This post is long overdue since Sourabh and Surya were married way back on 16 February. And it was a very fun wedding, even if we didn't quite last to see the end of it at 4 the next morning.
Sourabh invited us to travel to his home town the night before for the preparations there and then ride with them on the bus to Indore were the wedding was held. However neither trains or planes offered a workable schedule for doing that, so we flew directly to Indore. We arrived early in the morning because the Indore airport was undergoing renovations and was only open early in the morning and in the evening. We proceeded to the wedding hall, which was in the process of cleaning up from the previous days wedding. This facility provided not only the wedding hall but also sleeping rooms for the guests. The guests from yesterday's wedding were in process of vacating their rooms. We were greeted by an uncle of the bride, who spoke some English and made us feel quite welcome as we waited for a room to dress for the wedding.
After we were shown to a room, Surya's sister, Priya, stopped by. She is a college student in Mumbai, speaks English very well, and took care of us all day. Priya is on the left in this picture, Surya is facing the camera in the center, and I cannot identify the other members of the family shown here.
Because we arrived so early we observed the various rituals the bride's family went through before the groom arrived with his family. One thing we have seen at every Hindu wedding is women with hands decorated like this. It is called mendi or mehindi. The hands on the left are a very traditional pattern while the more complex pattern on the right is more modern.
Here the women of the family are blessing the bride and marking her forehead with powders of two different colors. She also reciprocated by marking their foreheads. In the next picture I am marking the part in Donna hair with red to indicate that she is married. Almost all Indian women wear their hair long and parted down the middle. Some women, especially north Indian women, wear a red mark on the part at all times to show they are married. Others wear it only on special occasions.
Here the family is preparing a cord which will be used for the wedding later. The seated figure under the red veil is the bride. The women of her extended family are standing around her and the men are wrapping the group in cotton thread, one strand at a time. Eventually they have a loop of cotton cord which was set aside to be used later to join the bride and groom.
Also that morning, before the groom's family arrived they held a sacred string ceremony for a young boy, a cousin of the bride. Someone there told me that this ceremony is always performed in conjunction with the wedding of a close relative, although other people in Bangalore have told me that it can happen on its own. This ceremony marks the beginning of religious education for a young man of the Brahman caste. Traditionally he would wear a sacred string all the time for the rest of his life.
Here the boy is seated at his mother's feet. She is holding some kind of leaves on his head and each woman in the family is taking a turn to mark his mothers forehead with a powder, and touch the boy's head, hands and feet (in that order) with a leaf. The boy is holding a coconut which he held for most of the ceremony, took close to an hour. After this the women surrounded him and covered him with a veil, and the men wound a thread around the group, exactly has they had done for the bride.
Next the veil was stretched in front of the boy like a screen and some rituals took place behind it. The veil was held by the women, and the men were behind the screen with the boy.
In the last picture the men are holding the thread above the boy and the priest (in the striped shirt) is speaking to him. At this time the priest also placed a series of objects in the boy's hands. One of these was two sticks tied together to make one long stick. I don't know the meaning of this stick but it apparently was important because when the ceremony was concluded the boy was carried around for all to see triumphantly holding the stick.
Then it was time to celebrate. There was a drummer and dancing. People danced individually or with a partner of the same gender, or as part of a group, like these three boys. I don't know if the drummer was paid anything besides this, but people waved money over the heads of the dancers and then handed it to the drummer--usually just a 10 or 20 rupee note. (10 rupees=about 20 US cents.)
The groom's family arrived considerably later than had been expected. (Sourabh called me very shortly after we got off the airplane to tell me he would not be there for a few hours and to make sure we were OK.) This gave us plenty of time to socialize with the bride's family. Here is Donna passing the time with one of the younger cousins. In addition to being cute he was very "passable"; i.e. happy to be passed from person to person. There was also lunch served in typical wedding style, on banana leaf plates, with a procession of servers placing various things on your "plate".
Finally the groom arrived with his family. He wore a western suit and tie. All of the other men in his party were also in western clothes but no-one else wore a tie. In this picture the bride's father is in traditional Indian attire as were a few other male members of her party. In general in India women are much more elaborately dressed for any event than men, and much more likely to wear Indian clothing. When the groom's family arrived they gave gifts to the members of the brides family. Then the bride's father washed the groom's feet...although if I recall correctly, he actually only washed one foot. If you look closely in the picture you see that the sole of the groom's foot has been painted dark red. After this the groom's party retired to their rooms to dress for the next stage. During this time those men of the bride's party who were in Indian attire changed into western clothes, so I followed their example.
The next step was the procession. The groom changed into a different western suit and a bandhani turban. Bandhani is a method of decorating fabric by pinching a small amount of the material and tightly tying a string around it. This is repeated to create a large scale pattern. Then the material is dyed. After the strings are all removed small rings of undyed material is left. The rings tend to be squarish in shape.
Sourabh told me that the procession usually lasts two or three hours, but since we were in the middle of the city we would only walk for about an hour. I'm thinking in an hour, walking a relatively slow pace , would still cover 3-4 kilometers. However the procession actually proceeds by walking 20-30 meters, stopping to dance for 5 to 10 minutes, then walking another 20-30 meters. So we covered a distance of about a couple of hundred meters and back. Here you can see in the picture part of the band and sound system on wheels. There were about 9 or 10 members in the band, including 3 drummers and two sousaphones. (Remember the purpose of a wedding band is to attract the attention of the Gods to what is happening down on earth.) Again people waved money over the heads of dancers and then handed it to the leader of the band. There was a man who had brought the horse and was leading the horse and seemed to think he should also get some of that money. However since he had to hold the horse and people seemed to prefer to give money to the band he didn't seem to fare very well.
Here we have Donna dancing during the procession. Donna took some pictures of me dancing also, but I'm writing this blog so you won't see those. When the procession returned to the wedding hall the sun had set and the entry way had been decorated with a lighted overhead canopy. The bride's family greeted the groom with food and drink. There was sweets for everyone as we made our way back into the wedding hall.
For the next part of the ceremony the bride and groom were seated facing each other.
The string that had been prepared earlier was held over the two of them by their families and finally placed around their necks as you see in this picture. They were surrounded by their families who helped with various parts of the ceremony. During one part someone poured water onto a leaf so that it ran down on to the brides hand, ran off her fingers into his hand and then down into a bowl. There was a series of exchanges where the bride and groom would reach toward each other either to hand something to the other or to touch the other with something. Just as they were about to touch, the family members would pull them apart. This would happen two or three times before the exchange was allowed to be completed.
Then there were a series of games between the bride and groom as in this picture. Here the bride has folded a leaf and is throwing it, as one would throw a paper airplane, at the groom. There was a game using a pile of pebbles on a tray. I didn't quite understand the game but it involved one person covering some of the pebbles with their hand and the other trying to guess something--perhaps if it was an odd or even number. This seemed to also involve a great deal of cheating by the relatives.
After this part was complete the couple was apparently officially married and went out to an outdoor stage to formerly receive their guests. This took several hours during which there was an extensive buffet dinner available at which we ate a great variety of things. After this there was a sit-down meal served to the wedding party. We were invited to join this, but declined since we had eaten plenty from the buffet. Sometime after 1 a.m., the bride and groom finished eating, changed clothes one more time and started on another two hours of rituals around the sacred fire. Since we had to catch an early morning plane we went up to our room and caught a couple hours of sleep before the ceremony ended at 4:00 and guests ran through the halls knocking on doors and waking everyone up.
With the dancing and the games, I have to say this was the most joyful wedding I have attended in India. Some how we failed to get a final picture of the bride and groom smiling together as man and wife--perhaps because they never stood still. Surya and Sourabh have many times ahead of them, happy and sad. May they always know the joy that comes from being able to share the good and the bad with the love of your life.
Donna and Joe have finished their assignment in India. Occasionally they still travel somewhere.