When I was doing some research about Karva Chauth, I noticed something… The Indian Kangan-Saheli is A LOT like the Chinese Laotong! At least, there is a very similar concept behind their bonds of friendship.
Long ago, when a young Indian woman got married, she would leave her home to live with her husband and his family. For her family, and for the bride herself, it was a very difficult time, as she would not be home again for some time. In many cases, people had to walk from village to village, so transporting was neither convenient nor easy.
When the bride arrived at her new home, she would have no one to talk to, no support, no family… So the custom became, that upon marriage, the bride formed a unity with another married woman – usually the same age or perhaps a little older – from the same village. This woman would act as her support system; she would be her friend and family. She was known as “Kangan-Saheli” which is like both a friend and god-sister. She had no ties with the family, so there was no conflict of interest. The women could vent to each other and be each other’s support systems. Their relationship was recognized and respected by their families, and considered very healthy, especially psychologically. I’m not sure that it’s still in practice today.
Centuries ago, in China, in the Hunan Province and likely extending beyond… Was a similar practice. Before marriage, groups of women who were friends formed a bond known as Laotang. They were each other’s support systems and considered each other sisters, before marriage. However, upon marriage, a woman’s relationship with her group of Laotang was dissolved. New Laotang relationships could be formed later, between married or widowed women within the same community.
For Chinese women, the most precious and sacred female friendship was known as a Laotong – meaning “old sames“. This was an extrodinarlily beautiful, rare and formal relationship between women. A woman could only have one Laotong, and the unbreakable bond was for life – in good times and in bad, over distance and time. The women could form unions before marriage, and stay connected even after marriage, regardless of their circumstances. Their union was recognized and respected by their families, and their husbands. They could even travel to visit their Laotong, if they are apart, and stay with them for some time. The women developed a secret language to communicate their troubles without worry of being understood or punished, the language was a type of Nu Shu.
Laotong relationships were formed by matchmakers, just like arranged marriages. Their astrological profiles were examined during the matching process, as well as several other factors. Often times, when familes would arrange marriages before the births of their children, and if the children turned out female (against their hopes) a Laotong relationship was formed.
The Laotong relationship was made formal by the signing of a contract, which was a legal process involving a seal, and the two women remained bonded for life. Laotong relationships were rarely broken, and it was quite unusual if they were.
What a beautiful similarity, and what a beautiful practice for women in those days! ♥