Donna and Joe have finished their assignment in India. Occasionally they still travel somewhere.

Saturday, February 2, 2008

Muthu's wedding

January 26, 2008 Dr. Muthubalan, BE, MS, PhD married Subalakshmi, MBA. I mention their professional credentials because they were written on the sign behind the mondupan, common for an Indian wedding. Muthu is a colleague of mine at IBM and Donna and I traveled with 4 other IBMer’s by train to attend the wedding.

We slept on the train and arrived at the station just before 9am for the 10:25 wedding. Muthu’s brother and cousin met us at the train and took us to a hotel to get changed, then to the wedding. I will let Donna tell about what it takes to assemble a sari and simply say that she wore an elegant blue silk sari and was very beautiful.

We came into the hall which served as the grooms place past a booming band complete with a large base drum. Someone told me later that the bands (there were two) had to be loud to attract the gods’ attention because we want the god’s to witness the wedding. This sand “painting” was one of the decorations in the entry to the hall. Each square of the image is actually a small pile of sand about 2 cm on a side and nearly that tall. Each was placed there by someone carefully dropping the colored sand from their hand. I heard that eight or ten people spent 4 hours making it. There was another traditional design made of flower petals in the center of the entrance hall. And a design of Daisy Duck, which I think was there to welcome the children, who were wonderfully included in all parts of the wedding.

When we entered the main hall, there were only a few scattered seats vacant. Someone rounded up more chairs (everyone was seated in plastic patio chairs) and created a new front row for us. Then they discovered we had not had breakfast and rushed us off to the dining hall, insisting we had time although the wedding was scheduled to start in 15 minutes.

At breakfast we were given metal plates and spoons. Donna asked about the traditional banana leaves that other people were using. (It is considered good luck to eat on banana leaves at a wedding.) We were told that if we wanted banana leaf “plates” we had to eat with our fingers. Not knowing how neatly we could do that, we opted for the plates and spoons. After a quick breakfast we hurried back to the hall for the first part of the wedding.

Muthu was up on the mundupan and the bride was not in sight.

We joined the line of people giving Muthu our blessing and marking his forehead with a white powder. The wedding was in the town of Virudhunagar in Tamil Nadu, which is 550 kilometers south and 900 meters lower in elevation than Bangalore. So they have a lot of hot days in January, and Muthu had an attendant standing by to periodically wipe the perspiration from his face—and excess powder occasionally, so it wouldn’t get in his eyes. He wore a western suit and tie plus several garlands of flowers around his neck. One was the traditional white jasmine, and the other 2 were made of pink roses.

After all of his family and friends had blessed him, the bands lead him out to a carriage pulled by two white horses. It was already occupied by 4 or 5 children, his youngest cousins. They all rode over to the bride’s hall, which was less than 100 meters away.

A procession of members of the bride’s family welcomed him to the family. Each was carrying a tray with something symbolic on it. Some were designs, and some were more like miniature scenes depicting their wishes for the couple. Each one in line walked up to him and moved the tray in a circular motion up and down in front of him. Then they took a bit of powder from the tray and marked his forehead. Muthu handed each a wrapped gift and they moved back into the hall to make way for the next presentation. Many of the welcomers were small children. The last was an older woman who carried a tray with something burning on it.

Muthu then proceeded into the hall and we followed. All of the IBMers were invited to sit on the stage with the wedding party. Muthu’s grandfather, as the eldest member of his family, presided at the wedding. He spoke in Tamil so Donna and I could not understand what he said, but I was told that he mentioned us and that they appreciated us coming from so far away to attend the wedding. We appreciated being invited. We were the only non-Indians we saw at the wedding, or even in the town.

The bride and groom were seated side by side, center stage with their friends and family standing or sitting beside them. There was a low table, like a coffee table in front of them with various things for the ceremony. A lot of things happened in a short time, so I’m not sure I’m got them in the right order here and if I have not mentioned the most important part please assume that it all happened as it should and I simply missed it. If you were there and want to correct my poor reporting just leave a comment and I will fix any errors.

After the grandfather’s opening remarks, the bride and groom were loaded with more garlands (jasmine and/or tuberoses). Some were place on them by family members and each placed one on the other. They were walked around the stage at least once, possible more times. Muthu’s grandfather spoke the vows and Muthu repeated them. Neither of us remembers the bride saying any vows but she may have. A member of the bride’s party fed each of them a piece of banana, and then gave each a piece of banana to feed the other. The ritual was repeated with a glass of milk.

Then came the presentation of the gold wedding necklace. This serves as symbol of the union as a wedding ring does in the United States and an Indian woman wears it at all times from her wedding day forward. Traditionally at least it has knots tied by the groom symbolizing joining husband and wife. It also has symbols representing the couple and the place they are from. The necklace was displayed on a golden coconut on the table in front of the bride and groom during the ceremony. Muthu then placed it around the bride’s neck. Finally everyone on stage blessed the couple by marking their foreheads.

After leaving the wedding hall the bride and groom climbed aboard the horse drawn carrier and took a short ride around the town to announce the wedding to everyone. Then they proceeded back to the groom’s hall where the groom’s family welcomed the bride. This was much the same as the welcoming of groom before the ceremony—a series of people with trays. Each marked first the bride then the groom on the forehead. Again the final tray was on fire. Eventually the bride and groom made it inside were they posed for pictures with various combinations of friends and family.

And last but not least, lunch. As you can see in the picture cooking was on an industrial scale. And we did get to eat from a banana leaf—with our fingers. As we sat down they had covered the table with colored paper table cloth. This appears to have been special treatment for the IBM guests because I did not see any other table cloths in use. The first thing you do when someone gives you a banana leaf to eat on is to poor a little water on it and wash it off with your hands. This revealed a small error in the plan. The water immediately dissolved ink on the table cloth threatening to stain everyone’s fancy clothes. We picked up leaves, the table clothe was whisked away and we proceeded with lunch.
A banana leaf naturally has two haves divided by a central stem. On the half toward the diner they placed rice. On the other half goes a whole series of different vegetable curries and chutneys. This is served by a procession of servers each ladling food out of a metal bucket. You eat all of this with your fingers. As well as I can remember this is the dining advice I got from Kaustabh, one of my fellow IBMers. “You moisten the rice with a little curry, roll it up into a little ball and pop it into your mouth”. Needless to say your fingers get a bit messy. But the food was all very tasty. In addition to the food on the plate there were several glasses filled with various drinks; water, coffee and a very thick, sweet concoction not unlike tapioca pudding. When you’re done eating you fold up the banana leave to show you are finished. The meal ended with pistachio ice cream.

In some ways it was a very different wedding than any I have attended before. But the essentials were the same. To people were beginning a new stage of their lives and the people who care about them had all gathered wish them well and celebrate with them. We all dressed up, we ate lots of special food friends and family came from all around.

When Josef married Donna thirty some years ago neither of them had every heard of Bangalore, let alone Virudhunagar. No one can know today where the journey called life will take Muthubalan and Subalakshmi. But I’m sure they will find as we have that it is a road best traveled with a very good friend. May they be blessed with every happiness along the way.


Karen said...

Hey Joe and Donna. Thanks for the great post on the wedding! I have been waiting for it to appear and thoroughly enjoyed reading it and looking at the pics. Donna, your sari is GORGEOUS!! Good job, wrapping her up Joe :) It really reminded me so much of Caryn Voland's wedding. But you are right about it being different but somewhat the same. It is all about celebrating the new life together and being with those you love. I wish them much happiness too. Keep writing and showing such great pics. It makes your life so far away real. Love to you both, Karen

Caryn said...

It was great to see these pictures. I have always wanted to go to a "real" Indian wedding. Donna, the garlands are pretty but not as colorful as the ones you made for us. :) Have you had a chance to get some of those jasmine garlands for your hair? They smell wonderful. It might not quite be the season for them.
Can you do the sari by yourself?!
Love, Caryn

Arvind said...

Joe - Thats a great post with all details. Any words on the train journey?


anty said...

Hi there!
I am Muthu's friend at Auburn. Missed his wedding. Felt nice reading your post:) Thanks

Muthubalan said...

Hi Joe,
I thought of writing this a long time back.. An excellent description of my marriage.. Feels like re-living my wedding... My entire family liked this blog...