Indian weddings are always intriguing to the Western imagination – they supposedly last for days, include elephants, loads of jewelry and music and a riot of colors. An exaggeration, right? I am happy to report that the wedding my husband and I attended in November lived up to our imagination and then some…
We’ve known the groom Lalit for 5 years or more. We buy furniture from his family in Jodhpur. When he informed us it was his turn to get married, we jumped at the chance to celebrate it.
His bride Shipra was introduced to him about 3 months before the wedding. She hails from the lovely city of Udaipur. 90% of all weddings in India are arranged. These arrangements are based on the couples religion, caste, profession and appearance.
The day we arrived in Jaipur we joined the family at their home and participated in traditional henna painting. Usually the women of the family get their hands painted, as well as the bride and groom. Traditionally the initials of the bride are painted into the groom’s hands and the bride must find them (or risk bad luck). Local village women chanted outside the groom’s room as he was treated with a face masque. They chanted all night long.The painting itself took about half an hour, and about 5 hours to dry. By the end of the evening we were impatient and started picking the dried henna off rather than wait until the morning. Fortunately the henna dye took.
The next evening we joined the family for a huge song and dance performance. There were about a 1000 (yes!) guests. Professional singers alternated with family Bollywood performances. And the family was good! They had been practicing for weeks. It was fun to see how much they got into it.Less fun was when we were asked to get up on the stage and dance (I quickly demurred – not being up on the latest Bollywood dance moves). Let’s just say it’s been a while since I’ve seen Slumdog Millionaire.Pyrotechnics lit up the stage (this guys was wiring together the electricity below the stage). We didn’t stand too close…Long rows of tables were loaded with local vegetarian delicacies and we eagerly filled up our plates with these delicious dishes.Fresh baked rotis and chapati were baked in clay ovens and over coals, while warm spiced Masala chai was served in clay cups. We were introduced to a new drink – Kashmiri tea – which is flavored with slivered almonds and spices – a real treat on a cool fall evening.
And finally… the actual wedding night! We were running late because my sari top (called a “choli”) wasn’t finished on time and we had to fight Jaipur traffic back to our hotel. We quickly located the wedding planner who expertly wrapped and pinned me into my sari – no small task!We arrived at the wedding venue at 7:30 only to find we were among the first to arrive. Indian time tends to be a little on the delayed side, so we assumed we were early. Fine, except for the fact we didn’t recognize anyone. Concerned we had been dropped at the wrong wedding, we asked around and confirmed the venue was indeed correct. But where was the groom’s family? Suddenly out of the unfamiliar crowd a man appeared with a cell phone. We were told by the groom’s brother we needed to join the groom’s entourage – quick! We got into the stranger’s car and were driven a few blocks to a huge wedding procession…
We saw Lalit riding on a decorated white horse (with pony tails!) wearing $2 million dollars in nugget sized green emeralds and dressed in a glittering white wedding suit. Now this is how to enter a wedding!Accompanying Lalit were hundreds of women in colorful saris loaded with serious jewelry, men wearing saffron turbans pushing beaded white lamps on wheels, men dancing on stilts, and a live band with professional dancers. What a scene!
We followed this colorful, joyous crowd back into the wedding venue, passing a painted elephant along the way….When we arrived at the wedding venue, we were serenaded by a red turbaned Punjabi bagpipe band whose set included throwing drums into the air and clicking their heels. And soon the bride arrived on a palanquin carried by eight men, proceeded by dancing women…Her family procession followed behind. Shipra wore a beautiful red sari embroidered with $50,000 in diamonds and a quarter of a million dollars in wedding jewelry – mostly necklaces. (!!!)
The wedding venue was huge – over two football fields long – and held approximately 3500 guests. I’d never seen so many colorful, bejeweled saris.And then there was the food… There were about twice as many tables as the night before. All sorts of amazing Indian delights.
There were spicy curries, rich dals, warm rotis dripping with ghee, barbecued vegetables and tandoori cheese, Italian pizza, kulfi, ice cream, traditional Indian desserts including gulab jamun, and wedding cakes covered with candied silver and pomegranates. Divine…
The bride and groom participated in several choreographed performances (more dancing!) and then spent a good portion of the evening patiently posing for pictures with wedding guests. Their stamina was admirable!We finally left at 1am but party hearty guests, family and the wedding couple stayed until 7am the next morning performing Saptapadi (Hindu fire rituals) which sanctified the marriage union.