My Big Fat First Indian Wedding

I had no time to let the shock of India sink in. On Friday, after setting my stuff in the hotel, Dhara and I went straight to go get our nails done.  This definitely helped me relax after the initial shock of India.  After nails, I went to Dhara apartment for the Mehendi tradition, also known as the henna ceremony.  It’s traditional in Indian weddings for the bride to have her full arms and her feet painted in Henna.  Friends and family will generally have only their hands palms and their hands done.

The Henna starts out quite dark and is thick, and you aren’t supposed to move your hands for at least 2 hours until the henna dries/sets in, it was not easy not moving my hands for that long.  The longer you keep the henna ink intact, the darker the ink be.  This information was not told to me until the following day, until after I had washed off the Henna upon returning home.  You can see from the photos that my henna was significantly lighter than it was meant to be.

My hands should have turned out like Dhara’s below, however due to a miscommunication, opps, I washed the henna off my hands when I should have just just removed the henna by scraping my hands.  so my hands turned out much lighter then they should have been.  Did you realize that the henna actually tingles/burns when it is drying on your skin.
Opps, washed it off WAY too early!
What the Bride’s henna looked like. A much better result!

The Sangeet

The next day was filled with more wedding prepartions and lots of amazing food.  Her family made sure I enjoyed all of their home cooking, and trust me I did, but they wouldn’t believe me when I told them I was full, they just keep filling my plate (and truth be told it was so good I ate it until almost commatose).  I had some of the most amazing food I’d ever had while I was being hosted by her family. There were always two batches of food, one veg, one jain. I will give my friend tremendous credit, because she was so worried about me getting sick, all of my meals pre-wedding meals were home cooked and never once did I get sick. Although I almost got sick from over eating at one point! One take away from this trip will be for me to eat in more moderation and never over eat before you need to fit into a tight fitting dress.

Saturday night is what they call the Sangeet, which is known as the music festival.  Both the friends of the bride and the friends of the groom perform choreographed dances, something I’ve never witnessed before.  It was like a wedding reception before the wedding, definitely a good time.  Getting there on the other hand was quite an interesting experience.  Driving in Bombay is absolutely terrifying and I thought we were going to die several times during the trip to the Grapevine (where there was a roof top reception was, with delicious food and drinks of course).  

On the ride over we almost got into several car accidents, one incident in particular stands out.  While driving on the crazily congested roads, a car nearly backed into our cab.  Dhara promptly found me sitting nearly on top of her in the small cab. There were 4 others squashed into the cab and  they were quite enjoying my total fear of driving in this city.    I promptly needed a glass of wine when we got to the venue.  

I guess it’s also important to note that cars/cabs in India do not have side or rear view windows, so they use their horns to let any driver, biker or pedistrian they are coming up behind you to pass.  Need I say more.  But driving aside the night’s festivities were so much more interesting.

Vidhi was looking gorgeous as usual, and I was able to finally meet Dhara’s fiance (even though that was by nearly jumping on him and Dhara in the cab).  The event is usually just for family and close friends but fortunately being a guest from far away I was able to manage an invite.

During most of the evening I was chatting with several members of Dhara’s family, and they made sure that I tried every time of Indian food imaginable.  I must say I did enjoy the food more then I ever would have thought.  All of it was absolutely amazing, and even though it was all vegetarian you really couldn’t tell.  I really do love spicy food, but it turns out too much can be bad for your immune system but that we’ll address later. 🙂

I spent a great deal of time by myself during the night, but after the dancing I finally joined Dhara, the bride to be, her future husband and friends who did nothing but try to make me feel welcome.  Below are some pictures right before the performances began.  It was a lot of fun watching them on stage dancing to traditional indian music with your best friends, similar to how we might have dance to Britney Spears in our living rooms together..

Most of the actual pictures I have are movies.  Hopefully the movie links work  but knowing my luck with technology they won’t.  I couldn’t even believe that the guys all got up there and danced.  They all had so much fun, I wish I could have been more apart of the action.  The guys dancing was absolutely hysterical.  I have to give them props because I don’t think any American guy would ever do anything of the sort, being a groomsman. As the night wrapped up everyone left in extremely high spirits and ready for the Sunday excitment.

My First Indian Wedding

I’ve been to many weddings back in the states, but it is safe to say that Indian weddings are unlike anything I’ve ever experienced.  As you read in my prior posts, there are many different traditions that ensue before the actual wedding day and I was only a part of a few of them.  Weeks before the wedding there are cocktail parties and receptions to celebrate the upcoming nuptials, and having arrived just days before the wedding it was exciting to see everything culminate before the big day.  

Sunday, the day of the wedding started out as a normal day for any bride to be with everyone frantically making sure everything was ready for the departure.

Vidhi had to leave the house before 12:30 because based on Indian traditions there are “auspicious” times that need to be observed in order to ensure the success of the marriage.  From 11-12:20, everyone was running around, making it quite a frantic morning. The phrase running around like a chicken with it’s head cut off comes to mind, to be honest.  There were tears and prayers, then more tears, and with the camera crew filming the family event, my job was to try and keep Vidhi and Dhara as calm as possible with all of the madness surrounding them; not an easy task.  By the time her departure arrived, she was whisked away in a car beautifully decorated with flowers, at which time, I then was able to begin getting ready for the day’s event.

After straightening my hair and applying my make up, and once again over eating way to much delicious Punjab food, I was able to rest for a an hour or so until it was time for me to be dressed in my hot pink Sari.  It was my first time wearing a sari and it was definitely a different experience.  To be honest, I was very uncomfortable.  Sari’s are draped and tucked into places that made me feel like, at any moment, it could come loose and leave me exposed.  Fortunately, Dhara’s aunt made sure to use a large number of safety pins to give me some slight assurance that the Sari would remain intact throughout the evening.

We left for the banquet hall around 2 arriving at about 2:30 and there was drama from the minute I arrived.   The banquet hall was beautifully decorated, but all that got lost, in almost the immediate drama going one when we arrived. The drama being the makeup artist and hair stylist had still not arrived!!  She was over an hour and half late and the clock was ticking closer and closer to the start of the ceremony.  It wasn’t until 3:30 when they arrived leaving all the women of the family in a frantic rush to get Vidhi ready in time.

Before the ceremony actually begins (with the groom that is) there is a pre-ceremony that must be performed at an “auspicious” time which, shall I say was almost missed because of the late start of the make up artist.  We actually had to rush her out unfinished in order to uphold the tradition.

I’m not sure exactly what this pre-ceremony actually entails but the family all gathers around in the hall and there was some type of burning/fire ceremony that made the hall quite smoky actually.  I did make an effort to learn what the meaning of all these different ceremonies were but everyone was very preoccupied trying to get back on schedule that there wasn’t much time for anyone to explain them to me, so I found myself just going with the flow most of the afternoon.  It also didn’t help that the everything was performed in Hindi, so even if I had an idea of what was going on I wouldn’t have been able to understand a word that was said.

After this part of the ceremony the fun really began, with the arrival of the groom.  Unlike anything I’ve seen before, the groom along with all of his friends and family come down the street with a band announcing the long anticipated arrival of the groom.  There is dancing in the street and the money being waved at all of the band members to encourage them to play the music louder and louder.  Everyone from the brides side of the family then congregates at the entry of the banquet hall and wait expectantly for the groom to make his debut.

It took about 40 minutes for the parade of friends and family to make it the 200 yards to the actual entrance hall.  Part of me believes that it took so long because Jai (the groom) was trying to buy more time for Vidhi and Dhara to finish getting ready.

There were several times I was pulled into the dancing extravaganza.  I wish I had a cocktail or two to enhance my dancing, but I was so nervous about my Sari falling off that my dancing was subpar at best. 🙂

Once inside, Vidhi had to jump and struggle to place a wreath of flowers around Jai’s neck, while his friends made it nearly impossible as they kept hoisting him higher and moving him around from side to side.  It was a miracle that he didn’t fall down either.  This was when the actual ceremony began and it was the most unique ceremony I’ve ever experienced.

The ceremony starts immediately after the groom is returned to the floor.  He proceeded to the “altar” for lack of a better word while friends and family hurry in to get their seats.  Vidhi, myself, and 3 others shuffled quickly back to the brides changing room for mere moments where we prepared for the entrance of the bride.  Being a bridesmaid it was my responsibility to hold a cloth of some sort over the bride.  Unfortunately I do not know the name of this, but it is quite an important aspect of the bride’s entrance.

As the bride enters the wedding hall, a cloth is held in front of the groom so that he cannot see her. During the bride’s entry auspicious music is played (usually nada-svaram).  After cloth is dropped and the groom can see the bride the ceremony begins and I promptly became lost in everything that was going on. 

Unlike American weddings where the guests all sit and watch the ceremony, the guests at the wedding are up moving around barely even paying attention to what is going on during the ceremony.  Most people are actually battling over the food being served in the back of the hall.  

The ceremony can take hours which is why, I’m assuming, people were paying little if no attention to the bride and groom center stage.  There are 7 stages to the wedding, but apparently this wedding was only performed with 4 stages.  Below will be a link to a Hindu wedding site for those interested to learning more about the ceremony.  Given that it was all in Hindu I didn’t have a clue what was going on during the entirety of the ceremony, and my translator, Dhara was apart of the wedding, I saw her less than I saw the bride.

It was about half way through the ceremony where I found the friends of the groom, and I was so unbelieveably thankful for that. I only knew Dhara and Vidhi and they were center stage for this event as was the rest of her family, so I was basically on my own for the entirety of this wedding. I was less concerned about being the only white person amongst a sea of Indians, than I was not being able to speak to the languange. Trying to communicate proved to be much harder than. expected as I was trying to politely make conversation. It wasn’t until I stepped out for a smoke, that I found, quite literally, all of my contemportaries in the car park, music playing quietly and the boot open (trunk).

I might not have mentioned this before but I only found out this was a dry wedding once I was at the reception. If I knew where I was and wasn’t dressed in a really nice sari I probably would have roamed the streets for a package shop, but I was out of my element. Thank my lucky stars I had bought a pack prior to leaving for the wedding else I would have never have found where all of the, dare I say, “kids” were hanging out.

They were the smart ones, who had, what I refer to as the Car Bar, a fully stock car with all necessary types of beverages, outside of the wedding hall.  There was no alcohol at the reception (unbeknowst to me) so I came as quite a relief that while there was no drinking inside the wedding, but there was some outside of it. I was extremely grateful to all of them for taking me under their wing and keeping me company during such an overwhelming event.

The girls were great and made me feel right at home.  They even got me up on stage during part of the ceremony, throwing flowers at the bride and groom and they even pulled me into a dance routine that served as an introduction for the newly weds at the reception.

 The receptions started about 40 minutes after the ceremony was over and consisted of food, food and more food, and some occassional mingling.  I was the only white person at the wedding and didn’t know anyone except the members of the family and they were busy to say the least.  The reception for the family consists of receiving the guests and taking picture after picture after picture with everyone invited to the wedding.  Hopefully Dhara will be sending some of the professional pictures taken during the evening but below are some I managed to snap when I was able to briefly steal Dhara away from the family.

Sisterly love (Vidhi (L) and Dhara (R) pictured below)!  The family wasn’t able to eat and enjoy the food until around 11/midnight once the majority of the guest had left.  It was there they were able to enjoy the amazing food and share in another traditional Indian tradition by feeding one another small portions of what ever they were being served.

Vidhi and Jai’s wedding cake.

Vidhi and Jai

An example of the Bride and Groom feeding one another a taste of the treats

 It isn’t just family that feeds one another but friends make sure they are part of the action and feed both the bride and groom.  I even par-took in this tradition.

It was a long day and even a longer night.  Indian weddings are like a marathon day and I don’t know how the family managed to survive.  There were some 700+ people there and they had to say hi to all of them, and by Indian standards this is apparently SMALL!  It was definitely an experience I will never forget, and when/if I ever get married I will be relieved knowing that there won’t be half as many people and the ceremony will be much less complex and intricate.

The Newlyweds sharing a traditional indian snack during their wedding dinner.
The cake smash doesn’t always happen between bride and groom! Jai’s friend playfully fed, then smashed the cake in face during part of the long await reception dinner.

Below are some links with more information about the traditional customs that occur during a Hindu wedding ceremony.