Wednesday, April 21, 2010

The South Indian Weddings!

While Kate and I were in Bangalore we were fortunate enough to attend two south Indian weddings. I was expecting the loud dancing weddings like the one in the movie Monsoon Wedding, but apparently those are north Indian weddings, and south Indian weddings are slightly different. First of all, they are entirely about eating! The first wedding we were invited to was one of Kate's old work buddy's brothers, so we went with a bunch of people from SEVA (the NGO she worked with). We showed up at the office on time, but of course didn't leave for an hour or so, true Indian fashion. As we were leaving the office and heading to the wedding I got my first taste of riding through the crazy streets of Bangalore on the back of a moto....quite an experience. There are no lines in the road, and people just weave in between each other and cross over three lanes of traffic with no light, it's pretty hectic. But, this is about the weddings, not the driving, so let me get back on subject.

When we arrived at the wedding the ceremony was pretty much finished. It was 1 pm and apparently the ceremonies had been going on since 6 am; so when I thought we were going to see a real Indian wedding it turned out we were just showing up for lunch! We waited in line for awhile, then we entered the dining hall, below the reception hall, where tons of tables were lined up facing each other. The scene in that room was nothing like I have ever witnessed before.

As a big group of people finished eating we got to watch the whole process. First there are shirtless men with strings tied diagonally across their chests (symbolizing their Brahaman caste status) that are running the whole scene, and there are about 40 of them. They wipe off the tables, then put a sheet of plastic down, then they set banana leaves in front of each person. Next someone comes around with cups, and they fill them with water and instruct you to wash off your banana leaf. Next comes the good part...the food! Men just shuttle down the rows of people each with a different dish, loading up your banana leaf. By the end of the routine we had about 4 different kinds of salads (including an amazing corn and pomegranate seed one), rice, dal, and all sorts of other yummy goodies. They keep coming around trying to give you more of everything, and you literally have to dash to put your hand over your banana leaf to signal that you don't want anymore, or they just load you up again. Then, after all the main food they come around with heaps of desserts. It's pretty crazy!

So, our first wedding consisted only of eating lunch (and they were begging us to come back for dinner). It's pretty funny because people come to the weddings just for lunch, go home for awhile, then change and come back for dinner! It is seriously all about eating! Pretty amazing. They believe that the more people you feed, the better luck you will have. The couple we were staying with said that when they got married, they fed over 2,000 people! Crazy right!

Anyhoo, our second wedding was a bit more of a cultural experience. Parimala's (the woman we were staying with) cousin was getting married, and she brought us along for the whole event. It started with an amazing breakfast, then we got to witness all the rituals. The couple has to do rituals that they don't even understand for about 6 hours, it's pretty intense. The woman has to change saree's multiple times, and there is one guy who pretty much runs the show (shouting different things and singing) in sanskrit. Most people don't speak saskrit, so they have no idea what they are doing, they just follow the lead of the guy. At the particular wedding we were at you would think the guy was some sort of holy person, but it turns out he was really a bank manager, but doing weddings was his weekend hobby.

So anyways it was great to go to the wedding with Parimala (the woman changing her earrings in the picture above) because she explained a lot of the things to us. Most of the wedding takes place on a stage in the middle of the room (where we had to stand most of the time because they were so excited to have foreigners there), that is covered in all sorts of offerings like fruit, incense, idols etc...

The bride is dressed up beautifully in an amazing saree, and her hands and feet have the most amazing Henna on them:

After awhile the ceremony moves outside and the brides family does all these things to the groom like wash his feet, give him a new pair of shoes, the father of the bride even holds an umbrella over his head to shade him from the sun! Quite different from an American wedding! The whole process is beautiful, kind of confusing but really interesting! Some of the best parts are the photos and the video shooting that is done. We had to pose in so many pictures, it was quite embarassing, especially because the women looked so beautiful in their sarees and Kate and I looked like crap compared to them. Then the funniest part is that you pose with the wedding party, and you have to stand there and hold your smile for about a minute and a half while they take pictures, and the video guy just points his camera at you. You feel like those people mannequins in San Francisco that hold poses for hours!

After about five hours the ceremony was apparently behind schedule because everyone was rushing and freaking out about the tying of the Thali. The tying of the Thali (a necklace) is like the exchange of rings for us, except it has to be done at a certain time according to the couples astrological chart. The family was getting really worried at this particular wedding because they were running behind schedule, and bad things would happen if the Thali wasn't tied during the specified time period. Eventually everything happened ok, and the couple were assured a happy life together! Kate and I decided to leave after the ceremony finished, and everyone was desperately trying to get us to stay for lunch. We were seriously so full from our huge breakfast that there was no way we could eat anything else. Apparently after we left everyone was giving Parimala hell for letting us leave without eating; even the camera guys came up to her and asked why she let us go! It was pretty I said, it's all about the food!

Here are a few pics of Parimala, her brother, her son Vidit, etc...

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