Posts Tagged ‘India’

  • Love is strange doctor

    card for bride and groomChoosing a unique white wedding dress, sending out elegant invitations to guests, being led down the aisle by one’s father, shamelessly removing the garter, tossing the colourful bouquet, and giving out souvenirs may be considered as universal marriage traditions. However the reality is far from that. Rituals and customs could vary greatly between cultures, religions and countries, ranging from the sweet and romantic, to the strange and bizarre and at times even to the shocking and outrageous.

    Ghost weddings – China

    Whereas a wedding is generally expected to be the culmination of a loving and living bride and groom, ghost weddings are still celebrated in some provinces of northern and central China such as Shanxi and Henan. Such weddings are based on a grisly 3000 year old tradition which recommends that the unmarried dead sould not be left alone in the afterlife, otherwise the deceased’s family might get cursed.

    Originally this ritual was strictly for the dead and it involved two unmarried dead people. A wedding ceremony was duly celebrated and the two were buried together in the groom’s grave. Mainly aimed for young unmarried men who worked in coal mining and often suffered fatalities, this custom provided the bereaved parents with the opportunity to help their sons find a soulmate and be at peace even after death. It must be said that traditionally, parents felt obliged to assist their sons to settle down in a marriage.

    Although this tradition is supposed to have ended, especially with the sale of corpses being outlawed in China in 2006, studies and police reports show that this ritual is more alive than ever. Worse than that, besides being practised secretely, this custom has mutated to a more appalling nature, leading to grave robberies and at times even murders. Prices for female corpses or human remains have increased considerably as parents are ready to carry the financial burden, no matter how difficult it might be.

    Fat farms for brides – Mauritania

    While many brides go on strict diets to lose weight before the wedding, in rural Mauritania, an attractive bride is a girl with stomach rolls, stretch marks and overlapping thighs. In this society, a thin girl is considered inferior and unappealing and her slim figure will bring shame to her family. An old tradition in this country, known as leblouh, ensures that girls are round and corpulent at their weddings by force feeding them from the tender age of 5.

    During the school holidays or in the rainy season, when milk is abundant, girls are sent to ‘fattening farms’ where they are constrained to eat by older women, their aunts or grandmothers. A typical daily intake for a six year old includes two kilos of pounded millet blended with two cups of butter, as well as 20 litres of camel’s milk. Refusal to eat all this food will lead to a subtle form of corporal punishment such as squeezing the girls’ toes between two sticks. Vomit has to be consumed again.

    Historians claim that this tradition dates back to pre-colonial times when Mauritania’s population consisted of nomad white Moor Arabs. At the time, a man was deemed wealthy and well respected if his wives could afford to sit still all day and leave the household chores to black slaves. This laziness led these women to gain weight and by time, being overweight became culturally acceptable and regarded as high class.

    Even though health campaigners are trying to eradicate this old tradition, the leblouh practice has seen a resurgence in recent years. A successful fattenning process will make a girl of 15 look 30, making it easier for her to get married. Sadly, this custom causes endless illnesses and health problems to these girls in later years.

    Cursed wives – India

    When searching for a girl to marry, one tends to be attracted by looks or a charming personality. Yet in India, a man has to watch out for more than that since a woman born under Mangal Dosha (a Hindu astrological combination under the influence of planet Mars) is believed to be cursed and after marriage, she might lead to his untimely death.

    Such women are known as Mangliks and are looked upon with fear in Hindu society. Their choice of spouse is very limited as they are clearly not regarded as ideal prospective matches in the arranged marriages which take place in this country.

    A remedy to break this curse is to marry a clay pot during the kumbh vivah ceremony. This function is just like a real Hindu wedding where the woman has to wear a wedding dress and jewelery along with a thread. A priest is invited to chant the mantra and a marriage celebration takes place between the woman and the pot. Once the wedding is over, the bride will change her clothes, remove the thread and tie it around the pot. Later, when no one is watching, the pot will be drowned in a pond or in a river, thereby releasing the woman from the curse and making her suitable to marry a man.

    Spitting on the bride – Kenya

    One of the most emotional moments in a wedding is the point when a father accompanies his daughter down the aisle, then removes her veil and kisses her on her cheek before handing her over to her future husband. Yet although similar emotions will be involved during a wedding celebration of the Maasai people in Kenya, the father of the bride will spit on her in order to bless her.

    Whereas spitting in many cultures is associated with disgrace and humiliation, in this tribe, this act is regarded to bring good luck and fortune. In fact, Maasai tribesmen will spit on their hands before greeting and shaking hands with elders and it is also customary for them to spit on newborns in order to avert any bad luck.

    During a Maasai wedding, the bride’s head is shaved and lamb fat and oil is applied on her head. After her father has spit on her head and breasts, she will leave with her husband and walk away without looking back since she is fearful that she might turn into stone.

     (This article was published in The Wedding Supplement issued with The Sunday Times of Malta dated 12th March 2017)

    2017.03.12 / no responses / Category: The Sunday Times - Articles

  • A SPECTACULAR WONDERLAND

    Travelling at an impressive 300km/hr, a high-speed railway train took 5 hours and a half to reach Shanghai from Beijing. The voyage was impeccably comfortable. The train station was huge and amazing. Yet the actual surprise was the sheer difference between Beijing and Shanghai.

    Modern buildings merge with older ones in Shanghai1 (Photo - Fiona Vella)Traffic in Beijing was crazy but we had hardly left Shanghai’s train station when we were already blocked behind a long queue of cars. This is no wonder if one considers that about 24 million people live in this city. Recent modernization and progress in Shanghai have attracted many persons and in the last five years, the population tripled itself.

    Along the road, we observed that plain residential high rises were wide to an extreme. Besides them, luxurious or commercial high rises glistened beautifully as if in a bid to outshine the sun itself. Older traditional structures, together with buildings which formed part of the foreign concession areas, claimed the passers-by attention with their distinguished architecture.

    Originally, a simple fishing village, Shanghai’s economy expanded rapidly once it was turned into a commercial port. Since at the time, traders could only use the sea or waterways as a means of transportation, Shanghai’s wide harbour began to attract numerous Chinese from various parts of China and also several foreigners. A society of immigrants started to flourish, each of which began to leave their influences in this new city.

    In a few years, a large flat muddy area, overgrown with reeds, which was situated on the north bank of Huangpu River, was turned into a zone for foreigners and they named it the Bund. Starting from just a one-sided street, running in north-south direction, the location soon flourished with commercial buildings which increased further the significance and the economy of Shanghai.

    Yuyuan MarketYet in the mid-19th century, serious conflicts arose between the forces of Western countries and the Chinese, Qing dynasty, after China attempted to suppress the opium trade. Since the 18th century, foreign traders, particularly the British, had been illegally exporting opium which they imported from India. By the 19th century, this trade had grown dramatically, and the resulting widespread addiction in China began to cause serious social and economic disruption. Two Opium Wars broke out in which China was twice defeated and foreign concessions were established. It was in 1943, during the war between China and Japan, that the foreigners decided to abandon Shanghai.

    Between the 1950s and the 1960s, some of the elder people who resided in Shanghai, proposed to the government to demolish these colonial buildings which reminded them of a bitter past. However eventually, it was decided to retain these structures since they represented a real part of the city’s history, even if painful.

    The modern area of the Bund1 (Photo - Fiona Vella)In the last 100 years, the Bund frontage buildings were repaired and reconstructed several times. Today, this area is embellished with prominent and elegant structures which contrast deeply with the opposite side of the Bund wherein some daring and bizarre high rises have been built. At night, the latter, turns into a spectacular wonderland as the colossal structures are fully illuminated in bright and colourful lights.

    A visit to this district which looks like a strange combination of London and New York, will reveal why it has become the symbol of Shanghai and the pride of many of its residents. Crowds of visitors gather daily at the Bund in order to enjoy the beautiful scenery on the Huangpu River which divides the old and the modern zones. Nonetheless, if one wants to enjoy the experience to the full, a night boat cruise is certainly recommended.

    Our guide from Shanghai explained to us that this city has changed tremendously in these last years. In 1987, there were only 12 high rise buildings in Shanghai, whereas today, there are around 140,000. People have more money in their pockets, education facilities have increased, and life is more comfortable especially due to the efficient and far-reaching subway system. Yet he felt that simultaneously, Shanghai citizens were losing some important characteristics of the city. Indeed, when elders returned to the city after living far away, they could not find their way around as a number of the old landmarks have gone or are engulfed amongst the different modern landscape.

    Shanghai Urban Planning Exhibition Hall1 (Photo - Fiona Vella)The repercussions of the sudden modernization of Shanghai have always been the focus of the authorities which are trying their very best to mitigate the impact of such changes. Their plans and projects are comprehensively described in the vast exhibitions which are displayed at the Shanghai Urban Planning Exhibition Hall which is located at the People’s Square. The centrepiece of the exhibition is a huge scale model of the city which shows all the existing and approved buildings. Moreover, a circular screen provides visitors with the opportunity to enjoy a fascinating 3D virtual tour around the city of Shanghai.

    Photo presentations explain how old buildings which were worth preserving and conserving, were carefully selected and restored, and then given a function in order to revive them. A particular example is the M50 contemporary art district which up to a few years ago was a disused industrial space. Another is the pedestrian walkway of Nanjing Road wherein 100 year old shops were amalgamated with new structures from where now, one can find speciality products of different trades standing next to famous brands.

    A corner in Yuyuan Garden1 (Photo - Fiona Vella)In Shanghai Old Street, which was reconstructed according to traditional Chinese style, visitors can roam around Yuyuan Market and absorb the allure of earlier times, whereas the nearby Yuyuan Gardens provide the beauty and serenity of a green environment. In the outskirts of Shanghai, ancient towns, such as Zhujiajiao, represent life of a distant and far simpler period in Shanghai. Concentrated under Shanghai’s Expo2010 motto ‘Better City, Better Life’, the main message of this place is to urge people to be proud as well as protective of their new city.

    A delightful wider look at the landscape of the city of Shanghai can be appreciated at a choice of revolving restaurants which are available on high towers. Definitely a surreal experience which gives you the ultimate impression of being on a totally different planet.

    (This article was published in Escape Suppliment of The Sunday Times of Malta dated 13th September 2015)

    2015.09.13 / no responses / Category: Times of Malta

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