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marriage!

This entry been updated because many of the links to pictures no longer work, so I deleted a lot of the text that referred to them... many apologies, please just use your imagination.

 

Ahhh, Weddings! The glorious union of two people who decide to buck the odds and risk their own identity for the sake of community and family. I must admit being a long time skeptic - it may or may not come from my heritage: three generations of divorce is an intimidating legacy. However, Indian weddings (and marriages) are reported to be a completely different breed so when I was lucky enough to be invited I decided to set aside my personal grudge and see what the hullabaloo is all about. Well one thing leads to another - in a short two weeks I ended up attending not one, but two very different weddings. Most people not familiar with the subcontinent think of India as one big country but in reality it is a myriad of clans, each with its own traditions and rules. Both of these marriages I attended were love matches (not the traditional arranged marriages) and both of them were multi-cultural. It seems globalization affects us on all levels.

Perhaps because it was in the country, perhaps because I was with fabulously warm and friendly people, perhaps because it wasn't exactly traditional, for whatever reason, I had a great time - despite my own personal feelings about marriage. The bride was not Indian so only ten of her relatives were able to attend, which made the celebration untraditionally small and I wasn't the only non-Indian.

We boarded the bus early, the car had been sent with some family two days earlier, loaded with chocolates, clothes, and who knows what else, so we didn't need to bring a lot on the bus. Six hours later, around noon, we thankfully left the bus and inhaled some delicious fresh air.

The place we arrived at was the homeland of the groom and was lush and green with lovely flowering trees.

I had imagined that during the two days of wedding we would be busy getting dressed and meeting an greeting people and attending lots of rites that happen making the wedding last more than the one day, or even several hours that Christian style weddings seem to call for.

It was much more relaxing. So the first night we helped with setting the food out and feeding the elders, and were allowed to just wear jeans and sweaters. Granted I still felt underdressed since my jeans are very old, worn and fit me only in loosest sense. I have learned that when Indians say jeans are okay to wear, black slacks are a better idea. Too bad I didn't bring any.

But my host family's extended family was marvelous and I soon felt fine, despite my attire. In fact, I soon forgot I wasn't Indian. So after napping and relaxing all day the first night wasn't too stressful. Sort of like a pre-reception where all the relatives get to see each other, the bride and groom, and (of course) eat a lot. In fact, as far as I can tell weddings are really an excuse to gain weight. First we had snacks from eight to ten p.m. and then dinner from ten to eleven p.m. After dinner was dancing; a good way to help work off some of those snacks.

The pre-reception thing was small and by midnight there weren't too many folks left.

After sleeping in (looking back it seems most of what we did that weekend was eat and sleep), bathing and getting ready we went to see where the official wedding part of the wedding.

We waited and greeted people. Normally the bride's family takes care of the details but since the bride wasn't from India, they weren't always able to stick to tradition so things like food, flowers, and other decorations varied a bit from other weddings in style. For example, the bride didn't have the traditional Henna designs on her hands because this would typically be done by her close relatives or friends. There is a traditional henna pattern, with a mango leaf shape in the center but now days sometimes people also do their own creations. is the photo after we all got dolled up.

Finally the wedding started, beginning with the tradition of the Bride's mother putting a symbolic necklace on her daughter. Then there is a procession to the wedding stage, complete with live music, which sounded to me something like a band falling down a stairs - but I have a very poor musical ear. I didn't get a recording but there were lots of big curved horns

Cheers to the groom and bride

They arrive on stage, sit on small stools and say vows to each other. There is no preacher. Then the whole family lines up to give gifts. Since weddings tend to be expensive, gifts are usually cash, anonymous, in a pretty envelope. The person giving the gift also showers rice on the bride and groom three times and gives blessings. At some weddings there are so many people that the lucky couple can be up to their knees in rice by the end of the blessings. Somewhere in there the newlyweds also have to ask blessings of all the elders. This too can take hours and is difficult physically this traditional blessing is achieved by touching the tops of the blesser's feet then bring your hands up to your chest three times - not exactly good for your back. At last the new couple tries to leave the stage but one of the groom's male relatives tries to stop them, asking the bride what happened - she was suppose to marry him and now she was running off with his relative - basically giving them a hard time. The groom has to buy him off enabling them to leave the stage.

After these festivities there was a break, more food and in a traditional wedding there would be a ganga (water) puja (prayer thingy). In this ritual the new wife is suppose to take water from the well and bring it to the altar. A simple task made more complicated by the fact that she is supposed to balance this water on her head and the groom's male relatives (again) get in her way. This time they dance in front of her, preventing her from reaching the altar. Apparently this can go on for hours and the dancing can get kind of dirty. The bride at this wedding said she wasn't comfortable with this, even though the groom's family promised to be good. I've heard that that usually brides will carry a hat pin with them and if the dancer gets too close she will prick him, making him jump back, allowing her a few steps forward.

So I missed out on that stuff. Instead we reconvened for more food and dancing. We wore jeans and sweaters again. The next day we headed back early, as some of the family had another wedding to attend that night.

My next wedding was also only half Indian, the bride was Chilean. I missed the actual ceremony for this one, but it seemed simpler. There were lots of flowers, lots of food, but no dancing.

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