Bhaddu, Jammu and Kashmir
On Feb 6th, Arielle and I set off with Brett to the Chennai airport. We said a tearful goodbye to Brett and then sat in the lounge for 6 hours to begin our journey.
Our first stop was Jammu City in the far north. Venus’ cousin was getting married, and the chance to be a part of an Indian wedding was too good to miss! The day we arrived we drove out to Venus’ family ancestral home in the village of Bhaddu. After meeting Venus’ parents we were introduced to dozens of aunts, uncles, and cousins, and fed tea and rice mixed with ghee.
More than anything else, Indian marriages are a family affair. In the US, the ceremony is about 30 minutes, everyone sits and watches politely, drives somewhere to dance and/or get hammered, and then goes home. In India, the ceremonies go on for three days, sometimes with both families together, but usually at the two separate houses. The priest set up the ceremonial area in a corner of the house and the ceremonies would go on as I everyone else went about their business. The ceremonies are a complex never ending series of chants, blessings, rituals with the bride and groom individually, the bride’s parents, and on the last day the bride and groom together. Toddlers, dogs, uncles, and girls mixing bowls of henna wander in and out of rooms. Aunties switch effortlessly between feeding everyone and relaxing together, giggling hysterically with reminiscences of their own weddings. The men are in charge of cooking a giant feast, in which the whole neighborhood is invited. They use massive metal vessels in the back of the house, letting the fragrant dahls simmer for at least 24 hours before they are served with plain rice and mountains of yellow sweet rice full of raisins and coconut.
Amidst all the chaos, Arielle and I could usually be found huddled around the fire pit, journaling and drinking endless cups of pink Kashmiri tea. I did a bit of drawing, only to have some of the young ones gather over my shoulder, wanting to “help” so I gave them their own page in my journal which they filled with scrawls of dolphins and roses.
The last night of the ceremonies was held in a massive tent, with both families. This part is what people think of when they think of Indian weddings: the dancing, the glitz, the food. The groom arrives on a white horse, and the two families greet each other, father greets father, mother greets, mother, and so on through all the most important aunts and uncles. In this moment I profoundly realize that Indian marriages are not a holy union of just two people but of entire families. The bride and groom sat on thrones while everyone took photos behind them. The guests’ frenzied excitement reminded me of little kids spotting Mickey and Minnie Mouse at Disneyland.
The next morning everyone rose at dawn, huddling under blankets with pink tea to watch the last rituals, the ceremony that would join the bride and the groom together. The women in red shawls sang traditional songs, their voices piercing warmth through the morning cold.
The two circle a small wood fire seven times, and the priest reads them promises of loyalty, protection, prosperity, and service. The groom places red powder on the hair part of the bride, which she must now wear the rest of her life. The family gave bowls and cups as housewarming gifts.
And then, after days of feasting and ceremonies, it is time to say goodbye. The bride got into the car and bid a sobbing goodbye to her parents, her cousins, her sisters. All of her family was crying too. She is now no longer part of their family, and although they can visit her, she will belong to a different household, never to return to her own. It wasn’t long before I started getting choked up too. Yet what I liked about his is that amidst the celebrations, it gives an emotional outlet to the families to mourn the loss of their daughter. In the west, weddings are supposed to be happy, happy all the time, but family members naturally feel a mix of sadness, excitement, and concern over a newly wedded couple.
We left for Jammu City later that day. Having been royally welcomed during my stay, I felt such gratitude, and privileged to have shared a slice of this family’s life.