It’s Wedding Season in India

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It's Wedding Season in India

Now that the Camel Fair is over, wedding parties are prowling the winding streets of Pushkar. I was here at nearly the same time eleven years ago and watching the processions was one of the highlights of my trip. Thankfully, things haven’t changed much.

A band marches at the front of the meandering group with speakers and batteries mounted on a large push cart. The keyboardist walks behind it, his fingers flying over the keys manically as he cranks out a crazy kind of high-speed carnival music. It sounds as if he’s playing while running down a steep hill, rattling off a complicated riff or trill each time he stumbles over a stump or bounces off a tree. The song seems to have gotten away from him but he’s right on its tail.

Behind him are the rest of the band, men young and old, stuffed into ill-fitting matching jackets and usually slumping along like whipped dogs.

Wedding Season in IndiaThe drummer keeps a steady marching beat, with a couple of tambourines and cymbals for support. Two men with what I think are baritones provide a bit of polka oompa backbone, the clarinet player is going crazy and the trumpet player steps in at the oddest times with an off-tempo “blat blat blat”. I don’t think any of them are playing the same song — they’re not even on the same beat. It’s a wonderful cacophony that wrings smiles from everyone it passes.

The main wedding party follows behind and this time it consists of a dozen women dressed in saris, walking slowly and talking amongst themselves. Sometimes they’re carrying pots full of offerings, or stopping to dance at the doorway to a home. At night, elaborately-dressed grooms in turbans ride a decorated horse along the same route, surrounded by dozens of men. I haven’t yet figured out how it all works but I’m enthralled.

I’ve been told a wedding is a five- or even seven-day event and these processions seem to take place over several days. At some point, the groom travels to the bride’s house with gifts. Another day the bride visits the groom’s parents. It’s too complicated and involved for me to fully grok but I really don’t care — I’m enchanted by the sounds and the colors and the happy smiles.

Wedding Season in India

At night, a rolling gas generator is added to the mix and young boys walk along the edge of the group, carrying colored lights connected by extension cords. When I was here in 1999, the lights were whimsical Dr. Seuss candelabras with 6-8 light bulbs hanging from bent steel tubes. Now the lights are a single florescent tube, like an electric camping lantern, with plastic draped over them to protect them from the night’s intermittent rain. On any given evening, there may be two or three parades wandering around town. It’s a wonderful spectacle.

The guys who work the rooftop kitchen at the Everest Hotel have taken a liking to me and have named me “Uncle”.

The guys who work the rooftop kitchen at the Everest Hotel –which is too small to be listed on Expedia– have taken a liking to me and have named me “Uncle” — I’m now family, they’ve explained.

I ask one of the cooks, Rakesh, about the wedding parties and he replies that this is a lucky month to get married and the town will be busy until the 14th of December. His older brother was married just six months ago and Rakesh had to take three weeks off from work to prepare.

He cleaned and repainted the house, per tradition, then built shelters along the back of the house so that visiting family would have a place to sleep. Renting extra furniture and beds, then hiring caterers, planning the menu and arranging transport from the bus and train stations kept him busy twelve hours a day. When the wedding was over, he says, he slept for three days.

“When you get married, will your brother do the same for you?”

“Oh yes! We have an agreement — I asked before I said I would help. My parents are looking for a wife for me now. They have someone in mind but I don’t like her.”

He pauses for a moment, then suggests “I have wedding photos if you’d like to see?”

Now, here’s a difference between being home and traveling in a foreign land: had someone asked me this in Austin, I’d have probably faked a seizure on the spot, preferring a wallet in my mouth and an ambulance ride to having to sift through a thousand photos of someone’s special day. But here and now, the answer is “Hell yeah, I’d love to”.

He produces a massive photo album, four inches thick with six photos to a page — why he stores a copy of his brother’s wedding album at work I don’t understand but I’m not going to ask.

The first thing that strikes me is how much Photoshop work is involved — every third or fourth page is a full 8×10 portrait of the couple with jewelry and gold framing the print, or an image of Ganesh floating nearby.

Jewelry is a huge part of the culture here in Rajasthan — there aren’t many safe places to store money in a small village, so any extra cash is often put into buying gold bracelets and necklaces for the wife. It boosts social standing while functioning as a bank of sorts — beats hiding it under the mattress.

“They’re never smiling. Aren’t they in love?”

The photos themselves feature various family members standing stiffly and staring at the camera. There isn’t a single photo of his brother or sister-in-law smiling. “They’re never smiling. Aren’t they in love?”

“Oh yes, they are. This is their ‘photo face’”.

Rakesh points out his father, a stern-looking character with a mustache that wouldn’t look out of place at a Pride parade. Rakesh has the one older brother and three sisters and a mother in her fifties — it’s a good-looking family. He tries to explain what’s happening at various stages (spread over seven days) but the language –and culture– gap is too much. It’s confusing and convoluted. Or maybe I’m just not sharp enough to keep up.

One photo features four women in red saris smiling at the camera. “Wow, who’s she?” I ask, pointing. “She’s hot!”

He colors quickly and frowns. “My parents want me to marry her. She’s the one I don’t like.”

“But, dude… she’s hot.”

“I don’t want to talk about it.”

I let it go. Now that I think about it, there is something vaguely worrying about her smile. Is that a sneer? I hadn’t noticed before, but now…

The next 8×10 features his sister-in-law holding her hand out, palm up. Someone has Photoshopped in a small glowing photo of his brother’s head, floating just above her palm. He laughs.

“I like that one! She has him in the palm of her hand…”

“You know, Rakesh, some things are the same no matter where you go.”

{ 27 comments… read them below or add one }

Andrea December 7, 2010 at 6:25 pm

Special ceremonies like weddings tell you so much about a culture. I think that’s why I don’t mind hearing about them either when I’m travelling. Coming from a mixed cultural background myself (now blended with my husband’s Macedonian background) and having gotten married this year, I really noticed how different weddings from various cultures can be. People always say that Americans go overboard for weddings – I know it is in a different way, but many cultures place such a high value on them also – I don’t find it strange at all. It is a huge moment for families and in a person’s life. I find Indian weddings to be very interesting so thanks so much for sharing this beautiful post.
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wes December 8, 2010 at 5:16 pm

Thanks, Andrea. I agree — it isn’t strange at all. Here, it’s as much a merger of families as of the two people involved so it’s important that they have all of the traditions and rituals to really bind the two together. It’s quite lovely.

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Theodora December 7, 2010 at 7:09 pm

Have you ever seen the wedding PhotoShop in action? I’ve seen it in Vietnam and Malaysia, though we have yet to get to India.

Everything from that soft “Dietrich a la vaseline” focus to applying makeup after the event (cheaper than getting a makeup artist, I guess) to changing the bridesmaids dresses. It’s an intrinsic part of the event.

I don’t find it weird that you’d run away from the wedding pictures back home. There would be a lot of them, for starters, hours’ worth of them. Here, you have a few, of something that’s new…

We went to a tribal wedding in Halmahera, Indonesia. Crazy event…
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wes December 8, 2010 at 5:14 pm

On-demand editing? That’s too cool — I’d love to see that. Props to the graphic artist — that has to be tough with everyone watching and contributing ideas ;)

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ayngelina December 7, 2010 at 8:37 pm

I have always wanted to go an Indian wedding, even if it were in Canada, what a great thing to see.
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wes December 8, 2010 at 5:13 pm

It’ll happen :)

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Natalie LoveYouPlanet December 8, 2010 at 12:33 am

So colorful )

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Akila December 8, 2010 at 12:50 am

Wes, if you want to see an Indian wedding, you should just ask one of the local people and they will be so thrilled and honored to have you attend. They’re always really fun — usually about 3 or 4 day long affairs — but there’s only 1 day of important stuff. The processions are great but the weddings are awesome, and the more people who attend, the more honored the wedding party is. I’ve been to 600 and 700+ weddings in India where the bride and groom don’t know half of the people who attend.

The photo face is such an Indian thing and so is Photoshopping. I pulled out my parents’ wedding album last weekend to scan some pics for my dad’s 60th birthday and there’s a picture of my mom holding my dad in her hand . . . mind you, this is 30+ years ago.

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wes December 8, 2010 at 4:58 pm

Wow, I can only imagine the amount of effort it would take to add in the photo of your dad back then — that’s impressive. So cool to know this isn’t just a modern thing :)

While I’ve been here, the hotel manager has become engaged and they’ve invited me to return for the wedding — two years from now!

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Matt December 8, 2010 at 1:01 am

A ‘photo face’. This explains the stern look in all my wedding photos. I just thought the family wasn’t thrilled about their daughter marrying a foreigner. I guess they were really happy after all. What a colorful event to be able to experience.
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wes December 8, 2010 at 5:00 pm

Ha ha! Glad to put your mind at rest ;)

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Christy @ Ordinary Traveler December 8, 2010 at 2:40 am

“I’d have probably faked a seizure on the spot, preferring a wallet in my mouth and an ambulance ride to having to sift through a thousand photos of someone’s special day.” – Hilarious!

Thanks for the peek inside wedding traditions in India. My boyfriend’s new sister-in-law is from India, and I wish I could have gone there for the wedding!
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wes December 8, 2010 at 5:03 pm

Thanks, Christy. The Indians really know how to do it up right. Rakesh was telling me that the guest list for his brother’s wedding was over 1,500 people. Yikes!

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Andi December 8, 2010 at 7:30 am

Haha, now I’m dying to know why he doesn’t want to marry the hot chic! :)

On my Bucket List is to attend an Indian wedding!!!
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wes December 8, 2010 at 5:04 pm

Heh, me too! He refused to say anymore, though.

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Bithi December 8, 2010 at 7:51 am

I really enjoy reading about your travels in India and elsewhere in Asia! I agree with Akila, you should just ask if you can observe the festivities – it won’t be considered rude, most people will welcome guests with open arms, it’s the Indian way. :)

I think the “photo face” is something very non-American, we are trained to smile for the camera here, whereas people from most other places don’t do so very readily. I recently got married in an Indian ceremony to an Austrian man who also has a “photo face”! My Indian photographer went totally overboard with the Photoshopping and clip art. My parents loved it, even though I was less than thrilled. Guess it’s a cheesy Indian thing. :)

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wes December 8, 2010 at 5:12 pm

The irony of the photo face is that most people here LOVE to have their photo taken. They smile and wave you over, then get all serious once you raise the camera.

Oh, I’d love to see your album — I bet it’s wonderful :)

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Phil December 8, 2010 at 4:13 pm

Wes,
I’m sure your lamenting the fact that the CAMEL fair is over, but wedding season looks pretty awesome as well. I love “photo face.” It is the same in Africa. And this is great: “Someone has Photoshopped in a small glowing photo of his brother’s head, floating just above her palm.” Hahaha

B well, Phil
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wes December 8, 2010 at 5:11 pm

Hi Phil,

Yeah, it’s a bit of a bummer that the Fair is over but the weddings certainly make up for it. The women march during the day and the men at night — this town is hopping!

I guess ‘photo face’ is a world-wide phenomenon, eh?

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Zablon Mukuba December 8, 2010 at 11:25 pm

i wish i was there, there is so much that goes on, the color, ceremonies, music and the culture. you are very lucky to witness all that

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Sarah Wu December 9, 2010 at 11:26 am

Wedding in different culture are so cool. You’re so lucky to get a glimpse of this fun celebration
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Jaime December 10, 2010 at 9:41 am

One of my dreams is to attend an Indian Wedding. I love the music, the colors and the emotion of it all. Hopefully when I am in India I get to attend one.

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wes December 15, 2010 at 12:14 pm

Take lots of pics when ya do!

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Audrey December 14, 2010 at 12:17 pm

We were in India last year before wedding season so we missed all the great events unfortunately, but we did get to see families shopping for wedding jewelry, saris and other items in preparation. Really wish we had been able to go to one of the weddings. Having had a very small wedding, I can’t even imagine what 3-5 days and 1,500 people would be like!

Love the concept of a “photo face”! Seems to be a known face in many parts of the world.
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wes December 15, 2010 at 12:07 pm

It’s an amazing pageant, that’s for sure. I was invited back for a friend’s wedding but it’s 2 years away, so who knows if I’ll ever make it…

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WeddingSpeechesHQ December 23, 2010 at 1:39 am

Its awesome to be able to experience another culture wedding..very different from us here in the USA..but all rules still apply..thanks
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Albert@wedding planner malaysia January 19, 2011 at 2:06 pm

Really enjoyed reading you post! Thanks for giving a glance inside wedding traditions in India. Indian wedding over all are really colorful, and full of rituals. I have missed few weddings recently and really regret it. Anyone who loves music, colour, food and emotions will surely enjoy Indian wedding.

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