m2’s monsoon wedding

Friday 18 November, 2011

No, no, it wasn’t my monsoon wedding, but I did attend a wedding here in India & I thought you might like to read about it.  I was invited by a faculty member whose daughter was getting married.  Interestingly, both the bride & groom are doctors.  In the Indian tradition, it was an arranged marriage, as I understand 80% still are today.  The wedding took place ~150 km south along the coast near where the groom’s family lives.  I was told 1500 family members & friends were invited.  Interestingly, the wedding ceremony itself was scheduled not for 11 p.m. or 11:30 p.m., but 11:13 p.m., as I was told this was chosen by the Hindu priest as the most fortunate time for the ceremony.  The dinner was held @ ~7:30 p.m. before the wedding ceremony.  I was informed that many of the guests simply come to wish the bride & groom well, have a bite to eat, & then head home before the ceremony.  ~20 faculty members were invited, so the school rented a bus to transport all of us to the wedding.  With only 1 break for tea, we made the trip in ~4 hours.  When we arrived, the bride & groom were already seated on a pair of matching thrones.  All of the guests were lined up to place a little bit of rice on the head’s of the bride & groom as a blessing to wish them well.  Nearby was a table on which was all of the stuff that the groom presented to the bride’s family to win her hand.  The GITAM crew sped quickly outside to the line for food.  A definite upscale version of Indian food was served.  Naturally rice & curries, & not all of it was that hot & spicy, thank god.  I had 2 helpings, 1 from each table, because I just had to make the comparison.  Dinner was followed by 2 scoops of ice cream, which was as close as I could get to my sundae on Sunday.  After chatting with my colleagues for awhile, the loaded up on sweets @ a renowned sweet shop nearby & headed back for home on the bus around 9 p.m.  I stuck around for the Hindu ceremony, which was quite an experience.  The groom was seated along with a couple of the Hindu priests as commenced chanting & what looked like making a number of food platters.  I’m generalizing because I’m told that there is a lot of symbolism in all of these rituals.  So for example, it looked like they placed a number of nuts, herbs, & spices on leaves of lettuce, rolled them up & moved on to the next platter.  The groom donned a special hat from time-to-time.  After ~45 minutes, the bride & her parents entered the stage & sat down on the mats behind a curtain which stood between them & the groom.  Then the bride & her parents did a lot more of the chanting & platter making.    At 1 point, it seemed like the bride washed the feet of her impending husband.  We could see most all of what they were doing despite being behind the screen because in typical Indian tech-fashion, they had a video feed which showed everything going on on a video screen to the left of the stage.  There was seating for a few hundred during the ceremony & it was about 1/2 full.  The bride & her parents came & went a couple of times.
Finally it seemed like they were married.  They took some coconuts in hand & paraded around in a circle around the place where they were seated on the floor & chanting.  Soon afterwards they started posing for pictures, but apparently were not done yet, because the groom took a seat again & joined the priests in chanting some more.  By that time it was midnight & I headed off to bed.
Did anything auspicious happen @ 11:13 p.m.?  Not as far as I could tell.
Here are a dozen differences I noticed with an American judeo-christian wedding:

  1. the ceremony involved the parents of the bride for an extended part of the ceremony.  It was explained to me that the reason for that is the bride’s family is essentially giving away their daughter to the groom’s family.
  2. inviting 1500 people is 3-5 X the biggest wedding I’ve ever attended in the US
  3. the ceremony was conducted in Sanscrit, a language very few even speak any more, so while the symbolism is important, very few understood the words that were being said
  4. @ 2 1/2 hours & more, the Hindu ceremony was @ least twice as long as most wedding ceremonies I’ve attended in the states.
  5. I was informed that changing the order of the dinner & ceremony was simply a time saving measure, in other words, if they were to have the ceremony 1st, then it would be in the morning to be followed by lunch.  I can understand why that’s not such a good option because it’s still sweltering here.
  6. There didn’t appear to be any wedding party, i.e. groomsman, bridesmaids, etc.
  7. There was a posse of 5 (?) poojarees who led the ceremony as opposed 1 priest
  8. The ceremony was very focused on the bride, groom, & her parents, while everyone else just watched, via a live video stream off to the side.  There were no readings or singing of any songs or music by the “congregation.”
  9. True to the Indian way, at least from what I’ve seen, is a certain amount of chaos, people entering & exiting the stage, the band playing loudly & then being silenced, & a bit of uncertainty of what to do next.
  10. The wedding was held much closer to the groom’s family rather than the bride’s, from what I’m told because 80% of the guests were from his side of the family.
  11. Aside from dinner, there was no socializing, dancing, or celebration in addition to the Hindu ceremony.
  12. The Hindu ceremony used fruit, coconuts, bananas, etc. more than any Christian wedding I’ve ever seen, I’m told for they symbolic significance.

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