Kuri kalyanam -
A Microfinancing System
by Lakshmi Menon
We were all set to attend our School Day function, where all children were expected to attend with their parents. We three sisters, one elder and another one younger, had planned for this day many days in advance. Commenting on each other’s dress, we waited patiently for our father to take us by 4 p.m. to reach our school which was 3 kms away. Suddenly there came an announcement from our father. “I’m going to attend a kuri kalyanam now, and will return soon, to take you all to the school.” Saying this, he left the house without waiting for our response.
Needless to say we were very upset for our father’s urgency to attend a Kuri kalyanam on such an important day of our life. Until then we didn’t know what was a kuri kalyanam, though we knew other kalyanam (marriage) which we had seen in our families and neighborhood. It was only when our mother explained to us the situation, we realized the importance of attending such a Kuri Kalyanam event in a village.
Kuri Kalyanam is a micro financing system existed those days in some of the villages of Malabar region in Kerala, when bank loans were not easily available. It is also called as Payattu in some areas. When a girl's marriage is fixed, her father or guardian would print out an invitation for the kuri kalyanam event and distribute them among the well-wishers and relatives. It would be stated in the invitation that a "Kurikkalyanam" would be conducted at a particular place on a particular date for the purpose of his daughter's marriage, for which they are cordially invited to attend and contribute their mite in cash. Melodious Malayalam movie and drama songs through the Record Players added its attraction, indirectly informing the public about this event.
The invited guests would attend the kuri kalyanam and contribute their mite. After
chitchatting for a while with the organizer of this event and others, the guests would attend a tea party arranged for them and after wishing the father good luck they return home.
The amount paid by each person is noted down in a register and the receiver is obliged to return double the amount or at least the same amount (depends upon his financial status), on some other occasion whenever he organized the kuri kalyanam for his purpose.
This pooled amount was then utilized towards the expenditure of marriage, by the bride's father. Usually double the kurikkalyanam contributions are returned to the donor on some other occasion. Those days it was not easy to get bank loans, and hence this type of pooled resources were made.
Apart from marriage, kurikkalyanam was also conducted by the common man for other purposes such as building/repairing a house, starting a small business, sending a boy to Gulf countries for a job etc. Because of the rising cost of living more and more people were conducting kurikkalyanam for other financial purposes. As a result, one had to attend 10 to 12 kurikkalyanams at a time and naturally he found it difficult to contribute at these and thus tried to escape from them. However, kurikkalyanam was a blessing to the common man those days, but later had turned out to be a headache for them.
Earlier, it was a type of social banking system, created for the good of the needy, where the whole village came to the help. There was no surety given in writing for the amount contributed, but every one paid back promptly as and when required,without a fuss. Though there was no written law they considered it as mandatory to attend such events. Looking back today, I feel that it was a good system of helping each other and there was concern and understanding among the people.