Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Arranged Marriage Wedding in the Punjab

Last week I started moving over posts from my old blog about our amazing Christmas vacation to visit my parents in South Asia. It was our first time over there and it was suuuuuch a cross-cultural experience. So - last week I posted about what it was like to walk the streets and sight-see, and also about our harrowing adventures on an overnight train trip.

Today I'm reposting about the village wedding we visited, which is really the story I re-tell the most because it blew my mind the most. For about 24 hours I was in a constant state of wonder and amazement!


Going to this village wedding was definitely one of the highlights of our trip here. We took a long bus ride through desert that was irrigated into usefulness by the British. When we finally arrived at our destination, we hopped onto rickshaws and made our way into a tiny village of about 15 mud huts scattered in the midst of green fields of crops. Luckily we got there in the coolest part of the year, they say in the summer the temps are generally above 100 degrees and can reach 120.


In any case, walking into the village was like walking into a scene in a biblical film. Not much has changed in this area since back then, and it's just crazy to see. In between three huts we were greeted with a dramatic scene - a group of women and children dressed in gorgeously bright colors, sitting on the ground and keening and moaning. We were told that this is traditional - the bride cries and mourns most of the way through the wedding process since she is being uprooted from home.

Us girls joined the fray just in time for the mendi ceremony, which is the local word for henna. The bride's hands feet were covered, and her hands and arms were decorated ornately by her sisters.

sisters of the bride covering her arms with henna

We provided enough entertainment that everyone was distracted out of their fake mourning. Us girls were so relieved to be among women and able to interact with them! Up until this point we'd been in the cities where few women are out in public, and we are unable to be culturally appropriate and talk to men that are strangers.

It was amazing, people. The colors, the faces, the surroundings, the traditions... oh man.

decorating the bride's feet

The bride is the one being decorated in this first photo below. Seeing her face is rare - in these photos her veil had slipped down and her sisters hadn't adjusted it yet. For the rest of the proceedings she was well covered. Actually, during the actual marriage ceremony she was completely covered and I can see how Jacob would have completely missed that he married Leah instead of Rachel! There was really no way to identify who was underneath that veils and elaborate decor.

the bride - covered in henna dye!

Us visiting girls got mendi done too, which was amazing.... I LOVED it.

beautiful henna designs!



The bride's henna ceremony - women only

the sisters pain the bride's hands with henna


watching and learning

beautiful girl

mother of the bride


Above is a photo of the women that were preparing chai while the rest of us were getting mendi done on our hands. Chai is ever present at every social event, and I LOVE it. This was different then our city experiences, though, since it was prepared on a wood fire next to their hut.

Below are some of the women we got to know through the mendi ceremony. They took us on a walk around the village and fields, and we were invited in for chai twice. It was so fun to interact with them but also so awkward, because we were all trying to communicate and most of the time failing miserably. lol. :)

us girls and the local young women went on a walk in their fields before the ceremonies began

This is the groom, who at this point had finished a long ceremony with the men in which all of the attendees went up and bargained with him about how much money they would give him for the wedding. Yes... they bargain about how much they will give. Pretty funny. Us women weren't at that ceremony, but the men said that the bills were fitted into the shield he's wearing. Oh, and the groom absolutely terrified Matt, who in the following days had nighmares about evil grooms. Lol...

the happy groom and his assistant

The total festivities last for three or four days and go all night long and involve the entire village (a village is really just an extended family - they always marry someone from another village).

During the dancing ceremony we hung out with some kids that have learned a bunch of English and were eager to be "best friends" with us. They were completely adorable and stole my heart immediately.

children at the wedding

these girls were so sweet

beautiful girls

Below is the only shot I got at the actual marriage ceremony. That is mostly because it is held at about midnight. It is lit by the moon a few peoples' cell-phones (no electricity but plenty of cell-phone reception??). The bride and groom are actually in the middle of the square created by flags, but you can't make them out. They are surrounded by villagers squatting outside of their little square. At this point they are walking in a circle, more slowly then I've ever seen anyone walk in my life. Seriously. So slowly that you literally can't tell they are actually moving. So slowly that by the time they were done with their four rounds around the center candle, the entire audience is half-asleep.

The ceremony, at midnight
Although we didn't get to see it, the groom went to the bride's village the next day to claim his bride. We were told that after an evening together (and by the way, he lives in a one-room hut with other relatives so I'm not totally sure how that works out....) , she would return to her village for another month before returning to her new husband for good. She remains veiled around him until their first child is born. Even then, she remains generally distant from her husband, and the closest male-female relationships are between brothers and sisters rather than husband and wife.
Crazy, huh? Really, really different.


Bethany said...

Completely awesome. I love traveling and learning about new cultures- there's just something so special about experiencing life in a new way :)

American in Norway said...

WOW! Your photos are AMAZING... what an experience... (green with envy over here!) : )