India is an Asian country that brings to mind pictures of tigers and elephants, curry powder and other spices, bindis and colorful national costumes. If one is to describe India, the following adjectives will most likely be uttered: exotic, colorful, frivolous, extravagant, monotheistic, very populous, and highly traditional. A concrete example of Indian culture that embodies all these characteristics is the traditional Indian wedding.
A wedding is a celebration of a union between man and wife. This is why central to the wedding preparations and ceremony is the bride and groom. In the Indian culture, however, weddings are held to give even greater significance to the union of two families. This is why fixed marriages are more often practiced, although love matches still happen to the very lucky ones. The terms and agreements are usually orchestrated by the parents of the two who are to be engaged. Even though this sounds very medieval, this kind of marriage is still commonplace in other countries, especially among the elite.
The wedding is not a single day affair. It is a celebration at its finest which lasts for days. There are traditions and rites that are practiced during the pre-wedding stage, the wedding ceremony itself, and the after-wedding period. Traditionally, a formal meeting of the parents signify the beginning of the long celebration. In the rare occasions that the bride’s parents visit the groom’s house, some sort of feast is prepared for their large party. It is more often that the groom’s parents ask for permission from the bride’s parents to wed their children.
At the eve of the wedding is a ritual that is very enjoyable. It is called the Mehendi Ceremony. Seven unmarried women from both families “paint” the bride and groom separately using henna, a paste made from sandalwood, turmeric and rose water. The henna is painted over their hands and feet. The beautiful patterns that adorn the bride also serve as part of her make-up for the ceremony. The name of the groom is sometimes incorporated into the body paint. On the very morning of the wedding is a cleansing ceremony before the bride gets ready for the wedding itself. As the groom prepares for the wedding, there is singing and dancing happening outside his residence.
The ceremony is held outdoors under a tent called mundap. The bride, groom, and relatives in attendance all wear colorful ceremonial garments. The guests are extended families, friends and even complete strangers. This is why the number of guests can actually reach several hundreds. This celebration is colorful, frivolous and extravagant indeed.
Contrary to what most people are accustomed to, the bride is in the wedding hall first and awaits the arrival of the groom. Before the groom gets to enter the hall, he is met by the bride’s sisters who demand and negotiate a payment before he is allowed in. Showing a perfect blend of solemn wedding rites and casual celebration, the negotiation can be quite fun as the sisters try to get the best out of the deal. Once the groom is admitted, the ribbon keeping him outside is cut and the ceremony is begun. This includes several traditional rituals, like the exchange of garlands that the bride and groom wear, and a symbolic changing of the wedding outfit of the bride.
After the wedding is the most anticipated by all people during celebrations: the wedding reception filled with music, dancing, people, and of course, food. This is where all elements of extravagance and frivolity can be witnessed. Even the large number of guests in attendance can be overwhelming, as the community join in the celebrations. Traditional Indian weddings are truly lavish, festive and expensive. Considering the cost of the long celebrations is sure to make any man or bride think hard about getting married for sure!