28 March 2023

The Mangala Sabhava

There have always been, it seems to me, proposed marriages and love marriages. Formal ceremonies are common to both. The ‘Mangala Sabhava’ is associated with formal ceremonies. ‘Wedding Council,’ doesn’t do justice to the term. The relatives, friends and all guests in fact gather around the newlyweds, there’s a master of ceremonies and speeches, at least one from each party. A closing ceremony, one could say.

It’s got more elaborate now, at least in the case of grand weddings and even hotels that aren’t really grand but grand enough for the particular families. There are video clips made from photographs and footage of the bride and groom which the guests are invited to watch.

Pre-shoots too and that’s a term that didn’t exist a couple of decades ago. It sounds vulgar and some pre-shoots are woefully lacking in good taste, but what of that if the couple and their families are ok with it, I tell myself. These modern mangala sabha also have speeches. Toasts. The newly weds sometimes say a few words. Their friends talk about their single-days. All good, all good.

The good old Mangala Sabhava, if you can call it that, was a simple affair.  Essentially some introductory remarks by whoever conducts the sabhava, followed by speeches, where the virtues of the bride and the groom are detailed along with the proud history of each family. More or less.  

There are two such occasions which are unforgettable. The first because it was funny and the second because it was profound on many counts.

The first. I was invited for a reason: ‘if things go wrong, you have to rescue me.’ The groom, a fellow journalist and friend, didn’t think his in-laws to be were impressed with him. The groom’s party consisted of his parents, university roommate and two other journalists, one a photographer and the other invited because our friend needed a witness. The would-be witness chickened out at the last minute and I, designated rescuer, rose to the occasion.

Things had gone well. Anticipated whispering had not occurred. Time to leave, I thought. No, said my friend. ‘You have to represent our party at the Mangala Sabhava,’ he said. Signing as a witness is easy. Making speeches? No!  And there I was, trapped in someone else’s wedding.

The bride’s aunt, a teacher, was the first to go. A long speech. Full of advice for a couple considered wayward by the bride’s family. It was all intended to rein in the naughty young people.

My turn. There was nothing to say. So I blurted out the following: ‘At important occasions such as this, there are many important things to say. The lady who spoke just now said it all. She said it all so beautifully and so succinctly that I have nothing to add except to wish the bride and groom all the best in their wedded life.’

Passed. According to ‘our party.’ Our friends still laugh about that day and that moment.

The second. Happened many years before the first. In Gampola. My friend’s sister was the bride. When proceedings began, I realised that there was no one who had been assigned the task of speaking for the family. Inquiries revealed that there was no one willing to do the honours either.

The representative of the groom’s party went first. According to him, the young man was the best son any parent could have. He was the best brother, best friend, best employee and best citizen. That too was a long speech.

Our turn came. Glances were exchanged. Embarrassment rose. And then it happened. The bride’s father, a retired employee of the Railway Department and a music teacher, wearing a national dress, stepped forward.

‘The symbol of innocence, the epitome of innocence is the animal called the rabbit. More innocent than the rabbit is this daughter of mine.’

That’s it. Done. To this day, I consider it the most appropriate and beautiful speech I’ve heard at a Mangala Sabhava.

I don’t know what kind of weddings my daughters have planned for themselves. I don’t know if there will be a Mangala Sabhava of any kind. I don’t know if I will be alive and if alive, I feel that would be the day I die. I don’t know if I would be called upon to speak.

I know that I cannot do better than my friend's father. I can’t even come close. In fact, I think I would be lost for words. And that, perhaps, would be the most eloquent speech that I’ve ever made.  

['The Morning Inspection' is the title of a column I wrote for the Daily News from 2009 to 2011, one article a day, Monday through Saturday. This is a new series. Links to previous articles in this new series are given below]

Other articles in this series:

So how are things in Sri Lanka?

The most beautiful father

Palmam qui meruit ferat

The sweetest three-letter poem

Buddhangala Kamatahan

An Irish and Sri Lankan Hello

Teams, team-thinking, team-spirit and leadership

The songs we could sing in lifeboats when we are shipwrecked

Pure-Rathna, a class act

Jekhan Aruliah set a ball rolling in Jaffna

Awaiting arrivals unlike any other

Teachers and students sometimes reverse roles

Matters of honor and dignity

Yet another Mother's Day

A cockroach named 'Don't'

Colombo, Colombo, Colombo and so forth

The slowest road to Kumarigama, Ampara

Sweeping the clutter away

Some play music, others listen

Completing unfinished texts

Mind and hearts, loquacious and taciturn

I am at Jaga Food, where are you?

On separating the missing from the disappeared

Moments without tenses

And intangible republics will save the day (as they always have)

The world is made of waves


The circuitous logic of Tony Muller

Rohana Kalyanaratne, an unforgettable 'Loku Aiya'

Mowgli, the Greatest Archaeologist

Figures and disfigurement, rocks and roses

Sujith Rathnayake and incarcerations imposed and embraced

Some stories are written on the covers themselves

A poetic enclave in the Republic of Literature

Landcapes of gone-time and going-time 

The best insurance against the loud and repeated lie

So what if the best flutes will not go to the best flautists?

There's dust and words awaiting us at crossroads and crosswords

The books of disquiet

A song of terraced paddy fields

Of ants, bridges and possibilities

From A through Aardvark to Zyzzyva 

World's End

Words, their potency, appropriation and abuse

Street corner stories

Who did not listen, who's not listening still?

The book of layering

If you remember Kobe, visit GOAT Mountain

The world is made for re-colouring

The gift and yoke of bastardy

The 'English Smile'

No 27, Dickman's Road, Colombo 5

Visual cartographers and cartography

Ithaca from a long ago and right now

Lessons written in invisible ink

The amazing quality of 'equal-kindness'

A tea-maker story seldom told

On academic activism

The interchangeability of light and darkness

Back to TRADITIONAL rice

Sisterhood: moments, just moments

Chess is my life and perhaps your too

Reflections on ownership and belonging

The integrity of Nadeesha Rajapaksha

Signatures in the seasons of love

To Maceo Martinet as he flies over rainbows

Sirith, like pirith, persist

Fragrances that will not be bottled 

Colours and textures of living heritage

Countries of the past, present and future

A degree in creative excuses

Books launched and not-yet-launched

The sunrise as viewed from sacred mountains

The ways of the lotus

Isaiah 58: 12-16 and the true meaning of grace

The age of Frederick Algernon Trotteville

Live and tell the tale as you will

Between struggle and cooperation

Of love and other intangibles

Neruda, Sekara and literary dimensions

The universe of smallness

Paul Christopher's heart of many chambers

Calmness gracefully cascades in the Dumbara Hills

Serendipitous amber rules the world

Continents of the heart