12/25/2009 to 12/27/2009 | Gujarat , India

Bhadran: A Gujarati Wedding

I spent a particularly uneventful, Christmas eve and morning on a night train to the Gujarati city of Baroda (renamed Vadodara), where I was meeting Vinay, a friend of mine from the states of Gujarati descent.  Vinay’s family is from the nearby village of Bhadran, an origin which would prompt any Gujarati to ask, “Is his last name Patel?”   Which it is.  Vinay was back in India to attend his cousin Bhavesh’s wedding.   Bhavesh lives in Washingtion D.C. and his bride to be, Bhumi, was presently living in Canada, both of Gujarati descent they were returning to the ancestral homeland to tie the knot in traditionally elaborate Gujarati style.  While I had seen slices of Indian weddings over my time in India, most often the public processions that clog the streets every wedding season, I had never attended a complete one.  I thank Bhavesh and Bhumi for the opportunity to tag along with Vinay and witness theirs.

A Gujarati Hindu wedding is a 3 day long series of events with age old significance rooted deep in tradition and the Hindu faith.  But for all practical purposes is a long series of photo ops and food, with plenty of loud bands and fireworks thrown in the mix.  As Vinay’s mother told me over one of the numerous spreads of tasty Gujarati treats, “All anyone ever talks about regarding a wedding is the food, if the food was good then the wedding was good.” Certainly food is a central theme, and in a dry state like Gujarat where alcohol is forbidden, the food is pretty much the only way to entertain the guests who have all been to countless Indian weddings over there lives.

I arrived two days before the wedding ceremony, and on the eve my arrival was the first of the major events, the Gaba Raas, a sort of Indian version of an old western square dance ho-down.  The requisite food is served and the guests perform a traditional Gujarati line dance.  The Raas is a dance with sticks where you tap each others sticks to the rhythm of the music.  It’s very simple, but I still managed to mess it up, rhythm and dance not being among the talents I was blessed with.

The following day, there was day long series of events at the groom’s father’s house, all with the requisite food.  A number of pujas (Hindu prayer ceremonies) were performed.  The groom is cover in a yellow paste in a ceremony called the Pithi.  The yellow paste is allegedly supposed to cleanse the groom before the wedding day, while brightening and softening his skin to produce a “healthy glow.”  At least according to one internet resource I found to help me write this up and attempt to label my pictures.  There are also a couple of ceremonial processions through the streets with a sufficiently load band to ensure everyone takes notice.  In the evening the groom heads off in a ceremonial procession aboard a very Indian decorated horse drawn carriage, complete with tacky flashing lights and fake plastic flowers, as he symbolically leaves his father’s house.  The procession is of course followed by more food.

On the day of the wedding the groom’s family gathers at a place a short distance away from where the wedding is taking places.  Traditionally the wedding would take place at the bride’s home, but these days Indian weddings are big business, and now the wedding is most often held in banquet halls constructed for the purpose.  From the gathering point the grooms family and friends accompany the groom in his horse drawn carriage to the wedding.  Because the band may not make enough noise to ensure that everyone on the street takes notice a guy is hired to set off fire works ahead of the procession. I’m not talking about fire crackers that little kids play with these were legit 4th-of-July-Chinese-New-Year-Bastille-Day-Guy-Fawkes-Night style fireworks.  The guy is shooting them off in the middle of a busy street.  I had visions of an overturned stand lunching a direct hit on a passing Indian Oil tanker truck (and one did go buy) and the mass destruction that would have ensued.  Fortunately these visions remained in my mind and never made it into the realm of reality.

The wedding ceremony itself appeared to be a series of photo ops.  It seemed like the only people genuinely interested in what was going on were the herd of photographers hired to capture the occasion that few bothered to watch while it was actually happening.  Of course if they tried they’d mainly see the backs of photographers.  The majority of the people meandered around and ate (of course more food), the closer family sat up on stage and had the food brought to them.  This is all happening amidst atmospheric background music, the Indian equivalent of “elevator” music.  The actual ceremony is conducted in Sanskrit which no one understands anyway so they don’t even bother to broadcast that.  A Brahmin priest guides the couple through the maze of rituals required in the Hindu religion to “tie the knot.”    After or in the midst of each step the couple poses for the hired pavarazzi.  There are a number of traditions mixed in to the rather dry ceremony which let the participants have a bit of good natured fun.  Most these traditions have to do with superstitions involving who will control the marriage, and are usually undertaken by the bride’s family with the groom’s entourage on the defense.  The bride’s family tries to steal the shoes of the groom and a flower from the garland he wears.  After the couple completes there walk around the sacred fire there is a race to see who can sit down first as it is said they will be the one who controls the marriage.  Then during the ceremonial receiving of gifts from the bride’s family they often try to grab the groom’s nose when placing a tikka (the red powder on the forehead “third eye”) on the groom.  After the wedding ceremony is complete the gifts received the members of the wedding party of course have some food.  It is a Gujarati wedding after all.

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