Wednesday, January 20, 2016

You may not kiss the bride...

Before I had ever visited India or knew much about the culture or people, one thing that always came to my mind when I thought of the country were weddings. To be honest, growing up in Germany, India felt like an exotic country far far away and I didn't really know anyone who had ever been. It might come as a surprise to any British readers that finding Indian restaurants in Germany isn't actually that easy so not even the cuisine is something that I was familiar with. One thing that I had heard about though and at least I thought I could picture in my mind were Indian weddings... Thousands of people, bright colours, lots of food and dancing to Indian music. They just sounded so different to any wedding I had ever been to that it was something that fascinated me (and trust me, I'm not usually fascinated by weddings and everything that comes with them).

By the time we decided to move to India, I had been on holiday there, I had tried my fair share of curries (both British Indian and real Indian), had read various books about this history of the country and worked with Indians. As a result, I had also heard many first hand stories of Indian weddings and have to say I was hoping that sometime during our stay in India, we would get the chance to attend and Indian wedding ourselves.

Little did I know that we would end up having a wedding invitations before the visa. On a pre-visit to Mumbai, we met my old boss (who is from Mumbai) for dinner and I happened to mention that it would be cool to attend an Indian wedding at some point and without any hesitation he invited us to his cousin sister's wedding in 2 months time (just imagine you just deciding to invite two absolute strangers to your cousin's wedding - she would be thrilled wouldn't she?!). Such a kind invite and we were very excited but also not sure what to expect.

As we settled into life in Mumbai, the date of the wedding came closer and closer with neither Indiadam or myself with a clue about how to prepare. What should we wear, what do you do as wedding gifts, what are do's and dont's? Luckily, one of my old colleagues from London is from a Mumbai family and she gave me lots of useful tips on whatsapp on what to wear and where to shop.

With the wedding on a Monday, Indiadam and I set off on Saturday to get ourselves outfit ready for a proper Indian wedding. First mistake - when we walked into the Sari shop and told the helpful staff that I needed a Sari and a dress for Monday they looked at us in panic: "not enough time". For what I think? Tailoring the blouse and dress apparently... Ok, so we better get started. Walking into a Sari shop during wedding season is pretty mind blowing - cloth and colours everywhere, staff (weirdly all male) helping customer try on one Sari after another and the constant noise of shouting for the tailor, another sample etc.

We sat down, or more Indiadam sat down and had a nice cup of coffee while I had to decide the main question: Which colour for the Sari? My favourite colour is blue so I decided to go with that although I did get tempted by a bright pink/white Sari which I never thought I would but some of them just look and fall so nicely. The ones I tried out all came with a blouse, some plain but some in bright gold with lots of beautiful stitching on then. You can spend any amount of money you want on a Sari but think mine came to 8000 Rs in the end which is around 80 Pounds. You could say: Not that much for a wedding outfit. Or you could say: Quite a lot for a long piece of cloth. Either way, picture below

Next: dress for the evening - and again, the choice was overwhelming with a different guy spreading about 30 dresses of various cuts and sizes in front of me. Being a bit tired of trying on clothes, I saw a purple one liked, tried it on and went with it. The dress came with a beautifully stitched "scarf" that you wear over one shoulder but it goes all the way to your feet on both sides - not the easiest thing to wear but very pretty. Leaving the blouse and dress to be fitted, we were told we could pick them up at 7pm the next day, Sunday. Just in time for the wedding on Monday morning.

Some people who know me might have noticed there is something very unusual about this photo. I'm wearing jewelry! One thing a colleague of mine had suggested was to buy some bangles to go with the dress. Fortunately, there were around 50 different stores close to the Sari shop selling bangles. Ranging from corner stores to proper jewelers. We went to something in between and once again, the choice was overwhelming. So many different sizes and styles of golden bangles to be combined with colouful ones to complete my outfit. Indiadam was most impressed with how quickly the guys could count and put together perfectly symmetrical styles. I actually ended up buying both blue and purple bangles to go with my day and evening outfit but had to stop them making them so many that they would cover half my arm. After bartering a third of the price, I felt a little bit better about buying two cases of bangles I might never wear again - but hey, you don't go an Indian wedding every day

Last but not least, we needed an outfit for Indiadam. A kurta pyjama which I was really looking forward to seeing him wear. We got recommended a nice place called "Telon" in Santracruz which was very good but also very plush. A kurta pyjama basically consists of leggings and then a long pyjama looking overtop the length of a dress. Indiadam went with a dark red one, not knowing this would colour clash quite a lot with the turban he would be made to wear at the wedding - still a great look!

But enough of the shopping (Indiadam's exact thoughts), let's get to the actual wedding. We were extremely lucky and go invited to both, the ceremony during the day and the reception in the evening. We arrived at the venue around 9am in the morning to some Indian breakfast and various members of the families. A band was just setting up and final preparations were being made to the stage where the ceremony would take place... A picture is probably better than me trying to describe it :)

Before we could get started though, I had to get dressed. Putting a Sari on is actually very difficult and requires a lot of skill and practice and although Indiadam kindly offered to learn from a Youtube video, I didn't trust him to make it secure enough that it would actually hold all day (which is quite important if it is the main thing you are wearing). So when I arrived and asked for help, three women immediately ushered me to a room to dress me properly. After lots of adjusting with the help of many safety pins I was ready to go.

The preparation for the ceremony was quite relaxed, we met the groom and the bride who showed us the incredible henna she had gotten done on her arms and legs and explained the stories they were telling. Her jewelry and outfit was just amazing and she just looked stunning. The outfit is so different to the traditional white dress but just as beautiful (if not better).

At some point during the preparations, Indiadam got instructed to follow the other men "to get turban done". I didn't see him for about an hour and when he came back he came in a parade of dancing men, trumpets and pink turbans - quite a sight and sound!

The day was a combination of various traditions and ceremonies, some of them with quite a nice and playful touch. At some point for example the groom pretends to leave the wedding just to have to be convinced by the family to come back again. Or for the exchange of the garlands, the couple stand opposite of each other with a barrier (like a white piece of cloth) between then that they have to be lifted up over to exchange their garlands. The main part of the ceremony happens when the couple walks around the fire which seals the marriage. There are so many other parts I could describe in much more colourful detail but it might bore you a bit (and I have to admit I don't understand the meaning of a lot of rituals enough to do them justice). Worth noting is that the band plays/sings live in the background a lot of the day and the ceremony gets interrupted from time to time by impromptu dance sessions. The bride changed from one amazing outfit into another and got carried through the room in this - how cool is that?!

There were also some parts obviously that for us Europeans seem a bit weird, for example the part where the "ownership" of the girl passes from the parents to the husband or the fact that the bride's parents aren't present for some part of the ceremony... What I did admire though is the dedication and importance given to the rituals - so many people in Europe get married in a church and white dress because they like the idea rather than the meaning while the respect for tradition and the importance of the event can be felt in every detail of an Indian wedding.

It did get a bit chaotic at times with people pushing around the stage to get the best photograph - there must have been about three photographers and two camera men there all day. As the whole ceremony part takes quite long, snacks and drinks get passed around all day which I loved (remember, I am a food thief). Imagine someone passing around bag of crisps in the church :)

We left a bit earlier before the full ceremony had finished as we had to get back, get changed and return for the evening ceremony. That is the part where you have hundreds of people, an insane amount of food stalls that could keep you busy all evening and a big stage for the couple to meet all guests. The stage is just put up for the one ceremony and they can be very impressive - here is the picture from the one we went to

I'm not sure how much fun the reception is for the couple as they literally have to stand on the stage most of the evening, smile and shake hands. There is a queue to get up stage so after a while Indidam and I decided to join in. Before we got up, I did a briefing with Indidam of do's and don'ts that I had read up about. While the kissing is very much part of the rituals in any European wedding, the motto of an Indian wedding is definitely "you may not kiss the bride" - not the groom or anyone else. So I made sure I had instructed Indidam to ONLY shake hands with the bride rather than go for a cheeky cheek-kiss. He managed that but then did still manage a faux pax at the photo "booth" which actually was another photographer by putting his arm around the wife of my old boss. Luckily she took it very well but don't think it's the standard Indian photo booth photo...

Finishing the evening off with a few fireworks was a great end to our first Indian wedding. It truly was a special experience so if you ever get invited to an Indian wedding, make sure you go. And even if you barely know anyone, people are so inviting and friendly that you will no doubt have an amazing time. Just make sure you don't kiss the bride.

I want to finish with one more video, not from that wedding but from one of the ones that seem to happen every night next to our hotel and we have a prime view on everything that is going on from our room. And I thought after a month of nearly a wedding every night I had seen it all (massive stages, bands, crazy DJs, Mickey Mouse, bouncy castles). Have a look for yourself...

No comments:

Post a Comment