The Experience of My First Indian Wedding

The Experience of My First Indian Wedding

Last week I had the real privilege of attending my colleague Paromita’s wedding here in Bangalore.  Trust me when i say that it is an experience I will never forget.  Like basically everything here, it was the black & white, night & day opposite to any other wedding I have attended or participated in either in the U.S., France or Spain.

First, on a personal level, it was my FABULOUS reason for going sari shopping and that in itself was fun as hell and I assume that a girl never forgets her first sari.  However, without having girlfriends here or family to help me sort out how to wrap the 9 yards of fabric around me, I would have looked pretty scrappy doing it on my own.  I sort of imagine I would have looked like a mummy at Halloween more or less.  So just before the wedding I went to a salon for a bit of hair help and sari draping.  I had three women basically tying my petticoat as tight as possible, then wrapping, tugging, pulling, shoving pleated fabric down into my petticoat here and there to secure it… haha  It was wild.

With the lovely bride, Paromita.

And thank god for safety pins because I still haven’t bought brooches yet and without them my sari would have been falling all over the place! Anyway, saris are sexy, feminine and so much fun to wear but they are also VERY difficult to walk around in at first.  I mean, come on, imagine being wrapped up like the luggage at the airport in the bubble wrap, and then walking like normal.  Not gonna happen, haha.  And I love the fact that young Indian women don’t have the same body image hang-ups that we do in southern California or western Europe.  Women who have extra kilos and pounds on them still wear a sheer sari or a sari that shows their (not flat) belly — but without tugging on it to cover up.  They wear them with sexy pride 🙂  I love it.

Finally a photo of Romi, my marketing manager, who was a 2nd photographer at the wedding as a gift to Paromita.

Note: The wedding took place at my colleague’s flat so as I recount the tale keep in mind that we were in a casual and intimate yet limited space without the typical infrastructure and support staff on hand that other wedding’s might have.  And, as usual, I was the only foreigner.  And lastly, I don’t know the difference between the Bengali traditions and what is simply part of a standard Indian wedding, so if I make any mistakes please forgive me!

Tradition calls for the groom’s car to be met outside and basically for the bride’s family and friends to feed him!  So I went down with the group and indeed they brought a small plate with some sweet pastry treats and a glass of water.  No champagne for these guys, and no one seems to miss it to be honest.  I can’t imagine a wedding or pre-wedding setup without it but again things are different here. So we fed the groom and all went up to start the ceremony.

First and foremost, the bride looked stunning.  Paromita’s sari was shimmering in red and gold and the jewelry she selected was lovely.  Just the right amount of bling-bling that I expected from an Indian wedding.  Her makeup was also very exotic and lovely to me, like nothing I had ever seen.  In the U.S. and Europe we like the people in the wedding party to match and have a uniform color palette, the brides are typically in some shade of white, our makeup is subtle and there is no bling-bling on our brides.  Gramma’s pearls, yes.  Bling bling, no!

As we moved to the main room where the ceremony took place, everyone was forced to remove our shoes.  Now, I really didn’t want to be prissy here but I had a couple problems with this.  First, my sari had been draped on me WITH my shoes as the height guide so if I took them off I was going to be stuck “carrying” a fist-full of sari for the rest of the night to avoid stepping on it — or more likely — tripping over it all night.  But, okay…I will know better for next time.  Second, I had worn my virtually new gold sling-back Prada’s (only the 2nd time I had worn them) and I had this really bad feeling about leaving them out ((remember that Sex & the City episode with Carrie’s new Manolo Blahnik’s??)).  I just didn’t want to leave them where they could be damaged.  But again, okay.  I will know better for next time.

With my lovely work mates before the ceremony started.

Indian wedding ceremonies start out with the bride and groom meeting with family, friends and the priest separately.  Both are fed sweet pastries again, spoken to by the priest, and family members either sprinkle herbs on their head or place one hand on their heads to give a blessing.  It is really sweet, actually.

Next the bride moved into the main room where the groom was waiting.  But there is no veil.  Tradition states that she uses two large green leaves to cover her face as she walks around her husband three times  (I might be wrong on this detail) with the help of her family.  The groom has also changed into something akin to a genie costume for me that is white and super transparent — so much so you can see his undies.  In fact, I saw the wedding photos of one of my work mates and he changed into a wedding outfit that was even MORE transparent and showed his chest too!  What is this?  I can’t show my shoulders in public but guys can show their chests and undies? Seems wrong!! haha  Then after a bit of ceremony they were both lifted up into the air by friends and family and it was then that Paromita dropped the leaves and the groom could finally see his lovely bride.  After this there was a couple of hours of the priest chanting, speaking, blessing, and doing his thing.  Dang, Indian weddings are L-O-N-G.  These couple of hours were a time of real audience participation too because the priest is always in constant need of something — herbs, flowers, red powder, a bowl, etc etc…it’s fantastic.  And since he is sitting down it is easier to call out to the people sitting around.  This gave the wedding a real interactive feel 🙂

The bride and groom are almost done. Seven times around the fire for good luck in their next lives, a little sprinkle of red powder and a few more chants and then they are husband and wife 🙂

One of the last traditions is for the couple to walk around a pit of fire seven times.  But we were inside of a flat so this complicated things tremendously I think and was responsible for the only crying moment of the whole ceremony.  Again, this is something really different because we tend to tear up or cry at weddings — even guys at times!  But not in India…I think it is because they go on for so long there doesn’t seem to be one climactic moment for a good cry!  Anyway, the priest added some type of herb to the mini bon-fire as the couple walked around it and the fumes were so severe and drifting right up into Paromita’s face that she was really suffering and end up crying.  In fact, most people had watery eyes from it but the priest just kept on going like a trooper!

If memory serves, this tradition ensures that a couple will be together not only in this life but also in their future lives.  Now, as beautiful a sentiment as I think that is, I am damn happy that I didn’t do the fire walk with my ex-husband Carlos — to me he is pretty much an ass who doesn’t pay child support and it would be a punishment to be attached to him life after life in my future 🙂  haha  What happens when an Indian divorces I wonder????  Have the priests sorted that out here???

The sounds of an Indian wedding are also totally new and different for me.  No harpist or Bach, no sounds of organ music or classic guitar.  It is upbeat and very alive.  I think there was some music at the beginning but that was almost immediately taken over by the lovely sounds of prayer by the priest (or at least I assume it was prayer).  And then at “intermissions” those sounds were taken over by  the bride’s best friend, who acted as maid of honor and participated in most of the wedding.  She would loudly do that throaty-tongue lah-da-lah-da-lah-da thing (what for me is typically heard being done by women in the middle east).  Then the grandma and one of the girls also blew incredibly loudly into a conch shell from time to time.  The cute little girls tried to teach me to blow it but I just made an ass out of myself, haha.  Was fun though.  One thing that was pretty confusing for me was that the maid of honor, who was sat next to the bride most of the ceremony, carried on her own conversations and laughed with people around her during quite a lot of the ceremony, although no one said anything to her so I don’t know if this was typical behavior or not.  For me, I would want my maid of honor to make the day about me and I’d assume that appropriate silence is part of that … will have to ask.

I had a wonderful time, and it was an amazing wedding.  It was a real treat to be out socializing and experience it with my favorite work mates, too.  It cracked me up though that the women from work all looked absolutely STUNNING and so elegant and the guys just came over “as is” after work! haha  WTF?  No freshly pressed shirt, no washed face… haha  Ahhh boys!!  I think I blame the wives for this though, they should make the men dress properly because it appears it doesn’t happen automatically 🙂

Oh, and the Prada shoes?  Yeah, I think they are a victim of this wonderful experience actually 🙁  At the end of the ceremony there was a part where the friends wouldn’t let the bride and groom pass back into the living room until they essentially “paid a toll” for lack of a better term.  Everyone from the large ceremony packed into the hallway where all the shoes were lined up and the shoes were all just stepped on.  I guess someone accidentally trampled them, and the leather ripped on one of the heels.  They were so pretty… but c’est la vie!

XOXO from Bangalore

© Angela Carson, Angela’s Adventures in Bangalore blog and photos, 2011

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Angela Carson

At 21 I left uni, jumped into my Jeep Wrangler, and drove from my native California to live an adventure in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico. I’ve explored 35 countries on 4 continents, residing in 7 of them (currently Kuala Lumpur is my home). I even have a private pilot’s license and was shot at once by bandits!

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27 Comments

  1. 16/05/2011 / 02:55

    hey Hey Hey that sounds amazing fun:
    Keep going to the gym honey otherwise you will have to wear big pants under your sari!!!
    Shame about the shoes tho:( you can always to do Carrie did!! hahaha
    Sounds like you are really having fun now and settling down: Now it is time for visitors.
    hope yoou have a list for the summer 🙂 xxxx

  2. 23/05/2011 / 21:04

    TO ANYONE WHO HATES ME AFTER READING THIS BLOG POST:

    Wow, interestingly enough, this is the only blog post that has generated actual HATE mail and pretty cruel comments directed to me that show I have really offended some people with my personal recount of the amazing wedding I attended. To be honest, there is not much I can do to avoid that I suppose. Everyone is entitled to their own opinion. Like it or not, my style of writing is drenched with (I think) humor and bits of my personal communication style that is – apparently – not loved and adored by everyone, haha. Certainly I was bound to offend people at some point during this fun blog writing project.

    First, there is a part of me that respectfully feels sorry if I offended you. And there is another part of me that feels sorry that we don’t know each other personally so you could know that I use humor for everything. And especially I would like you to know that I LOVED the wedding, the sari experience, trying new things, and that I am happiest living in foreign countries enjoying life’s adventures. But writing “nicely” about those experience isn’t for me. So I suppose it is best we part ways here.

    Second, Paromita (the lovely bride above) asked me to post a comment stating that she and her husband really enjoyed reading the blog and had a big laugh over it. Their family and friends have also read it, along with most of our colleagues at work. Yet only strangers who weren’t there hate me for it. Strange but true 🙂 She told me not to change a thing…Thanks, Paromita!!

    XOXO from Bangalore

  3. Sudhir
    09/06/2011 / 12:29

    Hi Angela, Nice to read your blog. I did not see anything wrong written in your blog. If any one is angry about it, they need to take chill pill. I am Indian married to Australian girl. Next month we are traveling to India to get married in Indian tradition. Failed to convince my parents to cut down huge 3 day wedding. Even for me Indian marriage is boring as and it is a pain in my a**. My wife is not a big fan of Indian tradition, not sure how well it goes for her, in that heat, wearing sari in front of 2000 people and sitting in front of fire. I am freaking out and reading, about any non-Indian, who has gone through the same experience. There is no solution, is there, either my wife has to suck it up or my parents have to cut it short. why does not people under other culture?
    Any how, enough of my boring bit. You rock! enjoy your life.

    • 09/06/2011 / 20:11

      2,000 people? OMG that is just a small intimate wedding then I see 🙂 hehe Well, I guess I can understand your family wishing to keep tradition alive, and understand your bride-to-be not being 100% keen on wearing a sari for 3 days but I’m sure it will be amazing! I love hearing that an Indian man marries a foreigner because I hear so much talk about the families not being always accepting of non-Indians so two thumbs up to you and your family 🙂 Thanks for the nice comment, I wish you both a wonderful life ahead and much happiness.

      • sudhir
        14/06/2011 / 19:34

        My parents are cool. They are surprised that my wife has accepted to marry me. They are happy for me, as my wife is very beautiful, kind and loves me to death. We have our moments though, just like any other couple.

  4. akshay
    17/06/2011 / 01:48

    I’m still wondering why your post generated so much hate mail. :S

    Indian wedding are drastically different, in the details, from one community and region to the other, though the main bit – priest, fire, seven rounds – are more or less common to all Hindu weddings.

    It’s always amazing to read an outsider’s perspective on what we take for granted. 🙂

    Sorry about the Pradas though. Maybe next time you should go with Chucks. 😉

    • 17/06/2011 / 09:40

      hahaha…omg I have NO idea what Chucks are but I’m guessing from how that made me laugh they aren’t Prada’s brother 🙂 haha

      Thanks for taking the time to reach out. You are right about the differences, they are so extreme. I think you guys would be bored at our weddings to be honest. Have a great day 🙂

  5. 05/07/2011 / 01:42

    Sounds like you had an amazing exotic experience, to add-on to your present info about Indian Weddings., not all of the are the same. I mean, in a way they are. But to be honest, they aren’t. Weddings in each state, sub-religion or all that sub sub sub stuff are entirely different when you start comparing details. Kinda confuses me too. Usually the weddings are not done indoors, I can imagine how hard it was for everyone inside the house to just stay put.
    Oh! By the way, when the groom ties the nuptial knot, the loud sounds are made so that no one can hear any bad-mouthed people or curses w/e. If you delve deep into this theory, you’ll turn up with ‘Wishful Thinking’ & ‘Chaos Theory’ kinda stuff. there has been some minute (sorry, no other better word) mistake with the transparent outfit. hmm!! And, what else would interest you.. the conch shell is blown to call the attention of the Gods/Angels, not that they’re not attentive, its just a calling to all good things in the Universe. Probably you might be interested to know that a conch is blown before any battle in the olden days. 😉 Next time you try blowing a conch, make sure that you fill up your lungs with lots of air as if you’re about to dive deep into the water, hold it in the correct way and release the air in your lungs. You’ll be mesmerized by how they sound. let me just go through your blog once again, ……………………….the Maid of Honour, did her job actually. Atleast part of it, she on behalf of the bride may interact with anyone or everyone whom she pleases. Since the bride can’t step away from her husband during the wedding, she may entertain the guests/family/family friends/relatives/party crashers in her own way ;). The priests are selected by the groom’s & bride’s families after a lot of screening, my cousin’s parents actually investigated if he(the priest) had any bad-habits and also enquired if his previous weddings’ couples were still together or not.
    I think “Paid a Toll” is an apt term 🙂 , no one ever came up with such a cool term.. hehe!! It’s kind of like a ‘Stop-Teasing-Me & My Wife” money. Some weddings actually have hide and seek games with the groom’s shoes, the bride’s sisters/girlfriends hide the intricately designed,damn expensive shoes from him and he has to shell out enough money to please the naughty giggling chicks. Most of the times,its fun to watch the groom try to charm and please them without giving the money. I remember one of my college friends shell out around 35k to the entire group.
    By the way, wasn’t there a story after the nuptial-knot? because in my caste (sub-religion) the priest tells a short story (1hr-2hrs) from any of the old Indian epics. Most of these stories are very very captivating, it just makes you glue to your chair.
    Sorry about the shoes though, I guess weddings should even have some proper shoe-stand or something similar. I think, I’ll have it put at my wedding 😛 😉

    • 05/07/2011 / 02:31

      Okay, I am in total AWE by your comment. You know, the only hate mail I have ever received has come from this blog post so I am thrilled you actually shared useful info and fun tidbits for future reference. The priest indeed did tell some stories but since the language completely escaped me I tuned him out and just video’d the event 🙂 I can’t wait to go to my next wedding…I’m looking forward to going to a really opulent one that goes on 3 days like I’ve seen in movies.

      Yes, good call on the shoe rack!! and hey…thanks so much for the FAB comments.

  6. Bharath
    20/07/2011 / 18:15

    Hey Angela,

    Ur quotes are so enjoyable and almost throughout the blog i just kept laughing at your innocence about the Indian culture. But on a serious note, Its really delightful to read your blog, makes me feel closer to home and my circle there.

    Thank you.

    Bharath

    • 20/07/2011 / 18:42

      OMG that is really so nice to hear, thanks so much…. i like that people get my humor and jokes 🙂

  7. Amrita
    21/07/2011 / 02:52

    Great description! Keep it up! Hope you had fun and get to attend more Indian weddings. Your sari is stunningly beautiful.

    • 21/07/2011 / 14:03

      Thanks so much…it was really a unique experience for me. …and thanks for the sari comment, I had soooo much fun shopping for it at the most lovely posh shop that I bought two 🙂

  8. lk
    11/08/2011 / 22:13

    stop making fun of our weddings lady!

    • 11/08/2011 / 23:08

      Hi … out of curiosity, where do I ever make fun of the wedding? Please cut and paste the part that offended you so much as I am truly interested to know. Cheers, angela

  9. ved
    22/08/2011 / 18:30

    Ha,ha ! Very funny description of an indian wedding specially paying the toll part ! Totally cracket me up.It is acutally a toll that the groom has to pay to the bride’s sisters or friends.Glad you enjoyed your first indian wedding and i actually read the post twice to figure out the Controversial part which brought you hate mail but couldn’t find any.Let us know when you find out the reasons.

    • 22/08/2011 / 19:42

      THANK YOU!! haha I have no idea why they got their panties all up in a bunch but those women were not nice! 🙂 –angela

  10. Gagan
    22/08/2011 / 20:07

    Haha, nice ! Go for a Punjabi wedding and you’ll feel like its a different world altogether ! 🙂 Enjoy India 🙂

    • 22/08/2011 / 21:08

      OMG I would love that!! Though I would have turban envy I bet and end up shopping for head wear 🙂 Thanks for reading –ange

      • gautam
        15/03/2012 / 07:45

        Hi Angela,

        Wonderful to view India through your eyes! Re: length of weddings, in Bengali Brahman communities, similar to Paromita’s, the traditional wedding is THREE days long at the bride’s home, plus a huge reception at the bridegroom’s place, after the “wedding” proper! At the wedding, the bride, groom and priests, all maintain a strict no-water fast, for each day. The whole thing can be condensed into 2 days, but the saptapadi [ the seven steps circumambulating the sacred fire], udvaaha, etc. are just the preliminaries. The major rites come on the second day when there is a huge funerary ceremony of both sides of the family plus a major fire ritual. Together, these comprise the kushundikaa, and are the sealing ceremonies, i.e. the bride can become a widow if her groom passes away after these. Not so, after the mere saptapadi or circumambulation.

        And, there is nothing sealing them for “time & for eternity” as with the LDS Church. In the Sanatana Dharma, there is nothing to guarantee that they will not be reborn in any sort of relationship to each other, e.g. as child to mother, or the hisband can become a woman, a worm or any number of things, as can the wife. So no relationships are eternal but only for a single lifetime. Within THIS lifetime, though, a husband and wife, CAN use the institution of marriage to grow their spiritual life in dependence upon each other: every aspect of the married life, from eros to agape, can be employed to grow that spiritual aspect. Therein lies the importance of marriage and that is why it is the culmination of the 10 or 16 sanskaras or re-generative events in a human life that turns him/her from a base product to a refined entity, a twice-born. I.e. ANY one who undergoes these regenerative events, becomes re-born. Marriage is its culmination and apex ritual. As householder, the couple become the pillar on which society rests, on which dharma rests.

        Especially in Bengal, a married woman is seen as an emblem of the auspicious. Any married woman is as auspicious as a Brahman or a cow, the two other symbols of auspiciousness. She never cuts her hair and wears an iron bangle, a pair of conch shell bangles, and a vermilion streak in her hair parting to proclaim her married state, and these were symbols of extreme sanctity and purity in the Bengal of the past and the Bengal of my youth. Those values are disappearing with nothing worthwhile replacing them, merely the idiocy of trying to ape the West without understanding the roots that give strength to Western culture.

        • 20/03/2012 / 11:45

          Hi Gautam, thanks for taking the time to share so much detail and improve my accuracy in the article. I figured I had a bunch of details wrong, glad you shared. Glad you liked the article, hope you’ll continue to read my blog –Angela

  11. 28/07/2014 / 00:15

    Hey! i very very love of Indian wedding. Go for a Punjabi wedding and you’ll feel like its a different and very nice.thanks for sharing it.

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