This is Part Four of a continuing series on my Indian wedding adventure. If you’re new to Gori Girl, try checking out Part One, where the story starts.
When I last left off on the story of our wedding in India (see part three), I had just arrived, as the picture above shows.
The lovely lady trailing behind me is a friend of the family (and Aditya’s childhood math tutor), who’d been helping me with all the preparations – it was like she was an older aunt of mine for the day. There were flowers ALL OVER the place as I arrived – from where the car dropped me off to the second floor hall where the ceremony would be, I was surrounded by sheets of flowers, while walking under flower arches (spelling Aditya’s and my names in flowers) and over a red carpet, just like you see at movie premiers. Of course, the only person who took pictures of this wonder was my uncle, who, of course, has not yet gotten around to sending me his photos.
After I climbed the stairs I was presented with the hall itself, and everyone decked out to the nines:
This is one of Aditya’s cousins and his wife and daughter. Isn’t she adorable? This couple were always around helping out during the wedding planning, wedding ceremony, and reception. You’ll notice that most (but not all) of the men are in Western suits, not traditional Indian outfits, altho either are acceptable for formal wear. Women almost always wear saris. In fact, here’s a picture of my mom in one she borrowed:
When Maa offered that sari for me to take home after the wedding, I did a little happy dance inside. Man, that jewel-toned turquoise is gorgeous!
Although it wasn’t too late in the evening (maybe seven or eight?), some of the smaller kids were becoming a bit tired. Here’s Bappada in another turquoise outfit with his slightly sleepy son:
This kid (let’s call him R, for red) was an absolute hoot – so friendly & talkative – and he had a decent ability in English, although he didn’t always remember that I didn’t speak Hindi or Bengali. Later that night, while we were driving home, R started babbling out complete nonsense – things he’d overheard adults saying during the day. He was so tired! Just a random, running stream of English/Bengali/Hindi phrases, over and over again.
I’m not sure how many of you are familiar with Indian weddings, so I’ll be discussing some of the very basics. One thing that confuses most Westerners is how the ceremony isn’t absolutely the center of attention for all guests at all times. Everyone is serious about the wedding, but there typically isn’t a “formal” vibe during them. People get up, grab food, chat to each other in quiet voices, children ask questions and move around, and so forth. I guess the best way to describe it as a celebration of family with the bride and groom as the star attractions, rather than a celebration of the bride and groom, period. Personally, I liked the philosophy – less stress because there wasn’t a feeling of “it’s the big day and everything has to be perfectly perfect because everyone is here just to see you.” Instead, everyone is there to celebrate the newly expanded family.
These two boys are cousins, but don’t get to see each other often. The boy in yellow, Y, is about six months older than R. Y took his “older cousin” position very seriously, and wanted to have R sit down on his lap, or at least on the couch next to him. R wasn’t having any of it. The tussle ended with R victorious:
Can you tell I absolutely adored these kids? Well, I love pretty much all kids – as long as I can return them at the end of the day. That’s the great thing about being an aunt – spoil them, then give them back to their parents. We’ve got five little munchkins (one EXTREMELY small – he was born just a few days ago) running around in the immediate family on both sides, and one more expected in the fall.
There are more pictures of the guests up at my flickr page, but I suppose you’ll are wondering what happened to the bride and groom? Well, Aditya had arrived at the hall first, and was chilling with his cousin:
The maroon color of his outfit (and mine too!) is Maa’s favorite color, apparently, and since she picked the outfits… Traditionally, I think the groom wears white. That factoid has always struck me as a bit odd, given that white is the color of mourning in Hinduism. Of course, Western grooms wear black suits or tuxes, which is the West’s mourning color – so perhaps this is just a cross-cultural, um, acknowledgment of men’s view of matrimony? Anyways, Aditya was grinning too much for me to suspect he was getting cold feet.
Some of you who are more familiar with Indian weddings might be wondering why Aditya hadn’t shown up on the traditional horse or elephant, or why I wasn’t carried in by my brothers or whatever. Well, Aditya and I aren’t big on massive events, and neither one of us were interested in the days-long series of ceremonies you see in a traditional Bengali wedding. Instead, we wanted something short and sweet, while still celebrating Adiya’s culture and religion.
We opted for an Arya Samaj wedding, which is sort of back-to-the-Vedic-basics wedding. The Arya Samaj reformation movement wedding ceremony incorporates the fundamentals of Hindu beliefs, but in a pan-India manner – no regional or ethnic quirks. The ceremony is much shorter than a traditional Hindu wedding, and has no wildly elaborate (again, compared to the Hindu norm) rituals. Furthermore, the priests believe very strongly that the participants should understand exactly what they’re doing, and why. Most Hindu religious events are conducted in the ancient language of Sanskrit, which very few Indians actually understand (it’s as dead as Latin). Aditya has studied Sanskrit for eight years, but Maa and Baba searched out an Arya Samaj priest who was fluent in English for me. During the wedding, Aditya and I recited our vows in Sanskrit, but the priest first translated everything for me (and most of the guests).
After my arrival
Rather than making a big arrival (dum dum dee dum), and starting the ceremony off with a bang, we eased into things a bit by first greeting guests, which is typical for Bengali weddings. Aditya and I sat on our awesome thrones while guests came up to say hello. I also managed to catch a few minutes to tell Aditya that he cleans up well:
I look a little taller than Aditya here, but that’s because my throne was set a few inches higher, and he slouches.
Aditya’s sister, who was 8.5 months pregnant at the time, wasn’t able to travel to Calcutta for the wedding. Instead she called to wish us both well. I love the juxtaposition of a cell phone with traditional Indian attire in this photo:
Can I take a moment to sigh over the sari, jewelry, and accessories that made up my bridal outfit (I actually just ran upstairs to look at it again!)? The sari was so, so gorgeous – a deep red silk, with dark maroon detailing, and gold thread embroidery. It’s also a color that doesn’t scream bridal sari so I’ll be wearing it again next chance I get. The jewelry was given to me by Maa, and was equally fabulous. And by fabulous, I mean “this looks like something out of a movie or museum” amazing. I also haven’t had much chance to wear it again (clearly, Aditya and I need to go to more formal events where you can wear rubies and diamonds and stuff) – but I get it out every now and then just to look at. Maybe with the new job I’ll be able to wear a piece or two to work – they’re a little less overpowering when not worn as a whole. And then there’s the golden veil that CaliforniaTransplant envied (hope your wedding planning is going well!) – while I found it a little too, um, shiny when I first saw it, the veil ended up fitting into the whole outfit very well. It was pinned into my hair along with those three roses and the tikka (thing on forehead) that matched the sari perfectly. Ah… playing princess for an evening was so much more fun than I expected it to be. Aditya was looking like the proper prince, too, but boy clothes aren’t as much fun to discuss. Less bling, donchaknow?
Let’s get this party rolling
While Aditya and I were greeting guests – and in my case, quietly freaking the heck out from the otherworldly-ness of it all – the priests were finishing up setting things up at the mandap. The wedding ceremony takes place at the mandap which is an area, often a raised platform, with four pillars and a canopy. Ours had four pillars of flowers curving in to meet together in the middle. From left to right, here’s Bhabhi (sister-in-law), Dada (brother) and two family friends in front of it, pre-wedding:
I really like this picture, especially, the lighting! Behind them, the younger priest was in charge of the fire pit:
The young man was a full Arya Samaji priest, but still in training. Their outfits were pretty neat – just as colorful as the rest of Hindu weddings. He took care of the fire during the ceremony, and passed out the tools and other things when needed. I like how he arranged flower petals around the fire pit, which was placed right in the center of the mandap.
“Officially” an Arya Samaji priest can only marry two Hindus, since the movement believes that Hinduism – as embodied in the Vedas – is the way to go. Our priest was a bit more relaxed, though, and didn’t require any formal conversion from me, although I do consider myself a Hindu at this point (more on this in another blog post!). I do admire the Arya Samaji movement quite a bit – among other things, they take a firm stance against child marriage, the caste system, and untouchability. I don’t think that most Westerners realize that these things were developed culturally in India, and don’t have an actual basis in the fundamental Hindu texts.
Anyways, back to the wedding. We also had a set of religious musicians for the ceremony. They accompanied the head priest as he chanted the different Sanskrit mantras, which transformed the chanting into almost a song. It was pretty awesome. There was a drummer, a wind instrumentalist, and a musician on a keyboard:
Once everything was ready, and the guests were greeted, Aditya and I walked over to the mandap, taking off our shoes before we stepped onto it. It was time to get going!
This was the first ceremony we did, and marked the start of the whole official wedding ceremony business. The garlands were absolutely beautiful, but I didn’t realize how heavy they were until the head priest handed me one:
The flowers were carnations and roses, I think, and strung on a thick, strong cloth cord. Little did I know that the flowers would seem to get heavier and heavier – and the cord sharper and more razor-like against my neck- as the wedding ceremony continued. Still, it was totally worth it.
You can see how the light’s changing in these next few shots, as we exchange garlands.
I was so nervous! And happy! Ah, weddings… I’ve got a big grin on just remembering this. First I gave him a garland, stretching a bit to get it over his head… then it was Aditya’s turn, with me ducking to facilitate the effort while keeping my hair & veil straight.
And that’s how we started our wedding ceremony. I think I’ll leave off here, for now. Be sure to check out my flickr page for more photos of the wedding.