Friday, February 22, 2013

AN INDIAN WEDDING

Last week Charlie and I made our first public saree debut. It was epic. Not just because we were two white girls in sarees, but because of the event surrounding the reason for donning sarees. The occasion was an Indian wedding. Somehow we managed to snag an invitation to the reception and wedding ceremony of one of the physios who currently works at the CMC Rehabilitation Institute. We had purchased sarees with the hope that we would be able to wear them at a wedding here. Cultural (diving in), ya know? And to a wedding dressed in sarees we went!

The wedding was a Hindu wedding, which basically means it was full of unique traditions that completely baffled me. Thursday night we attended the wedding reception, which actually took place prior to the wedding ceremony. This was the event we dressed up for. The reception was to start at seven thirty that evening, so our brave escort, Neeraj, told us to meet him at Bagayam Junction at eight o’clock. Charlie and I spent time that evening washing the day’s grunge off, and wrapping ourselves up in beautiful colors of pinks, purples, reds and oranges. Mrs. George helped us wrap, fold, and pin the saree material in all the right places so that we would look presentable and then off we went. We looked good.

In my saree.
When we started out, the sky had lost its vibrant hue and had turned an ominous warm, gray color. We took no thought of it since the monsoon season was on the other side of the calendar year, and we were told that it never rains outside the monsoon season. Besides, I’m from Seattle and Charlie is from England—both locations of heavy rains. We weren't fazed when we felt the first drop. We continued on down our lane drawing a different kind of attention as two white girls in sarees. A few more drops scattered across the path in front of us as the neighborhood girls came running out to greet us. We greeted them, laughed with them, and once again repeated our names to them while carrying on a discussion about the increasing number of rain drops. In an attempt to boost our confidence about wearing the traditional attire we found ourselves in, one of us jokingly made the flippant comment that we looked so hot in our sarees the rain showed up to cool us down. And boy did the rain show up. By the time we reached Bagayam Junction the rain was no longer a smattering of random drops. It was a full-fledged, legitimate rain event.

We found Neeraj hidden under the shelter of the bus stop at Bagayam Station. The crooked little grin on his face let us know that 1.) two white girls dressed to the nines in sarees truly was a sight to behold, and 2.) he meant it when he said he hated the rain. He told us to wait there while he ran to get an auto for us. By the time we had loaded into the auto the rain was pouring from the sky. The parched Indian soil retaliated from the surprise attack of the torrential downpour by rejecting the waters and sending them streaming down the roads as muddy raging rivers.

As our auto driver carefully and cautiously ushered us to the wedding venue, Charlie and Neeraj (who were both sitting to the outside) became more and more soggy. It wasn't until we had to make a mad dash for the door that I got my share of the rain. If two white girls in sarees wasn't enough of a sight, then two white girls with the sarees hiked up to their knees romping through shin-deep puddles was! Again, we couldn't help but laugh. What a way to make a debut appearance!

Upon arriving at the venue, we were warmly greeted by the locals with many comments on how impressive it was to see us in sarees. We were soon steered up the stairs to the marriage hall. We had been warned that people would watch us closely when we showed up in sarees, but I’m not sure Charlie or I had been adequately prepared for what ensued as we entered the hall. I can’t really even describe what happened or how it felt, but I am tempted to believe that every eye turned to watch us take our seats. I hoped and prayed that I wouldn't trip on my saree as I sat down.


Ligie (physio), Pearlin (OT), me and Charlie before the wedding. 
The music was loud and not in a language that I understood. It was also not in a cadence that I understood or found particularly pleasing. I guess my ear had not been trained for that style of music. During the reception the bride and groom stood on stage while their friends and family passed by stopping briefly to offer congratulatory words and pose for professional photos. Charlie and I found the rest of the CMC therapy family and joined the lady therapists as they passed through for their photo and chance to offer well wishes. We tried to sneak to the back of the pack for the photo, but the groom and photographers called us out and made us sit front and center. There was no hiding happening there!

Hephzy, the one who taught us how to warp a saree, met us there with her stunning smile.

Neeraj, myself, Charlie entertaining ourselves while we waited for the bride and groom.

Neeraj. I think he had about had it with his two white wedding buddies by this time, but put on a brave front for us anyhow. (Thanks, Neeraj!)
The bride and groom!
A wedding goer. He was totally into the whole wedding thing.... or not.  
Dinner was served all evening. When we were ready to eat, we found a place at the table and began to eat. The instructions given to me were as follows: “Eat fast. Eat a lot, but make sure you eat fast.” Here’s how dinner went. Long rows of narrow tables had been arranged with seating to one side. A large banana leaf was set at each place with an assortment of chutneys, dal and sambar. As soon as we took our seat, a team of caterers appeared and scooped veg biryani, chapattis, and goodness knows what else on our banana leaf plates. We began to devour our food like there would be none tomorrow. It was so amazing. Might even be the best food I've had to date. Charlie quizzed Neeraj on what we were eating while I quizzed Manoj (a rehab physio who had joined us at the venue for the festivities). When we had had our fill, we were instructed to simply fold our leaves over to let the staff know that we were done.  If we didn't quickly fold the leaf, someone would come around and dish another helping of something. We also learned that if we happened to finish one of the dishes, it would not go unnoticed and someone would quickly serve us more. This taught us to purposely leave just a little bit of each dish untouched to avoid getting too much food. After our plates were folded, someone came around and tossed them into a bin to be fed to the cows and another fresh leaf was laid in its place for the next person.
An out of focus Neeraj enjoying a wedding feast!
This was breakfast, served on banana leaves. 
A row of tables at the marriage banquet. 
After we had dinned and met with the bride and groom, the three of us found a ride back to Bagayam Junction where we met Alok for what was supposed to be a late-night run for juice. We ended up just walking back in the slick mud and laughing at each other as we slid around. Charlie and I had been invited to the wedding ceremony the next morning, and convinced Alok to bunk work in order to join us and interpret what was going on during the ceremony. We had put poor Neeraj though enough that night and decided he deserved the morning off.
Myself, Charlie, Shikha (cardio physio), and a visiting friend.  

Heavenna, Anu, Hephzy, Charlie, Maria, myself, and Anumeha (all physios or physio students... except for myself.)

Manor, Charlie, and Neeraj

Manoj, myself, and Neeraj
The wedding began at seven thirty the next morning. We met Alok around seven at Bagayam Junction and headed back to the same venue. As we all had to work that day, we were dressed in our everyday attire which reduced the number of funny stares we received. Despite having Alok with us, Charlie and I were still very confused about what was happening during the ceremony. All we knew was that it was loud and colorful… As Charlie noted, it was pretty much the epitome of India. We stayed for about an half hour before heading to the banquet hall for a breakfast meal that was served in a similar fashion as the dinner meal the night before. We were old pros at it but this time.

The bride and groom wore fancy garlands during the wedding. 
Not really sure what is going on here, but it was very ceremonious. 

Gopi is cracking a coconut on the edge of the stage.... maybe to put out the flame that is about to light his bride's saree on fire? 
Love her hair piece... though it doesn't look that comfortable!

The happy groom.
The women of the family performing their wedding ceremony duties... whatever they may be. 
Our wedding affair ended with far less fanfare then it began with as Charlie hired an auto to take her back the CMC Rehabilitation Institute while Alok and I took the next bus to the CMC main hospital to begin our day of work. Nothing like kicking Friday off with a morning wedding event. I have been told that this was a “late” wedding as many Hindu wedding ceremonies will happen at two in the morning or so. Gah!

All in all it was a lovely event and I am pleased that we were able to get an invitation to such an affair. 

2 comments:

  1. What a gorgeous ceremony!!! And I can see why you and Charlie stood out! Besides being the only white girls, you both were stunning!!!

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  2. Importance of Mehndi in Indian Weddings...

    Indian marriages are known for their many rituals. In fact, the beauty of Indian weddings comes forth in the numerous traditions that are associated with the special celebration. Marriages being the most important day in one's life, mehndi has become an ornament for the soon to be brides. Infact one whole ceremony dedicated to its celebration popularly known as "Mehndi Ki Raat".Indian marriages are incomplete without dance, music and lots of laughter.

    It is a common belief that the darker the color the mehndi leaves on the hands on a bride, the more will she be loved by her husband and mother-in-law. However, the significance of applying mehndi during weddings is not restricted just to sentiments and beliefs. Although these beliefs make the application of mehndi a much anticipated and charming tradition, the actual reason is of much deeper significance.

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