Most commonly, the term kanyādān is used to describe the most highly valued form of Hindu marriage.[1][2] More specifically, kanyādān is a certain Hindu wedding ritual and means “gift of a virgin” [3] or “gift of a maiden” [2] There are, however, different interpretations and practices across South Asia.


The Newars of Nepal, for example, celebrate kanyādān as part of what is called mock-marriage (ihi), often also referred to as first marriage. This first marriage occurs before a girl menstruates and is meant to initiate her into adulthood. Through kanyādān, the girl is symbolically married to a god, which, according to Newar beliefs, means that she will never be a widow, even if her husband dies. Besides the virgin-gift offered by the father of the girl, the ceremony also includes a fire sacrifice. Neither of these rites are part of the ceremony accompanying the girl’s second marriage to a human husband. [3] Unlike traditional Newars and many South Indian communities, most North Indian communities combine the first and second marriage in one ritual. [3]

Kanyādān songs

In communities where kanyādān is performed as part of the actual wedding, the ritual is carried out through a variety of kanyādān songs. These songs may include the parents lamenting the loss of their daughter, as well as regretting their economic sacrifice for the wedding. Other songs circle around the groom, for example comparing him to the “ideal groom,” the god Ram, in the epic Ramayana. Finally, a kanyādān song may express the daughter’s humiliation for being given away by her father, thus conveying that she has been betrayed.[4] Importantly, the kanyādān ritual occurs right before the red powder ritual (sindurdan), which marks the bride’s symbolic loss of virginity [4]

What the ritual means

According to contemporary, orthodox Hindu theories, giving their virgin daughter to the husband’s family not only increases and ensures the parents’ prestige, but it is also believed to purify them of sin.[1]


  1. 1.0 1.1 Enslin, Elizabeth. “Imagined Sisters: The Ambiguities of Women’s Poetics and Collective Actions.” Selves in Time and Place: Identities, Experience, and History in Nepal. Ed. Debra Skinner, Alfred Pach III, and Dorothy Holland. Lanham; Boulder; New York; Oxford: Rowman&Littlefield Publishers, Inc., 1998 (269-299).
  2. 2.0 2.1 “India.” Encyclopedia Britannica. 2008. Encyclopedia Britannica Online. 20 February 2008. <>.
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 Gellner, David N. “Hinduism, Tribalism and the Position of Women: The Problem of Newar Identity.” Man (March 1991). JSTOR. 20 February 2008.
  4. 4.0 4.1 Henry, Edward O. “Folk Song Genres and Their Melodies in India: Music Use and Genre Process.” Asian Music (Spring-Summer 2000). JSTOR. 20 February 2008.

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