A Tale of Two Weddings: An Inside Look at Indian Marriage Ceremonies
Indian marriage rite, are much like those of other cultures -fun and fanfare comingled with pomp and tradition. And then, like all the others, they are different. Hindu or Muslim. they have some things, in common: a thousand or more guests, and festivities generally lasting a week. Gifts will be widely bestowed through extended families. The soon to be in-laws will sing songs, poke fun (and throw powder) at each other. And on the wedding night itself, the groom's shows might be held for ransom. Somewhere amidst the multitude of ceremonies, the couple will be wed.
The shoeless groom could go to its news wife for a loan. As one of the countries 10 million brides that year, she will have received an average of 30 grams of gold, her parents having played their part in consuming an estimated 300 tonnes of wedding gold.
With the marriage and festival season in India now in full swing - the peak period for gold and silver demand in the world's largest consuming nation - we take a look at what's behind the statistics.
The Seven Day Hitch
Kamal Naqvi, Macquarie Bank
Seven days. Dozens of ceremonies. Hundreds of gifts. A thousand people - mostly strangers, hugging you and pinching your cheeks. And… our very own gold mine!
Being pushed and pulled in and out of one alien ceremony after the other may not be everybody's idea of the most romantic way to get married. But it is part and parcel of an Indian wedding. Indian weddings extend far beyond the "happy couple", with relations and friend often holding at least equally prominent role. As such, weddings are a cornerstone of Indian society.
I should note that my wedding is just one of many examples of "an Indian wedding". India is a hugely diverse and populous nation with a myriad of languages, religions and cultures. As a result, marriages differ markedly from culture to culture and region to region.
That raid, there has been considerable cross-cultural pollination over the centuries and many marriage traditions are now shared across Indian communities just with a different name. My own Indian Muslim wedding shared, in many respects, man: similarities with a Hindu wedding than it did with Muslim weddings in the Middle East.
Our wedding was located in my father's home town, Amroha, in a mango and sugar cane growing area of Lillar Praclesh India's largest, most populous and poorest state, NE of Delhi. Status and religion are important in an Indian marriage - even in a "love marriage" such as ours (an increasing occurrence but still the exception to "arranged marriage")
From an Indian perspective, both my wife and I would be classed as Westernised' Indian Shia Muslims, from upper-middle-class background. Sabiha, my wife, is from Delhi from an Indian Airforce family, which adds to her "status". I am an "Anglo-lndian" (a detraction from mine), living in London (a positive) from a "Zamidaar" family - ex-landowners.
Wedding ceremonies, proper, began one week before the wedding clay ( Nikaah) with the Upton ceremony where Sabiha was prepared for the wedding. From that day until the Nikaah, she wore only various shades of pink and was largely confined to her house. Every day she was massaged and had balm (upton) rubbed over her body - the balm makes the skin smooth and scented. She tells me it was fantastic to begin with but increasingly boring and frustrating as the week continued. for me this period was not so peaceful as I was busy collecting the various guests from airports and railway stations, acting as a tour guide and ferrying them carefully to Amroha.
The Wedding - Day 1
The day before the marriage ceremony was largely a day of gift giving and merriment - not for the bride and groom but for the associated relatives.
The gifts distributed arc generally extensive. In our case, my father presented each of his eight sisters and sisters-in-law with a silk sari and gold earrings (agreed upon following a bargaining process) and suit material to his brothers and brothers-in-law.
The gift giving was a public exercise. Gifts were placed on a slightly raised stage area and left for about an hour to allow a viewing. The more expensive and extensive the gifts, the better for social status, as well as a reflection of wedding joy.
In the afternoon, the families play Rang ("Colour"). Perhaps the most enjoyable, if somewhat bizarre ceremony, a "fight" is staged with coloured water and coloured powder. I was not pared and got drenched!
The evening prior to the Nikaah is called Raj Jagga - Hindus have a similar function called Sangeet. The words of popular Bollywood film songs are changed to make fun of the opposite side's family. First, this occurs separately at the houses of the bride and the groom. Then family and friends of the groom go to the bride's house and sing their song - competing in term of character assassination of the in-laws! This is not a quick process. In our case, this began about 6 pm and ended at about 4 am.
The Nikkah - Day 2
On the afternoon or the wedding, each family laid out the gifts it was giving to the bride or groom, respectively, partly to ensure that everything is there. The list is endless and regardless of need (I even got a comb, with only a small hint of irony!). Numerous people arrived to inspect and comment, always favourably in public, on the clothes, jewellery, perfume, etc, to be presented to the other side.
The gifts were then wrapped and carried by the most senior servant to the other side, where again they were displayed for people to see and comment on. Gifts are also then displayed from your own side to you. In my case, this was very little but from my wife's side, this was very significant and comprised almost entirely of gold jewellery. The gifts distributed are generally extensive.
Had we been intending to remain in India, some of the gifts would have been more practical. However, as we were going to be living in London, gold jewellery was seen as the most easily transportable gift.
Then began the first or a long list of ceremonies - some symbolic action accompanied by readings from the Koran.
We went off to be properly bathed and dressed for the marriage ceremony itself. Given the extent of the clothes, particularly for the bride, considerable help was needed. I wore a cream Nehru Jacket (a suit that extends just below your knees); silk pyjamas (a type or trouser) and traditional lip-on silk shoes.
My wife's clothes and accompaniments were much more extensive and included a very intricately designed wedding dress of red silk with gold-threaded embroidery. She wore as much of the gold gifted to her as possible. Once all preparations were ready, my party then walked in a procession from my house along the streets with fireworks let off by hand along the way before arriving at the bride's borne. My party was seated outside and the Mulannah (Islamic priest ) asked me what the Maher was for the wedding this is an amount to be paid to the wife should her husband divorce her. It is almost always a cash amount and traditionally is paid immediately and kept in trust.
Then the Mulannah went inside the house to Sabiha, surrounded by all her female relatives and in-laws with a veil drawn over her face, and asked whether she was willing to marry me at the specified Maher. The local tradition is not to answer. He asked, again and again, she did not answer. Then he asked for the third and final time, for which silence is taken affirmation.
He then returned to me and asked if I wished to marry Sabiha, to which I answered yes and signed some marriage papers a did my father and several witnesses. Then two Mullanahs, each representing a family, read verses from the Koran, after which the Nikaah was completed.
Following an extended period of hugging and congratulations, the party moved off for a large meal, after which I was brought into the bridal house and seated on a mini-stage in the middle of a courtyard. Sabiha was brought out - head still covered by the veil - and sat down beside me.
Then the Julwa took place - a variety of fairly bizarre ceremonies, mostly taken from Hindu traditions, such as eating grains of sugar from her hand and placing rice on her head. The key moment, however, was Moo Dekhai. Her veil was placed over my head and a mirror put on the ground under her veil so that I could see her face for the first time during the wedding - in the past, this was probably the first time you would ever have seen your wife! I then placed a gold wedding ring on her finger.
She was taken away, and I was seated for Salaam, where her relatives came up to me with cash and gifts and I showed them my respect by bowing and raising my hand to my head.
Finally, Sabiha was placed, with my mother, in a doli - a wooden box with handles - and carried by ten servants back to my house, where another small stage was constructed in the middle of our courtyard and Sabiha and l were at down. I did a Muslim prayer of thanks using Sabiha's veil as a prayer mat in front of a large crowd. Then Sabiha had her hand placed in several colourful small pots, containing sugar, rice, oil and milk - for luck, prosperity and fertility.
After that, we were led up to the flower-bedecked bridal suite. She was sat down on the bed and r ceremoniously washed her feet and, at 4 am, we were finally left alone.
Outside though, celebrations continued with a Qawali (Indian blues/ jazz music) until daybreak.
The Walima - Day 3
The final day is the Walima reception. Sabiha returned to see her family in the morning, then I followed in the afternoon hearing more gifts, which meant buying nearly 30 dresses for my bride's many cousins.
We then returned to my home where guests started arriving for the Walima - traditionally held to celebrate the consummation of the marriage, but this connection is now left to snide jokes.
There is another large meal with a very heavily extended list of relatives and friend. Money was given by my close relatives and friends in order to see the bride's face - Moo Dekhai. This was generally cash, although jewellery is occasionally given. The final function, Nikaah Baroh, occurred in the evening. The bride's family provided gifts to the groom’s family and, at our wedding, we also reciprocated with presents.
Finally… it was over. In order to escape the subsequent numerous engagements to dinner and lunch with all the relatives, we fled to Switzerland, where is the mid t of beautiful snow-capped mountains, we slept solidly for three days!
The Significance of Gold in Indian Marriages
Gold has traditionally played more than one role in Indian marriages. A girl's parent begins purchasing gold for the occasion from the time she is born.
Some gold jewellery is given directly to the bride-to-be by her family. This represents her property; no one else amongst her new in-laws has the right to this gold. Traditionally, this gift was given to a woman in compensation for not being allowed to inherit a share of the family property. Laws have now been changed to give female children the right to inherit property, but the Indian Hindu woman very rarely stakes her claim. More often than not, she gives up her right favour of her brothers and her parents will recognise this by a substantial gift of jewellery and other goods at the time of her marriage.
In addition, the brides' parents may optionally gift gold jewellery directly to indirectly (via the bride, who will wear it at the wedding) to the female members of her future in-laws.
What You do for Love. And Friendship.
By Pooja Mall Morgan Stanley Dean Witter
What's a few thousand miles between friends? When Pooja Mall's childhood friend Avanti (a London doctor) invited Pooja (a London banker) to her wedding (in India), of course, she said 'yes'. It was the second Hindu wedding she would attend this year. In the photos and text that follow, she captures the pageantry and playfulness of the weeklong Festivities.
It's interesting that India's Hindu marriage rite - the vivah - actually has much in common with India's Muslim version - each has borrowed freely from the other culture. One major difference, of course, is that the Hindu ceremony is often conducted in Sanskrit - the most ancient of the Indo European languages, and about as familiar to modern Indians as Latin is to Roman Catholics.
In fact, the first ceremony I attended was of Muslim origin - the mehndi, the intricate henna painting of the hands and feet. These elaborate, tattoo-like designs signify the strength of love in the marriage: the darker the mehndi, the stronger the love.
The wedding itself was the following clay under a mandap, a canopy rising above a sacred fire. The fire was itself a clean and pure witness to the ceremony - signifying knowledge, happiness and illumination of the mind. Tradition holds that only fire can separate the bond between bride and groom.
Avanti's parents performed the first ritual, the giving away or their daughter. It included washing the couple's feet with milk and water to purify them for their new life together.
During the second ritual, the hastamilap, the joining of hands, Avanti's right hand was placed on the groom's while the priest chanted holy verses. A loop of raw white cotton was then wound around the couple's shoulders 24 times, then the corner of the Avanti's sari was tied to a scarf worn by Kartikeya.
The marriage rite proper started at the time that had weeks earlier been decreed most auspicious by the pundit, who directed family members to place offerings into the holy fire. The couple then walked around the Fire four times - the pheras - exchanging vows of duty, love, fidelity, respect, and hope for a fruitful union.
The pundit explained the couple's responsibilities to each other, gave them his holy blessings - the aashirwaad - and they were married. The ceremony ended with the couple touching their parent's feet to seek their blessings as a hymn of peace was sung.
Kartikeya's first act as husband was to apply sindoor, a red powder, to the parting in Avanti's hair. She reciprocated by feeding him Indian sweets. At this point, relatives came into the mandap to place red marks on the newlyweds' foreheads and sprinkle rice grains, signifying "May the heavens shower upon you all happiness and wealth ." (One begins to see where the western tradition of throwing rice comes from.)
But the pundit's Sanskrit chants seemed Greek to our ears, so while the ceremony continued (it would end, as always, in tears - with the bidaai, the bride's emotional farewell to her parents), some friends and I fulfilled yet another tradition: we stole the groom's shoes and held them for ransom.
We waited at the house where they were spending the night, and when the newlyweds arrived, we let Avanti into- the room but stopped Kartikeya. It was well after midnight, so after some intense negotiations, we let the tired groom off easy - some silver coins and a rendition of a Bollywood love song sung to his new wife through the closed door.
We left before the door opened.