So may Prajāpati bring children forth to us; may Aryaman adorn us till old age come nigh. Not inauspicious enter thou thy husband’s house: bring blessing to our bipeds and our quadrupeds.
Not evil-eyed, no slayer of thy husband, bring weal to cattle, radiant, gentlehearted;
Loving the Gods, delightful, bearing heroes, bring blessing to our quadrupeds and bipeds.
O Bounteous Indra, make this bride blest in her sons and fortunate.
Vouchsafe to her ten sons, and make her husband the eleventh man.
Over thy husband’s father and thy husband’s mother bear full sway.
-The Rig Veda, excerpt from Hymn 135
I am the most married person I know. This might be because I’ve had not one, not two, but three weddings. The grand irony of this is, I would not say either Mr. India or myself are particularly wedding people. To be fair, we work in production, film and theater to be precise, and most of how we spend our time is thinking about how performances work. Event planning is just another aspect of that, to my mind, and a wedding is like a huge performance on a huge scale. I think that for most people, their wedding is their one chance to perform, to get up there in a big fancy outfit and have every eye on them, to be celebrated and adored and really seen, by everyone. And there is nothing wrong with that. You should be celebrated in the manner you desire. Love should be celebrated, the people you care about should come together and talk about how wonderful you are and how happy they are that you’ve found people you care about. It’s a beautiful thing. Take it from me. I’ve done it three times now.
I’ve talked about my weddings ad naseum, probably because there are so damn many of them, but I have to tax those I love (and anyone on the internet who is reading this) on more time, and talk about Indian weddings and what that means based on my own limited experience. Because while many weddings I’ve seen are a production, Indian weddings can be a flipping Broadway musical. The scale is just out of control. American weddings can be intense, but this is a whole other ball game. And that game is cricket. And just like real cricket, I can barely understand it.
You know that saying, less is more? That doesn’t really fly here in India. One reason for this might be because there is a vast wealth disparity in this country so there is constant living proof that less is, in fact, much less. So while there are in fact wedding traditions existing in India that value austerity, simplicity and brevity, (see Parsi weddings, South Indian weddings, etc.) the big fat Indian wedding does seem to reign supreme, maybe because it takes up so much space and makes so much noise. This one blog I started reading before I moved here, in anticipation of the Indian wedding I knew I would someday have, really scared the life out of me. Each wedding was more lavish and insane than the last, each outfit crazier, each photo shoot more theatrical. Obviously I understood that not every Indian wedding could be on the same scale, but seriously, this industry is out of control. One statistic I read said they are approximately 10,000,000 weddings in India a year, and the average range of money spent on a wedding in an urban area is between 25 to 75 Lakh, or between 37,000 and 111,000 US dollars. Given how many people in India live on an income under 10,000 US Dollars a year, that is, frankly, staggering. Another article I read speculated that the average person in India spends 1/5th of the income generated over the course of their lives on a wedding ceremony. So basically, if you want to make money in India, invest in red silk, gold earrings and banquet halls. The wedding in India isn’t just an event. It’s a phenomenon.
And no where is that as evident as in Bollywood, which celebrates and encourages the giant wedding tradition, specifically the Punjabi wedding tradition, a big loud booze soaked affair with tons of events, endless costume changes, and whole-cast dance numbers. Check out films on the subject here. The movie industry has homogenized the Indian wedding, spreading the North Indian traditions like the sangeet, the guy rolling up on the white horse, the endless hours of dancing and drinking, and making the rest of India jealous. And because this is a culture of maximalism (a term I learned from this excellent book), those once-specific traditions have now been utilized by Indians all over the sub-continent, so it’s not uncommon to see a traditional South Indian wedding with all the trappings of a Punjabi shindig, or attend a Catholic Wedding in Goa in which the bride has a stunning red lengha and a lavish white gown. Even western wedding traditions are creeping their way in, with bridesmaids and bachelorette parties scheduled around baraats. Women may not always be able to have it all, but at an Indian wedding they can have more than they every dreamed. After all, in a culture that values marriage above all things, for both men and women, a wedding is the ultimate rite of passage, traditionally symbolizing the union of families more than individuals, the fulfillment of a parent’s earthly duty to their children, especially their daughters, who now become the responsibility and burden of another household.
Traditionally, an Indian wedding doesn’t mention the couple, because the couple isn’t supposed to have existed yet. But that’s not true anymore, and in some ways all of the explosion of events around the wedding are an attempt to acknowledge the couple, because it has begun to exist before the priest declares it so. But of course that’s a slippery slope for many families who chose to turn a bit of a blind eye to their children having actual relationships before marriage.
In my case, however, Mr. India and I have been married for a year and a half, so the pretense of us not existing as a couple was undertaken by no one. I don’t know how much about this the priest knew or didn’t know, but he was a good guy and explained the wedding ceremony to me and my family as it went on, making sure I understood everything that was happening. And at its heart, it’s not much different from the Jewish wedding we had last June, or the court wedding we had in 2014. The principles are all the same, take care of each other, help each other out, generally be cool. The one thing that was new this time was that the priest told me I was in charge of the kitchen because nothing says your special day like casual traditional sexism.
So given that my first Indian wedding experience was in fact my own wedding, I’m pretty happy this one came last in our series of three. It made for a strong build, first of all, as this was clearly the most sparkly, and we ended our wedding circuit with a bang. There is nothing, I have learned, as lavish as an Indian wedding. And I’m excited to attend some more. As a guest. It was of course quite lovely to have everyone tell me I was pretty, but it would also be nice not be getting married all the damn time. Plus, if this study on Indian weddings is to be believed, I’ve only scratched the surface of the kind of Indian wedding insanity that is out there.
Side note, There has to be a Bollywood version of Wedding Crashers someday. Can someone make that, please? Thanks.