Friday, March 14, 2008

Bill Garlanded Grooms Face Defrocking

By VIBHUTI AGARWAL
The Wall Street Journal
March 14, 2008 12:15 p.m.

NEW DELHI -- Gifts of money have a special place in Indian custom: Grooms frequently are garlanded with a string of small bills to wish them prosperity and to evoke the spirit of Lakshmi, the Hindu goddess of wealth.

But if India's central bank has its way, Indian weddings could be a bit poorer in the future.

The Reserve Bank of India earlier this week issued a statement urging Indians to refrain from activities that deface the bank notes and shorten their life. It asked members of public to stop misusing currency notes for stitching wedding garlands, decorating the place where weddings take place (known as a pandal), or "for showering on personalities at social events."

The central bank added that it has been "taking all measures to supply clean banknotes across the country and has urged members of the public to contribute their mite to its efforts."

The currency most commonly used for garlands and money showers is the 10 rupee note, an orange and brown piece of paper with an image of Mohandas K. Gandhi on one side and an elephant, a tiger and a rhinoceros on the reverse. It is worth approximately 25 U.S. cents.

The central bank's request may fall on deaf ears. Presenting garlands of notes "is part of the ritual to showcase the family's happiness," says Govind, the priest at a Hindu temple in New Delhi.

Sanjay Srivastava, 31 years old and the owner of a small provisions store in a local New Delhi market, is getting married in two weeks. He belongs to a middle-class Sikh family and was out shopping yesterday for the garland that his elder sister will place around his neck while he sits on a white horse waiting to meet his wife-to-be.

"Wearing garlands weaved out of currency notes is an honor equivalent to offering money in front of gods and goddesses," he says.

The discouragement of notes as adornments follows the central bank's earlier attempts to protect its money supply. In January 1999, the Reserve Bank introduced the "Clean Note Policy" for faster disposal of soiled and mutilated notes.

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