My Wedding - - CONTENTS -

In­dian wed­dings have al­ways been more con­spic­u­ously cer­e­mo­nial and op­u­lent than their western coun­ter­parts. One balmy night in Delhi in 2012, as­trologers de­clared the plan­ets were in a pro­pi­tious align­ment and a to­tal of 30,000 wed­dings took place. By all ac­counts 80 per cent of th­ese mar­riages were thought­fully ar­ranged by the cou­ple’s par­ents. Many grooms met their bride for the first time when they took their vows, hav­ing only seen a pho­to­graph be­fore­hand. Vir­tu­ally all of th­ese mar­riages will be for life, never sul­lied by the no­tion of a mar­i­tal split. In­dia has the low­est di­vorce rate in the world.

In this mod­ern eco­nomic growth era of ‘In­dia Shin­ing’, the tra­di­tional wed­ding has evolved into an ex­ces­sively elab­o­rate af­fair, with an­nual coun­try­wide ex­pen­di­ture top­ping US $25 bil­lion. The aver­age cost is around US $34000 with su­per rich mem­bers of the city Brah­min caste of­ten ex­ceed­ing US $1 mil­lion.

On a re­cent 16-day tour of Ra­jasthan I stayed in the Chunda Palace, an ideal venue for a wed­ding. Sit­u­ated in the fas­ci­nat­ing, lush green city of Udaipur, it was built by a suc­cess­ful mar­ble mer­chant who car­ries the line of a no­ble fam­ily.

You feel like roy­alty in this palace, with its warm wel­come, princely ser­vice and its mag­nif­i­cently dec­o­rated rooms. What makes Chunda Palace an ideal wed­ding venue is the ex­ten­sive rooftop ter­race and din­ing room with a ca­pac­ity of 300. The ho­tel di­rec­tor, Veer­amdev, tells me that wed­ding cou­ples pro­fess their solemn vows in a rooftop al­cove be­fore a Hindu priest. They walk around a small holy fire seven times whilst be­ing show­ered by rose petals and sanc­ti­fied by the chant­ing of mantras, as is the In­dian cus­tom.

Veer­amdev ex­plains that an In­dian wed­ding is a huge, once-in-a-life­time event and it’s com­mon for par­ents to spend as much as they can af­ford to make it a mem­o­rable oc­ca­sion. Fam­ily mem­bers, friends and rel­a­tives are in­vited, and most bring gen­er­ous gifts of money. Nowa­days peo­ple un­der­stand that ex­pen­sive dowries are dis­cour­aged by the govern­ment, but the tra­di­tion is deeply en­trenched.

Un­like many mod­ern cou­ples in the West who es­chew the need for a mar­riage cer­tifi­cate, In­di­ans take the in­sti­tu­tion of mar­riage very se­ri­ously in­deed. The par­ents of young Hin­dus would be ap­palled at the no­tion of a de facto mar­riage. In In­dia, only a small per­cent­age of big city res­i­dents fol­low the ro­man­tic style of dat­ing, fall­ing in love and choos­ing their own life­time part­ner. When par­ents set out to find a suit­able match it’s a mas­sive lo­gis­ti­cal chal­lenge, with se­ri­ous in­put from rel­a­tives, friends, neigh­bours, ge­neal­o­gists, priests and as­trologers. While the young cou­ple’s ap­proval is usu­ally sought on the ba­sis of a photo and brief sum­mary of at­tributes, the par­ents have the fi­nal say.

In­vi­ta­tion cards de­pict­ing Lord Gane­sha, the god of good luck, are dis­trib­uted. When the big day ar­rives the ven­er­a­ble age-old rit­u­als be­gin with the groom rid­ing to the wed­ding venue on a white mare dec­o­rated in colour­ful liv­ery. Veer­amdev says, ‘All In­dia is dif­fer­ent as to the style of wed­ding. We have unity in the rit­u­als but di­ver­sity in the scale. My younger brother rode on an ele­phant, ca­parisoned in colour­ful re­galia.’

The wed­ding pro­ces­sion with its ac­com­pa­ny­ing brass band is re­ceived at the bride’s house or wed­ding venue with gar­lands of flow­ers. The groom is re­splen­dent in a long gold frock coat with a Man­darin col­lar while the bride ap­pears an­gelic in a red sari or lehnga tra­di­tional cos­tume set off im­mac­u­lately with fine gold jewellery. The wed­ding ban­quet is a sump­tu­ous af­fair in a grand room set out with ta­bles draped in white and dec­o­rated with red sashes and bows, red be­ing the colour of ho­li­ness and good luck. The ac­tual wed­ding cer­e­mony, called the ‘pheras’, takes place around the holy fire with only im­me­di­ate fam­ily present.

All that re­mains is the sad and sor­row­ful part where the bride must leave her fam­ily and move into a stranger’s house. This tran­si­tion is trau­matic for the young lady and gen­er­ates a lot of weep­ing, some­times ac­cen­tu­ated by the use of pro­fes­sional ‘weepies’ to high­light the sense of loss. The newly-weds de­part with the groom’s fam­ily in a flo­raldec­o­rated car.

On my last day in Delhi I vis­ited a gi­ant mall called the Wed­ding Souk in the Pi­ta­m­pura precinct and found 100 shops ded­i­cated to wed­dings. The im­pres­sion I gained is that a wed­ding is not just the bride’s spe­cial day, but a grandiose event that ce­ments a solid al­liance be­tween two fam­i­lies.

My thoughts turn to the lovely Bish­nois fam­i­lies I met in the Ra­jasthan desert, just a few kilo­me­tres from my Chunda Palace suite. Th­ese gen­tle, de­vout peo­ple live a sub­sis­tence life on less than NZ $5 a day. Their strict re­li­gious rules for­bid mar­riage out­side their caste so they could not be­gin to grasp the con­cept of an op­u­lent In­dian wed­ding. Such are the in­trigu­ing con­trasts of in­cred­i­ble, un­be­liev­able In­dia.

Paul Rush vis­ited Ra­jasthan courtesy of Ad­ven­ture World Tours and Cathay Pa­cific.

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