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Tuesday, January 05, 2016

Indian Wedding

When I left my own culture behind to move to Lesotho, a country that is 98% Basotho, I expected I would learn a huge amount about the Basotho culture. I anticipated learning about Basotho traditions surrounding holidays, weddings, and funerals.

I never imagined, however, that I would also learn about Indian culture through living in a small, predominantly homogeneous country in Southern Africa. It turns out, however, that my village in Lesotho includes a handful of Indian families. Last year, I attended a non-traditional Indian wedding in my own village, complete with the accouterments of what is called a white wedding here but in the US would simply be considered the norm.

Then, my friend Natasha, got engaged. I was invited to the official betrothal ceremony and ritual last Easter, where I got my first glimpse at the formal ceremony that goes into Indian rituals. Natasha encouraged me to attend her wedding, which I thought was impossible, as it would be in Durban, South Africa during the holidays. In the end, however, it all worked out and I spent my Christmas and Boxing Day with her extended family celebrating her nuptials.

The rituals for the wedding actually began well in advance of my arrival and included things like cleansing. Both the bride and groom participate in rituals with their own families prior to the actual wedding. On the eve of the wedding, each older woman in the family completing four steps with the bride or groom, a dozen of the groom’s family members visited to deliver the bride’s sari and other necessities for the wedding ceremony.

The day of the wedding, I donned my first sari, and off we went. It took a surprising amount of practice to get good at moving around in my sari, which would have happened faster had I tied my underskirt tightly enough. It turns out that the sari, which is tucked into the underskirt, will in fact slip out if the wearer moves around a lot and the skirt is too loose. This makes moving around tricky. Eventually I was educated in the need for a tight underskirt by a new grandmotherly friend.

The wedding itself was about two hours long. Both the bride’s and groom’s parents sit on either side of the stage. Additionally, the bride and groom each have an attendant who actually attends to their needs, such as blotting sweat as the stage lights were quite warm. While the many rituals connected to the wedding occurred on stage, next to the stage with a microphone was the storyteller. He acted as an MC for the wedding, giving us information about the rituals occurring, the meaning behind them, and occasionally introducing us to entertainment provided during the longer rituals.

I cannot imagine a wedding in the United States going on behind a dancing couple or a performing musician, however, that is apparently the norm for Indian weddings in South Africa. Given the length of the wedding and its rituals, I can understand the desire for entertainment.

After the rituals were concluded, Natasha and Prien were announced as married, and we were served a meal. During the meal, a representative from each side gave a speech. Then, there was a receiving line including the parents and the couple before family photos, just like in America.

As the wedding itself concluded, the couple and the bride’s family returned to the bride’s home or in this case the bride’s family’s home as we were far from our village in Lesotho! There, the family assisted the bride in changing from her 15kg wedding sari and heavily flowered hair into a lighter sari and more comfortable hairstyle. While they did this, the rest of us moved on to where the reception was to be held.

Four hours after the wedding ended, the reception began. A family member of Prien’s came and got us as the couple and bridal entourage approached. As we ran, as much as one can in a sari and incredible heat, into the night with many women and a few men from Prien’s family, we wondered at this Indian tradition. Once at a junction in the road, we learned that this rushing out to hijack the couple en route to the reception is not cultural tradition but a family tradition and we were lucky enough to be the only non-family included.

The reception itself included much more ceremony than other weddings I have attended; however, it was kept lively and fun. The MC for the event was a well-known local comedian and part of Prien’s family. As we listened to numerous speeches from different friends and family members, he kept people entertained. He made each speaker dance up to the stage area. He also ensured we all laughed with comedy bits.

Dancing with Charo Charo
Once he realized there were two white girls in the tent full of Indians, we became one of his favorite targets. I was accused twice of matching the white walls of the tent, although he celebrated that after he made me blush I was no longer camouflaged. He gave us each Indian names as our American names were too difficult to remember. He promised to help us find good Indian husbands and later auctioned us off as brides. And, perhaps most memorable, he called us up to the front saying the couple had a present for us. This present, apparently, was the opportunity to public attempt Bollywood dancing. Luckily, Emily and I are up for anything and jumped in with smiles on our faces.

Later, when the speeches were completed and the reception transitioned to a later dinner (it was after 11) to be followed by dancing, I appreciated all of this entertaining attention. By making us the target of his comedy, Charo Charo had broken the ice for all the people who had yet to meet us. As a result, everyone had pulled us into the fold, celebrating our Indian names, my sari, our dancing, and so on.

The fun continued until after 2am, at which point we left with some of Natasha’s family, for the hour drive back to their home. We slept only a few hours before we were up again and off on our next adventure to St. Lucia. 

Photos from the ritual the night before the wedding

Photos from the wedding and reception.

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