Brent and I attended our first Indian wedding last week. It has taken me a whole week to think of a word that wholly describes an Indian wedding but even after a week I still can’t seem to pinpoint a word that can describe the enormity and magnificence of an Indian wedding. Incredible and overwhelming are two words continually popping into my mind but they just don’t do justice to this extraordinary affair.
The wedding we attended was that of a Sikh couple. Sikhism is a religion in India that approximately 1.9% of the population follow. It may seem like an insignificant number, but when you’re living in the birthplace of that religion (i.e. Punjab) it seems as though every person you meet is a Sikh. I will dedicate another blog to this religion but to put it into some context for you, the men who wear the turbans, often in vibrant and magical colours, are Sikh.
The wedding we attended was in Delhi and although we attended two of the three ceremonies I am told that in a traditional Sikh wedding there are many more, often up to six. The first night resembled something like an Australian wedding reception with a mere 100 or so ‘close’ friends and family of the bride coming together to dance and feast. It was a rather casual affair on our part, attending in jeans and a t-shirt, but the continuous Punjabi-style music pulsing through the brightly coloured red and yellow marquee resembled something of a grand affair. This pre-wedding ceremony was the Mehendi celebrations (commonly known to us westerners as henna tattooing) where the bride’s hands, arms, feet and lower legs are tattooed with temporary henna. I am told the Mehendi pattern transforms the bride from a virgin girl into a temptress for her husband. It is also believed that the darker your henna appears, the more your future mother-in-law will love you. Talk about pressure! The henna is also applied to friends and family and I happily joined in on this auspicious occasion only to regret it immediately after as I was told I had to wait two hours before I could touch anything. When dish after dish of sumptuous food is being served under your nose it becomes very frustrating not being able to use your hands!
With Brent and several Indian mothers’ hand- feeding me like a child I quickly filled up on delicious Indian foods only to be told they were ‘just snacks’ with the main meal being served shortly. Just when you think it is impossible to fit another morsel of food in your mouth, more food is brought out and it is considered the height of rudeness not accept this hospitality. Following the food came the dancing and unlike in Australia, it is the men who dominate the dance floor with some incredible Indian-style dance moves. While trying to imitate the Indian women’s moves, one mother forcibly pushed her son onto the dance floor next to me insisting that he speak and dance with me. The fact I was married seemed to be no issue for her and her infatuation with me and insistence on dancing with her son continued throughout the evening.
The following night was the wedding reception. Approximately 1200 guests piled into a colourful, fairy lit marquee complete with golden horse fountains, a red-carpet, fire-crackers, professional Punjabi dancers and a chariot for the groom. The marquee was lined with food buffets and stalls ranging from traditional Indian foods to a Pizza man making fresh pizzas. There was an ice-cream parlour, fresh fruit salads, a popcorn machine, salad bars and chapatti being made to order, just to name a few. In addition, waiters scaled the room all night offering snacks, mocktails, shakes and liquor.
Following tradition, the groom arrived late, veiled in his chariot. After his arrival, the bride surrounded by her brothers and cousins was solemnly led up the red carpet to meet with her groom who was waiting on a small, circular risen stage in the middle of the room. The bride is literally being given away and it is quite an emotion time. Once on the stage they exchange some sort of flower lei and rose petals are shot out of a funnel covering the couple. Afterwards they retreat to the centre stage where they remain all night while guests offer gifts, flowers and well-wishes. I am told the following day, there will be an official marriage ceremony in the Gurdwara, the Sikhs place of worship.
After completely stuffing ourselves we waddle out of the reception to head home. The reception is a rather short affair considering the amount of money and effort that goes into it. Most families begin saving for their daughter’s wedding the moment she is born and entire family savings can be spent on her dowry.