Nepali girls "wed" god in ancient ritual
By Gopal Sharma
KATHMANDU (Reuters) - Nine-year-old Bhintuna sat smiling in jewelry and a red and gold brocade bridal dress as she held a tray of offerings, waiting for her turn to take part in the ritual that would wed her to a god.
The schoolgirl is just one of hundreds of Nepali girls set to take part in the rite that weds them to the god Vishnu over the coming month, a symbolic time of weddings according to tradition in this deeply religious, majority Hindu nation.
"It is fun. I am happy to wear new clothes and be with so many friends," said Bhintuna.
The ritual, which takes place before a girl reaches puberty, is one of three weddings that girls from the Newar community, which dominates the Kathmandu valley that houses the Nepali capital, undergo in their lives.
In a later ceremony she will "wed" the sun by spending 12 nights in a darkened room at the age of 11 or 13, a rite that earns her additional protection. Her final wedding will be to her real, human husband, usually around the age of 25.
The origins of the tradition are obscure but Rajendra Rajopadhyaya, the priest who conducted the ceremony, said it dated back at least several centuries.
One tale has it that parents of a girl were afraid that a lewd entertainer in the court of the god Vishnu, known as the god of protection, would flee with her, so they married her off to Vishnu to keep her safe.
Hundreds of onlookers thronged the copper-roofed temple in Kathmandu, lit by butter lamps and filled with incense smoke, as 80 girls between the ages of six and nine awaited their turn for the ceremony, draped in long strings of yellow glass beads and other finery. Continued...