Buddhist weddings in ‘Made in Heaven’, highlights shift from traditional Hindu rituals

The Buddhist Channel, 20 August 2023

New Delhi, India -- In a display of cultural evolution, the second season of Amazon Prime's "Made in Heaven" has cast a spotlight on the transformative power of Ambedkarite* Buddhist weddings, underscoring a shift away from traditional Hindu rituals.

The episode in 'Made in Heaven 2' showcases a lovely Dalit-Buddhist wedding and stars Radhika Apte as Pallavi Menke, a writer who is proud of her identity and advocates for her people.

The episode, directed by Neeraj Ghaywan, is stirring conversations not only for its portrayal of an Ambedkarite Buddhist wedding but also for raising pertinent questions about identity appropriation, drawing on the Dalit narrative.

For retired academic Govardhan Wankhede, the memory of his cousin's Buddhist wedding in 1957 remains vivid. This event was emblematic of a profound shift that swept through the village of Karala in Maharashtra's Amravati district. The transformation had its roots in Dr. Bhimrao Ramji Ambedkar's efforts to empower the marginalized and oppressed communities, as he encouraged mass conversions away from traditional Hindu practices.

The conversion, which took place on October 14, 1956, brought about a radical departure from the status quo. Dr. Ambedkar's call for a break from customary occupations and an emphasis on education triggered a revolution among the converted population, particularly the Mahars who were engaged in manual labor. However, this bold move encountered resistance from upper castes, leading to ostracism and boycotts.

In the wake of these conversions, Ambedkarite Buddhist weddings emerged as symbols of cultural and social transformation, challenging established Hindu practices. Wankhede's cousin's wedding was a landmark moment, marking a break from centuries-old customs and traditions. The ceremonies were characterized by simplicity and egalitarianism, where anyone, regardless of gender or caste, could officiate.

“The ceremony is kept as simple as possible, and barely lasts 15 minutes,” notes Wankhede, highlighting the contrast with the elaborate Hindu wedding rituals. The prayers, vows, and exchange of garlands were not just religious formalities; they became potent expressions of protest against the caste-based hierarchies of Hinduism.

The portrayal of a Dalit bride, Pallavi Menke, in "Made in Heaven" has resonated deeply with audiences, sparking conversations about the importance of representing diverse cultural and social narratives in mainstream media. Sahil Valmiki, co-founder of Dalit Desk, believes that the emergence of directors and writers from the Dalit community has been instrumental in challenging established norms and stereotypes.

The Ambedkarite Buddhist wedding transcends conventions, advocating for gender equality, mutual respect, and the rejection of caste hierarchies. This shift away from discriminatory norms is a manifestation of Dr. Ambedkar's vision for social equality and liberty. Prakash Ambedkar, the lawyer grandson of Babasaheb Ambedkar, attributes this transformation to the freedom of expression offered by OTT platforms, allowing for the exploration of diverse narratives.

Amidst these evolving matrimonial customs, the Satyashodhak wedding ceremony also finds its place. This alternative ceremony, rooted in the teachings of Jyotiba Phule and Savitribai Phule, defied Brahminical rituals and patriarchy. Divya Kandukuri, an Ambedkarite feminist, embraced the Satyashodhak wedding when marrying her partner. Their wedding became a testament to love, respect, and equality between partners, reflecting a personal embodiment of a broader political struggle.

The resurgence of Ambedkarite Buddhist and Satyashodhak weddings signifies a departure from entrenched traditions and hierarchical norms, making a powerful statement against the injustices of the past. As these weddings step into the limelight, they remind us of the profound capacity of cultural expressions to reshape societal norms and challenge the status quo.

* Note: The term "Ambedkarite" is used to describe those who follow and promote the principles and ideologies propagated by Dr. B.R. Ambedkar. Ambedkarites work towards eradicating caste-based discrimination, securing social justice, and advocating for the rights and welfare of marginalized communities such as the Dalits.
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