05.02.2015 - 10.02.2015 22 °C
It is infinitely easier to dress a man. Within 2 hours, monsieur has rented a Sherwani (long, embroidered coat over straight white pants, essentially leggings!) and Jutis (traditional shoes) for the dressiest events and purchased shirts, trousers, belt and shoes for the rest. It's more stressful shopping for me. The few places that will rent a Lehenga (long embroidered skirt) with Choli (top) and Dupatti (veil), the preferred wedding outfit and more comfortable for someone who is not used to being wrapped in a saree, have me try on the gaudiest ensembles. I look ridiculous. Sensing my distress, Sajjan & Mumal Singh, owners of Kurya Sunj, the guesthouse we're staying at, come to my rescue.
Mumal brings out a selection of her silks and soon I have an elegant Lehenga for the most formal event. The next day, they take us to a few shops where I find an outfit for another dressy evening. We're getting there. We spend the rest of the afternoon on our own trying to find some casual pieces for the day events. That evening, I present my proposed "dayfits" to several ladies who have gathered in anticipation, and cringe as they bow their heads in agreement, the clothes are all wrong and there just isn't enough color for a Rajasthani wedding. Namrata, Veebu's lovely wife tells me not to worry, but I go to bed contemplating skipping the first event so as not to offend anyone. The next morning, as I agonize over what to do, a male servant knocks at my door with a package of clothes including a colorful silk Kurta (tunic top) and the softest cotton pajamas (genie pants), with matching georgette dupattas (scarves) in the brightest hues of pink, yellow and orange to mix and match. I feel a bit uncomfortable dressing local, but the fabrics are so beautiful and I'm so grateful; I'm in.
In a traditional wedding, you are either invited by the groom's family or the bride's family. Each side conducts separate events. We are invited by the groom's family. Our room at Karni Bhawan is charming, but before we have time to settle in, I'm summoned to the front desk and handed a phone. Sunder Singh, hotel owner and grandfather of the groom welcomes me and insists on changing our room. There's simply no arguing with this kind man and within minutes we've been moved to the lovely Jodhpur suite.
The Tika (or Tilak) ceremony offers an opportunity to bring the two families together and to ensure an auspicious union for the couple to be. Attendees vary according to family tradition and in this case, the bride is not present. This ceremony takes place at Pokhran House the home of Nagendra Singh, father of the groom, a short drive away. Several cars and drivers are standing by at our hotel to chauffeur guests over the next 3 days; quite a change for us! Our car pulls in behind others and we are ushered in by valets as musicians announce each guest's arrival.
Just off the entrance, wearing a crisp modern suit and Ray-Bans, Vijay Wardhan Singh, first cousin to the groom, is having his turban tied. I notice that many guests bow to him as they walk past and wish I had the clues to who's who in the crowd, but then again blissful ignorance frees us from all social barriers.
In a Rajasthani wedding, the turban is a key element of dress, and Jodhpuri turbans are particularly colorful. A professional hired for the occasion swiftly wraps an average of 9 meters of bright colored fabric, some tightly, others with a long tail. Father, Nagendra's is bright pink with blue accents. Groom, Param Vijay will also wear a skillfully tied pink turban while cousin Anshuman's is multi-colored.
Guests gather in the garden, including Maharaj Dilip Singh an exceedingly gentle man sporting a thick white moustache and a bright orange and yellow turban. He is the uncle of HIs Highness Maharaja Gaj Singh II of Jodhpur who will attend the most formal affair tomorrow evening.
Women elegantly draped in sarees made of exquisite silks with fabulous estate jewelry and color coordinated bangles admire each other while men in tailored jackets and Jodhpurs (pants) congregate near the bar.
The groom is upstairs being dressed by his grandfather, who carefully pins a precious turban ornament, a gift to his grandson. The heirloom emerald and diamond necklace he will wear only today. Thereafter, it will pass to his sister Bhavini who wears a stunning pink ensemble trimmed in red which compliments (mother) Ruby's pink and gold outfit accessorized with a diamond tiara. And they consider this a casual day event...
It's rather hot and I feel for Param Vijay who gracefully bears the weight of his accoutrements.
He and several male family members take seats on a tented platform. Members of the bride's family place gifts of sweets, jewelry, clothing, fruits and other items as a gesture of participation in the costs of the wedding, on a large red cloth. After several rituals and prayers, the brother-in-law to be puts the Tika (vermillion dot) on the groom's forehead as a mark of respect and acceptance and presents him with a coconut; an invitation for the groom to come to the bride's home. Next, male guests remove their shoes and step up one at a time, and with an extended hand, wave banknotes in a circular motion before letting them fall in front of the groom. The groom then walks over to stand under a parasol and women approach to perform a similar ritual.
Throughout the entire ceremony a group of veiled (married) women sing in the background.
A family photo kicks off a generous buffet of flavors from around the world in the garden. As we mingle, I'm humbled by the genuine kindness and welcome we receive.
Around 4PM the groom reappears for the Bana ceremony. Women gather around singing while female guests take turns brushing his hands, face and feet with a mixture of curcuma (turmeric) and ghee (clarified butter). As one woman puts it, "this facial prepares the groom for marriage". Only married women can participate. Following this ritual, tea is served in the garden.
In the evening, the Bandola dinner characterized by an array of sweets, is hosted by the groom's grandparents at their/our hotel. Needless-to-say, everyone has changed for the event. Curiously, men and women sit in separate parts of the garden. On the women's side, there is traditional music and women get up and dance to the beat of the dhol, but only one or two at a time. The men stand together in another part of the garden, drinking and chatting. From 21h - 23h cocktails and snacks are served followed by another elaborate buffet. We are completely overwhelmed by the quantity of food at the end of the first day!
Day 2, the actual wedding day, starts with the Mamayra ceremony at Pokhran House. Today, relatives of the groom's mother bring gifts. About 100 silver platters are laid out under a tent and filled with gifts of sarees and other stunning textiles; instant wardrobe! The groom and his parents stand at one end, facing their guests who sit around the perimeter. Mom is draped in layers and during the ceremony more are added. One by one, guests approach with envelopes and again draw circles in the air in front of the family before presenting their gifts.
Men move into the garden first, followed by the women in a sea of vibrant color, for yet another fabulous spread.
The afternoon lingers into early evening. We barely have time to change into our most formal attire for the Nikasi, the ceremony whereby the groom, goes on horseback (elephant in the past) to the wedding venue, accompanied by the Baraat (procession). This is the most formal evening and it's a red carpet scene as guests arrive. Women are directed in one direction men in another.
As photo assistant, official flash bearer and Westerner, I'm permitted to attend the men's functions. In the garden, elegantly dressed men wearing turbans, gleaming family ornaments and brandishing heirloom swords are seated in a u-shape formation facing 2 chairs. HH Maharaja of Jodhpur, amicably known as "Bapji" meaning father to all, arrives and is escorted to one of the seats as everyone rises. A man recites a text as one at a time, men approach to salute the Maharaja. The groom arrives and takes a seat next to him. HIs Highness presents him with a gift.
In a traditional Rajput Baraat, the groom, wearing an elaborate headdress and carrying an ancestral sword rides an equally decorated mare accompanied by men only... and me! As the procession, led by drummers and musicians, makes its way out, the crowd that has gathered in the street cheers. Staying just ahead of the groom to position the flash while holding my gown to protect the delicate fabric and avoid tripping in the dark, is no small feat. It's a slow jog right into traffic which (thankfully) slows somewhat to allow the procession through.
The women remain at Pokhran House for an evening of festivities. I'm told that one of the reasons, women do not participate in the Baraat is because in ancient times, it was not safe for them, covered in jewels, to make the journey. And it is also the reason that men carry swords. It sounds plausible, but I am unable to substantiate that it is anything more than tradition.
The groom is welcomed at the wedding venue with great fanfare, tapping his sword at the entrance to ward off the evil eye, before being greeted by the mother of the bride who performs a series of rituals welcoming him to the family.
She then ties a red string around him and leads him to the Mandap (wedding canopy) for the ceremony.
Shoes are removed before taking place on the Mandap, offering an opportunity for the bride's family to steal the groom's shoe. Retrieving it is one of the many games that take place between the families over the course of 3 days, designed to help everyone get better acquainted.
The nuptials will only start at the (predetermined) auspicious time for this couple which is somewhere around midnight. Amazingly, very few people witness the actual ceremony, an intricate series of rituals presided over by a Brahmin priest, that includes tying their hands together and walking 7 times around a sacred fire. This is the first time we (almost) see the bride, veiled in vivid red.
Meanwhile, across the garden, the hundreds of men who accompanied the groom have settled into the lavish bar and buffet. The atmosphere is old boys club as many are graduates of the prestigious Mayo College in Ajmer. This group is celebrating 40 years of friendship!
The evening's ceremonies end with an intimate gathering of close relatives, whereby the groom's family officially welcomes the bride (still veiled) to the family.
On the third picture-perfect day, a garden lunch reception is hosted by the groom's parents at the Park Plaza Hotel.
In the late afternoon, preparations are in full swing at Pokhran House for the Vadhu Pravesh, the arrival of the bride and groom.
At 18h, exploding fireworks announce the couple. The bride, still veiled, is greeted by the ladies of the house bearing sweets.
As she gets out of the car, she places her foot in a bowl of red liquid and takes a step forward to symbolize the arrival of good fortune.
6 silver and brass platters with food have been are laid out over hand-painted rangolis (designs). The couple performs a series of rituals with each bringing the bride closer to her mother-in-law who officially welcomes her to her new home.
The family then moves to the temple for the puja (prayer) and finally... the bride removes her veil and the couple receive their guests in the garden. Naturally, the evening ends with a lavish dinner reception.
It has been an unforgettable few days. Not only for the sheer volume of rituals and customs so foreign to us that have transpired, or the extraordinary kindness and generosity we've enjoyed, but because this is more than just a union of two people. It is the bonding of two families with each member playing an important role, steeped in centuries of tradition and historical significance. And it is clearly the most important day of this young couple's life. Traditional weddings like this are a dying breed in modern India where western practices are coming into vogue. Here's hoping tradition continues to prevail.
Now, if you've been counting, that makes 6 buffets, plus several teas, snacks & cocktails in just 72 hours! That is a lot of stretched waistbands and this is only the beginning of the wedding season. Many of the guests have a full calendar ahead.
We say our goodbyes, walk to the street and hail a tuk tuk. We've got a (public) bus to catch!