November and December are wedding season in India. When we discovered our trip would overlap with this special time of year, we secretly openly wished for an invitation to experience this unique cultural tradition. We had heard so much about the extravagance of Indian weddings, some lasting up to 5 days and varying greatly in style by region, religion and caste affiliation. We let Ram know our intentions, and within a day, we had a real life invitation (forwarded via email). Although prearranged marriages are less common today than they were in the past, there is still much importance placed on the union of two families and the accomplishments of the soon to be wed. In fact, our invitations included every degree, accreditation, employer and job title held by the betrothed.
So, in essence, we became Wedding Crashers. Little did we know, we were actually more closely related to the bride and groom than many of the other guests in attendance. Ram went to college with the aunt and uncle of the bride, and we were his “esteemed” visitors from America.
The wedding hall was filled with chairs (many weddings have thousands of guests), and at its center was a colorful, fragrant Mandap (4-cornered canopy) covered with fresh flowers and surrounded by vibrantly colored objects to be used during the ceremony.
We took seats with a slight view of the raised stage, but were soon behind a series of photographers and videographers hired to capture the event. We mistakenly chose the side closer to the musicians who beat drums, played wind instruments and generally made incredibly loud sounds.
It was hard to mark the start of the event. The audience continued to chat and visit while the priest moved about the stage directing one ceremony after the other for the family. That was when I realized, the wedding was not for the guests to participate. It’s impossible for them to hear. The priest spoke in Sanskrit (which we were told few people understand). The band banged incessantly. The wedding was an intimate event to connect the two families. As part of the audience, we could really only see what was happening on a huge projection screen to the left of the stage.
We followed as much as we could with Ram’s help. He explained the traditions he was familiar with…that are common in South India weddings. The groom’s family joined the priest onstage to prepare a recipe of flower petals, rice, coconut, powders, water, smoke, etc. Then the bride’s family followed. The bride and groom joined each other of the stage (looking quite nervous!) and washed the feet of their parents as a sign of respect. The bride’s female relatives did something with a tree (I think it had to do with good luck).
The families held back the bride and groom who tried to exchange the flower leis they were wearing.
Finally, each tied a golden thread around the other to signify the joining of two lives and walked around the Mandap 7 times. After all the various ceremonial processions, we were offered blessed rice to throw at the newlyweds.
And just like that…in 1.5 hours, they were married.
The conclusion of the ceremony was when things got boring for the bride and groom and very, very interesting for us. The couple had to stand and greet EVERY SINGLE PERSON who attended the wedding. From the looks of it, they had probably NEVER MET many of the guests prior to this day (like parents’ friends and co-workers and us!).
Being the only Caucasian foreigners present, we expected a little more attention than normal, but didn’t want to steal any thunder from the newlyweds. We dressed in accordance with typical wedding attire. Visha and Sunanda equipped me with a traditional Salwar Kameez, a Bindi, and plenty of golden jewelry so that I would fit right in with the crowd. Joshua was prepared to wear a dhoti until Ram informed him that most men dress in business casual for weddings these days. We smiled plenty to show our appreciation for being allowed to witness the wedding ceremony. Throughout the event we found ourselves on the big screen. We accepted requests for pictures (even with the photographer of the wedding). But, when the emcee and videographer stopped Joshua en route to deliver our gift (an assortment of handmade incenses, fragrances and papers from Auroville which the saleswoman told us was appropriate), I froze. He handed Joshua a microphone. I looked at Ram…what was happening?!? Ram told me not to worry. So I figured, they were filming him saying something to the bride and groom for the video. That was until they called me up to the front of the audience, as well. By that point, my bright red face matched my outfit perfectly. They asked Joshua to speak about how he knew the bride and groom—we didn’t! So they told him to describe his thoughts about the wedding. Joshua said something about it being our first Indian wedding and how impressed he was by the union of not only two people, but two entire families. And my heart sank because the mic was hot and his voice was echoing throughout the entire hall in front of all the guests. Then it was my turn. I wished the happy couple the best before my stomach flipped. I dragged him back to our seats with evil in my eyes. He shrugged his shoulders…”they asked me to say something!” We were the only ones who spoke at the wedding. If we weren’t great at public speaking before, I am definitely putting it on my resume now!
We followed the crowd towards the Mandap to congratulate the bride and groom and take photos. We had 20 seconds to introduce ourselves, congratulate them and ask for their forgiveness at the same time. Luckily, they were just as shocked as we were at our attendance.
Did I mention that we were fed twice within three hours (go hungry!)? These were not appetizers. It was a full on spread…banana leaf covered with the works and waiters anxious to give you more. Although, we couldn’t finish nearly the quantity of food as the South Indians…at least we didn’t accept the chef’s offer of a fork!
Hi Laura it’s Edith Espinoza ( your mom’s Dillard Friend ). She shared your blog address in her Christmas letter, and thought I would say hello. It sounds like you are experiencing awesome adventures. Enjoy!!!!!! I wish you and Josh the best.
Thanks Edith! We miss Mexican food, especially your tamales! Maybe we can rekindle that holiday tradition when we are back in the states.
I’m assuming Josh borrowed the sport jacket, and has not been carrying it around the world 🙂 Glad you two are still having a grand adventure. Safe travels, Happy New Year! Mike and Whit
Mike…it was a purchase we made so we could go to dinner on the cruise, but it is going home in a few days with my brother and his gf!