually see through the thin material of the pallu or scarf, but if you have a thick border (as I have, a few times) heaven help you.
In any case, I do continue to struggle with covering my head and trying to feel comfortable with it. I see how my didi (elder sister – my husband’s elder brother’s wife) covers her head like it’s second nature, and I would love to be that comfortable with it. I just can’t feel comfortable and close to people I have to hide my face from. That being said, I don’t talk too much to my father-in-law, not at all to my brother-in-law, but I do talk to my didi, my mother-in-law, and sisters-in-law as much as possible.
The featured image is by Nevil Zaverl via Flickr.com, featuring a bride observing ghoonghat flashing a big smile.