Indian weddings. The phrase brings to mind things like colors, family, huge celebrations and music. And food – lots of food. I had been invited to an Indian wedding once, a few years back, by a work colleague in Kerala. But it was over the American Thanksgiving holiday and I couldn’t leave my family to attend a wedding in India, regardless of how cool it would be to see an event like that.
Fast forward to this past February. I was traveling through Rajasthan with Piper Mackay Photography, a small group of photographers, and the coolest guide ever, Raghu. Raghu was far more than a tour guide. He had done everything in the travel industry. He had managed hotels and luxury trains. He knew Rajasthan extraordinarily well. And he was connected.
Indians, at least the Indians who I have met, are extremely warm and inviting. Raghu was no different. He had already said that he would love for us to come over to his house in Jodhpur to meet his wife and family. But then he took it one step further. While we were in Jaisalmer, he mentioned that, oh by the way, he had been invited to attend a royal wedding a few days later in Jodhpur. And he said that he wasn’t absolutely sure that he could bring guests, but he asked if we would potentially like to go. Yes! He then mentioned a couple of his concerns, like having to change around some of our travel plans and having to skip a day of planned activities. No problem! Our only concern was looking appropriate – after all, we brought along clothes that were appropriate for riding camels in the desert, not for attending a royal wedding. “No problem” Raghu said – he would make sure we had time to get clothes.
Raghu then worked his magic and, two days later, an invitation arrived for us at our hotel in Jodhpur.
The next day we were off. We started at a clothing store in Jodhpur to pick out outfits. The guys picked out traditional white Indian pajamas and silk vests. The girls went for saris, Indian blouses and/or long coats with colorful scarves. We all felt like we looked really good! And then we headed to Raghu’s house for pre-wedding drinks and appetizers and, most-importantly, turban wrapping. Raghu had an expert turban wrapper present to help prepare us. The turbans are very, very long, and the process of wrapping one is complicated – definitely a skill that is mastered over many years. I sat down for roughly ten minutes while my turban was wrapped and tucked, wrapped and tucked, wrapped and tucked, around my head. Talk about being afraid to touch your head at all after that – I didn’t want there to be a chance of the turban unwrapping, so even if my head itched, I did my best to ignore it. Looking appropriate for the wedding was the only goal!
The Royal Wedding
We arrived at the wedding, held on the grounds of the Jodhpur Officer’s Institute. My initial impression, other than being extremely impressed by the setting and the colors? I was self-concious that I was underdressed. The clothes the other guests were wearing were amazing, and I had NOT seen clothes like that in Jodhpur. By talking to some of the guests, though, I learned why. By and large their clothes had been passed down several generations. They were stunning, literally priceless outfits that no tourist could hope to procure. So I at least became comfortable with what I was wearing. There were very few foreigners there, so we stood out anyway.
Indian weddings aren’t like western weddings. That’s obvious. But the thing that jumped out at me was that they REALLY weren’t like western weddings. There was no central ceremony that brought the guests together. Instead, things began with a separation of men and women. The men stayed out front waiting to greet the arriving heads of state, royals and VIPS. The women all headed to the back, to a private section, to prepare the bride. The men and women really didn’t mix at all during the evening, except that as westerners we were exempt from that custom. The guys from our group were welcome in any section, as we were the girls. So we had a unique opportunity to see both sides of the event.
The Baraat and the Men’s Reception
After the arrival of the Maharajas and other heads of state, the groom arrived on horseback, accompanied by his family members (the procession known as the Baraat). The groom rode under the draped welcoming arch and immediately rode back to the girl’s section. The bride’s family was waiting for him – the wedding day itself has more to do with the families of the bride and groom joining together, and about the bride’s family accepting the groom, than it does about the bride and groom themselves. The bride’s family appeared to accept the groom, and they then took him back to be photographed with the bride. To the best of my knowledge, that was the last time that the male guests saw the groom. From that point forward, all of the men enjoyed the huge amount of food – probably the best food we had anywhere in India – the music, and the party. People mingled and enjoyed the perfect evening. Many, many people came up to us and asked us questions, and talked about where they had traveled. One conversation stood out. We asked an Indian guest about his wedding. He indicated that his had taken place a year earlier and that it was fairly similar to this wedding. He said that it was not a fun event for him – it was so draining emotionally, physically and financially, that he would never want to go through it again. He said he loved his wife, but even if he didn’t he likely wouldn’t ever get divorced because he didn’t want to have to get married again. From our perspective, the wedding looked amazing. Very interesting to hear the other side of it.
The Bride and Groom
Walking back to the bride’s section at the Officer’s Club, we found the official photo session about to start. First the groom was photographed. The bride never looked over at him. Then she joined him and they still didn’t look at each other. We were able to speak with the bride briefly. She said that she had only met her new husband twice before, and that she was nervous. She was absolutely beautiful – but decidedly uncomfortable.
We spent four hours at the wedding. In the US, staying four hours would mean that you saw all there was to see of the ceremony and attended most of the reception as well. But in Jodhpur we only saw a small portion of the wedding. There were two days of wedding rituals before the Baraat, and the wedding evening itself was going to go on far longer than our 11:30pm departure. Most guests were leaving at the same time we did, but the wedding participants seemed ready for a very long night ahead.
I absolutely loved being able to attend the wedding. It was an honor to be included in this day, and facinating to see an Indian Wedding up close. Would I want to go again? Absolutely! Would I want to get married like that? Probably not.