Thursday, March 5, 2009

The Hindu Wedding -- at Last!

A friend (Hi Althea!) wrote: “I read your blog Monday (snow day) expecting to have a full accounting of the wedding. I loved everything else you wrote about, but no wedding? Maybe it’s going to be a book?”

It’s true I’ve been putting off describing the Hindu wedding that was the centerpiece of our trip to India, because there’s just so much to say. So I’ll do it with photos. And in two parts. (If you click on the photos they get bigger.)

The bride’s parents spent months planning a wedding so fabulous –three days of celebration, with fireworks, marching bands, dancers, musicians, buffets, and so much more. I ‘m sure I’ll never see another wedding to compare with this one.

The first party—New Year’s Eve—was western style so I won’t show any photos. It was held in a nightclub called “On the Rocks”, next to our hotel, the fabulous Ajit Bhawan which was a Maharajah’s palace and is still decorated entirely in the style of the Raj, with vintage autos and a staff of tall Rajput Warriors in turbans, who always greet you with the prayerfully folded hand gesture of greeting and the word “Namaste.” The brother of the Maharajah still has his private living quarters in this hotel and he invited the entire wedding party to come from the nightclub to his place after midnight so, as fireworks greeted the New Year, we were running through the palace grounds to the afterparty in a bar which seemed ready for Humphrey Bogart and Sidney Greenstreet to walk right in.

The next day the bride’s family led us to their local temple to Ganesh, the elephant god, to make offerings in honor of the wedding. We all rode in the ever-present motorized rickshaws—called Tuk-Tuks—and the one for the bride was specially decorated. The offerings in the temple given by the bride’s parents were sweets, money (distributed to beggars and holy men) and the marigold necklaces called malas given to the god.

That night, the bride’s parents’ front yard –about the size of a football field, it seemed—had been converted by miles of draped fabrics and sparkling lights into a huge tent complete with stage, dance floor , tables, chairs and an immense buffet that reached around two sides of the field. All sorts of vegetarian delicacies were prepared before our eyes, from the round breads dipped in ghee at one end to huge vats of a milky sweet dessert drink and fried pastries at the other end. I took a photo of one of the lady servers because I was fascinated by the bracelets she wore on her upper arm. How did she get them on?

The invitation to this event came with a real peacock feather, for peacocks were the theme of the night—visible everywhere including behind the stage. The ladies were invited to come early for the Mehendi—when everyone’s hands were decorated with henna by artisans hired for the occasion. The bride’s decorations were the most elaborate—she and the groom (who is not Indian but from California) had their feet and hands decorated. Both their names were worked into the bride’s design—which the groom has to discover for himself.

In addition to the henna-decorated hands, each woman was given bangles to match her garments, made by a man who created them from resin and sized them on a hot iron. The bride emerged from her house, looking like a film star in her red and gold sari, her arms heavy with gold bangles, and flowers woven into her hair. Her good-natured groom was dressed in a traditional groom’s outfit.

Couples began to arrive, piped inside and announced by musicians. This before-wedding party is the Sangeet which literally means “singing together”. Traditionally, it’s a time for good-natured teasing of the bride and groom. A troop of tribal musicians and dancers performed first. The women dancers gave me my first look at a popular trick—they would bend over backwards until they could pick up a ring from the ground using their EYELASHES. Don’t ask me how. Later I saw other dancers pick up things like a razor with their eyelids!

The bride’s family and siblings and cousins offered their own entertainment—dancing and singing popular Bollywood love songs. A group of their friends (including my daughter Eleni, the blonde in turquoise and pink) had been practicing a Bollywood dance number—similar to the dance at the end of Slumdog Millionaire. (I’ve heard that taking Bollywood dance lessons is becoming a craze in the U.S. now.)

At the end, the bride and groom and their parents also danced, and the bride’s funny uncle—the man in a dark suit with a long pink scarf-- performed a hilarious parody of the traditional bride’s dance—shy yet seductive.

The little children fell asleep on the canopied divans, while everyone else sang, danced, cruised the buffet, and admired each other’s saris or salwar kameezes or other traditional dress. No one wanted to go home, but the next night was to be the even more lavish wedding itself!


V Fish said...

Those photos are amazing1 said...

LOVE the photos! I wish I could go back tomorrow!

lactmama said...

More, more, more.
Eleni and the bride are soooo gorgeous.
I bet the bracelet lady had to work to keep them from falling down her arm.
Send the resin guy over to my place - want bracelets.
India is special - from the spectacular to the heart breaking.


Unknown said...

To " A Rolling Crone":
I thank you for the post/pics which made my heart warm with memories ... but more importantly may I thank you for the name of your blog which made me laugh out loud and still makes me smile when I read it!

Anonymous said...

The bride's henna is incredible. How long did it take to apply and how long does it last? Eagerly awaiting more, more, more!

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