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

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Ananth's Wedding

Ananth (a member of the compact modeling team) married Asha in Bangalore on 1 Feb. Or as the wedding invitation described it "We are all a little weird and life's a little weird, and when we find someone whose weirdness is compatible with ours, we join up with them and fall in mutual weirdness and call it Marriage!" With such an invitation we wondered if the wedding would also be very nontraditional, but it simply contained a number of traditions we had not seen before. Donna and I arrived around 9:30am for the 10:30 wedding, following Baliji and Prabhu so we could find the wedding hall. As expected, the process was already underway. A Hindu bride and groom need to perform many rituals in the process of getting married. It takes many hours and few of the guests have the stamina to witness it all. There are certain crucial steps which most people try to watch. The rest happens with the bride and groom surrounded by a crowd of family and photographers, while other guests visit or enjoy dinner.
This shot shows the bride and groom in a swing outside the entrance of the wedding hall. There were a number of rituals here before they went into the hall, including walking together around the swing and a song by the little girls in the next picture.
I like this shot of the bride and groom walking around the swing because of the priest's arm in the foreground point the way. Except for the priest, the participants in a Hindu wedding seem to have very little idea what is going to happen next. I have suggested to friends that this is because the priest is making it up as he goes along, but they are quite adamant that this is not true. These are centuries old traditions which have evolved differently in different parts of the country and which can be performed in various order or some parts can be omitted.

After completing the ceremonies at the door of the wedding hall the wedding couple proceeded inside the hall and up onto the stage. At center stage was an iron fire box surrounded by various objects to be used in the ceremony, coconuts, leaves, seeds, cups of various liquids. At this point in time there was no fire in the box. Among other things that happened here, the bride's father washed the groom's feet. Many objects of significance unknown to us were passed back and forth between the bride and groom and sometimes their parents.

Then the action shifted to stage left where brides father sat on a chair (as opposed to floor, or a platform 2-inches off the floor as in the rest of the ceremony and all other Hindu weddings I've seen). This was so that the bride could sit on his lap as you see her here, offering a banana to the groom. Eventually the bride's father put his hand under hers and together they handed the banana to the groom, who then took the bride by the hand and led her around her father. I think much of this had to do with the symbolism of the father giving his daughter to the groom, the equivalent of the bride's father walking her down the aisle in the U.S. termed "giving the bride away." Another Indian guest said he thought this went back to the days of brides being married while they were still children.

In the next picture, she is again seated on her father's lap for the tying of the wedding necklace, but sometime in between she has gone off and changed into a different sari. This is a gold necklace, called a mangalsutra or Tali, which a Hindu woman tradionally wears at all times to symbolize that she is married. In modern times they are not always worn continuously, especially with western clothing. Or they often receive a set of 2 necklaces at the wedding, and can shift which one they wear, by putting the 2nd one on before taking the other one off. Because the wedding necklaces are very expensive, when moving about in everyday life one often wants to wear the long one, hidden under your clothes, where it is less conspicuous and less susceptible to being grabbed and stolen by someone in a crowd.

Here you see the bride on her father's lap and her mother standing behind her in the green sari. Behind the groom is his father, and his mother is nearby but didn't make it into the picture. Both fathers have a white cotton thread across the chest indicating that they are of the Brahman caste and are qualified to perform Hindu rituals. The man partially hidden by the bride is the priest who is officiating at the ceremony.
After tying the necklace, the groom again led the bride away. This picture shows the bride's family just after she left. The mother looks quite sad to see her daughter leave. Then there was a part which I couldn't see very well, were the bride touched a stone with her foot. Then the groom led her a short distance by holding her toe.

For the final part of the ceremony the fire was lit. I'm told that it's important to be married in the presence of Agni the fire god, so there is always fire at a Hindu wedding. Some times it is only a small lamp but in other weddings it is a large fire as you can see here.

During and after the ceremony, a meal was served in the lower level. At weddings in south India the meal is always served on a banana leaf, as you see here. The leaves are on the table when you sit down and the first thing you do is sprinkle a little water on it and wash it off with your fingers. Then a whole series of servers will come along and each will place a spoonful of a different dish on your leaf; rice, bread and various vegetables cooked in different sauces. You eat all of this using only your right hand, mixing the sauces with the rice until you have a small sticky ball you can pick up and put in your mouth.
When I went to I.I.T.-Madras in Tamil Nadu my host took me to a restaurant where they served the meal on banana leaves in much the same way.

And we end with a picture of the happy couple. Ananth has been to America and Asha recently returned from six months training in Japan. So they begin life together having already seen much of the world. I hope they discover, as Donna and I have, that wherever you find yourself can be home if you share the space with someone who truly loves you.


Govind said...

Great write-up with a superb eye for detail.

Karen said...

Hey Joe and Donna! You have become quite popular wedding guests while in India. That is good for all of us readers because we cant to live vicariously through your great descriptions. I was wondering what the Americans would think if we told them that the male participants could not wear shirts:) Maybe I should suggest that to Kip for the future. It would look interesting with the kilt he is sure to wear!! Keep up the good work and your job as good guests. Karen

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