Tuesday, November 28, 2006

5 The Big Long Day

The previous day's festivities had ended with a great dinner and by the time I had managed to get ready for bed, it was already midnight. I had to get up again at 4:30AM when the makeup/hair person would arrive.

There is a reason for this early time. In most traditional south indian weddings, the groom ties a sacred thread around the bride's neck which is analagous to a wedding ring in Christian ceremonies. This event must take place during a pre-chosen 1.5 hour time frame decided on by both families based on the lunar calendar and our birth stars. My time frame was a reasonable 7:30AM - 9:00AM. Not too bad, but if you consider the make-up, the headress, the saree, the jewelery, and the many religious steps to be taken before the actual trying of the thread, I'm surprised I was allowed to sleep at all! Here I am in full gear ready to head down to the stage.

Flowers are a big deal in Indian weddings. I had to wear a garland made of roses and jasmine and a huge flower headress. Here's an unflattering view from the back.

The priest had informed us that I was to arrive on stage at precisely 6:30AM. I was only about an hour or so late. No biggie.
When I finally arrived on stage, my mother was preparing Vivek for the day. She adorned his eyes with kohl, and fed him some breakfast.

The next event that takes place is the "Kasi Yatra." It is a recreation of an old tradition where the groom has decided to leave on a pilgrimage to the holy city of Kasi. However, he is stopped by the father of bride and requested to return immediately to wed his daughter. I didn't need to be present for this part, but here's a photo of Vivek trying to run off on his pilgrimage. Good thing my dad brought him back.

Vivek and I saw each other again at the "Oonjal" or swing ceremony at which point he was told to hold my hand and not let go. We were both given more garlands and escorted by the audience to a decorated swing outside the marriage hall where we sat while the women around us sang songs.

Then five married women and a bachelor from my side blessed the union and warded off any bad luck.

Then we both headed back to the stage where we said more prayers. Meanwhile the sacred thread and my wedding saree were passed through the audience for everyone to see and bless.

In a symbolic gesture, I sat on my father's lap and several more prayers were spoken and the sacred thread and wedding saree were brought back to the stage. After a final blessing from Vivek, they were handed to Vivek's closest female sibling, his cousin Divya. She was to be the one who prepared me for the final events of the wedding.

A regular saree in normally 6 yards of fabric, but the wedding saree is 9 yards and worn differently. When I was being helped with that, someone mentioned that there were only 5 minutes left in the aforementioned time frame. Needless to say, everyone rushed me back to the stage. I resumed my place on my father's lap and the sacred knot was tied. Vivek tied the first two knots and Divya tied the third.

Then Vivek held my hand again, lifted me off my father's lap and we walked back to the main stage where we exchanged even more garlands.

Luckily, we didn't have to wear all those garlands for long. Then Vivek took me through the "SapthaPadhi" or seven steps leading to our new lives. We walked around the fire three times and then my uncle fitted me with toe rings. Back in the day, men were never allowed to look at women's faces. Their eyes always faced down in the presence of women. And the only way to discover a woman's marital status was to look for toe rings.

After all the religious parts of the ceremony ended, we took our first wedding meal as husband and wife.

We had a short recess after the lunch, at which point I got to remove my head gear and change into my FINAL set of clothes for the day! And it gave everyone else a little time to sleep off a really heavy meal.

Around 3pm in the afternoon, the few remaining guests which included close family and friends, gathered in the main hall for the "Nalangu." This is a traditional event where, now that they are married, the bride and groom can finally get to know each other. During the nalangu, the bride and groom perform a series of tasks by which they test each other's patience and limits, but in a fun way. For example, I had to put colored paste on Vivek's feet, but he wouldn't show them to me unless I offered something in return. Here are the results of that little contest.

I didn't let Vivek off that easy either. He had to do a little dance number to see my feet and sure enough...

Since he came through, I had to give up my feet.

Then, we had to wrangle a coconut away from each other. I was allowed to use both hands and Vivek could only use one. The contest might have been weighted in my favor, but since I have no upper-body strength to speak of, we both managed to get the other's coconut.

The Nalangu was the last part of the wedding. So much had happened over the past week, it was hard to believe my wedding had come and gone. But fortunately that wasn't the end. The next evening, we all packed up our things and headed out on the Kanyakumari Express, an overnight train which would deposit us near Vivek's hometown of Panagudi. It would be my first time there and Vivek's parents had planned a grand reception for the following Wednesday.

See all the wedding photos here.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

4 Pre-Wedding Glitters

Saturday morning (Nov. 4) began with a frenzied trip to the marriage hall where we had the "Jathakarma Namakarnam" or renaming ceremony around 10AM. Basically, Vivek's parents could have chosen to rename me if for some reason they hadn't liked my given name. Luckily, I got to keep my name and we broke for lunch. See some photos here.


Remember those Bling shoes? I finally got to wear them during the "Janvasam." The highlights of this evening's events include inviting the groom to the family and the official engagement ceremony.

The groom first goes to the temple to pray and when he returns, there is a huge celebration and procession to welcome him. Vivek boarded a beautiful horse-drawn carriage and I joined him there.

We had arranged a marching band to precede the carriage down the several streets between the temple and marriage hall. Here's my mom with the band.

Everyone in the procession danced to the music all the way to the hall. By-standers also joined in. I guy on a motorbike actually winked at me as he passed us. We had police cordon off a section of the road to allow us easy passage through busy evening traffic.

The dancing continued after we arrived at the hall. Vivek showed off one of his many talents and even my dad joined in.

After we entered the hall, the priest blessed us and after a few prayers and a quick change of clothes for me, Vivek and I were officially engaged to be married.

Oh, and Vivek might have ripped a seam with that last move. I thought I would check.

See the whole evening here.


Monday, November 20, 2006

3 Mehndhi Party

Before I knew it, I'd been in India four days. It was Thursday and I had had just about enough of the running around. At 2pm, two girls who are skilled mehndhi/henna artists arrived at the apartment to put me through four hours of sitting and doing nothing. They drew wonderful henna designs on my hands and feet. My mom, my aunts and my cousin also got their designs done then.

I kept the paste on my hands and feet the rest of the day and all night. People came and went, but I stayed put. It was a good break from the running around.

We had decided earlier that me and a few other important people would get our mehndhi done a day before the actual henna party. Since I was going to be dressed up and decked out, I didn't want the henna to get on my clothes. And it would give us a chance to mingle easily without messing up our designs. The party the next day was fabulous. There was plenty of socializing, dancing, and great food of course. Click on the following link to see those photos.


The highlight of the day was seeing my grandparents after almost three years. It was a real effort for them to travel down from Mumbai in central India. They are one of the main reasons I wanted my wedding to take place in India and I was so happy that they were there to share this with me.

2 A Week of Madness

When I got to the apartment where we were staying, a.k.a "Marriage Central," the ladies of the house greeted me by warding off bad luck with an "aarthi." My mom and my aunt sang a welcome song and I entered the house right foot first.

By the time lunch rolled around, I had gone to a clothing store to get measured for the many blouses that were to be stitched for my wedding sarees and a jewelry store to buy earrings and a ring. The jetlag really hit me after lunch. By 4pm I couldn't keep my eyes open anymore and had to nap.

I didn't get to nap long. While I ran off on yet another shopping errand, my brother took advantage of an empty bed.

Right below our apartment complex was Matsya, a great South Indian vegetarian restaurant. We comandeered their private dining room for dinner. And had some great food.

All this was just day 1 in India.

The next day, I got a shot of a bull standing in the rain before I went out for more shopping.

I didn't have much say in all the wedding purchases up to now (such as sarees, jewelry, etc.), but I had to get these! Bling!

One of Vivek's little cousins, Samira, loves the story of Cinderella. Her mom had told her that Vivek was a prince and that I was Cinderella. I couldn't wait to show her these shoes. They have glass heels.

Saturday, November 18, 2006

1 India, ETA 3:30AM October 30, 2006

Vivek and I left New York on October 28. Here I am waiting to board our flight via Dubai to Trivandrum.

We landed in Trivandrum airport in Southern India on October 30 at 3:30 am. It was a long flight and we both slept the whole way. I met Vivek's parents there for the first time ever. They are both doctors and run a nursing home/hospital in a small town in Tamil Nadu state called Panagudi. On a side note, that nursing home/hospital is named after Vivek.

Vivek and I split up here. He drove two hours home with his parents to Panagudi (near Kanyakumari) and I caught a connecting flight to Chennai where the wedding was to take place. Here's a map just to get an idea of the geography.

My parents me at Chennai airport and carted me away for a week of last minute preparations.