After our secret marriage had been revealed to Kishan’s close family we kept talking about organising a wedding ceremony for our community, but we couldn’t really be bothered with it to be honest. So it took over four years for it to finally happen!
Wedding ceremony: Decisions decisions!
What made Kishan and his mother finally decide to organise our wedding ceremony was that I was pregnant. They didn’t want to give our extended family and community the chance to talk badly of us once Baby was born. But there was nothing I could do; I just had to let them do what they had to do and then wait and see. In India, whenever I ask in advance how things will happen, they never happen as people say, so there is no point in asking! All I knew was that there would firstly be a puja (religious ritual), and that we had to organise a meal for the close family and community. Not too big, I hoped, and Kishan assured me that we would just feed about fifty people…
On 10 December 2015 Kishan told me the wedding ceremony would happen on 14 December – just four days later!!! And the family had to organise everything, call all Kishan’s sisters and a few cousins and uncles to get them to come within those four days! As of by miracle we had no bookings at the homestay for a few days, and our two guests were leaving on 11 December – the entire house was going to become a dormitory. A race for Kishan and his mum followed. All day phone calls, orders, etc. and Kishan constantly going to and coming back from the town centre to get ‘ingredients’ for the religious ceremony, ingredients for the meal, monster pots and stove for the food to be cooked, etc. And they were constantly on the phone: phone calls to the brahmin (priest) and the cooks and the tent guys, endless calls to family members to convince them to jump on a bus, etc.
One evening as Kishan and his mum were talking about planning, I did request two things: the first was that I didn’t want any presents, most especially no golden jewellery, because the Indian, backward and greedy mentality is then to nag you for a (golden) present in return, and we had better things to spend our money! Besides I don’t like gold and never wear it anyway. My second request was that for the meal we did not use any nasty disposable polystyrene plates or plastic glasses to throw into our poor environment; instead, I begged them to rent some utensils and pay someone to wash them…
Wedding ceremony: Preparing myself
Life just went on as normal for me, since I had no idea what was going on so I couldn’t organise anything. All I could do was to think about preparing myself. I wanted to wear my pink saree because it’s pink and happy, and for the special day at least I would make my in-laws happy and wear a saree. Besides I didn’t fit into many of my clothes anymore (I was almost six months pregnant), and sarees are size-free. Two days before the ceremony I died my hair with henna. In the morning of the day before the wedding ceremony, as guests were going to start arriving, I put on my happy, colourful ‘combo-suit’ I still fitted into, I put on a bit of make-up, I applied some nail polish on my feet, and I cleaned all my silver jewellery, especially the married-woman ornaments: anklets and toe-rings. Then in the afternoon a cousin came to decorate my arms and hands with bridal tattoo.
By now four of Kishan’s sisters had arrived with their kids and/or husbands, and I had feared the house would be full and crazy, but getting henna tattoo done on me meant that I stayed in my room without moving for about three hours until the paste had dried, and this was wonderful because I put on some amazing Indian classical music on my computer, and could enjoy the music and relax away from the madness for all that time! I have to say I was really grateful to finally (after seven years) have a room of my own, where I could retire to when the house got too crowded!
The day of our wedding ceremony
The big day started slowly for me. When I got up Kishan had already started working on erecting the tent in front of our house, and soon the cooks arrived and started preparing the evening meal in the tent. When I got upstairs my nephews were already up to some mischief, and my sisters- and mother-in-law already cooking puris (deep fried chapatis) for breakfast and lunch, squatting on the floor and using the entire kitchen space. Knowing we would eat a lot of greasy puris for the next few days, and for the sake of my tummy’s health, I didn’t want to eat puris first thing in the morning, and Kishan, overtaken by the events, had not bought any fruits. So I squeezed in by the fridge to make myself some porridge, blessing the newly-acquired kettle (I had no access to the hobs) and the oats that I had brought from Varanasi. I added my usual sprouted chana (chick-peas) and mung daal (lentils), my almonds and cashew nuts and raisins and honey, and went to sit on the stairs in the living room to eat.
Most of the morning I went round in circles not knowing what to do. I asked one of my sisters-in-law at about 10:00 when I was supposed to get dressed; she said half-an-hour, but then nothing seemed to happen. After a while Kishan appeared after one of his trips to the ‘market’ (town centre) so I asked him what to do. He told me that actually, it would be his brother who would be going through our religious ceremony because, as I was pregnant, we were not ‘allowed’ (by God?!) to do it ourselves. But if I wanted I could sit and watch, and I didn’t need to wear anything special. Hey? Now what nonsense!? What was the point of our wedding ceremony if we couldn’t do it ourselves!? I went to sit for a while outside the house in the sun. One of Kishan’s friend jokingly asked me why I wasn’t doing anything. I shrugged; I knew he was teasing me, but what was I supposed to do? I didn’t understand anything! I was already feeling tired and nothing had even started. I went to lie down on my bed to send some messages to my sisters. After a short while I went back upstairs to ask my cooking sisters and mother in-law what was going on. It was about 12:00 and I found out that we were expecting the brahmin (priest) at about 11… One of Kishan’s sister then asked me if I wanted to wear a lehenga. On the day of the wedding ceremony, at the time of the ceremony, even, I couldn’t believe she even asked me this. Lehengas are rented; you need to try them, choose them; this takes prior organisation, and I probably wouldn’t fit my round tummy into one anyway! (And it meant nothing to me to wear such a serious, shiny bridal thing four years after my actual, official wedding by the way!) I was so blasé that I couldn’t care anymore. Indian marriages are really a selfish affair, I ranted in my own head. Bride and groom have absolutely no say in the organisation of their wedding ceremony; it’s all about saving reputation for a family in the eyes of its community! Back on my bed I started considering taking a nap before it all started. But then I went for a pee and on the way I saw that the Brahmin had now arrived, and he was preparing the puja in our chosen room! The bed had been put on the side to empty more floor space and the priest was drawing a small rangoli (kind of simple mandala) with wheat flour on the floor, next to a small altar. There were also some fruits and offerings, incense and such. I hurried back asking if I shouldn’t get ready and Kishan told me that the brahmin had decided we would do the ceremony after all, but it would just be twenty minutes long, and I should get ready quickly. Argh! All this waiting doing nothing and now panic! Another of Kishan’s sisters told me something along the line that since we were now three of us, with the baby in my tummy, and we were only supposed to be two, we would have to have two malas (flower garlands) and blah blah blah. But I forgot what she said as soon as she said it, and I didn’t care because every one was saying something different and nothing seemed to be right, so as usual I preferred to wait and see what would actually happen.
Anyway, I hurried to my room to get ready. A cousin’s wife helped me put on my saree and choose a combination of my shiny bangles. Kishan came twice to ask if I was ready, but I refused to rush my make up for the sake of bad Indian organisation. I didn’t care; they would wait. It didn’t take me too long anyway. Kishan’s eldest sister had offered me a new pair of silver payals (anklets) and toe rings even though I didn’t want any presents, and she said it was important that I wore them, so I did… And then Kishan and I went to sit on the small square mats in front of the altar next to the priest, me on the right, him on the left, and the ritual started…
Wedding ceremony: the puja
The brahmin proceeded to tie a plated piece of straw around our right ring fingers, which we kept for the whole ritual. It was too long and it looked silly because it stood up from our hands. Then he asked Kishan to pick a fruit from the plate on his side; Kishan chose an orange, and the priest planted five incense sticks into it. Then from a brass pot of water he wetted a stick wrapped in more straw, with which he was to purify (I guess) every item Kishan had to offer to the altar one by one. Whenever Kishan offered an item to the altar, all I had to do was to hold his wrist or arm with my right hand, which (I guess) symbolised the fact that we did it together. All the time the priest reeled off some verses in Sanskrit in a deep, grave voice. The items included sweets, fruits, coconuts, plants and what not. With the tip of his ring finger, the priest also mixed a paste of water and rice and turmeric and red powder and added it onto each item that was to be offered to the altar, while he chanted his verses, who I think everyone in the room took so seriously but no-one understood… At some point after a good half hour (?) the priest stopped and gave me a turmeric paste to rub on my feet (why?) then we started again with the offerings. At another point Kishan had to clean a black stone (which was a Shiva lingam, he told me) into a kind of yoghurt dessert that had looked quite yummy before the priest ‘cleaned’ it with water… For what I knew, he could have made up the whole thing and pretended it was meaningful…
My mood had mostly been tinted with indifference up to that point of our wedding ceremony, but when Kishan’s brother finally came to take some photos it lifted into a silly mood and I happily smiled to the camera. I didn’t care about what I was doing but I was doing it for my family. After a while the brahmin set up some wooden sticks in a square shape inside a metal tray thing.
The family brought some dried cow dung and the priest lit it up with a match. It started to smoke really badly and to sting my eyes; that’s when my smile wore off. I always hate it when cow dung is burnt during pujas because I get really irritated by the smoke. Then the brahmin asked Kishan to pass on the tray of that stuff I’d seen in the kitchen all along wondering what it was: it happened to be full of a mix of sugar, wheat, rice, herbs(?) and lots of supposedly good things. Now, while the priest mumbled some mantras, both Kishan and I had to take a pinch of the mix in our right hand, making sure we didn’t use our index and small fingers in the process (why?) and with a small kick of our thumb, to throw it into the fire every time the brahmin exclaimed “swaha”. The bad news was that we had to do this until the tray was empty. The more we threw the stuff into the burning cow dung, the higher the flames grew, and the more awkwardly I threw the mix into the fire so I wouldn’t burn my fingers! It took a long time and I really didn’t enjoy myself. I knew I looked grumpy but I couldn’t help it. Then the fire slowly extinguished itself and finally it was over, by which time the entire room was filled with a heavy cloud of smoke. Two days later the room still smelled…
After that the priest told us he would read a story, and we could choose whether we wanted to hear it in Sanskrit or in Hindi. The family chose Hindi for me so that I would understand. He warned, however, that it would be longer in Hindi… I didn’t say anything, for some reason. I guess I did want to have a chance to understand, but I also was quite inclined towards the shortest version. The brahmin started reading in Hindi, with a loud voice but almost mumbling by the end of each sentence. He spoke very fast, repeating “is prakar” (“this way”) after every sentence, it seemed. I understood some words like “Vishnu” and “respect” and “goodness”, but frankly 99% of the story went completely over my head because of the far too many literary Hindi words. I kept looking at his book to try and see its thickness, and soon realised it really was going to take a very long time, because there were more pages than I thought! Half-way through the story I had to struggle not to doze off. It seemed like it was never going to end. He was punctuating the end of every chapter (I guess?) with a verse in Sanskrit, a loud blow in his conch (during which I had to cover my ears with my hands every time to protect my eardrums, to everyone’s amusement) and a ring of his bell. During the entire story I was amazed at how much everyone in the room (except Kishan and I) kept talking happily, not seeming to care much about what was said! Phones rang and were answered, our smallest nephew screamed outside the room and no-one seemed to care much, people chatted etc. It is something that has always surprised me in India: how important pujas are to Indians, yet how little they seem to care or pay attention to them while they actually happen – compared to how we Westerners are so quiet in churches, disturbed by every little noise…
There were two important marriage symbols that I had still never adopted before the ceremony. The first was to wear a mangal sutra, an auspicious necklace which married women have to wear, to guarantee their husband’s long life apparently. I had only seen long ones worn by my sisters-in-law and I never liked them (I like to wear short necklaces), besides they often have far too much gold in them. I had expressed my dislike to my mother-in-law at some prior point, but as Kishan told me, she still went to buy one for me – I guess it’s just too meaningful… When Kishan took it out from its box though, I was happily surprised that she had chosen one in my tastes: a short, simple one, mostly made of black beads with just a small golden pendent. I was moved by her consideration, and I didn’t think I would have any objection to wear it. Then, right at the end of the ceremony, Kishan applied the second meaningful symbol into my hair parting: the sindoor (red powder). That meant that from then on I would have to apply some red in my parting – but so far I had just been applying a little red dot with a lipstick pencil… Finally to everybody’s enjoyment except mine and for the picture, Kishan covered my entire face with my saree‘s palu in the way that daughters-in-law have to hide from their in-law elders. But when Kishan uncovered my head again, everybody discovered the faces I had pulled underneath and all laughed… Then finally the brahmin tied a red thread round our wrists and that was it. The final thing was now for the priest to distribute prasad, that is, sweet offerings. After that was done, thank God, it was over and we could leave the smoky room and eat the prasad! The ceremony had lasted not twenty minutes, but over two hours – well, I guess twenty Indian minutes!!!
Ornaments of married women vs. men
I shall conclude the first part of our wedding ceremony with a list of the symbols Indian women have to wear to indicate that they are married, from head to toes:
- Sindoor (red powder) in their head parting,
- Bindi (red dot) between their eyebrows,
- Mangal sutra (“auspicious” necklace) around their neck,
- Bangles round their wrists,
- Payal (anklets),
- Bichhua (toe-rings).
Now here is the list of the symbols married Indian men have to wear:
Read more: A wedding ceremony after all – Part 2