Sunday, March 11, 2012

Glimpses of a big fat Indian wedding

I spent a glorious three weeks in India last month. The main purpose of my visit was to attend a wedding. I love weddings! A wedding not only celebrates the life-long commitment between two people but it also culminates the coming together of two families. If you are looking for an elaborate, vibrant, colorful and traditional affair, in my opinion, there is nothing that quite beats an Indian wedding.  There usually is a series of pre-wedding, wedding and post-wedding rituals that can last for a few days to maybe even a month! The coming together of families and friends, the color and vibrancy of the fabrics, ornaments and flowers, the adorning of hands and feet with mehendi (henna), festive music, dancing, the delicious aroma of food and sweets wafting in the air, laughter and chatter ringing through the home and the non-stop celebration would make anyone feel upbeat and cheerful.

Although Indian weddings differ based on religion, caste, ethnicity, language and region, there are certain traditions, the basis of which are common to most of them. In my family (I hail from a South-Indian Brahmin community), weddings are very traditional and are full of rituals some of which can be quite elaborate. Prayers to God are incorporated at every stage. I don't know about the others but I enjoy every minute of it :) Each and every ritual and tradition no matter how insignificant or frivolous it might feel, has some depth and value to it. It pains me when I see the younger generation scoffing at traditions or mocking them without even knowing what they signify! After all, our ancestors had much more wisdom than we give them credit for. 

The wedding I attended was performed in the Shivalli Madhva Brahmin style. Most such weddings are a four day affair. The ritualistic ceremonies are held as per horoscopes of bride and groom at a particular time called 'muhurtha'. The process of marriage starts with 'Naandi' (literally meaning start). The naandi takes place in the groom's and bride's homes separately to ensure that the marriage takes place despite any circumstances. A ceremony is performed where the bride and groom have coconut oil and turmeric applied to them and are bathed in hot water followed by other rituals. A very old ritual called 'Kashi Yatre' is conducted either in the groom's house on the day of the naandi or the morning of the wedding where the groom pretends to be angry as nobody is searching for a bride for him. He announces 'brahmacharya' (celibacy) after which his maternal uncle stops him by convincing him that a nice girl has been chosen to be his life partner. This ritual is in fact quite fun! The main event of the marriage follows next after which lunch is served to the guests. In most cases, a reception is conducted in the evening the same day for family and friends with a dinner buffet. The wedding ritual of entry of the bride into her new home is called 'Gruha Pravesh'. The bride kicks a 'kalash' full of rice with her right foot kept at the threshold of the house. Generally the day after marriage, a ceremony called as the 'Bigara Authana' is held at the groom's place and consists of the Satyanarayana puja and other rituals followed by lunch. Fourth day is small function at bride's house called 'Aarthakshathe' where the 'shamiana' (house decorative) will be removed signifying the end of the ceremony. The bride and groom's 'basinga' (a decorative head piece specially worn on wedding day) is tied to a pole or a tree in the bride's house and the newly married couple will start their new life with the elders blessings. A visit to the temple by the newly weds is a common occurance.

Here are some images from the wedding I was at,

One of the last of the pre-wedding ceremonies is the mehndi.  A few days before the wedding, decorative mehndi/henna is applied to the hands and feet of the bride and the women in her immediate family by professionals or sometimes even very talented family members or friends! This is a very time consuming process and requires a lot of patience but the results are worth the wait! The mehndi is usually one of the most fun moments for a bride during the wedding.This particular picture was taken at home after a very patient 2 hour wait....the one in red is me by the way :)

The bride and groom's home comes alive with lights and flowers. What you see in this photo is the 'chappara'. Many a times, parents of the bride and groom, take the wedding as an opportunity to re-paint or renovate their homes along with undertaking a massive spring-cleaning to welcome the constant stream of guests that begin to arrive as the wedding date approaches. 

Most hindu weddings take place in a temple, wedding hall or sometimes even at home. The venue is usually a large one to accomodate the large number of guests from both sides of the families. 

The 'mantap' is where the actual marriage rituals take place and it is adorned with flowers and made to look beautiful. Now isn't that a pretty sight? 

The blushing bride wears a gorgeous kanjeevaram sari, is decked from head to toe with gold jewellery and her hair is adorned with beautiful flowers and ornaments. She is undoubtedly the most beautiful woman in the room on that day. In stark contrast, the groom doesn't have much to wear! It is very likely that you will hear him complaining about his attire....hahahahaha

The 'dhaare' symbolizes handing over of their daughter to the groom. The groom holds the bride's hand with a coconut and beetle leaves, while her parents sprinkle the holy water on their hands. 

After that the 'mangalsutra' or 'thali' is tied around the bride's neck. This takes place at exactly the pre-determined auspicious hour (muhurtha). As the groom does so, the 'gatti mela' is played loud and fast so as to muffle any inauspicious sounds at the critical hour. The groom ties three knots with the mangalsutra around the bride's neck, symbolizing the three supreme hindu Gods, Brahma, Vishnu, Maheshwara - the forebringer of love, happiness and friendship. 

As the guests take their seats in the venue to watch the wedding, the bride and groom's side family sprinkle rose water on all the guests and distribute kumkum (vermillion), arshina (turmeric), gandha (sandalwood paste) and flowers to the ladies present. 

Among the several other rituals (all of which I don't have pictures of), the ritual of washing the feet is carried out for both the bride and the groom. Here I am again (in the second picture), helping to wash the groom's feet :)

After the wedding rituals are completed, the guests sit down for lunch which comprises of vegetarian South-Indian food (mainly rice with various side dishes) served on a plantain (banana) leaf with an assortment of sweets and savoury items to complement the main meal. Alcohol is strictly not served at our kind of weddings.

The reception takes place after the wedding during which the newly married couple are greeted and congratulated by their families and friends. This is followed by a lavish buffet of some of the most scrumptious Indian, international and fusion dishes that are popular in India. This part is something I look forward to the most!

I hope you enjoyed these pictures. If you ever have the opportunity to attend an Indian wedding, please do so! It truly can be quite an unforgettable experience :)


  1. Awesome description megs :) I really wanted to write about my wedding too, but dint know all the rituals, this reminded me of all the rituals. There was one particular one that I remember where the bride's and groom's head band have to touch...pujari tells you to do that, wonder what's the significance of that :)

  2. Thanks Rosh. I know the significance of all the main rituals but those small small ones in between I don't know about :)

  3. hey i never knew abt this post! seeing it now... so nice!!!! :)

  4. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  5. I now do not feel guilty of missing Varsha's is so beautifully described with amazing photos. I was virtually taken to her wedding..Thanks Megha :)

  6. Thanks Prathima but u still should have attended. It would have made Varsha very happy :)

  7. Such a beautiful description indeed! Took me back in time:-) reminding me of my wedding.


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