Hello Readers! I write to you as a brand new Indian bride! As you can probably surmise from my recent lack of posts, my wedding, which occurred just two weeks ago on December 29th, kept me very busy. But I’ve now had time to recover from all of the festivities and am thrilled to be able to share wedding photos and stories with you all!
The days leading up to the wedding were very hectic. In addition to confirming with caterers, making arrangements with florists and photographers, and several last minute trips to tailors to tweak blouses and button holes, friends and family were also coming over to our house every night for parties and celebration dinners. The parties leading up to the wedding were such fun, though! They were full of singing and dancing (our dining room was temporarily converted into a dance floor), and I even managed to get a Christmas tree up, which added to the festive mood in the house!
My guests from America began to arrive on Christmas Eve, December 24th. Over thirty of my friends and family members traveled from the U.S. to attend the wedding, which was wonderful for me, but also required a lot of logistical planning. We had to arrange for guest houses, extra mattresses, and extra cars and drivers. I also made a plan to take some of the female guests sari-shopping so that they could wear saris for the wedding! With the arrival of all of the guests, though, I realized that the wedding with all of its events was really going to be a test of endurance for me. During the evenings I was meeting friends and family and mingling with guests at wedding parties and events, and during the days I was trying to play international hostess and show my American guests a good time while still managing all of the wedding errands. Thankfully, several of Amrit’s family members and my friends who had been to Delhi before stepped forward and really helped me out by taking others sightseeing and shopping while I was busy.
Finally, after months of planning and the arrival of all of the guests, we were ready for the first of the official wedding events – the cocktail reception.
After three trips to Old Delhi’s Chawri Bazaar, ten days of waiting, two days of folding and stuffing envelopes, and lots and lots of address and label-writing, our wedding invitations are finally ready to go! Well, not quite, but I’ll get to that in a minute.
First, I want to talk a little bit about the whole process of choosing and sending Indian wedding invitations. If you didn’t already know, Indian weddings are big events with extensive guest lists. Friends, distant relatives, friends of friends, and your second cousin’s wife’s nephew’s college roommate’s girlfriend all get invited. Most wedding invitations in India can only be ordered by the hundred, so you get the point.
Our wedding invitation process began a few months ago by sitting down with Amrit’s family members and making a list of every possible friend and relative that we could think of who needed to receive an invitation. We ended up with a tally of about 400 people. (Keep in mind that this is only the groom’s side. Invitations to my side in the United States went out last spring. Imagine what kind of number we would have come up with if we were calculating both sides now…)
Once we had our number, the next step was to select an invitation. It took a few days of visiting and negotiating at a handful of shops in Old Delhi’s hectic Chawri Bazaar, but we finally found a card we liked. The card we chose is a crimson red with an embossed paisley motif and a golden image of the god Ganesh on the front. (Ganesh is the Indian god of good beginnings, so he appears, in one abstracted form or another, on the front of most Indian wedding cards.) We finalized the card text, to be printed in gold ink since printing it in black ink would be inauspicious, and placed our order.
About ten days later, after the Diwali holiday, our cards were ready for pick up! We set to folding them, stuffing the envelopes, and labeling all of the cards with the proper names and addresses.
So, seemingly, we should now be all set to deliver the invitations, right? Not quite yet. Our final step which we have yet to do before we can hand-deliver them is to get the badam, or the almonds. In India it’s customary for all hand-delivered wedding invitations to be accompanied by a box of chocolates, sweets, or dried fruits and nuts. Now, normally, I’m all for trying to do things in the proper and customary way, but one evening when I was feeling annoyed with having stacks of ready-to-go-but-yet-undelivered wedding invitations crowding our table space, I asked Amrit if we couldn’t just deliver the invitations without the badam like we would do in the United States. He laughed and told me that, while right now I may not be used to the idea of having to give a little gift along with each invitation, after a few more years of living in India, if we ever receive an invitation without the customary gift I’ll probably be miffed by this little faux pas. And he’s most likely right.
So, I guess I’ll have to be patient and put up with this stack of invitations a few days longer until we get the badam because, ultimately, I guess it is better for us to do things the right way than to do things hurriedly and skip the small customs that make life in India interesting.
To fast or not to fast; that was the question. Last Tuesday, we celebrated Karva Chauth, a holiday where Hindu wives are supposed to fast for the whole day for the prosperity and longevity of their husbands. It’s no easy fast, either. A meal may be taken before sunrise, but following that the wife isn’t supposed to eat or drink anything, including water, until the moonrise, about fifteen hours later.
I’ve never fasted before, frankly, because I’ve never had a reason to. I didn’t grow up in a religion that included fasting as an act of devotion, and I never felt inclined to do so for personal reasons. So, initially I wasn’t planning on keeping the fast.
After about the tenth time that I was asked whether I was planning to keep the fast by Indian friends or family, though, I started to figure out that “Yes” was a much more acceptable answer than “I don’t know”. This is a funny thing about being a non-Indian married to an Indian man – As an American woman, no one really expected me to keep the fast. (I’m an American; it’s not part of my culture. Why would I keep it?) As the wife of an Indian man, though, I was expected to keep it. (I’ve willingly entered into this culture through moving to India and through my marriage, therefore, out of respect, I should adhere to some of the cultural norms, including this fast, which is one of the most important holidays for husbands and wives.) And finally, as an American married to an Indian, it’s especially thoughtful and meaningful of me to keep the fast. (I seem so culturally sensitive and aware, and so devoted to my husband to I participate in a custom that is foreign to me.) Confusing, isn’t it?
Ultimately, though, I decided to keep the fast. And, I decided to keep it willingly – I don’t want it to seem as if I was forced into. Amrit, his mother, and other friends and family never once told me that I was required to keep the fast; there was no pressure from them in that sense. And, to be honest, it would have been perfectly acceptable if I had said that I wouldn’t be keeping the fast. However, it was better that I was planning to keep it. Plus, I figured, if nothing else, it never hurts to endear myself to my in-laws through participating in this holiday with them. And, I would love for Amrit to have a long, happy, prosperous life, and am willing to do what I can to help towards that end.
The difficult part of the holiday, obviously, was the fast. By late afternoon I was hungry, tired, and cranky, and I still had hours to go. Fortunately, I had been given chai and juice by my mother-in-law during the day (just no water allowed), which was at least helping to curb any dehydration.
And, aside from the fast, the holiday itself was quite fun. The night before I went to a local market with my mother-in-law and one of Amrit’s aunts to buy bangles and bindis (the little sticky dots that Indian ladies put on their foreheads) and have mehendi, or henna, applied to my hands. The market was full of women having mehendi applied or buying their supplies for the next day, and the air was abuzz with excitement.
The following morning, I woke up at 4 am to share a hearty breakfast with my mother-in-law and Amrit’s aunt. It reminded me of the excitement of waking up early on Christmas morning. I spent the rest of the day trying to lie low and conserve my energy, though I did have to go into work for a few hours.
In the evening, we all eagerly awaited moonrise. When the moon came out the wives, including me, all performed a puja where we looked at the moon through a screen before seeing our respective husbands’ faces. Then, Amrit gave me my first drink of water, another part of the ceremony, and we all went inside for a delicious dinner that I quickly and appreciatively gobbled down.
This year Dussehra was celebrated on Sunday, October 17th. Okay…so obviously I’m a little late in getting around to this post. Dussehra marks the beginning of the autumn holiday season in India, though, which took me by surprise and suddenly kept me busy, up until now, with parties and family lunches and dinners, not to mention work and wedding planning! So, this is the first time in awhile that I’ve been able to sit down to write.
Back to the holiday itself, though. Dussehra is the culmination of the Ramlila, the re-enactment of Lord Ram’s life as told in the Hindu religious epic The Ramayana. The tale ends in a ten-day battle between Ram, our hero, and the demon Ravan and his two brothers. To conclude the re-enactment and celebrate Dussehra, three large effigies of Ravan and his brothers are burned at sunset, representing the victory of good over evil.
Nearly every neighborhood in Delhi has its own Dussehra celebration, with the one at the Ramlila Ground in Old Delhi being the largest. As I was driving around Delhi in the days before the holiday, I could see the disassembled effigies being carted around to the various neighborhood parks where they would be set up for the celebration.
Amrit and I opted to go to Khan Market’s Dussehra celebration, because it seemed like it would be relatively tame, was only a ten minute drive from the house, and there were places for us to sit and wait for the show to begin. (Obviously we were both feeling rather lazy on this particular Sunday evening.)
When we reached Khan Market, the sun was still out, so we had time to walk around and admire the colorful thirty-foot effigies before the show began. It also wasn’t too crowded at that time, so we were lucky to get front row seats! As sunset drew nearer, more people began to gather. Occasionally, someone would set off a firework which would explode above the effigies, and everyone would ooh and aah. Just before the burning began, a group of small children came dressed as Ram, Sita, Ravan, and Hanuman, all characters from The Ramayana, to re-enact the epic. Then, a short puja (prayer ceremony) was performed, and the burning began. The crowd became excited and pushed forward (so much for our front row seats…) The entire burning process took about twenty-five minutes, and ended with the grand finale when the flames reached the demon Ravan’s head, which had several small bombs embedded in it to create a series of loud, rapid explosions.
Afterwards, there was applause, and then the crowd slowly dispersed. Amrit and I went for a stroll through Khan Market, which was festively lit for the holidays, and mused on our first Dussehra spent together. Maybe next year we’ll get the full experience at Old Delhi’s Ramlila Ground!
In addition to its holy waters and silk saris, Varanasi is also known for its hand-painted wooden toys. These wooden toys are sculpted and chiseled by artisans, and then attractively painted with bright lacquer colors. This industry is believed to have a 400-year history in the city!
While I was in Varanasi, I picked up a set of ten small deities made in this style. Each deity is about two inches tall, and is depicted traveling on his or her vahana, or vehicle. The whole set has fantastic color and detail, and all of the deities come with hooks attached, so that they can be hung from a car’s rear view mirror!