An Indian Wedding
If you don’t know it, family life is incredibly important in India. When I talk to colleagues and acquaintances here, the conversation always comes round to this topic, with questions like: How many siblings do you have? How are your parents? How did you meet your wife? And so on. My own parents and siblings are scattered from New York to Massachusetts to New Jersey to Georgia to Florida to Texas and to Colorado, and I sometimes think my Indian friends conclude Americans are all solitary cowboys, riding their lonely trails into a variety of sunsets with no connection to hearth and home.
From what I have been able to discern of the Indian perspective, by and large family comes first: the wishes of parents are extremely important to sons and daughters, and, being married is close to an absolute necessity for adults here. The pressure is so intense that many blogs offer suggestions on excuses to give one’s parents, such as “I am waiting for cousin so-and-so to get married first”, or (a popular one) “I have to complete my advanced degree before I marry” – an Indian parent will never say no to education.
Back to the matter at hand, one of my work colleagues, Rahul, invited me to his wedding. I wanted to go not only to celebrate with him, but also out of curiosity. So, on the morning of 15 August, Independence Day here in India, Kim and I put on our best go-to-meeting togs and headed for the wedding hall.
First thing to note: the time on the invitation said “9:36 am”. 9:36? Why not 9:30, or 9:35? The reason is because of astrology and numerology – many Indians will not do anything important without a consultation and, if numbers are involved, the luckiest ones must be used.
We arrived a tad early at 9:30, hoping not to disturb any in-progress ceremony. The ceremony was in fact already underway, but not to worry, it would have been extremely difficult to disturb the ceremony of this wedding, as the 200 or-so assembled guests were all happily chatting and socializing. Much, much different from a typical Western wedding, where we all silently focus our attention on the wedding couple as they undertake their vows. This was learning #1: while the ceremony is important, the wedding is as much about maintaining the bonds of the community as it is about the two principals.
Through the proceedings women went among the guests offering dabs of jasmine perfume and red sandalwood paste and Kim availed herself of both:
Another practice, there was a large supply of colored rice:
At certain times the other guests would fling pinches of rice in the direction of the bride and groom, so Kim and I supplied ourselves and tossed rice with everyone else.
Marriage ceremonies for Hindu people are complex and have regional differences all over India. Some forms take days to complete, with multiple feasts each day. One thing all forms of the ritual have in common is the vivaah homa, or “sacred fire”:
Many offerings are placed in the fire, but the most important part is the saptha padhi or “seven steps” – the bride and groom take seven steps together around the fire, each step representing a different vow.
I said these ceremonies can take days? This one did not, but still went around 3 hours which I felt was a goodly time. Quite a lot more went on, including an exchange of a coconut, some blessings from parents, and still other things Kim and I could not follow. However one thing we did follow, along with all the other guests, was when lunch was declared.
And that was learning #2 about Indian weddings: food matters. Food-wise, Indian hospitality in general is overwhelming, and at a wedding, doubly so. The fare was simple – salad, tomato soup (an Indian favorite), butter paneer, dum alloo (potato curry), several types of pakoras (veg fritters), chapati (flat bread) and bhature (fried bread), plain rice and pulao (veg rice), plus many sweets – but it all was very good and there was a lot of it. Other guests kept pressing us to take more helpings, but after my third helping I had to admit defeat. Then as we were leaving, we saw many more guests just arriving – apparently the lunch is the main thing for many folks here.
So, all in all a memorable day for myself and Kim, as I am sure it will be for Rahul and his bride, Ashwini. All the best to them in their life together, and all our thanks for their great hospitality. Śādī kī badhā’ī hō!