I do’s in India
Most girls dream of their wedding day. I remember as a child, my sister’s godmother had gifted my sister and me a Barbie wedding set. Barbie had a big white dress, Ken was in tux, and there was Skipper, Barbie’s younger sister, in a pink flower girl dress. A Western wedding has a walk down the aisle, dancing, a flower toss and perhaps a little rice throwing at the end. As a young, midwestern American, my culture manufactured my dreams to reflect the big poofy white dress (well, and big poofy hair, I was born in the 80’s). But you see, in India, little Bohri girls dream of colourful outfits, hand-painting, confetti, horses and a bit of hard negotiations along with their dreamy men.
My friend’s wedding got underway with a little engagement/ring ceremony for immediate family. Then, a couple of days before the wedding events, my friend and the groom filed the legal paperwork. The paperwork is written in the Muslim language of Arabic, and the recitation of the vows was in the mother-tongue of the Bohri’s (the specific sect of the Muslim religion our friends practice) called Gujrati. Talk about a foreign wedding experience! Neither the bride nor groom are fluent in Gujrati, so they said it was a bit of an adventure going through the vows.
One of the aspects that I thought was pretty awesome was prior to the wedding, the bride got a bit of Mehndi done. Mehndi, or henna as is it is more commonly known to most of my readers, is a dye used to apply temporary body art that usually lasts several weeks. Now, we’re not talking a little temporary tattoo on the shoulder or ankle, the bride’s body art is a full on fingertips to past her elbows and little toes to nearly her knees 😉 If you’ve never had any henna done, it’s a liquid/paste that is applied to the skin. If you are still for about 20 minutes, the henna will dry, and you can wash it off and it will have stained your skin. If you leave the henna on longer it will stain the skin deeper and darker. Now of course, if you have it decorated over your whole body, it takes a very long time to apply and to ensure the henna lasts throughout the festivities and into the honeymoon, the bride leaves it on as long as possible. This means that the bride can’t move all day on the day it is applied! She can’t use her hands so others must help her eat and drink even! There are lots of patterns that may signify different hopes and wishes for the relationship. Some patterns of course, are also just decorative. The artist also applied the letters of the groom’s name on the bride. The challenge then being the groom must find his name in her henna.
From a ceremonial standpoint, the religious marriage is performed at the Nikah. This was also the first event Andrew and I attended. The bride coordinated a bus from our hotel to the ceremony which took place one evening. Andrew and I arrived with several others staying in the same hotel and a nearby hotel. We arrived outside a Muslim Community Hall and there was heaps of activity, people moving this way and that. We kept getting brushed by and people kept hustling and bustling around the lot. There was the sound of chatting and laughing and music hanging in the air. Eventually, we saw the groom and his family, and the bride and her family exit the ornate building all dressed stunningly! The outfits were simply beautiful! The groom had a robe made of flowers and both he and his young nephew mounted a horse. Several family members presented the groom with gifts at this time. There was a band playing and there were men holding lamps to provide light for the outdoor portion of the evening. It was quite the scene! The groom and his nephew both rode their horses around the mosque with the band as Andrew, myself and most of those in attendance accompanied. I think all weddings deserve their own parade!
Talking merrily with the guests, it sounds as though each ceremony is always a little unique. There is a custom, but the rhythm and parade all vary by wedding, so everyone simply goes with the flow. The festivities drifted indoors and Andrew and I went our separate ways. Inside, modesty was appreciated and sexes were separated. The men all wore long sleeve, light coloured outfits and joined the groom and his family in the hall. The bride participates in this ceremony, but the primary actors are the groom and the bride’s father . Both join hands under a cloth as the groom promises to look after his father-in-law’s daughter. The bride watches the ceremony while reading passages from the Quran. The ceremony symbolizes the commitment between both parties. For both the ceremony and dinner, the women were seated in the opposite side of the hall from the men, separated by a partition. After removing my shoes and pulling my scarf over my head, I joined the other women sitting cross legged on the floor. I watched on a TV as the men’s ceremony was broadcast on the women’s side of the hall. The ceremony itself was very brief!
A beautiful flower arrangement and seat was prepared on the women’s side for the bride so she didn’t have to sit on the floor the whole time. Her outfit, from every hair in place to the most precise make-up, meant everyone, including the bride, were a bit timid at setting any piece of clothing or do out of place. The price of beauty, I suppose! The meal was served on a thaal, a round shared table that accommodates about eight or so guests seated on the floor. Each group sits around a thaal and share in a tiny bit of salt prior to starting the meal, another local practice. It didn’t take long for the bride to join us all on the floor and throw caution to the wind. As the meal was brought out one dish at a time the custom was to alternate the dishes from something savoury than something sweet.
Unfortunately, one of the first dishes was an ice cream. Why might this be unfortunate? Because I was sitting at the thaal with the bride, her sister, friends and cousins. In Western culture, we might be considered bridesmaids, in Indian culture, we would be called her Saivos. As is customary, we were to refuse to eat or let the bride eat and demand money from the groom’s father for taking the bride away from us. The groom’s family were aware of the shenanigans as the sound of us ladies banging and clanging metal spoons on the metal thaal easily pierced the partition. The men delayed as long as possible but eventually sent over someone to negotiate. We women drove a hard bargain and finally agreed to a price of 5000 rupees for the table. No matter that now the ice cream was bathing in a little puddle in the center of the bowl, the bride and her Saivos enjoyed the sweet taste of success. I think I can get used to this tradition 😉
So that was it! The bride and groom were legally and religiously married! Our stomachs were full and we were ready for some celebrations!