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Sushama Kirtikar

The status of widowhood bores through a woman’s life at any age, sometimes with forewarning, sometimes without. Yes, her husband has passed on and this loss can penetrate to her very core. Once she raises her head from her all consuming grief, albeit after a year or five years, she can face the quintessential question: ‘now what?’ Her full purpose on earth has yet to unfold for her and she owes it to herself to continue this search. Regardless of her age, she has the right to live her life fully, to its consummation.

Is she allowed to laugh and re-experience joy? It would be ludicrous to think otherwise. If this includes marrying again, then it needs to be her choice that she can execute freely.

Remarriage of widows is a topic that wreaks havoc in the breast of the Indian American.

Marriage is regarded as sacrosanct between two people. After the death of a spouse, is the union considered inviolable as well? Many would answer with a resounding ‘yes’! But wait; there are some who may want another partner as a companion in their golden years, or as a co-parent to help raise a family.

Family members think it would be insensitive of them to broach the subject of remarriage. The woman herself believes it would be sacrilegious of her to even entertain such thoughts. What if she is viewed as being disloyal to her husband’s memory? What if her children recoil in horror? What if her relatives disown her? What if her friends distance from her? The barriers stand menacingly in front of her, like misguided sentinels. Society itself becomes an errant impediment to her by standing in judgment upon her.

When in doubt, people often turn to their religious scriptures for guidance. World religions offer different perspectives. The subject is fraught with an exhaustive history of controversy as to its place in Hindu philosophy dating back to the interpretations of the Rig Veda. It is said, the Arthashastra (about 300 BC) mentions widow remarriage, and the Atharva Veda exhorts the grieving widow to get up from her mourning, while offering a benediction for her future life. An analysis of the 1931 Census of India proclaimed, “There is a large body of progressive thinkers who, finding no Shastric injunction in favor of perpetual widowhood, are prepared to encourage remarriage of widows.”

The periodical ‘Islamic Voice’ heralds, “Of all the religions in India, Islam is probably the only one that positively encourages widow remarriage.” Manzoor Alam of New Jersey asserts, “The widow is allowed to remarry after a mourning period of 4 ¼ months and gains the same respect she had before”.

Mary Ann Holtz, a Christian psychotherapist in St. Petersburg, attests, “As far as I am aware, in Christian churches a widow is free to marry again. For sure in Catholicism, the understanding is that once a spouse dies, the surviving spouse is considered free to enter another marriage. The marriage vows are considered binding up to death, but not after.” A translation of Paul’s letter to the church of Corinth states in reference to widows, “Celibacy is not for everyone any more than marriage is.”

Rabbi Richard Bernholtz of Tampa elucidates, “In Judaism, there is definitely no restriction if you know for sure the husband is dead. For all mourning, there is a 30-day period. She cannot get remarried if she is pregnant or nursing and has to wait for 9 months.” Sikhism too accepts remarriage after a respectable mourning period. In my nescience, I had believed that world religions fell somewhere on a continuum of acceptance, tolerance and disapproval. I am delighted to see the tilt is incontrovertibly towards open acceptance.

We, as a collective society, need to unwrap any inhibitions that we have swaddled so neatly around this concept. Remarriage is not a shibboleth of betrayal to the memory of the deceased. Rather, it can become an edict of the celebration of life itself while continuing to honor the departed with respect. Today, the concept is stealthily inching into the larger Indian consciousness. May we, citizens of the 21st century, recognize this trend and become heartened by it.

Sushama Kirtikar, a licensed mental health counselor in private practice, can be reached at (813) 264-7114 or e-mail at

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