A lot of people tell me that they have attended a typical Indian wedding to which my response usually is that like the poem of the 6 blind Men of Hindustan who went to see an elephant there is no “typical” Indian wedding! A bit like there is no typical Indian food I suppose…
English weddings are wonderfully civilised affairs. They follow set rules and patterns. They happen over one eventful day where the bride wears white, the groom wears black, everyone has usually bought a hat, there are toasts and speeches, a first dance, some lucky or not so lucky girl catches the bride’s bouquet, and as the bride and groom drive off to start their honeymoon, everyone else parties and is happy. The next day everyone is back at work – except of course, the bride and groom who are still on their honeymoon.
Forget that paradigm as we cross continents. Things get a little bit more boisterous as we get to Southern Europe, especially Greece and Italy and by the time we’ve reached India, it has descended into complete chaos, with its tapestry of cultures, languages, cuisines, hundreds of rituals and customs that differ according to region, religion, economic worth and even individual families. So while a bride from Bengal will wear a bright red sari, her counterpart from neighbouring Assam will usually wear a stunning white sari or Mekhala and to make it more complicated a bride from Delhi will not wear either but a Salwar Kameez or a Lehenga.
A Gujarati wedding feast will be pure vegetarian whilst a Muslim wedding must have a Biriyani or two and the success of a Bengali wedding meal is judged by the number of fish dishes that were served.
Food is always central to the theme
The one common factor that binds every Indian wedding together though, is food! From the auspicious coconut placed in front of the couple, to the grains of rice showered onto their heads, to the fish symbolising fertility sent to the bride’s house, to regional specialties, celebratory dishes, seasonal menus or family favourites, food runs through the core of the festivities. During a “wedding season” in India, you can attend over eight weddings in the same city, within a span of 3 weeks, along with 800 other guests and be served a bewildering array of dishes and rest assured that you will not eat the same dish twice.
Indian traditions have adapted to reflect global culture
In times gone by, marriages in India, were arranged within the same community with the bride and groom often hailing from the same village or at the very most a few villages apart. The local priest played matchmaker moving from home to home trying to bring about an alliance between eligible and suitable parties. The bride -after a week long period of festivities where the whole village or community attended- moved just a few doors or few villages away and began her new life. Modern day Indian marriages could not be more different. Young Indians now live all across the globe often in gleaming cities – life in the fast lane. Cupid, or the Internet, play a big parts in choosing one’s life partners as inter region, inter religion or intercontinental marriages become more the norm rather than the exception.
A not so typical Indian wedding
So a few months ago, we celebrated a wedding in our family, which was fairly representative of what a “typical” Indian wedding now is. The bride is a Bengali from Calcutta, but has studied and lived in Mumbai. The groom hails from Punjab, his family having moved from what is modern day Pakistan during Independence to start a new life in Delhi. The couple met in Switzerland and have no idea where they will settle but for now call Lausanne home. The wedding festivities started off in a temple in Delhi, followed by a weeklong celebration in Calcutta with both Bengali and Punjabi rituals, another reception in Delhi and culminated in a party in Lausanne. The 800 guests came from across the Globe and one “family and friend” dance performance had no less than 16 different nationalities dancing to the latest Bollywood hit.
Like modern Indian marriages, and present day wedding feasts, Indian food too has come a long way with traditions that are centuries old originating from different regions, religions and centuries blending in with present day gastronomic techniques and tastes. Boundaries are being blurred with contrasting cultures and heritages coming together to create a magical alchemy. Like the stunning warps, weaves and patterns of an Indian Bride’s outfit, the past and present come together and create their own spell. Age old practise and customs are being combined with contemporary techniques to create their own place in our 21st century world.