Day two of the indian wedding was a religious ceremony for the bride’s family (and her close and most faaaabulous friends). Three main things happened today- two fairly typical pre-wedding events, and the other a coming of age ceremony for Palak’s brother.
I arrived to find a large marquee across the front lawn of Palak’s late grandmother’s home, and long tables set up down the driveway, (which could only mean food food and food). Chairs were placed around the edges of the lawn and in the middle were breads and spices, baskets and pictures set up for the ritual. On the front veranda, foam mattresses were laid down, covered in bright cloths.
Palak wore another beautiful outfit, while my sister Ni’s bridesmaid dress, (also known as the bond girl dress) came in very handy, especially when draped with a lovely bright scarf.
The main ceremony was Ganesh Stapan (inviting Lord Ganesh into the home to preside over the ceremony and ensure the marriage is obstacle free). Two members of Palak’s family who were already married, sat together with Hindu priests for several hours, receiving blessings and undertaking rituals. Palak sat behind them for much of this, and various people wandered in and sat next to her, chatting and relaxing.
At lunchtime (and I also must point out that before lunch, there had already been some delicious snacks forced upon us, (no wait, sorry that should read ‘provided’), Kieran’s family, including his movie star cousin who rather caught the eye of the only other gora there, Scotty (and to be fair he was quite dishy) joined us for a feast around the corner at the local community centre. There was so much food, and all of Palak’s relatives were particularly anxious that Scotty and I had had enough to eat. Scotty suffers from a nut allergy, and thus was required to eat very carefully, while assuring all that he had had plenty, and enjoyed it very much. Similarly, I had been suffering a very tender and grumbly tummy- (a mixture of the richness of Indian food, and probably ebola contracted from my sub-par hotel room) and did my best to eat my quota.
Janoi (what I mean?)
Following lunch, a ceremony was held for Palak’s little brother, Vatsal. The ceremony is called Janoi (in the Gurati language) or Upanayanam (in Bengali) and the purpose is to signal a boy is ready for worldly education. This is usually done around the time a boy reaches puberty.
When I said Vatsal was Palak’s little brother, I may have given the wrong impression. He is a smidge past puberty at 30, and thus he got to have the ceremony with all the family gathered together (and a strange women staring at his nipples) and avoided having his head shaved as would usually occur. I suggested we do his legs instead but there must have been a language breakdown between me and the Aunties, because no one ran with me on that one.
During the ceremony, various members of the family were handed foodstuffs, like grains of rice, leaves and papadams. Vatsal was then smeared with tumeric, which all took great delight in applying.
Vatsal said there was no need for me to take photos but I said Oh yes, oh yes there was.
Finally, he was lifted by the uncles, and declared a man (well, to be honest I am not quite sure about the last bit, but I think that is the gist of it).
Palak then undertook a similar ritual, and at the end was also smeared in tumeric, which is said to beautify the skin. I don’t know exactly if that works, but it certainly leaves one with a radiant yellow glow.
The afternoon was largely spent lounging on the mattresses and waiting for the henna ladies to arrive. The process of Mendhi is that the brides family (and aforementioned fabulissoloimos female friends) have their hands adorned with henna. I was with Palak the day before while she had her henna done- a much more extensive process, resulting in ‘sleeves’ on her arms, and ‘socks’ on her legs. It really is an amazing thing to watch. The henna is applied very quickly. It is piped on with a tube similar to that used to ice a cake, and looks a little like prawn poo. No wait, that’s not nice, it is like brown 3D lace, or chocolate icing- but I assure you will not want to eat (it’s a bit smelly, in a chlorine kind of way).
The henna must stay on at least two hours, and while it drys, the bride must be VERY patient, and sit very still so as not to smear the henna. Tradition says the darker the henna the more the groom will love the wife, so bridal henna stays on all day, occasionally getting moistened with lemon juice. Immediately after the henna comes off, it is a pale orange colour, but has a chemical reaction with heat and progressively gets darker.
Palak and I have really bonded, as I fed her after the process because she couldn’t use her hands, but can I once again express my gratitude that she forbore from drinking, as this would have taken our bonding to a whole new level.
After seeing Palak have her henna done, I was so excited to have my own applied. Everyone gets a different design, made up by the artist as they go. As it dries, it gets a bit itchy and eventually you rub or scrape off. Luckily I got mine done early because by the time dinner arrived, I was able to fulfil my food consumption obligations without assistance.
As the henna was applied and dried, all the women sang a variety of hindi songs. Someone would begin, and everyone else would join in (you know, except me, I was moral support). In one of those great travel moments, one of Palak’s aunties, (or possibly great aunties) asked me haltingly whether I knew any old Hindi songs. It may surprise you to know that I didn’t. However, I promised I would come up with one. Eventually, I sang an ancient Hindi song that I translated in to English, about a girl who came from Australia, had purple hair, and who all the aunties loved and fed curry curry curry! Bollywood’s greatest hits here comes Tina (Arena) Sparkles!
Soon it was time to go, and I have to let the world know, these Indians have some stamina! To think some weddings go for two weeks! I got in around 10pm, and decided to look for a new hotel room. Having found a mouse poo in my cornflakes that morning, I just couldn’t go on making the best of the cesspit I had unwittingly booked.
Way later than I would have liked, I crawled in to the sleeping bag liner I had been using to avoid touching the sheets, and worked on some shut-eye before the main event. It was to be a big day for this young gora.