My A La Carte Hindu Wedding
Faced with the task of creating a traditional Hindu ceremony in a Western context, I chose two rituals most meaningful to me.
BY: Aparita Bhandari
I never had visions of a dream wedding, like some women do. There was no fairytale dress in my mind’s eye, and no candy confection fantasies of a wedding cake. Nor did I have a wedding planning book, outlining how the day was supposed to unfold. The few ideas I did have centered on the Hindu wedding rituals specific to my Pahari background. (The Paharis belong to the recently established Uttaranchal state in India, originating from the mountainous areas such as Almora, Ranikhet, and Nainital.)
And in the end, I was, in some sense, able to have my perfect wedding.
I’d met my husband at a club, and we dated for five years before we decided to tie the proverbial knot. Our discussions around marriage had focused more on where we would live (at my husband’s request, I decided to give living with my in-laws a go), how we would raise our children (apparently I will end up being the stricter parent), and how we did not want a large, splashy Indian wedding, something that's become stereotypically common.
We didn’t put too much importance on the day itself, realizing it’s mainly a symbolic event and a festive occasion for family and friends. The actual marriage entails two people making a life together.
My absolute dream wedding would have taken place in India. I grew up there, and I couldn’t even comprehend getting married in Toronto, where we live now. How would most of my family--who are in India--attend? Where would I go shopping? Where would I find a good mehendi artist?
The wedding ended up happening in Toronto for various logistical reasons. My husband and I insisted on a small, but meaningful ceremony.
Hindus from different parts of India have their own regional interpretations of a wedding ceremony, making them fairly distinct from each other. Usually, when Hindus from two different backgrounds marry, they incorporate all the regional variations. In our case, I took care of the wedding ceremony, while my husband planned the reception.
My husband’s family is Punjabi, and aren’t aware of all the religious rituals during the wedding. “We just follow what the pundit (priest) tells us,” one of my husband’s aunts told me. They focus more on the revelry –dancing, singing, applying turmeric paste on the groom as a beautification rite, and tying the ceremonial pagri (headgear).
Our side of the family places a strong emphasis on the rituals. Since our family belongs to the Brahmin (priest) caste, the religious functions are all the more important. In the Hindu caste system, the Brahmins were looked upon as keepers of the scriptures and religious rituals.
I am familiar with many of the rituals, enjoying the beauty and the fun involved in them. Over the years, I have attended many weddings in the family, so when I sat down to discuss my wedding ceremony with my father, I had a few ideas in mind.
A traditional Pahari wedding can take several hours and consists of many different rites. Often, many of the family members take a break during the actual religious ceremony, congregating in small groups to catch up with relatives they haven’t seen for a long time. The ceremony usually starts late at night and continues until early morning. The families and guests bid the bride good-bye around dawn.
But I didn’t think it made sense to do the traditional ceremony in Toronto. It would have been difficult and expensive to coordinate, especially since we don't have priests here who knew our customs. I also don't have extended family in Toronto to help me out, though some were coming in the days before the wedding.
Besides, the Hindu wedding doesn’t fit in with the North American lifestyle. Most people here prefer the convenience of a daytime wedding, followed by a reception at night. A typical Hindu wedding, on the other hand, is scheduled after consulting astronomical and astrological charts for a mahurat (auspicious time)--which often falls during the early morning hours on weekdays, hardly convenient for most people here.
I didn’t want a half-baked Pahari wedding, but I also wanted to include at least some of my cultural tradition. I got a pichauda from India--a large stole dyed in yellow and red, worn only by married Pahari women--and I chose to build my wedding ceremony around two specific wedding rituals unique to the Pahari tradition.