I’ve been to many weddings in my time. In fact I have already been invited to 5 this year. But at none of them have I been asked to rub oil and flour onto the groom’s dad’s face and body. I am honoured to have been invited to a close friend’s Hindu wedding in India as an honorary member of his family.
A Hindu wedding is typically a 3 day affair to the average guest, but for me this amazing experience was for a week travelling over 1000km from the wedding venue to visit the groom’s home, temples and the bride’s home.
Although I would love to describe the whole wedding and each of the ceremonies, this would take me weeks to write so instead I am going to share my experience as a foreigner attending a Hindu wedding for the first time.
Understanding what it takes to arrange the one day typical marriage in the UK, you can imagine what goes into a Hindu marriage. With transport needing to be arranged for guests, different outfits being worn at certain times of the day, a lot of money is spent and it truly shows. The colour, the food and the schedule.
The first day with the family was spent getting my sari blouse made. The family very kindly bought me a beautiful sari as a gift to wear at the Hindu wedding. I spent the day with the groom’s sister and, as chief wedding arranger on the groom’s side, her phone never stopped ringing. I don’t think she had slept for weeks.
The final touches of Mehendi (henna) was added to all the females’ arms and feet including my own. The henna boy made himself a fortune that day.
Late to bed, we had to be up in just a few hours to perform the first ritual where we rubbed oil into the groom’s and his parents’ skin and hair before rubbing flour onto them. This is done to cleanse their skin, so that a natural glow is radiated after they bathe.
Next we headed off to the venue with a strict arrival time of between 8.30 – 9am due to tradition. We had to wait down the road so that we met this time.
At the venue we were welcomed and blessed by the bride’s family and guests whilst she stayed in her hotel room. Throughout the day, ceremonies were carried out and in the afternoon the bride’s brother had to ‘convince’ the groom to marry the bride, part of a tradition. As the groom was being convinced, I sat there knowing that there was no doubt he was going to marry her. Smitten since the day he had met her, I would describe it as a L’arranged marriage. Arranged but with love.
In the evening the couple got to see each other in a traditional ceremony where the bride and groom stand apart with their family and guests. Each has to coax the other into walking towards them till they meet and put a flowered necklace on each other. This symbolises how it will be in the future. Whoever gives in and takes the most steps will be the one that gives in the most throughout the marriage.
In this circumstance the bride came to the groom.
The second day was the marriage ceremony. Again it was early to rise with many ceremonies to be performed. Separated with a sheet, the bride and groom were hidden from each other as tradition dictates. This is so the groom cannot see the arrival of the bride. Sometimes this would be the first time bride and groom will have met each other.
As the ritual of the Hindu wedding is carried out, they held hands under the sheet until they are eventually revealed to each other. They then hold a sticky rice concoction on each other’s heads made from cumin seeds and jaggery. In a Hindu marriage, this symbolises them becoming stuck together as one united couple.
The bride and groom are then blessed by the guests with rice being put on their heads, a traditional blessing for Hindus.
Following more ceremonies throughout the afternoon, the main event of the evening was the handing over of the bride by her family to the groom’s family. A very emotional part of the marriage for the bride and family. Family members come up and using milk, tears are put on their faces, gifts are given to them and married guests are allowed to come up and bless the couple.
Following this the bride comes to the groom’s family hotel room and asks to enter knocking over a cup of rice on the doorstep where another ceremony is carried out by the Hindu priest. The bride is welcomed into the groom’s family and home.
Due to the fact the groom no longer lives in India, and that they had their marriage in Hyderabad as this was the most convenient place for both families to attend, we then travelled overnight to the groom’s parents’ home in Kavali .
Following more ceremonies which were shown on a large screen outside the groom’s home for all the locals to watch, a meal was served of traditional food.
Because of the number of people who came, this was served over two sittings. The food, served on a banana leaf was incredible.
That evening we headed another 190 km to Tirupati to visit the groom’s temple to be blessed. This day was extremely spiritual and you can read all about this in my next post.
My journey with the family was not over as we flew back to Hyderabad to have further celebrations at the bride’s family home.
It was an amazing experience being invited to my friend’s Hindu wedding. Treated as a member of the family during this special time has to be one of the highlights of my travels. I made friends I will not forget and feel truly blessed to be part of it.