Ranjit Basnet Chhetri, who is 74, was just eight when his mother decided to arrange his marriage. He didn’t accept the proposal outright. The only reason for his denial was, he wanted to enjoy his childhood before tying the most sacred knot, accepted by all religions. However, nothing could save him from rejecting the decision.
“Several have asked me how I tied the knot,” he explains, “But only a few could believe the breathtaking narration about my marriage.”
Whenever he is asked to narrate the event, he hesitates to do so as he thinks, he claims, people will just make fun of him since they even don’t try to accept a part of the whole story behind the scene considering the expenses incurred and number of people attending the function.
He looks at this writer with a laughing brook and says, “Now-a-days, a marriage ceremony can be done with a few hundred rupees. While, my father told me the total expenditure for my marriage was around Rs 900 in 1944 when most of the things were granted free of cost or available at home.”
When his mother decided to arrange this function, his father, martyr Mahasur Chhetri was in India with the then Prime Minister Jigme Palden Dorji.
“He was not happy with the decision of my mother since he wanted me to study for some more years,” he recalls. However, he was forced to accept the proposal finally as Chhetri’s mother insisted him a lot with every reason.
The four-day event was amazing considering the participation from grass-root level to Brigadier Namgay Bahadur, popularly known as Chhabda.
“I am unable to guess the exact number of invitees who attended the ceremony. But, Chhabda was there with 20 police personnel from the beginning. Those police performed continuous dance throughout the event and still, I have a vivid memory of that.”
He claims that the marriage procession to bride’s home took hours to finally depart from his courtyard. There were over 150 horses and nine groups of Damais with various traditional instruments including 40 Narsinggas and controlled by a few commanders.
“There were 20 goats, four sheep and a six-year-old male buffalo for the invitees, who could finish 14 muris of rice (around 11 quintals) during the event,” he adds. By that time, a goat of around 40 kg used to cost not more than Rs 4.
Over 100 guns were fired to mark the event wasting some 60 kg of gun-powder offered to Mahasur as a gift by one of the Mandals called Baliman.
The only thing Chhetri missed during his marriage was the Prime Minister. “I was grown-up in his palace. He used to be as friendly as anybody else with me but I really didn’t know why he remained absent in the function,” he narrates.
According to him, relatives and friends from as far as Nepal and remote parts of India also were present in his marriage. There were Babu Sahebs, Caprasis, Muktiyars, Mandals and general people, among others.
“Even those who were not invited also attended the function fearing that Mahasur will take action against their absence the next day,” says he adding,” There was no option than to join the procession or at least attend the feast to avoid scolding.”
He further says, “The event was also an opportunity to meet my dad to share their grievances and concerns, which he would later address with the Prime Minister or Babu Sahebs.”
Interestingly, the bride family asked Mahasur to bring as many people as possible along with horses that could feed at least five quintals of maize.
“When the procession reached the bride’s home, the bridal party was shocked to see such a large number of people and horses,” he recollects, “I heard people were eating until the next morning and many had to return back the next day with empty stomach.”
When allocated maize was insufficient to feed all horses, they were let free to graze on crops. Irate villagers tried intervening into the situation against this. But, Mahasur exposed a knife to threaten them.
“We have our horses as per your demand. It is your duty to feed them or you should allow them to graze on your crops,” Chhetri recalls his father as saying to villagers.
When asked if his marriage was the greatest of its kind in Bhutan, he has a ready-made answer, “I participated in a marriage ceremony of late Bhim Basnet, who was the son of well-known Setu Mahajan. I learnt that invitees on that function could only eat 480 kg of rice. So, probably I am in the top of the list.”
Chhetri, who is currently dwelling in Beldangi-II camp Sector A-2, wholeheartedly accepts that all marriages are made in heaven.
“The legend seems old by now,” he tells,” I am passing my days alone as the other-half of my life, who was a part of this great and momentous celebration, passed away in 2008.”
(Mishra, who is currently undertaking a research on the life history of martyr Mahasur Chhetri, can be reached at [email protected] for comments or suggestions, if any.)