Shackles, Incense, and Dancing

An insider's view into an Indian wedding

She has finally arrived.

Beautifully adorned with a sparkling gold and red sari and an elaborate head piece, the bride is being pulled in by a cord which makes her look like a prisoner.

Her head is down, and her heavily made-up eyes are puffy from crying – weddings are a scary affair for an Indian bride.

She has an enormous gold ring in her nose, a large red mark (a tica) on her forehead, and a few dozen bangles (bracelets) on each arm.

Her hands and wrists are covered in a lovely henna design, and around her neck is a curious necklace of ten rupee bills. Her complex and colorful outfit is unlike anything I have ever seen, a stark contrast to the white I am used to seeing on brides back home.

The hundreds of guests who have been dancing to Hindi music for hours while awaiting her arrival stand to watch her enter.

Without making eye contact with anyone, she somberly proceeds over to the corner of the field where an assortment of things are laid out: rice, water, incense, and flowers, all of which will be used later on for part of the ceremony.

She looks downright miserable, and rightfully so. Like many Indian women, this bride has only met her soon-to-be husband, found and arranged by relatives, very briefly, maybe only a time or two before tonight.

She just left her own village, and this may very well be the farthest she has ever traveled alone as her own parents are not allowed to attend the ceremony.

It will certainly be her first time sleeping away from her family, her first night sharing a bed with a man instead of her sisters and mother. She is being married into a new family and house, and with that, she is forced to accept the duties that come along with it.

From now on she will be in charge of taking care of her new husband as well as his family, and will transform into their cook and maid overnight. Though most Indians do not see it this way, from my Western perspective it seems like she is walking into slavery.

A few minutes later the groom saunters in wearing a huge decorated head piece while dancing and singing with his friends. Unlike his wife-to-be, he is not leaving behind his house nor his family, and has no reason to be sad.

He dances his way over to where his bride and a Hindu holy man are waiting to begin the 8 or 9-hour ceremony that will conclude in their official marriage.

“Will they kiss? Or hold hands? Or even sit near each other?” I ask my Indian friend who has brought me to this ceremony.

“Shame on you!” she scolds me gently but firmly – physical contact is absolutely unheard of, even at a wedding.

She explains to me that the marriage is official only after the long ceremony of chanting and rice throwing that will take place throughout the night. Once that is finished, the bride and groom will be free to eat and dance with the remaining guests, though many, such as us, will have already left for home long before the sun rises.

As the ceremony proceeds, a few guests gather to watch, but most stay in the large field in front of the house where the music is blaring popular Hindi songs.

Children, women, and teenage boys all dance enthusiastically together, losing themselves in the music. Others look on laughing, notably the older women with small children drifting to sleep on their laps.

They announce the food is ready, and we rush to be in one of the first few rotating groups to sit on the benches in a large open tent.

The family is obviously wealthy as they’ve served an extravagant meal of rice, dal, and lamb from huge buckets. The second we finish our dinner, the next thirty guests rush in to take our places.

The evening continues as such, with the guests dancing and celebrating throughout the night as the bride and groom sit stoically in the corner, nervous and excited to begin their first day as a married couple.

Or perhaps, in the case of the bride, maybe just nervous.

Shirine is a 20-year old solo female traveler cycling around the world, and a regular contributor to The Happy Passport. Follow her journey at awanderingphoto.wordpress.com.

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2 comments on “Shackles, Incense, and Dancing

  1. Franca

    I love local traditions especially when they are completely different to what I’m used to, it’s so interesting and fascinating at the same time. I haven’t made it to India yet but, when I do, I have to admit that I wouldn’t mind to witness a wedding, it would be such an unique experience that would show me part of their culture that not everyone gets to experience.
    Franca recently posted…A Vegan View of Christmas in PugliaMy Profile

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    1. Rebekah Voss Post author

      I completely agree with you Franca! During my year in Asia I NEVER attended a wedding, though I was invited several times and ALMOST went several times – something always fell through and I didn’t get to go. It was one of my biggest disappointments from the past year, especially because weddings seem to be so different from country to country!
      Rebekah Voss recently posted…Gratitude in 365 Days of TravelMy Profile

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