Category Archives: Religion

A big fat Gujarati wedding

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In between Christmas in England and New Years in Singapore, Will & I flew to Ahmedabad in India to celebrate our friends wedding. They had already had a ceremony in England, but now it was time for the Indian side! Having never been to an Indian wedding, we were really looking forward to it but without any idea of what to expect.

Before we left Singapore we bought our outfits – a beautiful beaded sari for me and a kurta pajama (complete with matching shoes!) for Will. We picked up the outfits in Little India. Will’s was ready to take home, but I had to have my blouse made to measure. They were super sweet and turned it around really quickly for me (a couple of days) but I’d recommend leaving at least a week. I also got the skirt part of the sari with a lining stitched in and a wrap around hook-and-eye set up, making it really easy for me to put it on myself! Rather than having to have one of the couple’s aunties wrap me up!

Weddings are a massive event in India – the WHOLE family comes out for them and I think there were over 400 guests at this one. Vik’s family are Hindu, so what I’m going to describe is what we experienced – no doubt there are many variations on what happens and rituals that we didn’t get to see, as we weren’t part of the ‘wedding party’.

We started off with the Sangeet. The sangeet party is usually the most elaborate and grand part of the wedding and this one was no exception. We all got on a coach out to a country club about 30 minutes out of central Ahmedabad. The venue was beautifully decorated with huge flower displays and loads of amazingly colourful lighting.

Arriving at the sangeet

There was a huge buffet meal available, with everyone milling around eating and drinking fruit juices and lassi (being a Hindu wedding and Hindu state there was no alcohol available – kind of a relief after the boozy Christmas time we’d just had in England). The food was amazing with lots of different stations offering different vegetable curries, dhal, and roti. We sampled loads of different things – some were absolutely delicious, others blew my mind with the spiciness! We finished up our meal with condensed milk ice creams on sticks (not dissimilar to a Mini Milk…) which were flavoured with cardamom – delicious!

After the meal, we moved to the seating area. By now, the sun had gone down so the weather was actually chilly, so we were grateful for the big gas heaters that were strategically placed! What I didn’t realise was we were now in for 3 or 4hours of Indian dancing and singing! The sangeet was hosted by a famous singer who I think had appeared on Indian Idol (or a similar reality TV show). The best bits were when big groups of the groom’s family appeared on stage to perform set dance routines. The guys amazed me with their dancing – especially when it included some Gangnam style moves!

The guys dancing

It was incredibly energetic to watch. Then the ladies all performed some routines as well – a beautiful mixture of elegant arm movements and swirling skirts.

Ladies dancing at the sangeet

After the formal programme – lots more singing and dancing (!) – we all got up to dance in front of the stage with the whole wedding party. Pretty soon this was one big undulating mass of people moving in time to the music. Quite an amazing spectacle and I felt really English, with my inability to do some of the same moves in the same way as the impossibly elegant Indian ladies!

Dancing at the sangeet – sorry for the slight blurriness, everyone was dancing!

Then people started getting onto the stage and dancing. Aunties pulled Will & I up there to join in. But before too long we were all being asked to leave the stage as they were worried it was going to collapse! I guess several hundred people dancing will do that! So we carried on dancing on the grass, until my poor little feet were too tired to do any more and we joined other guests back on the coach to the hotel.

The bride – Catherine – in the midst of all the dancing

The next day, we slept in late, before having a short walk up the road from the hotel, in search of an ATM and water. We didn’t have much luck on either front but we did get to see lots of market stalls, motorbike repair shops and kids playing cricket. Back at the hotel we donned our Indian outfits (we’d worn more ‘Western’ outfits to the sangeet so we could dance more easily) and got into a tuk-tuk to take us to the wedding venue. Speeding through the Ahmedabad streets with my sari on, I felt impossibly glamorous!

In all our Indian finery

We arrived at the wedding venue and met up with some of the other guests. As we were waiting, the bride arrived. She had to wait with her family whilst we all took part in the groom’s procession.

Catherine arrives at the wedding venue

There was a band lounging around in the shade who seemed pleased to see us and kept waving over! The guys got taken off to have turbans made for them. After that we had time for a few quick photos before exciting news that an elephant had arrived! We’d been hearing rumours about this, but it was still unexpected. We all trundled out into the street to find a big group of family waiting and there was indeed an elephant!

The arrival of the elephant

Vik, the groom, soon arrived in a car covered in flowers. The band started playing – lots of trumpets and drums – creating an infectious beat. It was time for Vik to climb aboard the elephant.

Vik getting ready to climb onto the elephant

All aboard!

Will kept commenting that it reminded him of something out of Aladdin – the bit where Aladdin arrives amidst great ceremony to meet Princess Jasmine! I think it was the little parasol…

The procession of the groom is known as the baraat. The music was going and soon everyone was walking in front of the elephant, leading him towards the wedding venue and his bride. Every now and then the band would stop walking, and this was an opportunity for the processional to dance and give the band money to continue. We would only walk a few metres before stopping again and dancing some more!

Dancing in the baraat

The groom’s mother in beautiful orange

There seemed to be some set dances that went on as well as lots of clapping. It was a great opportunity to learn some dance moves, and to admire the wedding outfits of the guests. Everyone was wearing rich, vivid colours and the women looked beautiful in their heavily beaded and embroidered saris.

Eventually we arrived at the wedding venue (it probably took us 45 minutes to cover about 100 yards!). Here there was more dancing – this time with lots of scarves being swirled around. Then the groom got down off the elephant and was taken to meet the bride and her family. I couldn’t see a lot of this – we were towards the back and there were loads of people. Apparently, the bride’s mother has to keep pinching the nose of the groom to put him off taking her daughter away. The bride then has to ‘catch’ the groom by putting a garland of flowers around his neck. This is greeted with lots of cheering and clapping from the wedding guests. We then filed into the wedding venue.

We were all seated around a big raised area in the centre, where the ceremony would be performed. At this point, I found the divide between Indian and Christian weddings greatest. Usually, the actual ‘marriage’ is very solemn and everyone pays attention at every wedding I’ve been to. At an Indian wedding, it is a lengthy process, heavy with ritual and tradition. It goes on a long time, so everyone wanders around, chats, and eats! Waiters kept bringing us drinks and snacks to keep us going! I found out later that the bride and groom aren’t allowed to eat anything until the wedding is over!

The groom arrives first and there seemed to be a long blessing and prayers. Then the bride arrived, accompanied by all her female family members, who tightly surround her, carrying candles. There is also a sheet carried over her head, so you can hardly see her.

The bridal procession

A brief glimpse of Catherine!

I didn’t know what was happening most of the time after that but there is a really good guide to Indian weddings here. I know there was a fire, and they had their feet touched a lot. They also seemed to be given a lot of gifts.

Finally married!

After the ceremony is over, all the guests lined up to have their photo taken with the bride and groom. This went on for AGES! Apparently the line is formed by family hierarchy – with immediate family going first, aunts, uncles and cousins next, then more further removed family, and finally friends. After this, the bride and groom are finally allowed to eat! We expected more dancing, but there wasn’t any – apparently the sangeet is where the big ‘party’ takes place. The bride and groom then went off for further blessings and rituals at the family home.

The next day, Vik’s cousin got married so we were all invited along for that. It was a completely different wedding – the groom arrived on a horse and everything was done outside. It was nice as we got to spend time Vik & Catherine, rather than mostly watching them!

Will & I with Vik & Catherine

It was a fantastic experience – one I’ll never forget. It was wonderful to be back in India, celebrating such a happy occasion and getting an insight into a huge part of Indian culture. Thanks so much for inviting us you guys – we had a blast!

Candles and petals outside the wedding venue

As usual, there are more photos over on Flickr.

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Thaipusam in Singapore

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Back in early Feb, I got to witness one of the famous Hindu festivals – Thaipusam. It is celebrated by the Tamil community, which although smaller than some in Singapore, is most definitely present on this little island. Thaipusam celebrates Parvati giving Murugan a spear, so that he is able to vanquish an evil demon.

During Thaipusam, devotees walk a pilgrimage, carrying a burden (kavadi). This can be as simple as carrying a pot of milk, but some devotees go to the extremes of self-mortification where they are pierced with spears at various points over their bodies, from their torsos to their faces. The greater the pain the devotee goes through, the greater the merit that is earned with the gods. It sounds a bit grisley, but it’s actually really humbling to observe.

In Singapore, devotees leave from the Sri Srinivasa Perumal Temple, and finish up 4km later at the Tank Road Temple. I went with a couple of friends down to Tank Road, so that we could watch the devotees arriving with their kavadis, but also see them being removed. I felt like I was witnessing something really special. The idea that someone could even bear having the kavadi attached, nevermind walk all that way in the heat, was astonishing. Even more amazing was the vibe in the crowd – so much chanting and singing, spuring the devotees on, some of them spinning and dancing with their kavadis attached.

Pictures are better than words when describing something like this, so here is a sample of some of the photos I managed to take on the day.

One of the devotees complete with kavadi

Having facial skewer removed

Thirsty work being a devotee

Another devotee arrives

Astonished me how someone can cope with this

Ouch!

All the family were there - loved the colours