Last week our driver invited us to the wedding of a friend, and our maid/cook invited us to the wedding reception of a friend, on successive nights. Both of the couples are Muslims so, we got a chance to see some very different wedding traditions. The wedding on Wednesday night was scheduled for 7:30 pm. I had a meeting which ran 'til 7:00 so Joseph picked me up then and we headed for the wedding. Joseph had already dropped Donna and Jaya at the house of a cousin of the groom, so they would get to the wedding on time even if we were late. There were several stalled vehicles on our route home which held up traffic, and we arrived about 7:50. Joseph called his friend and learned that Donna, Jaya and several others were in route on foot, so we waited for them. When we entered the hall at 8:00 the groom was just putting on his flowers.
We didn't really need to wait for Donna and Jaya because the men and women sat in separate rooms for the ceremony. Even the bride and groom are not together for the ceremony. In fact I was told that the bride and groom would not see each other until the next day. So I can only report what happened on the men's side and Donna will have to write about what went on in the other room.
As I arrived, someone was tying an arm band on the groom which he will not take off for three days. Then they covered him from head to foot in flowers. Most of "garment" was made of densely packed white jasmine, but it was studded with at least 3 dozen red roses. It hung in front of him from his neck to the floor. He had a separate headpiece of similar construction, which completely covered his head. He held the flowers away from his face with both hands when he walked up onto the stage. Then he got a better idea and swung the flowers in front of his face up onto the top of his head where they stayed throughout the brief ceremony.
It was another half hour before the ceremony started. While the groom waited on stage various people came up and talked with him. On the stage were a couch and two arm chairs, one on either side of the couch. The groom sat on the couch. Eventually the father of the bride and the father of the groom came and sat in the two arm chairs. Then the Imam (Muslim priest) came and sat on the couch with the groom. Someone came up and adjusted a microphone in from of him. Apparently this was to broadcast the ceremony to the room were the women were since Donna said they could hear it.
The Imam chanted a prayer, the groom said a vow and signed a paper. Then there was a second prayer by the Imam, during which he held the groom's hand. The Imam then took the document over to the brides room.
Many men came up and hugged the groom. These were very formal, each man leaned toward the other until their heads were side by side, left check to left check, then leaned back, shift to the left and then leaned forward so right checks were adjacent, then back to the right and release. You really couldn't give the groom a normal hug because you would crush all those flowers against your own clothes. During the reception and at another Muslim wedding reception the next night I saw many men hug men and women hug women. Some were stiff and formal and some carried much more feeling but all followed this three step pattern. At the reception on Thursday night one man greeted the bride with a hug, but that was the only case I saw of a man and a woman hugging.
We then moved to the dining area we were joined by the women. We sat at round tables and food was served in what Americans call "family style" meaning in bowls and platters which were passed around the table. Unlike the Hindu weddings we attended and most Indian meals I've had there was no white rice served. There was lots of flat fried bread and also flat round "cakes" made of noodles. And there was chicken and mutton in various sauces and mutton biryani which is seasoned rice, vegetables and meat. There was no silverware although someone offered to get us some if we needed it. The cousin of the groom who was acting as our host did not eat with us but hovered around making sure we were throughly stuffed. Then after we had left the table he made sure we both got ice cream. (Actually he tried to talk us into 3 bowls!)
The women's room of the wedding hall was set up about like the men's. Besides the fact that the groom was no where around, the major difference is that in Muslim weddings I was told that the bride is expected to cry, or at least look very sad, I guess because she is leaving her family. While she is dressed very beautifully, it does not have as much of a festive feeling as when the bride and groom are together. The bride, her mother, and some other women sat up front. There is much more a feeling of watching and waiting.
When the singing and prayers started we could hear them well, but it was a while before I realized that they were broadcast from the other room, and not produced by someone behind the big curtain behind the bridal party's seats. Later the Imam came in and the bride signed some papers. I don't remember if she said any vows, but they weren't broadcast, if she did. Then someone came around and distributed little drawstring bags containing nuts and dried ginger and dried fruits. I was surprised that they included whole walnuts, as I had never, ever seen walnuts in a grocery store in India.
For people who have never seen Muslim women wearing anything besides a burka, it was a surprise to get to India and discover that the burka is only a coat for going outside of the home. Underneath they wear the same types of clothes as other Indian women--saris and kurta/salvar sets (Tunics and pants) in colors and designs just as bright as other Indians. For weddings and fancy occasions their clothing is VERY fancy and intricately decorated. I had an embroidered salvar set on, but theirs were much fancier, covered in embroidery, beads, and sequins, besides the usual woven golden borders and designs. What a sight to see. I guess they are allowed to "flower" beautifully in the "gardens" of their own homes, or in Muslim settings, just not on the street for strangers to see. (On the streets of Bangalore many Burkas have embroidered or sequined designs in bright colors, as well as the traditional black.)
It was interesting that at the wedding, the men and women were separated, but then came together and ate together at the same tables. The next day at the reception, the men and women sat together facing the stage with the bridal couple, but ate in separate rooms. At both events we were cordially received by the couples families and guests, despite the fact that we just came as friends of our household staff. At the reception on the second day I introduced myself as Jaya's friend, but she kept going to get food or beverages, etc for me. I finally told her she had to stop doing that because I was there as her friend.
Thursday's wedding happened during the day with just family present. This picture is from the reception that evening which we attended. The bride was delayed due to traffic, but there was both a male and female singer to entertain the guests while they waited. The singers each sang alone, never together. Guests came in and sat, men and women together facing the stage which was empty except for random children playing tag and trying out the seats up there.
Because of the delay they decided to begin serving the buffet meal while waiting for the bride to arrive. At this reception men and women ate in separate rooms and we sat at round tables. I sat down and held places for Joseph and his Muslim friend, and Joseph brought a plate of food for me. The tables were covered with plastic tablecloths. When the first sitting finished eating, the servers wrapped the plates on the table to shake the left over food off, rolled it all up into the table cloth and put a new tablecloth on the table.
After eating I rejoined Donna in the reception hall, where we congratulated the bride and groom and had our picture taken with them, unfortunately not with our camera. So this picture is of the bride and groom and some other well wishers.
Donna and Joe have finished their assignment in India. Occasionally they still travel somewhere.