Wedding time, fun time

Indian weddings bring with them celebrations and customs full of
frolic, says Dhanvanthi Keshavrao

IN India, weddings are an occasion rich with traditions. Weddings bring with them celebrations and customs full of fun. One strange tradition in Indian weddings is the stealing and hiding of the groom’s shoes on the day of his wedding by the bride’s sisters and cousins. The groom has to remove the shoes during the ceremony. The bride’s family makes wacky plans to steal the shoes and hide them.

On the other hand, the groom’s family tries to protect the shoes. Usually, the bridesmaids successfully steal the shoes, as it is a matter of their pride and honour. Once the ceremony is over and the groom needs his shoes back, he and his family start searching for them. The bridesmaids surround him and ask for a huge sum of money, which the groom pays them and gets his shoes back.

Marriage rituals serve the essential social purpose of bonding families together and strengthening amity within communities
Marriage rituals serve the essential social purpose of bonding families together and strengthening amity within communities

Most of these customs owe their origin to the legends surrounding the Radha-Krishna romance and, to an extent, the Shiva-Parvati myth. They are seen as the ideal romantic couples of all time and through various folk songs, dance and recitations from the scriptures, their shared love is sought to be invested in a married couple.

At another level though, these rituals serve the essential social purpose of bonding families together and strengthening amity within communities. Weddings also help in breaking the ice between the sexes so far as the guests are concerned.

So, in this atmosphere surcharged with gaiety, fun and laughter, there are the common pranks the bridesmaids play such as hiding the shoes of the groom, challenging the male guests to a singing session (usually antakshari) and throwing up teasers to the unsuspecting.

Religious fervour marks some of the functions like the installing of the main pillar for the marriage shamiana in South India. This small ritual is held a day before the wedding. A bamboo pole symbolises the family deity and the family members pray in front of the deity. Nine married women decorate the bamboo with an odd number of eyes with kumkum and haldi.

In Punjabi weddings, soon after the wedding, the male relatives from both sides hug one another to get acquainted. The girls embark on reciting what is known as sithanis. These verses, replete with sexual innuendoes, poke fun at the groom’s family. But nobody minds and the jokes are taken in a light spirit.

Likewise in Tamil Nadu in South India, a custom prevalent involves throwing water (coloured with turmeric powder) at everybody present. Among Bengalis, the turmeric water is usually diluted, from what is left over by the bride and groom after a pre-nuptial bath in their respective homes.

Needless to mention, this unprovoked drenching often leads to frayed tempers and wordy duels, between complete strangers. In many marriages, the unpleasantness is avoided by simply sprinkling a few drops of the ‘holy water,’ since turmeric is said to be spiritually cleansing.

Then in Rajasthan, the traditional toran bandana ritual takes on a display of feminine aggression. The bride actually attacks the groom with a sword, and should he be unable to duck the assault or succumbs to an injury, he is considered unfit to ask for her hand! These days, however, a Rajput bride symbolically pokes a sword in the direction of the groom’s chest. A further modification to toran bandana involves an all-out ‘attack’ by the bride and her female relatives on the groom’s entourage with garlands of sweets. This is a hilarious event with family elders looking on.

The Assamese, too, have their own version of martial display. But the ceremony is comparatively mild and restricted to the Ahom tribal community with exchanges of knives between the bride and groom. But there is a more exciting game of exchanging rings that actually cements the relationship.

Among most of the communities of India, two rings are hidden deep inside a basket of uncooked rice and the couple is expected to retrieve them through the heap. The trick here is that the bride must be able to identify the groom’s ring by touch (and vice-versa) before fitting it into her finger, if the marriage has to last. A variation of this is to have the two rings submerged in a vessel of milk, coloured with vermillion and termeric.

Bengali bridal couples play another game to test the strength of their relationship. Two pith balls, one representing the groom and the other the bride, are released into a bucket of water. The water is stirred and from the movement of the floating pith balls, predictions are made on who would be following the other through life, the one to be more adjusting, or if they are destined to stay apart... all in good humour.

Then there is the Gujarati groom, who is subjected to a painful introduction to the ladies of the bride’s house by having his nose pinched. According to custom, only his mother-in-law-to-be, could enjoy this privilege to easy familiarity. MF