Ramchandrapur village in Bangladesh’s Sadullahpur district enjoyed an usual wedding on Tuesday. Unusual because the bride and the groom were a species belonging to the phylum Chordata commonly known as “frog.” The marriage ceremony was comprised of the same rituals that are performed to certify an alliance between two humans. It was a joyous occasion for the residents with an urgent underlying appeal to God for a sufficient and consistent rainfall in the coming months.
Frogs are the first creatures we associate with rain. The onset of monsoon magically brings hordes of these amphibians out into the open. The hopping and croaking creatures are an important component during the initial stages of any biological research as well a popular source of food in Asia, Europe, and the Americas.
The Buddhist Jataka tales contain a story called “The Meritorious Frog” wherein a frog pained by the staff of a villager does not struggle or cry out for help because he realizes that the innocent man is completely immersed in Buddha’s tranquil voice coming from some distant place. The frog bears the pain and eventually dies. As a result of this considerate act, the frog is reborn in the Realms of God as Lord Indra, the god of rainfall. Hence, frog marriages are employed as a medium to please Indra with the hope that the satisfied Lord will bless the village with bountiful rainfall.
In many sections of rural India, a frog mask dance is performed in which verses of the seventh Mandala of Rig Veda are sung. One of these verses, samvatsaram sasyana, is dedicated to the frog. Legend says that continuous recital of these hymns pleases Lord Indra and he shows his gratitude by providing rainfall to quench the thirst of the singers. But, in some traditions, frogs are anguished by tying them to a nimba tree anticipating that the sympathetic Lord will use rain as a means to pacify the croaking Salientia (Latin for frog).
The marriage ceremony initially involves a hunt for a male and a female frog which is usually an arduous task in a rain-starved region. Last year in Nagpur, India, the male frog for the ceremony was picked up from a drain near the local mental hospital after a concentrated effort of three days. While in India the rituals are performed by a priest, it is the local women who solemnize the marriage in Bangladesh.
In India, the frogs are wrapped in new colorful pieces of cloth with the female getting a new necklace from the womenfolk. Next, with the frogs in front of him, the priest begins the ceremony consisting of all the traditional Hindu hymns and rituals like kanyadaan (giving away of bride), saat pheras (circumambulating the auspicious fire seven times), etc. In some cultures, the frogs are kept in two different jars of water during the hymeneal. After the rituals are completed, the villagers, usually a few hundred, give their blessings to the newlywed couple and begin enjoying themselves by dancing to the tunes of trumpets, shehnais, and dholaks. The wedding is concluded with lunch for all the villagers followed by the release of frogs in a nearby pond.
In Bangladesh, the tradition is almost similar with the frogs dressed in a special wedding attire. A banana-leaf stage is created for the ceremony with the groom and the bride carried till there by the villagers in a special basket. The foreheads of the frogs are decorated with vermilion and turmeric. The women of the village, dressed in new saris, begin the rituals with an offering of rice and grass being an integral part of it. After the nuptials are completed, the villagers bless the bride and the groom and are served a traditional wedding fare consisting of rice, fish, lentils, beef, and sweets. Later in the day, the couple is released in the village pond.
The success ratio of these frog marriages is debatable and completely irrelevant. What can be condemned as a superstition of the uneducated should actually be an encomium of their faith and belief. In these challenging and painful times for the villagers, during which even two full meals a day is a rarity, these traditions reignite hope and optimism in their sullen hearts as well as provide a few hours of pleasure and enjoyment.
Additionally, customs like these should be encouraged for they are the best ways to imbibe love and respect towards animals in the hearts and minds of the villagers. Even though logically and economically inept, these traditions do aid us in successfully achieving our broader target of reinstating the balance of the ecosystem.
Hope Lord Indra blesses Ramchandrapur soon.