Wedding Season---the wedding
So the evening after the "ladies' sangeet", we all went to the actual wedding. It was held in a different place, but same setup: a large parklike area with a roofed open-air pavilion and a big buffet. A wedding is _the_ event to dress up for, so we put on our fanciest outfits (Dhara had an elegant blue and gold sari borrowed from her mother; another great advantage of saris, anybody else's will fit you). We were far outshone by most of the other guests, though, and of course the bride was beyond compare in a gorgeous red and gold sari and kilos of gold jewellery.
Dhara figured there were about two thousand people there, making it a medium-sized wedding by Indian standards: a big wedding is apparently something like ten or fifteen thousand guests, and even a smallish one would have at least a few hundred. There must be some people who have weddings that are small even by American standards, but I think from the point of view of the Indian wedding industry they'd fall into the why-bother category. Naturally, with that many people you can't really orchestrate an event, so it's rather a free-form party. The bride and groom in all their finery (including long flower garlands) sit on high throne-like seats up on a dais in the pavilion, and the guests go up to greet them and perhaps hang out and chat for a bit. It's not really a structured receiving line, since there's no definite start time and people just come by shortly after they arrive or perhaps take time out from socializing and eating to pay their respects. This system is a lot easier on the guests but it must be tougher on the bride and groom, who are basically giving darshan (receiving, holding audience) for hours on end. (The bride's sari alone weighs about 20 kg, exclusive of the jewellery and flowers, so it must be quite an endurance test for her!) There are rows of seats in front of the pavilion so guests can sit and rest and watch other guests being photographed with the bridal couple. Lots of photographs, natch, and a videographer doing a simulcast onto a screen over by the buffet.
We videshis didn't really know anyone there, of course, but we filled up our time practicing our Hindi with several pleasant people who chatted with us, as well as making the tour of the delicious buffet offerings. Unfortunately, we all got rather full before we made it to the breads buffet, so we weren't able to do justice to all the possibilities of roti and naan and stuffed paratha and stuffed naan and many other types that I hadn't even heard of. The average wedding apparently can cost several lakh rupees, exclusive of all the bride's outfit and jewellery and presents to the bridal couple, so the food is very lavish indeed.
The actual ceremony itself doesn't take place until the small hours of the morning as a rule, when most of the guests have gone and it's just family and close friends left. The couple sit under a small canopy or "mandap" and Hindu priests conduct the wedding ritual (which can go on for a couple of hours more). We stayed till the start of the ceremony as Dhara's a good friend of the bride, but we felt a little out of place being such total strangers (the site had emptied out so much that a few of the remaining kids got up an impromptu game of cricket in the open space!), so as soon as they started chanting Sanskrit we surreptitiously snuck out. So after some six or seven hours spent at the events of this wedding we still didn't ever see the couple actually married! But that's a more intimate ceremony, as I said, and the average wedding guest wouldn't expect to see it. Home to kick off the high heels and unwrap the sari and so to bed.
—— Kim Plofker
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