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Punjab: The Family Setup

Punjab : The Family Setup

In the customs and traditions of Punjab kinship plays a significant role. Its pattern varies considerably from group to group but the general mode of behavior and attitude is more or less the same. Each relation has certain duties and responsibilities towards others in his group, in the day-to-day life, birth and marriage ceremonies, funerals and other social occasions. Different sets of terms are used for-addressing the paternal and maternal kinsfolk. The father’s elder brother is addressed as taya, the father’s younger brother as chacha, the father’s sister is addressed as bhua, while the mother’s brother is mama, and the mother’s sister is called massi.family setup

Generally most of the kinsmen of a person reside in the same village, or in the adjoining villages. Because of the joint family system, the real brothers, even married ones, often live in the same household. There are some other agnates who generally reside in the same locality or patti, participate in all social functions, and exchange gifts. Some of the cognates reside in the adjoining villages and very often they participate in social or festive occasions, like the initiation and marriage ceremonies, as also on other occasions like funerals, etc.

Kinship plays a very vital role in the social and cultural life of the people because most of the kin have to perform certain specified and obligatory functions on social occasions. Thus, for instance, the choora (red ivory bangles) which a bride wears at her wedding has necessarily to come as a gift from her maternal uncle. The maternal uncle has to put the bangles on her forearms while going through certain rituals. Similarly the maternal grandparents must send their khat (bridal gift) to the girl on the occasion of marriage. This gift generally comprises a set of clothes, some jewelry and other household objects for the bride. At an initiation ceremony, like the first hair cutting, or wedding, each relative gives something in cash or kind according to his social standing or nearness of relation. The exchange of gifts is a prominent custom and keeps the kin, in a way, well- knit in the social fabric. Presence of all the relatives at social functions is considered very essential and special efforts are made to patch up differences with all those with whom relations have been strained for some reason or other.

The joint family system having been in vogue for ages, the entire responsibility for the maintenance of the household and of social relations falls upon the father. No one in the family can question his authority. Even in such personal matters as contracting a marriage, the father, as the head of the family, has the ultimate say. After his death the powers pass on to the eldest son who becomes the head of the family and its chief representative on all social occasions.
At home the head of the family inspires awe among the members. Younger members of the family dare not joke in his presence, nor is it considered befitting for them to smoke or drink when he is around. All conversation in his presence is conducted in subdued voices. Daughters-in-law observe purdah when the father-in-law is present, and it is generally understood that when he comes into the house, he would either cough aloud, or indicate in some other way that he is around, so that they may cover their faces and tone down their voices. As a general rule, there is no direct conversation between the father-in-law and the daughter-in-law, but if a situation and an occasion necessitate it, it is brief to the extent of being mono- syllabic, and the daughter-in-law is barely audible.

Purdah is observed before the husband’s elder brother also. The same customary respect as is shown to the father-in-law is also shown to him. But the younger brother of the husband, the devar, enjoys a privileged position. He is free to talk, laugh and joke with the bhabhi (brother’s wife). Among some clans, there is a custom that when the bride is brought home, the husband’s younger brother is the first person who lifts her veil and peeps at her face. The equation between devar and bhabhi is very informal. But in certain clans the eldest bhabhi is given a status equal to that of the mother and she is treated with great respect. In Malwa, where the devar generally marries the widow of the elder brother, the relationship is very free. Practical jokes and broad jests are resorted to very liberally. In the folk songs of the Punjab, there are many references to this type of relationship between devar and bhabhi.

Generally speaking, relations between the mother-in-law and the daughter-in-law are not very cordial in many families. A lot of friction is caused over the domestic chores and sometimes even small mistakes on the part of the daughter-in-law are made much of by the mother-in-law. The offended mother-in-law in her outburst does not spare even the parental family of the daughter-in-law. The sisters of the husband very sadistically add fuel to the fire. However, although the position of the wife varies in different societies, the mother occupies a very respectable position everywhere in the Punjab. Relations among brothers are often very friendly and cordial. They are always out to help one another. The elder brother generally commands the same respect as is given to the father. But a great change comes in this behavior when the brothers get married and their wives start wrangling on petty matters. Domestic quarrels often disturb the integrity and peaceful life of the family. Over the distribution of ancestral property sometimes the filial love and respect change into life-long enmity.

The relationship between a brother and a sister is the warmest and cleanest of all relations. Right from her childhood a sister idealizes her brother. When she plays the folk games kikli and thaal with her friends, she sings praises of her brother. After marriage when she is in her husband’s home, she always looks forward to the arrival of her brother, because whenever she goes to her parents on a customary visit, it is the brother who fetches, her. She looks up to him as her sole protector and expects help from him when she is in difficulties.

The agnates who live in a separate house though in the same village are generally the brothers or first cousins of the head of the family. Relations with them are generally kept pleasant and they in their turn join in all sorts of festive as well as sad occasions. Regular dealings of exchange of cash and gifts are maintained with them on all festive occasions.
Relatives from the maternal side generally reside in the adjacent villages. Children are, as a matter of course, more attached to their maternal relatives. There is a ditty prevalent among the children regarding their maternal grandfather’s house.

Among many clans, eating or even drinking water in the house of a married daughter is taboo. It is believed that one who eats in the house of one’s married daughter goes to bell. Among some, even elder brothers are not supposed to accept the hospitality of their married sisters, nor accept any gifts from her. However, there is no restriction on children accepting such gifts or hospitality. Some decades ago, this custom was rigidly followed but with the change of times people’s views have changed and the rule has been relaxed.

Sometimes close friends and associates enter into a ritualistic relationship. They often exchange their turbans, and are known as Pag-wat brothers. They go to a temple or a gurudwara, exchange turbans, and eat from the same plate. It is quite an occasion and many near relatives are invited. This sort of ritualistic relationship is frequent. Sometimes even a girl ties rakhi on the wrist of a boy outside her own kin and makes him her dharam bhara (brother in faith). The approach to these ritual relationships is very serious and all obligations are as earnestly observed as in the case of real kin ties.


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