Monday, February 05, 2007


As everything else in India gets turned upside down and sideways, why not weddings as well? In the west, we all wait for the bride to arrive and when she does, everything begins. Here, is it quite the opposite. It is the bride and the bride’s guests and family that wait for the groom and his family and guests to arrive… And what an arrival it is, but I am getting slightly ahead of myself.

I have come to learn a new term – IST – which to the rest of the world means Indians Standard Time, but here it is jokingly, if not accurately referred to as Indian Stretchable Time and how it does tend to stretch. I quickly got over the idea that 6pm would mean 6 pm, but I am having a hard time coming to terms with 6pm being 8:30, which is exactly what happened the night of the wedding. We raced from the fort, weaving in and out of donkey carts and rickshaws, back to the hotel to get ready. We were going to be picked up at 6pm, so like the painfully punctual person I am, I was ready and waiting at 5:45, sitting in the lobby in my kurta pyjamas and wedding juttis (see picture above) waiting for the others to arrive. Soon, there were three of us, waiting for the car to come get us and take us to the starting point of the festivities.

We had been told we would be part of a procession and would walk with the groom and his party to the place where the bride, looking shy, meek, humble, heavily beaded and sequined would be waiting. My juttis are pointy little slippers made from leather and gold silk, with dark red embroidery. I got them specifically to match the gold pants, dark top and gold scarf I was wearing, which you can see in the picture. About 20 minutes into waiting, I was beginning to wonder if new shoes, and pointy ones at that were really a good idea, especially after we were told we would be walking for about a kilometer. I thought to myself, “what would Carrie Bradshaw do?” and I knew that I had no choice. Fabulous shoes over anything else and so I kept them on my feet. 2 ½ hours and several phone calls later, the car finally arrived to take us to the starting point of the procession and once there we had little nibbles and drinks, waiting for the groom to arrive so he could be dressed and placed on his horse which was adorned with elaborately embroidered fabric.

The groom was in a white wedding suit, white turban with a garland of flowers around his neck. Once he was dressed, we were escorted outside where a band began to play, and if I have my explanation right, they were calling for the groom. The Groom came out, got on his horse and that is when everything when into a blurred frenzy of activity, lights, noise, music, arms, legs and colors. The procession is called “Barat” and it is one of those things that has to be seen and experienced to be understood or believed, but I will do my best to describe it… I am not sure if they are always the same, but the ones I have seen and the one I was a part of were all similar. The barat is bordered by several women carrying light structures on their heads, various musicians and in the back, is the groom atop his horse backed by a flashing light display which reminded me of something one would find at a carnival. Within these borders are the relatives and friends of the groom and the grooms family.

The barat moves a few meters, with everyone dancing and then stops. The music picks up pace and volume and the pace of the dancing increases until limbs are being thrown in every direction possible and people are bumping into people and the whole outside world becomes a blur. This keeps increasing for several minutes until it dies down, the barat moves a few meters further and the whole thing begins again. Supposedly in a local wedding, the presence of foreigners raises the status of the wedding in the community. That meant that everyone wanted to dance with me and I was soon out of breath, had muscle pain in my stomach, couldn’t feel my feet anymore and just had to keep going. My feet were getting stomped on, I was hot, sweaty and loving every minute of it. It was amazing fun…

We soon arrived at the location where the bride and her family and friends were waiting… Most of the barat party went inside, and several of them were kept outside… Including the token foreigners that then danced in a circle around the horse. The groom was taken off the horse and we were then all given garlands of orange flowers, which were then ripped off their strings and tossed over the groom for good wishes and blessings. We went inside where the bride and groom exchange flower garlands and then greet their guests and spend a few hours taking pictures. The Hindu bride is supposed to be shy and humble, and while she may smile (shyly, of course) she is not to laugh or to show too much pleasure at her own wedding. I at first thought she was not enjoying he whole thing at all, but it was explained that this was about honor and tradition. A Hindu wedding is not about two people getting married and spending their lives together, it is about 2 families merging and becoming one family, most of the burden of adapting being placed on the bride.

I had a conversation with a friend of mine yesterday about arranged versus love marriages and I will write about that another time after I have looked into it a bit more. The final step a couple has to do before being married is the “sapta padi” or seven steps which they take together while the 7 vows are led by a Brahmin or priest. They take their vows before God, symbolized by light and fire, walking around the fire seven times. Unfortunately, due to having to catch our car back to Delhi, we missed that part. The festivities go often until 7, 8 or later in the morning and so that will have to be saved for my next Hindu wedding, which will be in a few months when another colleague gets married…

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