OPINION

The Great Indian Wedding

May 02, 2007
Tanay Behera

Everyone is talking about the Abhi-Ash wedding or at least one gets the news as one browses the Indian dailies in print and digital media. A couple of weeks back this space was ruled by the grand Liz Hurley-Arun Nayar wedding, in Rajasthan till recently. But both these media tom-toming events were for the high and the elite, only a selected few were invited, kissne Salman Khan ko shaadi pe invite nahi ke and then our own Sachin Tendulkar was busy getting out the cricket circles and ignoring all khit phit, being a privileged guest in Big B's invitee list. With the Indian summer temperature rising, the Indian marriage season is also getting hot and hotter. Recently I attended a wedding function of one of friends in the heart of Andhra Pradesh, at Kurnool.

Following the engagement function, the marriage happened as per customs and traditions on a weekday. Yes, I stress on the word 'weekday' as panditji had predicted this 'day' and this 'time' termed 'subhamuhartam' as the solemn moment for the union of Ha and Sw. Also since it was on a 'weekday', my friends and I completed our work and traveled towards the destination by the last bus and did not take the car since no one was ready to drive after a day's work. That day it had rained in Bangalore before we boarded the bus at 10 PM. The soil though not sticky smelled refreshing from the first showers of the monsoons, competing with other colors of the nature.

The hi-tech Volvo bus journey was easy if not perfectly comfortable and we reached Kurnool at five in the morning. The city had received few hours of rain early morning, the red soil breathed of earthy fragrance, the air was live with the chirping birds and the streets littered with withered leaves. Resting for a couple of hours in a guest house, we were all ready by eight while all the functions and rituals were underway in a nearby 'Mandap'.

The entrance to the 'Mandap', a metal and tinsel affair, was flanked on both sides by banana saplings and earthen pots containing tender, vermillion-sprinkled mango leaves and coconuts. The two columns of the gate were connected by arch decorated with a profusion of flowers. The ground floor of the 'Mandap' was dotted thickly with shamianas and people were busy having their breakfast. By the time I reached the first floor where the marriage was happening in a big hall, every inch of the space was filled with people, each one talking earnestly and loudly to the other.
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An even greater crush of the people milled around a raised dais at the end. Ha dressed in silk kurta and dhoti looked smart but Sw was quite unrecognizable with the heavy makeup and jewelery most of it gold, dripping from her neck, ears, limbs and braided hair. Very near to the dais, there were few idols and on inquiry, I learned that 'Gowri Puja' was already performed. The sole intention being 'Gowri' is Mother Durga who symbolizes divine power, energy, woman power, fertility, etc and this is performed to seek the blessings for the bride.
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When the marriage function started, the panditji initially went through a series of rituals like cleaning the groom's feet with water, exchanging betel leaves, betel nuts, coconuts, etc. Like in north India, where the 'agnihotram' (sacred fire) is the epicenter of all the action, here I found that such a practise existed but of a toned down version.
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Musicians played the music from one end of the hall relentlessly and a wave of a hand was enough to tell them to increase the drum beat levels when it was time for the groom to tie the mangalsutra around the bride's neck and another wave told them to stop playing. At the end of the mangalsutra tying ceremony, the couple put garlands around each other's necks.
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Rice being the staple food was poured in abundance over each other's head by the couple in a joyful manner conveying prosperity and abundance. And all those assembled showered flower petals and uncooked, turmeric-colored rice. Beyond the luxuriant foliage of the dais's decoration, the men were informally dressed in loose shirts and trousers to beat the damp heat. The women made no concession to the weather and were dressed in Kanjeevarams and saris with heavy silk-thread work. Tiers of gem-encrusted gold clung from their necks, ears and arms, not to mention the dense smell of perfumes.
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I was standing at one corner dressed in my CK Jeans and a simple blue shirt keeping my shutter busy, while relishing the spectacle of an Indian wedding. I watched with interest as guests came one by one, deposited a large and gaily-wrapped parcel onto the couple's hands, wishing them a long and happy married life and then posing for a photography. I pity, no no I acknowledge both Ha and Sw as they stood there for close to two hours, accepted the gifts with plastic smiles on their faces, something similar to those that we see in Hindi film 'mahurats'. The flip side of this is later on down the years, when the couple surf through the album, they can get to know that 'this-uncle-that aunty-this cousin-that relative' had come to their wedding and feel nostalgic about it.

The lunch was simple South Indian food, completely vegetarian and dishes comprised of rice, sambar, spicy brinjal curry doused in oil, bhindi and kaju fry, lemon rice, etc to name a few. The buffet lunch was laid in an enclosed space where several tables were neatly arranged as in a regiment. Though the fans whizzed busily above them, it was extremely hot. Crowds of people stood around with plates in their hands, talking, looking around to make sure they were seen. Occasionally they also ate. There were lots of kids running wildly in the food court, competing with their friends as to who would consume the maximum scoops of ice-cream and often in their carefree escapade they bumped against few others in the crowd, spilling the gravy on the shirts and saris. But then, who cares when the kids are having a 'ball-of-a-time'.

It was late afternoon by now and I took some rest after a heavy lunch, before exploring the small mid-town of Kurnool, taking myself out of the cool confines of my A/C room. The rugged landscape with its boulders tumbled about in disorderly masses and glowing like dull fire in the early hours of twilight, possessed a strong and hardy personality. This was comforted by an accidental yet amicable encounter with a nimbu pani seller. Somehow time passed by and it was night, time to board the bus for our return trip.

I fortunately got the window seat and the moment I was seated comfortably, I switched on my iPod, which started humming the songs on my favorite list. I looked through the windowpane. The crescent of the moon thrust a pale light through the translucent film as I reflected upon the superior character, tradition and belief which one finds so often in these simple and age-old customs and functions. I had slept in the mean while, to wake up in the morning when the sunrays struck on my face. Despising the grimy hovels, glassy shops, ornate places, match box apartments, and efficient-looking office blocks which are today's Bangalore, I return to my flat in order to continue with my daily life, chores and ruminations.

Tanay, a simple person. Has four simple needs in life: to read lots, to meet lots of people, talk and interact, to have his laptop connection in place always, to travel anywhere and everywhere.Wants to work for United Nations soon. You can read my blogs here .
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