Wedding in India
[Representative Image] A bride holds her purse with hands that are decorated with henna patterns, during a mass marriage ceremony of couples from the Hindu communityReuters

Child marriage is illegal in India, but what if they are ghosts? In a bizarre ritual, grieving families of the dead babies get them married in a "ghost wedding" called as pretha kalyanam in Kasaragod district, Kerala.

At a recent event, Ramesh and Sukanya got married, but the only difference was that instead of them, their families used their effigies for the ceremony. Ramesh and Sukanya, who died when they were babies, got married to each other on October 29.

The families followed all the wedding rituals starting from matching their horoscopes, the effigies were dressed in traditional attire, mangalsutra was tied around the bride's neck, garlands were exchanged and then the ceremony ended with a Kerala sadya (lunch on a banana leaf), according to The News Minute.

While outsiders dismiss this ritual as mere superstition, communities in the district believe that they are honouring the dead children.

"Ever since I heard about this strange marriage, I was curious to witness one," Sajirag P P, a teacher working in Kasaragod, told The Times of India.

"Instead of seeing it as superstition, we should look at the emotional attachment that a family has towards a dead one and the belief that actual salvation is possible only when marriage is solemnised," Sajirag said.

What is pretha kalyanam?

The custom of marrying the dead babies is followed in several communities of Kasargod. In this ritual, the boy and girl, who died before they turned 18, are married. People from these communities believe that the souls of these children do not attain peace if they are not married. 

"Suppose a foetus gets aborted, or a child dies in a family, and years later, the other children in the family face some difficulties in their lives, like impediments in their marriage or problems conceiving children... In such circumstances, the family approaches an astrologer, who tells them that the soul of the child, who died years ago, needs to be laid to rest. The only way to do so is to conduct the child's wedding since the child left the earth before it could experience worldly pleasures," B Sreelakshmi, a B.Ed student, who did a dissertation project on the age-old practice, explained to The News Minute.

"The families believe that once this ritual is conducted, the bad omens will go away and that they will have prosperity in life. When we look at it critically, it is nothing but a psychological game."