We traveled to the small town of Bankura in West Bengal to attend Debprasad's wedding. When we arrived at his house we were welcomed and introduced to his extended family as they arrived to take part in the celebrations. This is Donna holding the youngest member, whose name I have forgotten. Debprasad is looking on, dressed in the outfit he wore for the ceremonies which took place at his home, before we traveled to the wedding, in the bride's hometown. Like the majority of weddings in India, this was an arranged marriage. One of Debprasad's cousins was a classmate of the bride. When she learned that the bride's parents were looking for a husband for her and she that Debprasad's parents were also looking she initiated the connection. The parents then investigate whether or not the proposed mate seems to be a good choice for their child. The prospective bride and groom each has veto power in this situation , only have a brief (minutes long) meeting on which to make a decision.
A part of the process was women making these sweets. Rice was roasted in a pan over a charcoal fire, in a stove looks much like the metal cylinders that are sometimes used to get charcoal going at an american barbeque. Then it was mixed with a syrup of made from a local form of molasses. When it was thoroughly mixed they formed it into balls about 2 cm in diameter. Note that each woman is using only her right hand. Donna also helped form some of these. After they were made they offered one to both Donna and I to try , but I did not see anyone else eat any. Instead they were used in the ceremony.
Then there was a procession through the streets of the town to the Kali temple for Puja (worship).
This is Debprasad's mother carrying the items to be offered to Kali in a basket on her head. The procession was lead by this drummer. I don't think he was part of the family, but must have been hired for this purpose. Behind him is one of the nieces blowing a conch shell. It is traditional to make a lot of noise as part of the procession to alert the Gods that something important is happening, so they can bless it.
This is Kali. Kali is the first incarnation of the mother goddess, Durga, and was a fierce warrior fighting demons. She helps people defeat evil in themselves and in the world around them. You can recognize Kali by her red tongue sticking out. This is a reference to the mythological event when Kali became so violent fighting evil demons that she was destroying everything in sight. To stop her Lord Shiva threw himself under her feet. She was so surprised that she stuck out her tongue and stopped killing. Images of Kali often show her with her foot on Shiva's chest but in this temple she standing by herself.
This is upstairs on the roof of Debprasad's house. It is enclosed in a tent which I think was put up for the occasion. On the left is Debprasad's father, then Debprasad, his mother and the priest on the right. In the picture you can see a large variety of natural objects, flowers, leaves, various fruits and grains. Each of these was used in the ceremony. In most cases it begins with the father picking up the item, then the priest spoke in Sanskrit, then the father passed it to the groom, or placed it in the pile in the center of the four lamps or placed it on the grooms head. In a few cases, such as the next picture, mother also played a role.
His father held the leaf on Debprasad forehead while his mother poured something, perhaps oil or ghee on it. No-one seemed to know what was going on expect the priest who directed every movement. We watched almost an hour of this before we were invited downstairs to eat lunch...the third time they fed us in the four hours we were in their house. (Sweets when we first arrived, later breakfast and now lunch.)
We were also fed once during the trip to bride's town, again when arrived at the hotel there, and dinner after the wedding.
After everyone had eaten lunch the groom had a special meal of rice, milk and a syrup. It is sweet because marriage is sweet. Other than this meal, he is not supposed to eat anything the day of the wedding until after the ceremony. Since the wedding began about 10:30 p.m., that is a very long time indeed.
Then it was time to travel to the bride's town, which we did in a bus and a couple of SUVs. We'll describe that journey in a later blog.
After arriving in Behrampur where the wedding happened, we all checked into a hotel to get ready for the wedding. Here is the groom leaving the hotel to drive to the wedding. When we arrived, he stayed in the car as the brides family brought gifts to welcome him. The tall pointed hat is characteristic of Bengal. The flower garland is used in weddings other important occasions all over India. After getting out of the car Debprasad proceeded to the area down stairs, were the ceremony would be held. We were taken upstairs by the bride's brother to meet the bride.
Here is the bride, resplendent in silk and gold and flowers. Her sari is wrapped in a northern style, with the fancy pallu at the end hanging in front, over her right shoulder, instead down the back of her left shoulder. She received guests seated in a chair and surrounded by cushions on the floor. We took off our shoes, sat on the cushions and visited with her briefly. Then we went back downstairs to wait with the groom for the bride to make her entrance.
Here is the canopy where the ceremony will take place before everyone arrived. All of the elements for the ceremony have been laid out. White markings on the floor have been painted on with something which can be washed off after the ceremony. (Since it looks a lot like the rangolis, it may have been a "paint" made of rice and water.) The low platform at the back is where the groom will sit. The bride will arrive, carried by four men on a similar platform.
Here is the bride about to place a garland around the groom's neck. (Yes, he still has the one he was wearing when he left the hotel. In India there is no such thing as too many flowers.) While the groom is standing, the bride is still being carried, sitting cross legged. Next the groom will give a garland to the bride. After that she was carried to the canopy where she sat facing the groom for the first part of the ceremony.
Here the priest is tying the couple together by tying one end of a scarf to a scarf each of them was already wearing. This stayed tied between them until the sat down to eat dinner when the ceremony was over.
In this picture the groom is marking the part of the bride's hair with some kind of a bright red powder. Bengali women traditionally wear at least a small amount of red there as a sign that they are married. Notice that she has a cloth draped around her to protect her silk sari from being stained with red. (Married women also wear red and white bangles on their wrists, as you saw in the picture of making sweets, instead of the necklace used by southern brides.) The ceremony took about an hour and involved the bride and groom exchanging various items and much Sanskrit from the priest. There were two priests, and unlike most weddings where the priest speaks everything from memory, they had a set of written notes they referred to as the ceremony proceeded. After the ceremony we all went upstairs to eat dinner.
This picture of the newlyweds, smiling at each other, seems a fitting close this post. Their families have done their best to prepare them for this day, including finding what they hope will be the perfect life partner. It is up to Debprasad and Shrabana to turn that hope into reality. We know that if each can learn to love the other in ways that empower their uniqueness then they will discover the great joy of married oneness. We wish them many, many years of happiness.
Donna and Joe have finished their assignment in India. Occasionally they still travel somewhere.