Indian weddings are the closest that I have seen to the 40 days and 40 nights weddings of fairy tales. In Pratap’s case, the various functions took 3 days and 3 nights plus a reception at the his hometown Delhi. Everything except the reception was organized by Aparna’s family. The functions described below were all in Mumbai (aka Bombay), and were on December 12th, 13th, and 14thof the year 1999. Traditionally, the night of dances (Sangeet) and the day of henna (Mehendi) were only attended by women, but this is no more. History is repeated once again in India, men have invaded.
Sangeet is the night of dances and music. In our case, the venue was Aparna’s parents’ house on the southern tip of Mumbai. There was a buffet in the garden with an excellent grill front of which I camped and devoured everything that came my way. Since I was standing right there everything had to go thru my inspection! The chicken tikkas (skewered chicken) were divine. Of course to go with the dancing, a lot of beverages (alcoholic and non-alcoholic) were provided, and were put to use.
As you can see from the pictures, both the men and the women were dressed in the traditional Indian costumes with the women in sarees or lengas, and the men with kurtas and pajamas. The house was decorated with orange flowers all over inside out. There were so many of them that the whole house smelled like a flower field.
The events of the night started off by a young cousin-brother (male cousin in Indian English) of Aparna’s performing a traditional Hindu dance. He scattered flower petals as he gracefully moved to the slow music, stopping occasionally to bring his hands together in front of him towards us in salutation (namaskar), as he danced, the clock approached 12 o’clock likewise, bringing two arms to greet a pretty indian December night.
Later on, the relatively younger family members divided in two, the bride’s side versus the groom’s side (since the groom was away from home, some transfers were allowed), and started singing and dancing in turns versus each other. As expected regardless of culture and geography, the women were better prepared than men (the bride’s side was mostly women), and beat us by far. They were also better equipped with the Indian drum (dholak) that is played from both sides, with each side banging to a different tone since one end is of monkey hide while the other is of cow hide.
The bride’s side called family members one by one up to the stage to dance for a few seconds while they cheered. We as the foreigners shared the dance floor with an oriental gentleman.
Later on, Aparna’s cousin-sisters performed a song and dance number that made fun of her and how she would act in different situations like when Pratap’s around as opposed to when Pratap’s mother is around.
As You Can See We Were Outnumbered By The Women
Towards the end, the DJ took over with his flashing colorful DJ lights, and played some Hindi songs as well as the latest disco hits. With the influence of plentiful drinking, the dance floor was packed. Aparna’s cousin-brother made sure the flower petal rain was ceaseless.
The next day, we woke up pretty late, exhausted by the sangeet activities. The henna artists had already started on all the ladies by the time we made it to Aparna’s house. At the entrance, I was given a bracelet of Jasmine flowers, and Seha was given 7 (needs to be an odd number) glass bangles which were not supposed to be taken off, but need to break off. According to tradition, the longer they last, the stronger the wearer’s relationship will be. Seha’s bangles lasted about 4 weeks, but since we have no frame of reference, we do not know how long our relationship is destined to last, I’d appreciate the input from experienced Indian ladies!
Again, in the garden, there was a fabulous buffet, this time with Mumbai specialties of a brunchesque flavor, and (again) a bar. But before we sat down to eat, Seha started to get her hands worked on – which meant that I had to feed her the whole day.
Obviously, The Masterpiece Was The Bride
And that was the role of the men during mehendi. Pratap helped Aparna eat, since she was painted from her elbows to her fingertips for about three hours. Her henna was the most intricate, with peacocks, Pratap’s name jumbled, as well as a picture of herself on one hand and a picture of Pratap on the other. She also had it done on her feet, and considering how detailed her dress and jewelry were, there was no way she could have eaten unless the groom helped her.
In the meantime, the Indian Navy band was playing. They looked like the British Armed Forces Bands with bagpipes and the red plaidish details on their uniforms. I should also mention that Aperna’s dad is still in the Indian Army (stationed in Kashmir), and Pratap’s dad is retired from the Indian Navy.
Hennaists And Pratap At Work
After all the henna is done, women have to keep it moist with lime juice for a few hours. The tradition is that the darker the henna looks after the paste crumbles off, the more your mother-in-law likes you.
The Reception at the Cricket Club of India
At the end of the day, there was a dinner/reception at the Cricket Club of India in Mumbai hosted by one of Aparna’s uncles. The cricket club is the exact replica of the Lords Cricket Ground in England, and is looked after really well. Inside there was a huge portrait of Mr Tata, the Parsi businessman who is the founder of Taj Hotels as well as Tata motorized vehicles both of which you would see everywhere in India. The story is that he founded the first Taj Hotel after he was denied admission to one of the European hotels because he was a native. For those wondering, he is a chap with a very long beard.
After we toured the club, we had the reception in a nice room, followed by another buffet dinner outside. That night, Pratap was dressed in a suit, but Aparna still wore a pretty dress and a lot of jewelry.
This reception ended early, around 12, so we had time for a nice chai (tea) and lassi (diluted yoghurt drink, very much like the Turkish Ayran) at the Taj Hotel Mumbai which would also be the location of Pratap & Aparna’s bridal room.
The Turban Ceremony
The day of the religious ceremony and the actual wedding dinner, there are two more things to be done before the groom can proceed to the wedding. One is the face masking (vatna) ceremony. The groom’s face and upper body is covered with a mustard colored, yoghurt textured mask, turmeric paste, which is said to cleanse, soften, and lighten the skin. Obviously, this was one of the most entertaining events for the guests (mind you not the groom), because we got to plaster Pratap’s face with the mixture, and he was nicely covered up in less than a minute. Aparna’s sisters and cousin-sisters joined us. Pratap hugged everyone who participated in his painting but Seha and I managed to escape.
After his bath, Pratap was ready for the turban ceremony (sehra-bandhi). For this, a priest and an apprentice priest were present. Pratap’s parents, grandmother and sister all sat down on the floor which had some coconuts, rice, garlands, and Pratap’s turban. The priest and his apprentice recited some Hindu prayers in Sanskrit and performed the rituals. The turban was blessed by the elders, the reduced milk ball sweet with saffron (laddoo) was offered to guests, and Pratap’s dad placed Pratap’s turban where it was to stay for the rest of the evening. After this, his head was covered by strings of flowers which in essence formed a veil of flowers. He was complaining that the tight turban and the smell of the flowers were giving him a headache. We threw rice at him for good luck, health and prosperity, and we gave him an asprin for the headache.
Uncle Whig putting on Pratap’s turban, Auntie Whig and Ami (grandmother) are watching.
After Pratap was ready to go, the men (I, Pratap’s father, uncle, and cousin-brother) wore our turbans as well (prepared by Auntie Whig), and we were ready to head off to the wedding dinner and reception to be followed by the Hindu wedding ceremony.
We drove to the location of the wedding (Mumbai Navy Mess.), but left the cars at the outside gates. There, a horse drawn chariot was waiting for Pratap. Kanika (Pratap’s sister) fed the horses with some horse food that she had brought. Meanwhile the procession band, a band of about 15 musicians playing trumpets, clarinettes, drums, and cymbals was warming up. They wore red uniforms with flat hats, and around them were a couple of guys carrying huge lanterns. When everyone was ready, we started the march to the wedding area. We probably took 45 minutes for a distance of 2 kilometers because we stopped every few minutes and danced to the tunes of the band. We were joined by local kids on the way who pointed at me, an obvious foreigner in indian clothing, gaped and giggled.
Pratap On His Carriage, Safe Behind the Flowers
Vivek (Benni), one of Pratap’s friends from IIT, told me the songs were wedding songs from Hindi movies, and they had names like, “We Will Take the Bride!”, “My Friend is Getting Married”, etc.
In the meantime, Pratap was sitting on the chariot, awaiting his fate and did not appear to be nervous at all. Towards the end, he even descended from this chariot and joined us!
Finally we came to a halt when we saw the bride’s side waiting for us at the entrance. Aparna was nowhere to be seen (she was not supposed to appear until Pratap took his place on the stage). Slowly the two sides approached each other in battle formation. The band started playing again, and when we got together with the bride’s side, we danced as one big group.
The priest arrived and the formal meeting ceremony (milni) began. The males from both sides “met” by putting garlands around each other’s necks, and shaking hands and hugging. The priest said prayers at each “meeting” and got donations. I “met” with one of Aparna’s uncles and was lifted up among cheers!
We entered the lawn where the wedding dinner was going to be served. About 50 tables were set on grass right by the beach. On both sides there were two huge buffets serving vegeterian food and non-alcoholic beverages (as is the tradition in Hindu weddings). There was a platform with flowers and little palm trees at the front for the couple. We took Pratap there, and as his friends, kept him company until Aparna ascended to the throne of the platform.
At this point, the boys from the bride’s side were supposed to take off Pratap’s shoes and hide them to ask for ransom at the end of the day. However, Pratap’s friends were alert and only one shoe was stolen. Towards the end of the evening, though, after the “operation other pair”, the other shoe was taken by force to where it belonged: the bride’s side.
The priest came to the platform, recited some prayers, after which we took our seats, and Pratap and Aparna started accepting gifts and best wishes from all the guests.
Around 12 AM (with military dicipline as we were told, because normally the dinner goes on until 2 AM), the wedding moved to the temple. There, a seating area (mandap) was set up with flowers, cushions, and a pot for the holy fire. The families from both sides sat down with the priest. After some prayers, Pratap and Aparna offered each other sweets. The holy fire was lit, and clockwise, they walked around it 4 times, Aparna in front. After that, they sat down again, this time Pratap had Aparna on his right (which was the sign that they were officially married). This was followed by another stroll around the fire (3 more times) with Pratap in front, leading the way. The number seven signifies marriage which is said to be a bond which lasts seven lifetimes.
Finally, the priest started preaching in Hindi. It was translated to us that he told them to be patient with each other, to love each other in health and in sickness, not to divorce over stupid and inevitible things like snoring (as the western couples do). He told Pratap to tell Aparna nicely and not to scold her if she puts too much salt in the food, etc etc.
After all was done, the ceremony ended with the Om Shanti prayer which also happens to be a Madonna song from her latest album, Ray of Light.
Before the couple left to go to Pratap’s parents’ house, Pratap had to bargain with the bride’s side to get his shoes back. As is the Hindu tradition, they shook hands over an odd sum of money.
Pratap’s parents and family quietly left the temple to go to where they were staying so that Pratap could take Aparna there. Aparna’s family had a very sad farewell… Amid silent tears (of which Pratap shed none for those wondering), the couple got in the car, which was pushed out of the parking area by the couple’s friends.
While Pratap was taking Aparna to where his parents were staying, we as the friends, headed off to their honeymoon suite for some practical jokes involving sharp objects as well as some inflatable objects, and greeted them there on their first night with a herd of about 20 people. We ate the fruits, opened the champagne, and finally left them to get some rest before their honeymoon in Goa.
After the honeymoon, they headed to Delhi for a reception since Delhi is where Pratap is from. However due to our tight travel schedule, we had to miss that section of the wedding.
Our experience was unforgettable. We’d like to thank Uncle and Auntie Whig, Ami, Kanika, Mr and Mrs Gulati, Captain Gulati, Mr. Batra, Samantha, Vivek, Manoj, Nalkur and all other wonderful friends and family of the Gulatis and the Whigs for their hospitality. We congratulate the bride and the groom, thank them for sharing their happiest day with us and wish them a long and healthy life together.