The invitation came to attend a wedding in India, to be held at the Royal Palace in Jaipur City…the home of the famous Maharajah and Maharani of Jaipur. (The ones who socialized with Queen Elizabeth and Prince Phillip, Jackie O. and John Kennedy, and Mahatma Gandhi.) The bride and groom would be having a three day affair, which included five events to attend. We booked our flights, planned to hit the Taj Mahal and a tiger safari on the way, and immerse ourselves in Indian culture for the first time. See Take My Breath Away and A Luxurious Search For A Tiger for more about the first half of our trip.
An Indian wedding is often the result of an “arranged” marriage which has been orchestrated by the parents of the soon-to-be-bethrothed couple. Therefore, the ceremonial festivities and rituals last for several days as the bride and groom (and their extended families) get to know one another. In the case of our friends, this was a “love match,” where the couple met in college, fell in love, and then decided to follow the traditions of the bride’s ancestors with a formal wedding in India. I have known the groom since he was in kindergarten with my daughter.
The first ceremony (following the pre-wedding dinner to greet out-of-town guests) was the Mehendi Mela. This involves applying henna to the hands, arms, and ankles of the bride as decoration for the upcoming wedding. Mehendi is one of the sixteen adornments of the bride and her beauty is incomplete without it. (Some of these other necessary items are hair flowers, vermillion on her hair part, kohl on her eyes, ear rings, nose ring, thumb ring, toe ring, arm bands, bracelets, etc. ) According to popular belief, the darker the color the dried henna imprints on your skin, the more you are loved. Incidentally, my henna came out super light….wuz up, Scott? The theme of the Mehendi Mela was “lawn party chic” and the flower decorations were nothing short of stunning. Loose petals adorned the ground in mosaic type designs, flower frames hung from poles, and bright parasols of flowers were scattered around in-between couches, mattresses, swings, tables, and chairs. The groom rode in on a flower covered bicycle pulling his bride in an umbrella shaded floral chariot. Once they arrived, the dancing began. The food was stationed in two sections; Indian street vendor foods and a traditional Indian buffet.
Following the Mehendi, we attended and participated in the Sangeet ceremony. Traditionally just for women, the Sangeet is a ritual of song and dance to celebrate the bride. Joy and merriment are the goals. At the Sangeet we attended, it was co-ed and we were given a dance video two weeks in advance to prepare for our choreographed dance presentation! We were assigned a Spanish song called “Señorita” which lasted about 2 minutes. We knew our group of eight would be dancing on a stage in front of 450 guests! It was a blast watching everyone else perform, and a relief to have completed our performance without total goof ups. After the guests had performed their routines, it was time for the bride and groom to perform. They were fabulous! Then a band from Mumbai took the stage and the room turned into a sort of dance club until 3 AM. Of course, I was tucked in asleep by then.
Many guests wore shades of golden yellow to the Haldi ceremony the next day, as this is where the bride and groom are covered in turmeric paste to prepare them for their wedding later that evening. It is believed the turmeric ushers in a life of prosperity for the couple, who are starting off their new life together, as well as exfoliating the skin, warding off infection, curing wedding day jitters with its calming effects, and making the skin glow with radiance. The relatives of the couple sing traditional songs during the placement of the turmeric paste. At this ritual, I was quite glad to be an observer rather than a participant…. it was gooey and messy!
Finally, the wedding ceremony arrived. It was broken down into three separate segments, all held at the City Palace in Jaipur. The first event was the “tying of the saafa.” This was a ceremony to tie a turban on every man (and some women) in the color of the groom (pink) or bride (yellow). Next came the “Baraat” ceremony. This meant that the relatives and friends of the bride were allowed to enter the palace and begin eating and drinking in celebration. The friends and relatives of the groom (us) had to wait outside the palace (no food or drinks) and wait for about an hour until we were invited in. The groom sat atop a brightly painted elephant, which was in a procession with several horses, riders, and musicians. The band played their drums loudly as the crowd begged to be invited in…. a melee that seemed never ending. The temperature was dropping and the only heaters were inside the palace walls….
Once we were allowed to enter the palace gates, we were welcomed with flower bracelets, necklaces, sweets, and coffee. Then the bride came in under a canopy of twinkle lights (which later turned into sparklers and fireworks!) We were escorted to another outdoor courtyard in the palace for the wedding ceremony (in Hindu), and the buffet feast (prepared by a famous Indian chef). It was magical to see the palace lit up in shades of magenta and yellow. It was also delightful to see the yellow turbans and the pink turbans mingling together as now we had all met each other, shared five events together, and made new friends. As Scott and I walked out of the palace that evening, in our matching lime green Indian outfits, I knew I had experienced a once in a lifetime event. Our driver escorted us (past the crowds of people sitting on the sidewalks or begging amongst the cars) to another palace where we were staying. The juxtaposition and irony didn’t escape me. Amidst the glory and celebration, was an enormous expense. The suffering and poverty that was all around us, made me so extremely sad. I was happy for the newly married couple, but my heart ached for so many others. It was time for me to leave…..