There was a time when few people married outside their religion. Couples were often introduced by their families, who would not have dreamed of setting up their son or daughter with a mate from another faith. These days, however, when couples meet in college, online, in bars, and anywhere else that you can imagine, there is no certainty that the person you fall in love with would belong to the same religion that you do. India is a diversified nation with diversity present in each and every sphere of life.
One gets the excellent opportunity to witness the diversity with respect to our art and culture during a wedding especially if it is a wedding between two different castes or communities or religions and if the marriage ceremony is an amalgamation of both cultures. When both the sides – the bride’s and the groom’s – want the marriage to take place according to their own customs and traditions, the answer often lies in conducting two ceremonies. It is indeed a great visual treat and experience to see marriages like these, which are a blend of two different cultures, beliefs, traditions, faith. Once I too got a chance to witness such a magnificent marriage ceremony, I must rather say ceremonies.
This time it was a Bengali girl and a Punjabi boy and both of their families were adamant that their children marry according to their respective their customs. So the marriage took place in both Bengali and Punjabi ways. I will start with the Punjabi ceremony. It offered a jimjam of lively songs, music, dance and was an energetic extravaganza. First the Mangni: The Engagement took place. This is when the boy’s side of the family goes to the girl’s side with gifts, jeweler, and other goods, to confirm the engagement. An exchange of rings took place. Then Dholki takes place which goes on for two to three days where ladies sing traditional songs. The Mehendi ceremony takes place in the atmosphere of a party. The bride and other ladies get mehendi (henna designs) done, on their hands and feet (most ladies get it done only on their hands but the bride gets it done on both hands and feet). For the bride the mehendi is sent by the future Mother-in-Law.
The wedding takes place with the same glitz and glamour. A young nephew or cousin also wearing the similar attire as that of the groom accompanies the groom. Then the groom’s sister ties sehera to his turban. The groom’s sister-in-law lines his eyes with surma (kohl). The Ardas is performed by the priest (Giani) followed by the formal introductions of the main male players in the families. After Milni, the bride and groom descend to the middle of the circle with the families encircling them, and place a heavily made garland of flowers on each other to state that they accept each other and will love and live together forever. In a Hindu Punjabi Wedding Hindus the couple has to circumambulate around the sacred fire (Agni) seven times at set intervals marking a vow each with each. In a Sikh Wedding, the Bride and Groom walk in tow around the Guru Granth Sahib four times at the set intervals.
After this huge celebration on Punjabi custom now it was the turn of the Bengalis to show their how rich their culture was. The wedding ceremony follows the Gaaye Holud (turmeric) ceremony. As the wedding ceremony is arranged by the bride’s family, much of the traditions revolve around embarrassing the groom. The groom, along with his friends and family, traditionally arrive later than the bridal party. As they arrive, the younger members of the bride’s family barricade the entrance to the venue, demanding money from the groom in return for allowing him to enter. The groom and the bride’s family members bargain good-naturedly on the amount of money of the admission. There is typically much good-natured pushing and shoving involved. Another custom is for the bride’s younger siblings, friends, and cousins to conceal the groom’s shoes for money; to get them back the groom must usually pay off the children. Siblings, friends and cousins also play many practical jokes on the groom. A priest asks the couple to chant mantras from the holy texts that formalises the Kanyadaan and the Saat Pheras. In Hindu marriages on the day of the marriage (after the wedding ceremony is over), close friends and relatives remain awake for the entire night. This is called the Basor Raat. The next day, preferably before noon, the couple make their way from the venue to the groom’s home, where a bridal room stands prepared.
Well this was one rare chance which I could not afford to miss. It is fun to have such marriages. A wedding is not only about the union of two individuals; it also brings together two families with their own special traditions. When the bride and groom come from different religious backgrounds, an inter-religious ceremony can be a wonderful way to start their new life together. You get to see different rituals, different beliefs and different ways to extract money out of the groom’s pocket. And these kinds of marriages happen only in a country like India. You do not get to see such diversity in any other part of the world. And it is this diversity about our country which makes it unique in this world!