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Indian weddings are a big, sparkly, long and joyful process. Unlike the weddings of Europe and North America which last an afternoon, maybe and evening, sometimes perhaps fill an entire day, Indian weddings continue for up to a week! A full seven days of rituals, celebration, honor, family and friends. Up to five or six hundred people might attend one or many days of such a wedding: each guest is greeted, each guest is fed and each guest turns up in their best Sunday clothes!
Before plans for the wedding even start being thought of however, there are a number of other events which the couple must complete. The first of which is a ceremony during which the family of the groom visits the family of the bride and offer elaborate gifts and presents. These are to signify the groom's family's ability to care for, dress and feed the bride, should she be allowed to join his family.
These gifts usually include a saree – the traditional Indian dress – jewellery, homemade traditional Indian sweets and cash.
If the bride's family accepts these gifts, the girl is, from that moment, considered part of the boy's family. In return the bride's family also presents the groom with (slightly less elaborate) gifts.
One of our host family’s sons, Riki, has recently gotten engaged to his sweetheart, Shazi, and their proposal ceremony was last Saturday. The two volunteers who are currently living with the Ram family and myself were all invited to the ceremony… one of the requirements for going however was that Coline and I both wear sarees and dress up properly! I had no problem with this at all… J Maxime got away with wearing a simple Indian style shirt.
On the day I went to the Ram house and helped Uma, the mom there, finish making the sweets! We made barfi, a sweet made out of milk powder, ghee (melted butter) and sugar! The process is incredibly tricky – if you over cook the sugar a tiny bit too much, or don’t mix the batter quite fast enough – the entire batch is destroyed! (I didn’t do any of the tricky bits!)
Then Uma and I sat and finished preparing our sarees – I bought my own which was a mission in itself! – we had to sew lace to petty-coats, and line the bead work… I could not believe what a drawn put process it all was.
At about 7 o’clock the house filled up with family members, all the women dressed up and gorgeous in the most beautiful colorful sarees. Coline and I were taken aside and carefully dressed – putting on a saree is an art!! One wrong tuck or fold and you could end up in just your petty-coat! Bindis, make up, bangles and flowers in the hair, and we were set!
Once we arrived at Shazi’s parent’s house the ceremony began. It was conducted in Hindi, so I didn’t understand a thing, but both families looked very proud and happy and each received the other’s gifts graciously.
Everyone was then served a bowl full of all the sweets Uma had been preparing all week! Most of them were a bit sickly sweet for my taste, but the rest of the guests were pleased with the snack – even the barfi I’d help make!! Then, after eating all that sugar, we were invited to sit for dinner!! Only about 12 people could sit to eat at once – we were lined up along a makeshift table and served up enormous portions of amazing curries, pilau rice and puri (deep-fried roti) and salad! The women ate first and then the men, and then it was time to go home again!
Riki came with us – he was going to celebrate with this male friends, and Shazi was left to be with her girlfriends, and I went home and tried to untangle and unwrap myself from my beautiful saree!
I’m definitely looking forward to some other occasion to wear it again!!