There are many eerie customs prevailing all over the globe from prehistory of mankind. Some customs fade away on onslaught of modern thinking but some are so stubborn that it is not possible to eradicate them. ‘Kule Madime’ (=Ghost Marriage) is one of such customs that was prevalent in Tulu Nadu since ages.
During my childhood, I noticed a kinship between our family and another family in our neighborhood. One Janaki-akka used to address my aunt (my mother’s younger sister) as ‘maami (mother-in-law). We had not seen any living couple, connected to this relation. We youngsters were told that this odd relationship was brought about by performing a ‘titinakalena madime aka kule madime’, i.e. marriage of the dead, in a symbolic way. The bride was my aunt’s unmarried dead daughter and the groom was the unmarried dead brother of Janaki-akka. The symbol used, as I faintly remember as told, was two coconut trees. (However hard I try to remember the exact symbol, I am unable to recollect it. Moreover, it is impossible to get details of ritual now as our elders are dead).
‘Kule Madime’ in Tulu means: a marriage between two souls or spirits of the dead. Besides Tulu Nadu, it is also practiced in other parts of India. It is also a tradition, practiced world-wide – from Africa to France (Europe) to Asia and to American countries.
Supposedly, this ritual is practised on the belief that it would bring a sense of satisfaction and completeness to the departed souls, who died young without marriage. “Divinity in man is not accidental” (Post-250 Dt: 20.08.2010). It is said to be a re-incarnation of spiritual light in a human body to do things – good or bad – at the bidding of primordial energy, the Source, i.e. Paramaatma. Sacred rituals are performed at different stages of one’s life. If a human-being dies young, not undergoing the ritual of marriage, his or her unsatisfied soul remains in suspension-state. As is believed or feared, the circumstances of its leaving the body makes it ill-disposed to others in the family and starts haunting them.
Haunted family consults a soothsayer who says that the delay in getting alliance for a (living) girl or boy in a family is due to unsatisfied souls, who died without marriage. The affected family looks out for a suitable dead boy or girl for solemnizing their marriage. Sometimes, departed soul (mostly of a male) possesses a person in its family and points out the household where it can get a suitable bride. These days ‘Preta or Pitru Sanskara Kriya’ ritual is performed through priests when calamities befall in a family.
Ghost Marriage in China
It is an age-old belief (for more than 1000 years) in China that if a man dies unmarried, he will haunt his surviving relatives. His family members would perform a Ghost Marriage where a bride would be found and wed in his post-mortem. This practice has created a class of ‘Ghost Match-makers’, thriving on a brisk business of providing brides at high prices. Female corpses are pilfered secretly from tombs and are traded in black market. So the ghost marriage is outlawed in China since 1949.
There was a news item in Indian Express of 16th October 2015 under the heading: “Corpse stolen for Ghost Marriage in China”. The news item, was about three persons who have been detained in North China Shanxi Province for stealing s female corpse from a village tomb to sell it as a bride for an ancient ritual of the marriage of the deceased. The incident was reported to the police by the villagers when the accused were raiding the tomb. Such incidents are happening time and again in China in spite of ban on the ritual.
Other Forms of Ghost Marriage
There are many interesting stories documented in the Internet on following types of ghost marriages:
Posthumous marriage (necrogamy) is a marriage in which one of the participating members is dead. It is legal in France. Similar forms are practiced in Sudan and China. It is in practice since 1950 (to support the World War II widows and their children).
Levirate marriageis a tradition related to posthumous marriage or ghost marriages. In a Levirate marriage, the brother of a deceased man is obligated to marry his late brother’s widow. The reasoning behind it is to support widows and their children.
This is comparable to ‘Niyoga’ custom, sanctioned by Vedas and codified in ‘Manusmriti (Manu’s Injunctions).Such action is necessitated to continue the family-line. So it is called ‘Apaddharma Niyoga’ [Read the Chapter in ‘Satyartha Prakasha’ (in Sanskrit) by Swami Dayananda Saraswati (Vernacular translations are available; In Kannada version, p.155). In Mahabharata, births of Dritarashtra, Pandu and Vidura to Vichitravirya’s widows by Sage Vyasa, Pancha Pandavas to Kunti and Madri through celestial beings Yama, Vayu, Indra, and Ashwini Kumaras are progenies by Niyoga to keep up the dynasty of Kuru. Such practice is still in vogue in North India. Remember the Hindi film ‘Ek Chhadar Maili Si’ (1986) about such a marriage, based on Sahitya Akademi Award winning Urdu Novelwritten by Rajinder Singh Bedi.
Tulu Nadu is known for practice of ‘Animism’. Its inhabitants revere all things in Nature – water, trees, snakes, stones, departed souls, etc. Their devoutness to super-humanly forces is manifest in Bhutaradhane (Worship of Divine Spirits) to this day. Their reverence to family ancestors is praised by foreign travelers of yore. Are we justified in dismissing the belief as mere superstition?
Mind works in a similar way, guided by emotions – say, awe, fear love, greed and hate - of that moment. It is, therefore, no wonder to find similarity in religious/social practices in other parts of the world.
Kule Madime was in vogue in the past, mainly keeping in mind the salvation of souls of the dead and bringing peace to the family. This practice may continue as long as there is a soothsayer; perhaps, in remote villages where modernity has not set in.
Anyone who has witnessed such ritual or has knowledge about it, may share it with us.
-Hosabettu Vishwanath, Pune