AN INDIAN WEDDING.....

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               "Fill your paper with the breathing of your heart"
                                           -William Wordsworth

Today my heart breathes, lives and rejoices in attending a 4-day family wedding.  I board the flight from San Francisco to L.A. for my husband's niece's wedding, my 14 year-old daughter in tow.  I'd like to whisper sweet nothings in her ear, tell her how nostalgic I get anytime a daughter in the family gets hitched, because it reminds me of my own dreams for her.  But she has her nose glued to the window as we take off.  Midway through the flight, I lean in to talk to her again, but I find her furiously scrolling down her I-phone to catch the latest gossip about the school dance on Facebook.  And so, the moment passes.

To me, a Sikh wedding resembles a play in a theater.  A moving tableau of pictures, with emotions ranging from ecstasy to weepy.  The pre-wedding rituals begin with the Sangeet - a music and dance function; an evening of musical entertainment and merriment usually hosted by the bride's family.  A successful Sangeet party is one where everybody under the age of 60 is drunk and gyrating on the dance floor to Bhangra music in wild abandon.  Drinks are free-flowing, as are the chicken tikkas and chapli kababs

Hungover and hurting, you hurl out of bed the next day to attend the shagun or engagement.  This is a religious ceremony that typically takes place in a Gurudwara (Sikh temple).  The mood is solemn and decorous - the priest sings hymns of gratitude and invokes the name of the merciful Lord who will oversee the child's future, which her parents no longer can.  The occasion is marked by the families of the prospective bride and groom exchanging gifts in order to confirm the engagement of the couple.  The meal that follows is alcohol-free and vegetarian. 

Next day is the mehendi - the henna ritual where the bride's hands and feet are decorated with intricate patterns colored with henna.  Native lore has it that darker the color that sets on the skin the
deeper the love the bridegroom has for his bride.

The 4th day of festivities culminate in the wedding, which is a religious ceremony.  A Sikh wedding always takes place before noon.   The groom arrives on a bejeweled, white horse.  Family members dance in front of the horse as it trots at a gentle pace, and the entire procession called a baraat arrives at the Gurudwara accompanied by a deafening display of drums and vigorous dance. 

After a light breakfast, the groom's family settle inside the main hall of the temple and the bride makes a grand entrance with her bridesmaids.  The clothing has gotten more elaborate and ornate with each successive event.  At the wedding the bride wears a showy lehnga or salwar-kameez in red or pink.  The groom is similarly attired in a fancy sherwani with intricate embroidery and a traditional turban, with a huge, sparkly jewel attached to the tip of the turban.

It's all very romantic and vibrant - the bride sneaking a furtive glance at the groom underneath her mascaraed lashes, then blushing furiously when caught batting her eyelashes at the groom by the roomful of curious onlookers, the swagger of the groom as he tightens his grip on his ceremonial sword before making the nuptial rounds.   Everybody watches as the bride and the groom take the ceremonial 4 rounds around the Holy scriptures, the bride following behind the groom at a measured pace.

The nuptials are followed by lunch, and thereafter, by the doli or the traditional giveaway of the bride to the groom's family.  Not an eye is dry in the house when the oldest family member does ardas (prayer) for the girl's well-being in her new home. Family members are often reminded of days gone by, when arranged marriages were wrought with a real fear of the unknown for their daughter.

The plane skids to a halt on the tarmac.  I want to share the introspection I've experienced in reflecting on this cultural extravaganza.  I turn once again to my daughter.  "Let me tell you about Punjabi weddings, " I begin to launch into my parable.  "Save it, mom," she says crushingly, as only a 14-year old can, who knows nothing of nostalgia and its sad math.  Sigh:(

The doli decorated in a traditional manner





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