A peek at Adam Asar, the six-stage traditional Karbi marriage
Many cultures across the world have legends around the origin of marriage in their society. For example, the mythological origin of a Chinese marriage takes us to the story of Nuwa and Fu Xi, who invented a procedure for the Chinese to get married and stay together as man and wife.
In today’s times, across the cultures, marriage or matrimony has become an established institution that socially or ritually recognises the union of a man and a woman, a relation approved by custom and law. It is this institution which, over the centuries, contributed to the foundation for building a civilized society.
The foundation of Karbi society too is hinged on the institution. The origin of a marriage ceremony among the Karbis is widely believed to have been introduced by Hemphu, the god himself. Hemphu is said to have descended on earth as Langmingpo to introduce a social and moral order among the Karbis. Langmingpo set the example of marriage rituals by marrying off his sister Rasinja to Rangmukrang’s son Longmukrang. The marriage between Rasinja and Longmukrang is said to be the first ritually concluded marriage in the Karbi society. This ritual is known as Adam Asar.
As per the legend, Welirbon, the queen of king Rangmukrang, visited Langmingpo’s house seeking Rasinja’s hand in marriage to her son Longmukrang. Langmingpo sought Rasinja’s consent thereafter and asked the queen to come again. She was asked to come with Bongkrok, the containers she had made from dried wild gourd in which she stores wine that her daughters Kareng and Kading had learnt to make.
Welirbon came to Langmingpo’s house many times with gifts of wine in Bongkrok till a day was finally fixed for the marriage and the whole procedure ended with ‘Peso riso kachethon’.
Thereafter, the first people to follow this system of marriage were two friends named Welongbi and Harlongbi, also known as Sumphong and Sumphi. The two friends were on their way to a war when they met an old woman by the bank of River Marle. The old woman asked them to accompany her to witness a marriage ritual at Miring. What she told them was particularly enticing to the friends. That if they learn the rituals and popularise them among the Karbis, they will be immortalised as the inventor of Karbi marriage system.
They were impressed by what they saw in Miring. Before they left, the old woman gave them the seeds to grow a wild gourd. Indeed a plant grew out of the seeds which bore gourds that they used to make containers to carry wine. Welongbi’s daughter was married off to Harlongbi’s son in that tradition, named Adam-Asar by Hemphu. Thereafter more marriages began to happen by following the ritual of Adam Asar. Welongbi and Harlongbi, by establishing the system in the Karbi society, thus immortalised their names.
Adam Asar follows six stages before declaring a man and a woman as a wedded couple. The first stage is called Nengpi Nengso Kachingki. This means the mother of the boy meets the girl’s mother and field the idea of marriage. A boy can marry a girl from only outside his clan, preferably his maternal uncle’s daughter.
Originally, the talk between the two women were believed to be carried out through songs called Kachihut. Gifts of wine, cereals, betel leaves and nuts are taken by the boy’s mother during the visit. In the ancient times, there was also the ritual of Honjeng Kekok wherein a girl, much before her marriageable age, was tied with five rounds of white thread on the hand by the boy’s mother as a mark of betrothal between the two young cousins as it was then the custom for a man to marry the daughter of his maternal uncle. But this ritual is non-existent now.
The next stage is Piso Kehang. During this stage, the proposal is formally placed by the groom’s family in front of the girl’s father. They are accompanied by a selected lot from their village. The boy’s family has to bring along a Bongkrok filled with Horlang, the rice beer, for the girl’s father -- carried specially by a young man by covering the container in a white cloth, besides carrying bottles of Arak, the country liquor, along with cereals, betel leaves and nuts. The drinks and other gifts are to be carried in a traditional tall basket called Horhak and kept at a designated place by the young man from the groom’s side. He must pay obeisance before presenting the drinks, first to the father, then to the uncles, the brothers, the village head and other respected guests siting in a circle. In the same way, the women’s circle in the interior of the house is also presented with the drinks and other gifts starting with the mother. If the both sides agree to the marriage, the boy’s mother leaves a gift for the girl called Sim Kebi, symbolising her betrothal to the boy.
Next comes Kapatini. At this stage, the boy’s family revisits the girl’s house with gifts like before to get the final consent for the marriage. In presence of people from both the sides, the girl is asked if the people gathered in the room can drink the wine brought by the boy’s family. In case the girl says ‘no’, the marriage does not take place and the ‘Asim’ or the gifts are returned to the boy’s family. If the girl says ‘yes’, then offerings are made to god first before the gathering starts drinking and feasting.
The third time the boy’s family goes to the girl’s side is called Ajo Arni Kepha. It is to fix the date of marriage. The family is accompanied by a small group of selected people.
Thereafter comes Adam Kangthur. It is the marriage day. The boy’s family will inform their village chief, the youth leaders Klengdun and Klengsarpo, with gifts comprising beer and seek their assistance. Before leaving for the bride’s house, the family’s ancestors are invoked and offerings are made to them.
After reaching the bride’s house before sunset, the two sides sit together, men and women apart. Bongkrok with Horlang and Arak are presented to the girl’s father and others present. The girl’s family also offer drinks to the boy’s family and others. After offerings to the god, the feast starts. The ancestors of the girl’s family are also invoked with offerings in the interior of the house.
After the feast, the womenfolk of the girl’s family arrange the two bed clothes designed differently for men and women called Pelu and Piniku, to be spread together. Then the bride and the groom are made to sit there together with one companion each. The bride and the groom are asked to offer drinks and betel nuts to each other. Thus their union is formalised in front of all. Their companions are also made to do the same which is often a cause of fun.
On the wedding night, a Lunsepo, the male singer from the bride’s side, sings the marriage song called Thelu and the Lunsepo from the groom’s family sings another called Sanglin.
The next morning, a ritual called Vur Kamatha is performed by offering to the gods between one and three chickens. A feast made of its meat begins thereafter. After that, the boy’s father or a Lunsepo sings the song Mun Charne, asking the bride to come to her groom’s house. The bride will take leave from the village youths in ‘Risonimso chepadi ahormai’. Finally, she will take leave of her parents. Her uncles and aunts along with some guests from the village accompany her to her new home.
On the way, the marriage party takes a short rest near a river. There, the bride and the groom share the food sent from the bride’s house. This is known as Angdeng Kecho. A ritual called Angdeng Athekar is also performed during the break to cast away bad omens.
At the groom’s house, the following morning, yet another Vur Kamatha is performed by offering either three chickens or a goat to the gods. After a feast of the meat from it takes place comes the leave-taking ritual of the guests who accompanied the bride to her new home. It is when a Lunsepo from the bride’s family sings ‘So ingjir chepare’, advising the bride on her new life and responsibilities. Then they all depart.
The last stage is called Peso-riso Kachethon. According to tradition, the bride should prepare rice beer and also make a white cloth on the loom. The bride retains her maiden surname after marriage.
About three weeks or so after the marriage, the bride and the groom, along with few others, visit the bride’s house to return the clothes she had brought from her parents’ house along with gifts of beer, etc. After a meal together with the bride’s family, the couple departs.
Within a gap of three years or so after marriage, the couple should visit the girl’s house yet again with gifts for her family. This is called ‘Ningkan isek ahor chethon’. This should be continued three times by the couple. Only then do the marriage rituals of the couple can conclude.
There is also another way by which a man can get a wife in Karbi society. It is known as Piso Kemen. If this ritual is followed, then a groom will have to stay at the bride’s house for some years and work for the in-laws. He will have to stay in the household for life if the girl’s parents don’t have a son.
However, slight variations in the rituals can be seen according to the regions. Presently, people prefer to follow three stages of the rituals prior to a marriage and combine one or two stages into one.
Interestingly, in case a boy and a girl elopes with each other or enters into a court marriage, they must also undergo the rituals, done in Bisar Chepachok. Else, the marriage of their children will not be performed and even the last rites of the woman will not be performed as the wife of the man.
Remarriage after separation is not taboo in Karbi society. Widow re-marriage is also accepted and prevalent. The younger brother can marry his elder brother’s widow. It is called Kepateng. However, the elder brother can never marry his younger brother’s widow.
To sum up, one can safely say that the traditional Karbi marriage system has kept its society safe from many evils perpetuated in the name of tradition in many cultures, such as hefty dowries, child marriages, forced marriages, sad plight of young widows, et al.