I had the pleasure of being part of the wedding festivities for my friend’s sister-in-law. Weddings are a big deal everywhere, but I’m not sure any other place on the planet places so much emphasis on them and draws them out for so long with so many rituals and ceremonies – not even Big Fat Greek Weddings. I didn’t understand many things, and many things during the ceremonies were in Sanskrit, which is the ancient language Indians don’t understand anymore either. But it was still an amazing ride that I’ll share below!
Thursday – Mehndi/Henna
On Thursday the entire family gathered together to apply the henna to the bride’s hands and feet. It’s a very elaborate, four hour process. Of course, the bride gets the most beautiful design. The other women get henna on their hands as well, but the designs far less elaborate.
In the bride’s design, the artist also hides the name of the husband somewhere. I think the legend was that whoever finds the name is the next to get married. Something like that.
After the henna is applied, it needs to dry. When it’s dry it just kind of naturally flakes off, though a bit of brushing with your hand will take the rest off. Then you apply lemon juice and salt (or maybe it was sugar?) and it helps preserve the henna for longer.
I also got my own design. Just a simple sun or star on the inside of my hand. I didn’t request this design. They just told the artist to put something on my hand. Men don’t generally get henna designs on their bodies, but it’s not the first time I challenged a gender stereotype in India, and it won’t be the last I’m sure.
Below the pictures.
After the henna all dried and everyone ate something, the ladies all gathered and sang “lady wedding songs.” Of course, I didn’t understand anything they were singing. But I guess they are sometimes serious, sometimes joking songs to warn/welcome the bride to be into the married ladies club. There was dancing afterward. I’m a terrible dancer and I don’t like dancing, but my friend’s dad pulled me out onto the dance floor and I had to oblige. I think it’s the only picture on this site where I have rosy cheeks. There were smiles all around!
Friday – Prayers
On Friday there were prayers in the morning and the bride walked around some kind of tree. It’s symbolic and will be used the following day. The bride and groom will walk around this tree seven times to seal the deal for the marriage – equivalent to our “you may kiss the bride” moment I guess.
Later on the husband’s family held an event to do more prayers. Again, lots of stuff I didn’t understand but this event by itself would make for a big fat Indian wedding! There were maybe 100-150 people, a Hindu priest, tons of food, etc. This event is mainly for the families, and mainly for the groom’s family at that. After the prayers it’s kind of like a party to celebrate the groom’s last night of bachelorhood.
And yes, there was lots of dancing and I was pulled out onto the dance floor with the rest of the bride’s family as we were leaving. And yes, below there is a video of people dancing to Gangnam Style!
Saturday – Pre-Wedding Prayer & Spices
The morning of the wedding, the bride and the family performed some more prayers. All the women in the family also performed prayers directed toward the bride, taking turns saying prayers and touching her knees, elbows, and forehead. More singing and dancing ensued after this.
Not too long after the singing was over, another ceremony started. Spices were put on the bride’s face, turmeric I think. It’s supposed to help your face glow and be radiant for your wedding. Everyone took turns putting it on the bride’s face. It seems more symbolic now than anything else, as the brides cover themselves in makeup anyway.
I don’t know if it hurts, but the bride certainly didn’t enjoy the experience. After everyone left their mark and lots of pictures were taken, she washed her face!
Then more songs were sung by the family and good times had!
Saturday – The Wedding
I should mention that there were other ceremonies that I missed. That said, now we arrive to the main event. It was considered “small” by Indian standards, only 400 guests..
The wedding was to start at 7pm. But Indian weddings always start late. Always. A friend of mine showed me a site full of funny Indian memes and one was “Showed up to an Indian wedding two hours late hoping it was over…but it hadn’t started yet!”
Although I arrived in the first car with the bride’s brother and father, we were the first ones there at 7pm. The staff wasn’t nearly done setting up the stage, and the food was still being prepared. I used the opportunity to take pictures of the facility before the 400 guests arrived.
The Groom’s Arrival
Epic. That’s the only way I can describe it. The groom arrives like he’s Chuck Norris or something. He arrives on horseback, wearing a burqa-type thing covering his face, there are fireworks, a band, and his family dances like it’s 1999. Not joking.
In retrospect it’s funny to think about, but while all this chaos is going on with the groom’s family, the bride’s family stands patiently waiting, as if they are watching paint dry.
After the pomp and circumstance is over, the bride’s family greets the groom’s family. The husband then sits down with the priest and the bride’s family. In this wedding it took place in front of a big portrait of Ganesha, one of the Hindu gods. Could be a coincidence. I don’t know. I heard when you’re about to do something big you should try to please Ganesha.
Prayers were said and then the groom was led to the stage where some more ceremonies would take place.
Unfortunately, as is so often true in many of the things I’ve experienced on this trip, I had no idea what was going on. I was hungry and I saw a lot of people going into the building where the food was. I followed them in and before I knew it (several bites into my food, of course), I realized it was all the groom’s family inside. I recognized no one.
While I was eating, they brought out the bride. That’s my team. Oops…
But the bride came out, all decked out in an intricate sari and gold, and she and the groom exchanged garlands. I thought that was it, that this action was the symbolic joining of the two in marriage. Nope.. That wouldn’t happen for many more hours.
Everyone took pictures with the bride and groom on the stage. At least I finished eating in time to have my picture taken with them!
After this, most people go home. I’d say a solid 350 of the guests go home and just the close friends and family remain for the main event.
The Main Event
From my perspective, Hinduism and these kinds of events like weddings are pyramids built upon layers and layers of superstitions. The main event would start at the timing chosen by the priest as being the most auspicious for the couple – oh, and the wedding date itself is chosen in a similar manner. When a gift of money is given, the envelope already has a 1 Rupee coin inside as things that end in 1 are seen as more auspicious. Money is circled around to ward off evil spirits despite it being the “root of all evil” from our perspective. Lastly, hijra, the transgendered community, essentially come and extort money from the family in exchange for blessing the couple (as opposed to cursing them, which is a grave negative).
There are many more examples, but you can see how life here is the opposite of playing the lottery. In the lottery you pay for a ticket hoping to win. It seems like here you pay/play a lot to avoid losing! But all cultures are slaves to superstition in some way; it just seems more prominent in Indian culture.
The main event took place in the same room where I had my ill-timed dinner. The priest set up some mats around a center area. That center area had various things I presume are symbolically important, but I don’t know.
Then a solid 60-90 minutes went by saying prayers (in Sanskrit so everyone was as lost as me at that point) went by, they took their oaths (these were said in both Sanskrit and Hindi so as to have meaning), and then they walked around the fire and tree seven times to symbolize their union. Upon the seventh revolution’s end, they are officially married. This occurred at about 3:30am.
For some, the longevity of the event proved too much.. Yes, the pictures of that guy were taken over the course of a couple hours, and yes, he was audibly snoring during the festivities. 🙂
Then, for some reason, we all just sat around talking for half an hour. I didn’t understand why.
After this talking and doing nothing, it was time for the sad ending. Well, the ending is only sad on the girl’s side.
It’s hard to explain, but this is basically the point where the husband “steals” the girl from her family. It’s not so dramatic, but in the old days this would essentially be the end of contact with her family. Maybe not that extreme, but contact would be few and far between. Given today’s ease of communication and transport, of course things are different. But the girl is absorbed into the husband’s family and they basically adopt her.
In the old days, she’d stay in the husband’s home and take care of his parents as well as her other responsibilities. In this case, they are moving into their own apartment. Still, for holidays and other such events, she’ll be with her husband’s family.
Despite all the happiness of this love marriage (I probably should have mentioned that this was a love marriage earlier), everyone on the bride’s side ends the night crying – especially the bride herself. Instead of putting pictures of the bride crying, which is rude, here’s one of her hugging her dad goodbye.
Then they drive off to start their new life together.
Did you think we were done?
The wedding is over.
But two days after the wedding, there is another ceremony. The bride’s family goes and retrieves the bride and she spends the day with them. The husband can come with the bride, or she can go alone. It depends on him. Presumably, if she comes alone she’ll talk about the husband’s family and how everyone is. With the husband there, I’m sure there is less of that.
In the old days, for an arranged marriage this really would be the first report back to her family how her husband’s family is. But as this was a love marriage, they’ve known each other and each other’s families for years.
Then the bride goes back to her husband’s home for good.
The end. Some closing pictures to round out this beautiful, Big Fat Indian (Way More Colorful And Interesting Than A Greek) Wedding!