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Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Vigneswari and Masiakanni wore traditional Indian bridal saris and gold jewellery in a lavish double wedding in their remote village home in Tamil Nadu.

The marriages were conducted as part of a centuries-old "Pongal" harvest tradition to "prevent the outbreak of mysterious diseases in the village".

Hundreds of villages in Pallipudpet, 250 kms from Madras, walked to the temple, carrying the two brides aloft on their shoulders, while the frogs were tied to long sticks garlanded with flowers. During the ceremony, a Hindu priest chanted prayers, tied the bride's hands with his on behalf of the grooms and pronounced them frogs and wives before a holy fire.

The ceremony has its roots in the story of the Hindu God Shiva who turned himself into a frog following a quarrel with his wife Parvati. She cried for days causing disease to spread throughout local villages. When the villages asked for help she sent them to find Shiva and plead with him to marry a young girl. She herself posed as the girl, and when Shiva agreed to marry her they returned to their original god forms and the outbreak was cured.

"The criteria to choose the brides is they should be yet to attain puberty. The parents of girls voluntarily provide their children for the ritual. Sometimes the girls are forced by parents, who get a sense of fulfilment to save the village from diseases. The main cause is illiteracy and lack of exposure," said Tamil commentator Dominic Bosco.

The tradition is a source of embarrassment and discomfort to the Indian government which has a real problem with illegal child marriages. It has ordered an inquiry into the practice and sent a team of psychologists, sociologists and religious leaders to persuade the villagers to abandon an "ignorant" tradition.

For the brides Vigneswari and Masiakanni, the marriages came to a swift and happy end: hours after tying the knot, their green grooms were thrown back into a muddy pond.


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