Get Hitched Without A Hitch
Why getting married in Sawantwadi, just outside
Goa, is such a breeze. And how it’s perfectly legal for young couples to marry
the people they love
W E’RE 600 kilometres from home and our hearts are beating a little faster. As reactions go, it’s perfect. For a Mumbai couple looking to tie the knot quickly, with minimum fuss, here in Sawantwadi, nervousness is natural. Across the table from us, the proprietor of a mangal karyalay or marriage bureau (a man with 35 years in the business) is telling us not to worry. He’ll marry us this evening under the Hindu Marriage Act, in an Arya Samaj-type ceremony, and give us our certificates the next day. ( For details of the Hindu Marriage Act and the Special Marriage Act, turn to the story overleaf).
That’s exactly why we’re worried. We’re not a couple, but two journalists faking it. Nihit Bhave, posing as my husband-to-be, only joined the Brunch team last week. The man posing as our witness is
HT photographer Kalpak Pathak. We’re in Sawantwadi to find out what makes this picturesque town at the tip of Maharashtra’s coast such a haven for shaadis. We walked in only 20 minutes ago. Now, it seems, we can walk out as man and wife.
Well, that escalated quickly.
Marriages are possibly the only thing that happen quickly in Sa- wantwadi; everything else merely ambles along. Breezes blow gently across the picturesque lake in the centre of town, ducks wade quietly in its waters, no one fidgets at the bus stop, no one even scurries from a freak afternoon shower. Goa, only an hour by road, feels like a distant dream.
To couples from Goa, however, Sawantwadi is not quite so distant. It’s the first village across state borders if you’re looking to legally step around Goa’s Civil Code, which applies to all Goans (irrespective of religion) and covers birth, death, property and, yes, marriage. Interfaith unions are complicated under the Code, and (as they involve joint ownership of property, inheritance and assets) quick marriages almost impossible if you’re in a hurry to get a visa, an overseas job or a loan. Over the decades, most couples have hopped over to Sawantwadi to avoid red tape, convert to Hinduism if need be, and just tie the knot in peace.
It’s given the town a thriving cottage industry in the most literal sense – nearly every one of the town’s 14-odd karyalays operate from a frontyard, backyard, ante room or porch. Plastic chairs, a makeshift platform for bridal seats, dull festoons permanently hanging – the karyalays are no one’s idea of a dream wedding. But if you’re someone for whom a wedding was thus far an impossible dream, they seem like paradise. Proprietors solemnise the sapta-
Several Goan couples have hopped over to Sawantwadi to avoid red tape, convert to Hinduism if need be, and just tie the knot in peace
pati (the pheras) on the premises much like the Arya Samaj would, and get the unions registered from gram sevaks (who have powers of the registrar) in nearby villages. It’s what draws couples from Goa, and now from Karnataka, Maharashtra, Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh and beyond.
IT TAKES A VILLAGE
We landed in Sawantwadi armed with a plausible back story (interfaith graphic design colleagues, looking to marry quickly because there is family opposition back home) and not much else. There was no other way, really. The karyalays have no websites. They do not advertise their services in directories. (How would you Google a quickie wedding anyway?) We needn’t have worried. No one asks questions in Sawantwadi, but practically the whole town opens up to lovers in need.
It starts right at the top. When we asked for help at the municipal office, they provided us a handwritten note bearing the name and number of a karyalay. Even without official aid, you’re not exactly lost. Most karyalays are scattered in little streets on one side of the lake, their signboards clearly visible. Sawantwadi is small enough to find them all on foot and people readily offer directions.
At one karyalay we went to, the owner didn’t bat an eyelid at our predicament. He said he wasn’t authorised to induct me into Hinduism (mandatory for anyone to wed under the Hindu Marriage Act). But he helpfully pointed out other enterprises that could help and assured us that we weren’t alone. “At least one such wedding happens every day in Sawantwadi”. Intercaste and inter-religious unions are common, he said, though mixed-race ones a growing trend; they recently did the reception for a Goan-German couple who got married there.
Across town the story stays the same. “Just the other day,” karyalay owners will tell you, “a Muslim and Hindu came here and got married.” Once the conversion to Hinduism is done, the ceremony can take place immediately. The express service, though, often comes at a price: ` 7,000. But it’s a one-window route to matrimony, with paperwork ready the next day.
Nihit Bhave and Rachel Lopez posed as a couple to learn how quickly they could wed in Sawantwadi. Then they posed, literally, at the town’s Moti pond