An Indian Wedding Story
February 1, 2008
The wedding began months before the five days of celebration commenced. Piyusha and Justice met through eHarmony and dated for three years — a rare and untraditional beginning by Indian standards. Piyusha’s family remodeled their second home next door to their first. With fresco ceilings, new tiles and decor, the house was made into a hotel for the family’s wedding guests. With a large front yard and back yard, this space was the perfect site for an 800-person wedding.
Piyusha traveled back to Jaipur a month before the ceremony to help with the planning and oversee the details her parents had so lovingly planned for her nuptial to the “Good-looking American” she had chosen to be her groom. After having lived in the U.S. for 17 years, she was just as overwelmed with the extravagance and craziness of the traditional Indian wedding as any outsider would be. Yet Piyusha knew the joy it would bring to her parents, family and friends who had been hoping for this moment for a long time. By the end of the wedding festivities, Piyusha looked happy, content and pleased with how well the event had turned out.
Piyusha and I met within my first 24-hours of arriving in Jaipur. We sat on her parents’ porch drinking tea, talking and wondering why the dog barked every 5 minutes. We immediately bonded over our similar engagement rings. We were fortunate to recieve Asscher cut diamonds from our fiances even though most people have never heard of them. We also giggled together when we found out our fiances shared a love for tuxedos with tails. We gabbed about wedding planning, being brides, and made plans to go to the movies sometime soon. By the time we had finished tea and she had to run off for more errands, Daniel and I were personally invited to every event of the wedding. Over the course of those five days Daniel and I enjoyed mingling with hundreds of guests and observing every ritual from the engagement ceremony to the moment when the happy married couple road off in a horse drawn carriage.
But I’m leaving out the meat of this wedding sandwich — or should I say paneer of this wedding chapati? Who could forget the endless buffets of breakfasts, lunches and dinners? Or the hours of dancing? Not me. All of the guests were served three full meals of traditional Indian cuisine each day they stayed at the hotel or visited from neighboring accomodations. Palak Paneer (spinach and cheese), Aloo gobi (potatoes and cauliflower), Daal (a soup-like lentil chili), rotis/chapatis (kind of like tortillas) filled buffet tables among many more dishes. Dessert was usually a batch or Halva or the other two desserts I’ve mentioned, Gulab Jamin and Ras Malai. (Halva is a dessert made out of carrots, sugar, butter and sometimes nuts. It can also be made with other fruits like guava or with types of flour).
My two favorite parts of the ceremony were the groom’s procession and getting henna. The marriage procession, called a baraat in Hindi, consisted of an elephant, men from his side of the family (plus some from the bride’s side to bulk up his numbers), a marching band, fireworks, lights powered by generators carried behind them, and camels. Daniel was happy to join the ranks, of course. The marriage procession traditionally includes the groom’s baraati, his family and male guests. Since eight members of Justice’s family were at the wedding and most of them were women, members of Piyusha’s family joined the baraat.
In a baraat, the groom rides a decorated horse or an elephant. The elephant Justice rode was decorated with paint and sashes. I was surprised how tame and mellow the elephant was, I think it would be difficult to walk behind men shooting fireworks and in front of a marching band. Justice rode the elephant very well. He didn’t look too nervous, he looked more like a Maharaja. He wore all of the traditional garb, from the turban down to his jodhpuri with churidar (long tunic and pants). Justice also carried a sword, as did many of his baraati.
Since I was unable to be a part of the baraat I cannot provide any more details about the event, but since Piyusha and Justice’s wedding I have witnessed other processions on the street of our home-stay. Tonight I saw a procession of 1 elephant, four camels, twelve horses, 2 oxen, 1 marching band, a carriage, thirty-two chandeliers on sticks, 1 generator and 1 groom on his horse. Every few 10 feet a man lit fireworks about 5 feet in front of the elephant that led the parade. They shot into the sky overhead, bursting forth color like the Fourth of July. Camels sparkled, draped in colorful fabric as they walked down the street. Men danced and celebrated as the band of men of looked miniature played music in their over-sized white uniforms. It was a sight to behold, just like Piyusha and Justice’s wedding.
Henna, or mehndi, as it is called in Northern India, is a plant with leaves that produce a red-orange substance that bonds to proteins like skin and fingernails. The flowering shrub or small tree’s leaves are mainly used to abstract the brown colored substance that is delicately squeezed into designs on hands. The mehndi man began the process by rubbing eucalyptus oil all over my hands. Next he piped designs onto the top and bottom of my hands with a makeshift frosting tube. The designs took about 60-90 mins to dry. But many women said that if I wanted it to last longer and appear darker, I should apply lemon and sugar to keep it moist.
The man who applied mehndi to my hands was given a short, but loud lecture in Hindi by Giri. As he finished, I realized mine was the best one (aside from the bride’s) I’d seen all day. Giri must have given some pretty specific directions. Back when people used fountain pens you could always spot a writer with ink stained fingers. Similarly, I could see the mark of the mehndi man’s daily toil. His orange hands were stunning! They were as tangerine as an Oompa Loompa’s hands from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.
As I waited for my mehndi to dry, Daniel and I watched a movie. The henna began to flake off easily, but Giri insisted that I add lemon and sugar to it. To remove it after this was a much more difficult task. I ended up with the stickiest hands I’ve ever had. Monika had to help me remove it with mustard oil. My hands smelled like mustard for two days. Yuck. Not to mention the fact that Monika did not understand the word “dull” and proceeded to scrape the sticky stuff off with a sharp knife. There’s nothing like having a knife to my wrist to make me want to learn Hindi.
But atleast I did not have to sit for four hours like Piyusha. Her hands, forearms and feet were covered in a densely intricate design created only for brides. By the next morning, the day of the wedding, her mehndi had competely flaked off, leaving her hands gloved in titian designs with “socks” to match.
The wedding day consisted of ceremonies, eating and picture taking. No one danced. They simply sat around, drank alcohol, ate and talked. I was surprised that the actual day of the wedding was less fun than the days leading up to it.
This wedding story finally ended when Piyusha and Justice visited Daniel and I at Girisadan on their way to the airport. They were finally going back to New York where they would get back to their routine and rest until June when they are having their small and low-key American wedding. I felt sad as I hugged Piyusha and watched them walk down the driveway. The first friend I had made in India was leaving. And I’ll admit that despite the fun and new adventures I’ve had, I also shed a few tears of jealousy, wishing I could return to the comforts and familiarity of home too.