The Big Fat Indian Wedding
Indian Wedding. Marriages may be made in heaven, but, if you want them to be memorable, they should be celebrated in India! This is especially true about the traditional Hindu wedding. More than a ritual, it indeed is an extravaganza.
The depiction of lavish wedding ceremonies in Hindi films (such as Hum Aaap Ke Hai Kaun) has revived people’s interest in various old customs related to marriage.
The custom of lifting the bride high so that the groom finds it difficult to garland her, for example, was not so common.
They also detain the horse carrying the groom in the tradition known as Baagpakdai, refusing to leave it’s reins unless the groom bribes them. Once they are satisfied with the cash or jewellery bribe, they release the reins so the groom can gallop off to fetch his bride!
The groom’s shoes are often hidden by his sisters-in-law and are not returned to him until they are paid a hefty penalty. A groom who refused to pay the penalty and chose to walk barefoot instead made news recently. These customs have become quite common now and actually turned into pranks that disrupt the sanctity of the solemn ceremony.
This tendency to play practical jokes that help offset the overwhelming seriousness of the ceremony is not restricted to India, though. Those who have watched the royal wedding of Prince Charles to Lady Diana on BBC may recall the pranks played by the bride just before the wedding.
Hindu wedding is thought to be a formation of a deep spiritual bond between two souls unlike a Christian wedding which is more like a contract between two parties. The Vedic mantras emphasize that the basis of happy and fulfilling married life is the sense of unity, intimacy and love between husband and wife. Thus, marriage is not for self-indulgence, but rather should be considered a lifelong social and spiritual responsibility. Married life is considered an opportunity for two people to grow from life partners into soul mates.
Hindu wedding ceremonies are traditionally conducted at least partially in Sanskrit, the ancient language of the Aryas. The wedding ceremonies differ from state to state and from caste to caste. Hence there are the Rajput weddings, the Punjabi weddings or the Iyer weddings. The ceremonies are often very colourful and extend for several days.
The pre-wedding ceremonies include engagement (involving Vagdana or oral agreement and Lagna-patra i.e. written declaration), and arrival of the groom’s party at the bride’s residence, often in the form of a formal procession. The post-wedding ceremonies involve welcoming the bride to her new home.
The primary witness of a Hindu marriage is the fire-deity (or the Sacred Fire) Agni, and by law and tradition, no Hindu marriage is deemed complete unless in the presence of the Sacred Fire, seven encirclements have been made around it by the bride and the groom together.
At the Saptapadi, the bride and the groom say the following words after completing the seven steps:
“We have taken the Seven Steps. You have become mine forever. Yes, we have become partners. I have become yours. Hereafter, I cannot live without you. Do not live without me. Let us share the joys. We are word and meaning, united. You are thought and I am sound. May the night be honey-sweet for us. May the morning be honey-sweet for us. May the earth be honey-sweet for us. May the heavens be honey-sweet for us. May the plants be honey-sweet for us. May the sun be all honey for us. May the cows yield us honey-sweet milk. As the heavens are stable, as the earth is stable, as the mountains are stable, as the whole universe is stable, so may our union be permanently settled.”
Every wedding ceremony is marked by huge spreads of sumptuous food, loud music played by local bands or folk songs sung by old housewives, free-style dancing and a wedding procession led by the groom riding a mare. Womenfolk are busy applying Mehendi (temporary tatoo) and putting on dozens of bangles. It is as much a family reunion as a hunting ground for match-makers.
The North Indian weddings, often celebrated at some grand farm houses, are quite lavish. Consider yourself lucky if you are invited to one. The not-to-be-missed food lay-outs here often include dozens of food counters displaying exotic stuff – not just Rajasthani, Gujrati or Chineese but also Lebanese, Italianand Japanese. The weddings are rendered all the more glam by the inclusion of film stars, who are paid for their attendance. For a heftier fee, they even share the dance floor with the illustrious guests.
A typical wedding is a three to four days’ affair comprising of a number of hectic, tiring and often irrelevant rituals meticulously executed under the close supervision of some super-senior family member.
An Indian wedding is a chance to go all out, dressing up elaborately in celebration of the happy occasion. The new vogue is wearing ethnic costumes which may seldom be worn by the bride and the groom again in life! Ancient varieties like the 9-yard Saree, the Dhoti, Pagadee, Paithani or Ghagra-choli are donned by the hosts as well as the guests, turning the ceremony into a Fancy Dress Party.
As a guest at an Indian wedding, you have even more choice in what to wear than the bride and groom. For women any color is possible, and if you wish to go in Indian garb the sari and the lehenga-kurta are most commonly worn. As a male guest, you can wear an achkan with churidar or a salwar kameez, which is a matched pant and shirt. For both men and women, Western formal wear is more than acceptable, but the real enjoyment can come from the opportunity to wear more traditional Indian clothing.
Some of the most famous Indian Weddings in contemporary times have been the wedding ceremonies of Sahara Shree Family and the Mittals. The wedding ceremony of Subroto Roy’s sons Seemanto and Sushanto have been one of the most grand marriage ceremonies of modern Indian times. Arranged in the Sahara city, Lucknow the wedding ceremony was attended by over 11,000 guests.
Another wedding, which became the talk of the town, was the wedding ofVanisha Mittal, the daughter of London-based steel tycoon Laxmi Niwas Mittalwith Amit Bhatia, a Delhi based investment banker. The venue of the wedding was the famous Palace of Versailles, where the French ‘Sun King’ Louis XIV held court in the 17th century. Celebrations went on for six days and the total estimated budget of the wedding was £30m / $55million i.e. about INR 200 crores. The guest list included all big and famous names from Indian and British society. Movie stars like Shah Rukh Khan, Hrithik Roshan, Preity Zinta and Aishwarya Rai to name a few.
Can it get any bigger?