A (non) Monsoon Wedding
Trip Start Oct 13, 2004
9Trip End Nov 16, 2004
The culminating event of my month's stay in India happened on my last day in Hyderabad at the wedding of my friend, Anju, and her new husband, Amit. A native to southern India's Kerala region, Anju's matrimonial debut was set in traditional southern style with vibrant color under a beautiful floral altar with elaborate gold jewelry, beautiful linen sarees, silk kutras and tasty cuisine. It had all the visual beauty and dramatic flare reminiscent of the famed 2001 northern Indian movie, Monsoon Wedding, sans rain. It was both, touching and impressive in its simplicity.
:: Love marriages vs. arranged marriages ::
I met Anju a year ago when she came to San Francisco for six-months to work at my company
:: Indian wedding fashion ::
My Indian girlfriends helped me select a ghagra, a hip, traditional Indian dress that is a bit more stylish than a sari. A sari is typically worn by married women and is wrapped completely around the waist and shoulder and back down to the waist again
The day was hot and my ghagra itched and I struggled to look put together while feeling most uncomfortable. I had to call the housekeeping lady at the hotel to come to my room and button up the top for me as it was virtually impossible to don this garment on by myself. I felt a little outrageous buying such an ostentatious formal outfit that I'd probably wear once or twice (Halloween?) in my life. I was assured that you could never be overdressed at an Indian wedding. I also didn't know if it was appropriate since wedding tradition varies from region to region. The wedding was also in the late morning and wearing formal wear felt off but I wanted to dress traditionally and trusted my pals with their local knowledge and went for it despite my fears of being the "Gaudy American". When in India...
I appeared in my lobby to meet my new best friend, Kartik, for the wedding. He was dressed like he was ready to go to a cricket match rather than a wedding, which instantly provoked me to want to run upstairs to change immediately
:: The wedding ceremony ::
Hindu weddings are supposed to take place outside, on the earth, under a canopy known as a mandap. However, Anju's mandap took place in a choultry, which is a simple hall not meant for Godly worship or it would have been brightly colored in honor of the Gods. Serving as a function hall, the chairs were plastic and the walls lacquered in plain white so not to distract from the main spectacle on center stage where the Hindu altar was placed. The bride and groom would sit barefoot on a gorgeous stage that was constructed of fresh flowers and woven bamboo. It took three days to build and was constructed by both families
Elder family members paraded around the stage seven times to prepare the setting for the new couple. This represented the seven lives we live and that in each we are destined to meet the same person time and time again. Later, the bride and groom would circle the altar as well to bring good luck.
The groom entered the hall entrenched in a family procession so deep and thick you'd think he was a dignitary wearing a bulletproof vest under his Indian attire. He was escorted to the stage to await his bride. Surrounded by smiles and acknowledgements from his friends in the audience, we waited patiently for the bride to arrive.
Anju's family members held candles at the entrance of the hall to welcome her into the ceremony along with a spectacular sound of "crackers" known to Americans as firecrackers. Void of its traditional aeronautical spectrum of color, the crackers were just as loud as ever and very repetitious lasting at least ten minutes. Crackers are freely used by anyone, anywhere, and anytime in India. I was walking down the street last weekend and a little kid shot a cracker in the air in the middle of the day
Back to the ceremony...
Anju, the bride, was dressed in a crème linen sari with a beautiful detailed gold fringe and was adorned by a massive amount of gold on her neck, arms, ankles and toe rings. Toe rings are supposed to be worn only by married women. It is like an unmarried Christian woman wearing a wedding ring. It just doesn't happen. Traditional Indian families won't allow this fopah of trendy young girls. It's a point of contention as Western style dictates this fashionable look. So basically, all appendages were covered at least 6-inched deep with this precious metal. Silver is seldom worn in India since gold is a status symbol even though white gold is much more expensive. It goes back to the Kings and Gods who wore gold, which is equated to power and wealth
The Hindu priest lit a fire and draped fresh marigold and white garlands around the necks of the couple. In the center of the altar, sat a scared fire where the exchanging of rings took place. Many symbols represent marriage for an Indian bride and groom. Typically, wedding rings are worn on the ring finger of the left hand by both men and women but a toe ring on the second toe on the left foot, gold bangles on the wrists and a gold necklace indicate whether a woman is married or not. Anju chose wear gold in all four locations and then began the ceremony of donning on the gold by the groom. She however, did not adorn him with anything, as it is the man's prerogative on whether he chooses to wear a symbol of marriage or not
:: The wedding reception ::
After the wedding ceremony, the bride and groom changed into different outfits. The groom wore a navy blue kutra with a delicate woven gold trim. The bride wore a red silk sari with a thick, textured gold trim and, again, lots of gold jewelry. They sat on massive red velvet chairs befitting a king and queen. Quests were then received complete with hugs and kisses and many photographs. It lasted for hours. Afterwards, the guests assembled in the bottom of the assembly hall for lunch.
The food was served on banana leaves, which is a southern style to serving food. Although the south is known for spicy cuisine the food was varied and I enjoyed many delightfully mild dishes with my fingers. Food is typically eaten with your hands albeit messy it's very easy to eat various textures as long as rice or naan is used to form a ball of food into your mouth.
After dining and washing our hands, it became apparent that the event was over
As the quests vanished into the hot afternoon air eager to celebrate the last remaining hours of the Diwali weekend festival, I said my goodbyes and took another peek at my friend and her husband. Soon they will leave for the States to start a new life in New York City. Looking at them so gorgeously adorned by flowers, friends, and incense in a hall filled with barefoot people with sticky fingers and colorful attire, I was thinking that this beautiful day couldn't have offered a greater contrast to what lie before them in the States. I, too, will soon return to a shockingly different San Francisco that will be seen through eyes that reflect greater appreciation, thankfulness and perspective than what I experienced over a month ago. I already long to return to magical, mystical India and trust the flame she sparked inside of me won't burn out in the Bay Area fog.