Ravi Mohan's Blog

Saturday, September 29, 2007

The Symbolism of the Bended Knee

After a friend informed me that her fiance had proposed marriage on bended knee, I decided to look up the symbolism.

here, I found

"..... There is no clear historical origin of the idea of proposing with a bent knee, but the gesture bears striking resemblance to many other ceremonial situations, including:

  1. Kneeling during prayers and other religious ceremonies, including wedding vows for some faiths.
    • Kneeling while proposing, then, has the same solemn and spiritual connotation.
  2. Knights kneeling while being awarded honors from kings and queens.
    • Offering or accepting a marriage proposal is just as much an honor as any medal or award.
  3. Bowing in supplication before a victorious enemy, typically as a gesture of surrender.
    • Committing to a relationship is surrendering oneself to being part of a couple.
  4. Kneeling to genuflect when entering a church or temple.
    • Again, proposing on bended knee is a sign of respect and spiritualism.

On applying some (no doubt unromantic) analysis, the first two "interpretations" seem distasteful. In both cases there is the distinct notion of kneeling to someone you have acknowledged as a superior power.People don't kneel to equals. When was the last time you knelt to your peers (or your manager for that matter)?.

If the fourth reason were valid, both parties should kneel. (Going off on a tangent I wonder.. if the roles were reversed, would feminists see this as a "patriarchal custom to oppress women"? They do seem to take umbrage at changing surnames etc).

That leaves the third reason - "gesture of surrender to a victorious enemy". Hmmmm.....Interesting.


Seriously though, does anyone know what the kneeling is supposed to symbolize? This is a Western custom (though gaining popularity among the urbanized youth in India too or so I hear) so its origins probably lie somewhere in medieval Europe. I couldn't find any concrete information.


Siddhi said...

I believe it has to do with chivalry where the knight is supposed to pledge protection to the lady.

luskwater said...

Traditionally, one kneels to ask something momentous of someone who has it in his/her power to grant or refuse the request. It symbolizes (to me) the humility of the offer/request (it is both: asking and offering, giving as well as requesting); the immense weight and moment of the request ("Will you consider changing the whole rest of your life by binding it to mine?"); the willingness to hear the answer either way; the recognition that a life-commitment cannot be demanded, but only requested.

Anonymous said...

Shouldn't the title say "bent knee" and not "bended knee"?

Ravi said...

"Shouldn't the title say "bent knee" and not "bended knee"?"

The title says exactly what it should.

google for "bended knee".

Darius Damalakas said...

I agree with the third option.
You surrender to your wife and give yourself to her will.

Men are warrios, they conquer and fight.

But sometimes they surrender to the blisting glory and beauty of the lone travelere