A joining of souls, a unity of cultures
India’s wedding season is a mere 100 days in length, but the actual celebration for each wedding can last for days.
Annually, from November to January, hundreds of couples marry in India,” says Valerie Blumenschein of Blue Earth. She and husband, Mike, recently had the privilege of attending her second cousin’s Hindu wedding ceremony at the Rambagh Palace in Jaipur, India.
Trip of a lifetime
“We left the Los Angeles (LAX) airport on Nov. 2 for what was to be a 19-hour flight to Hong Kong,” says Blumenschein. Unfortunately, the flight ended up being 21 hours because 109 mph head winds caused them to stop in Seoul, Korea, for refueling before going on to Hong Kong. From China, the couple then flew another four plus hours before landing in New Delhi, India.
“Before we reached Jaipur, where the wedding was to be held, we spent three days sight-seeing with 25-30 other people on a chartered bus,” she says.
“We saw several different villages and stayed in palaces which had been converted into guest houses,” she explains.
“Americans couldn’t drive there,” she chuckles. “The tour bus we were in would have to slow down or stop often since elephants, pigs, cows and goats were walking in the center of the narrow paved roads. If our bus wasn’t dodging animals there were bicyclists, motorcyclists, trucks, buses and walkers filling the road.“
She also explains drivers there do not use blinkers, instead they honk before passing on any side they wish.
Overload of the senses
“Before our departure to India, our travel doctor recommended to us if you can’t peel it, don’t eat it; if it’s not carbonated, don’t drink it and if it’s not cooked, don’t eat it,” says Blumenschein. Even with this good advice, the Blue Earth couple found the food to be extremely spicy.
Though she and others experienced topsy-turvy tummies most of the time, they knew it would be an insult to their hosts if they left the food untouched. So they always made an attempt to eat a sample at least of every food item offered.
Many of the people in India are vegetarians, but they will eat chicken.
“The Breakfasts they served were the most Americanized,” says Blumenschein. She also says she learned to enjoy drinking watermelon juice and also was told never to eat lettuce.
“When eating,” she explains, “you have to remember India is a third world country.“
Hindu Wedding Ceremony
The Blumenscheins learned everything has a purpose and is very symbolic in India.
Wedding celebrations are divided into three parts. There is the pre-wedding, main day and post wedding day.
Women must wear the appropriate attire for each of these day’s events.
For the pre-wedding event or the Sangeet, women are attired in an ensemble comprised of a traditional long skirt, a choli and dupatta.
Sarees are worn for the wedding ceremony by women guests. The outfits feature gold or silver threads and beading. They look rich because of the intricate weaving in them. Another distinct feature of the costume is found along the inner, and sometimes outer edge. It is a narrow fringe-like pattern often looking like a string of upright leaves.
The most practical, yet elegant, of the outfits worn by women attending Hindu wedding festivities is the kameez which is worn at the farewell dinner. It is the only outfit that consists of elephant-legged pants.
All the outfits are in vivid colors says Blumenschein. People who live in sandy, arid climates are used to the blandness of their landscape, so they want vivid lime greens, oranges, reds and magentas to wear.
Marriages in India are not just a coming together of two individuals and an exchange of vows and rings, but it marks the bonding of two souls, two families, their culture and their communities.
On Nov. 8, Mike and Valerie Blumenschein attended the marriage ceremony of Mark and Tiffany Mittal.
Hindus believe that marriage is a sacred union between two souls which lasts for eternity.
The ceremony is derived from the sacred Vedas and has remained unchanged for more than 5,000 years. Traditionally the ceremony is performed in Sanskrit, the mother of all languages, and includes rituals performed by the bride, groom, and members of their families.
The ceremony is conducted under a ‘mandap’ comprised of four pillars representing the four parents. A sacred fire (the Agni) is the focal point of the wedding. This fire symbolizes light, power and God’s presence with people at this event.
The groom arrives to the rhythm of the dholak accompanied by dancers. When the processionreaches their destination they are met by members of the bride’s family. The families exchange garlands and embrace. The bride’s mother welcomes the groom.
Hindus believe Lord Ganesh (the Elephant God) is a remover of obstacles and a symbol of peace, friendship and happiness. His worship begins with the lighting of the Agni in the havankund.
The bride and groom then exchange floral garlands to signify their acceptance of each other.
The bride’s parents place her right hand in the groom’s right hand and the couple then exchange vows and promise to remain devoted to one another.
The pundit or wedding presider ties the ends of the bride and groom’s scarves together to symbolize their permanent union.
The couple then walk four times around the sacred fire seeking the four basic goals of life:
Dharma – to lead a good life
Artha – prosperity and joy
Kama – energy and passion
Moksha – detachment from materialism and attainment of salvation
After circling the sacred fire, the couple then take seven steps to symbolize the beginning of their journey through life together. Each step reflects an important guiding principle.
Their first step is for prosperity, health and vitality.
The second is for strength (physical, mental and intellectual).
Their third step is for wealth and comfort.
The fourth is for happiness and harmony through mutual love and trust.
Their fifth step is for the blessing of strong and loving children.
The sixth is for self-restraint and longevity.
The seventh and last step is for eternal love and companionship.
At this point, the groom applies sindhoor (red powder) along the parting of the bride’s hair. This signifies her status as a married woman.
After a final offering to God, the pundit blesses the couple and invites the guests to do likewise by showering them with flower petals.
A unique difference between the Hindu and American ceremony, the Blumenscheins noted, was there is no exchange of wedding rings. People in India still exchange dowries.
People, People, People
“I never looked out a bus window without seeing people,” says Blumenschein. “There were people everywhere you went and looked,” she says of India. India is the second most populated area in the world next to China.
There is always a mass of people milling about, particularly in the open markets which generally include spice and food vendors and tailors to name just a few.
Theirs is a servitude culture in India, but Blumenschein says the people she met had the attitude ‘life is good.’
She learned the average farmer in India farms a mere three acres of land and most rural areas have no electricity, running water or plumbing. These luxuries are found only in the larger cities.
“Education is their ticket out of India and in many instances out of poverty,” says Blumenschein of the people.
The more educated are venturing away from the old culture and its customs.
Country of Contradictions
“Wealth and poverty live side by side in India,” says Blumenschein. “The gates and walls seemingly separate the classes.“
From the beauty of the Taj Mahal to the squalor in some of the streets, the senses and emotions were often on overload for the Blue Earth couple.
“The people we met were gentle, loving and giving. They could not do enough for us,” says Valerie.
After witnessing the wedding ceremony, seeing camels, watching elephant polo, tasting spicy foods and listening to music galore, Mike and Valerie Blumenschein are grateful for this ‘trip of a lifetime’ but are glad to be back home in Blue Earth.