India 2016 Trip – Day 3: Much Ado About Weddings

Today was a whirlwind of a day! We woke up at the crack of dawn to get ready to attend the wedding of our family friend’s daughter, Apoorva, mainly because the ceremony rituals are starting early and we don’t want to miss out on a second.

Painstakingly, I put on the outfit that my grandmother and mother have chosen for me to attend the main wedding ceremony, which resembles something akin to vomit of neon pink and green. Still, my grandmother insists this is an example of the latest fashion in Hyderabad, so I grin and bear it. I wave off my grandmother’s numerous attempts to get me to put on powder so that I’ll appear more ‘fair’ or light-skinned, as the Indian bias goes. I’m tan and I like it that way.

After much fuss and delayed vans, we head off to the wedding.  The wedding ceremony takes places in a large reception hall with a giant statue of Ganesh greeting visitors out front. Much to our dismay, we find that we’ve already missed some of the traditional wedding rituals, so we hurriedly take a seat to take in the rest.

Note: the bride, Apoorva, is from Andhra Pradesh, so her family is of Telugu origin. However, the groom’s family is from Tamil Nadu (hence why the wedding is in Chennai, Tamil Nadu), so they’re of Tamil origin. Apparently, there are significant differences between Tamil and Telugu weddings. Having been to only a handful of Telugu weddings in my life, many of which I slept through as a child, I’m not sure I know enough about Telugu weddings to tell the difference, but nonetheless, my parents and their family friends try to enlighten me.

  • The bride and groom sit on red, white and green swing adorned with flowers, swinging (symbolically into marriage??) before they stand up and pose for photos before the many iPhone carrying aunties desperately trying to figure out how to use their iPhone’s zoom feature.
  • Much of the ceremony consists of the bridge and groom just walking all over the complex, and half of the audience rushing after them to snap photos. It’s like a game that everyone is trying to win – “Follow the Bride.”
  • Finally, the bride and the groom take center stage on the main platform in the hall. It’s hard to see exactly what’s going on, but there are a lot of flower garlands, and the bride and groom are placing multiple flower garlands on one another.
  • Finally, the bride and groom stand up to accept gifts from and take photos with the wedding guests. They stand for at least two hours, and we wait our turn in line. When we arrive, my parents lightly throw yellow rice upon the heads of the bride and groom to bless them on their wedding day, pass our gifts to the bride’s family, and we smile and take photos before we’re summarily rushed off stage so the next guests can take their turn.
  • We eat breakfast and lunch at the wedding, and both meals are served in traditional South Indian style on large banana leaves (each banana leaf serves as a large individual plate), and servers come by to drop spoonfulls of different curries and assorted items on our plates. Much of the cuisine is Tamil, and it contains a lot of coconut. Needless to say, coconut is NOT my favorite fruit. So I’m not sure I enjoyed the meals so much, but I’m glad I got a chance to sample Tamil cuisine before I leave Chennai.

Some photos of the wedding ceremony for your viewing pleasure:

And with that, the first part of the wedding concludes. We break for a brief siesta back at the hotel and decide to be cheesy tourists by taking a trip to the beach. Our family friend, Ramana Uncle, kindly offers to act as a tour guide. Marina Bay is apparently the largest beach in India, and I can see why, as the beach seems to stretch on for a mile or more. However, before we get to the beach, we’re met by two memorials to previous chief ministers (the equivalent of state governors in the U.S), both of whom were highly regarding in their time for their work to improve the state and society of Tamil Nadu. One of them received the highest national honor that the Indian government can bestow on an individual, and the other is honored by an eternal flame. We also see a double-leaf statue that represents the major Tamil political party. Tamil cultural and state pride is on fully display at the memorial.

Finally, we get to a series of dozens of beachside stalls. The space between these stalls forms a long, sandy entryway to the beach.  There’s trash strewn about everywhere and the sand is piled high, so it’s tough to walk on in flip-flops and sandals. Still, the shops carry fun wares like shell necklaces. We pick up a few souvenirs in the form of wooden keychains that have our names hand-painted on the back.

We make a stop at a relative’s house for tea and chatting before heading back to the hotel to change into Wedding Outfit #2 for the evening wedding reception. This outfit is a little less garish, but very orange. Is it too much to ask for a simple blue or black dress?

The wedding reception takes place in the banquet hall of the very fancy Taj Coromandel Hotel in Chennai. Flowers adorn the entryways and a live piano player sits in the foyer of the hotel. I enter the wedding reception hall and grimace, for I see the poor bride and groom standing up on stage again, accepting gifts from guests who did not attend the morning wedding ceremony. I think to myself that their feet much be aching, and they must tire of forcing smiles for the live-stream cameras all day long. I wonder if they’ve had a bite to eat all day. Still, the bride and groom look beautiful. A band plays different classic Indian and Western ditties in the background. The wedding reception is a veritable display in the latest fashions, as my grandmother points out a thousand different dresses and laments that she did not buy me this or out that outfit the wedding. I mainly focus on the dinner buffet and pray that I can get the free hotel Wi-fi to work. Alas, I was unsuccessful.

While I’m sitting at the table, my mind wanders to the excessive costs of Indian weddings. For more than a down payment on a new home, people lavish that much money on just one day. It’s a beautiful day, to be sure, but it’s just one day. And also, there’s enough food to feed an army, most of which goes to waste when the day is said and done. Sorry guys – I know that I’m being a killjoy here. I’ll stop.

All in all, it was an interesting day to reflect on culture of wedding traditions, but like the bride and the groom, I think I could be satisfied with participating in one Indian wedding in my lifetime!

 

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