The Bengali Wedding

December and January is wedding season. It is an auspicious time of year and many believe that a union in these months will produce a successful matrimony. It doesn’t hurt that it is also winter. The cool temperatures seem to make standing or sitting around in a sari more manageable than it would be in the sweltering heat.

The Indian wedding is often portrayed on television and in movies as a big party with a lot of eating and dancing. The more people the merrier (sometimes extra people are hired to make the reception look full–see Shudh Desi Romance). This however, is more popular in North India in places like Rajasthan or Punjab.

The weddings that I have been to in Kolkata are very different from the movies but very much in line with what I have heard from other teachers and seen in photos. There are many pre-wedding rituals and ceremonies that are apart of the whole wedding process and the rituals all change a bit depending on how superstitious the family is. In short, from my perspective, marriages ceremoniously depict a woman’s transition from her own family to her husband’s family.

Last week, I went to the wedding of one of the teachers at my school but I did not stay for the actual ceremony. When I got there, the bride was in one location separate from the groom. The guests slowly trickled in, gave their best wishes and took some pictures with the bride. I attended with some of my colleagues so we took a group picture and then had a few refreshments before heading to a separate room for dinner. We then had a delicious meal ( veg and non-veg was available). The highlight for me was the stuffed naan. It is a stuffed piece of naan, similar to a roll or biscuit in shape and filled with spices in the middle. Because it is more compact, it stays warmer longer. The few times that I have had it, it has always been soft and perfect. After we ate, we went back downstairs, talked to the bride for a little longer and then headed out. I unfortunately missed the groom and the actual wedding ceremony but I had school the next day and the teachers and myself wanted to make sure that I got home at a decent hour.
On Sunday, I went to the pre-wedding turmeric or haldi ceremony of a friend’s cousin sister. The haldi happens the morning of the marriage ceremony. It is more casual and intimate than the actual marriage evening festivities and it consists of mostly family members. For the turmeric ceremony about five or so married women, each carrying different things, walk around the bride seven times and then pour a little water onto her. After they walk, they put tumeric, that has been touched by the groom and sent from his residence, and vermillion onto the bride’s face and body. The bride didn’t want too much turmeric on her face because she had just gotten a facial the day before. They put turmeric on all the attendees too. After the ceremony we had a feast which included some of the sweets that the groom’s family had brought over earlier that morning with the tumeric and many other gifts. After our feast we took rest while the other family members went to prepare and freshen up for the evening ceremony. I had to leave for yet another wedding ceremony of another fellow teacher.

At the second wedding, on Sunday, I finally got to see the shubho drishti (translates to auspicious glance/pleasing vision). The bride covers her face with a betel leaf and is carried by her brothers (or cousins) on a wooden board towards the groom. Once they reach the groom, they go around him seven times before the bride lowers the leaf and comes face to face with her groom. The bride is still supported by her brothers during all of this. I have been told that back in the olden days the shubho drishti was the first time that the bride would get to see her groom and vice versa, provided that it was an arranged marriage. It is an incredibly sweet and romantic moment. After the bride and groom exchange garlands, the two then sit down for the actual ceremony where the bride’s father physically gives her hand to the groom. I had to leave shortly after that since it was getting late and I had school the next day.

I could go on and on about weddings, just ask the other teachers in my staff room. We talk about them until they tell me to marry a nice Bengali boy and stay forever. At that point, I usually begin to start giggling and blushing (luckily it is mostly internal), I can’t imagine getting married yet.

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