A Four Day Bengali Wedding: Day 1

by Ekua on February 6, 2011 in India

Turmeric and Mehndi

I arrived early to the Oberoi Grand on the first wedding day. While I waited, it finally occurred to me that it was fairly crazy to go halfway around the world to a wedding where I only knew the bride. Nervousness began to creep up in my stomach. After a wait that seemed longer than it probably was, people with British accents wearing bright Indian attire began to file into the lobby. I knew they had to be wedding attendees. Everyone seemed to know each other and I felt awkward about interjecting myself. My usually talkative loves-to-meet-people-on-the-road self was overcome with shyness.

The wedding planner pointed out one of the best men to me. I introduced myself and he welcomed me and assigned me to an SUV. On the way to the event, I began to get to know some of the other guests. I began to feel like I was settling in.

I love that Indians do not shy away from color. In the room where the event was held, hanging from the ceiling were columns of orange and yellow floral garlands decorated with lights. Because guests were requested to wear Indian attire, the clothing in the room was equally vivid. As I was taking it all in, my friend came into the room and gave me a hug. The last time we’d seen each other, we’d been doing things like crossing overland borders and bouncing on rocky roads, marveling at Angkor Wat, eating durian on Khao San Road and ostrich and crocodile in Siem Reap, battling flying cockroaches in our room in Sihanoukville, and crawling through the Cu Chi tunnels in Saigon.

Now here we were, a little over two and a half years later, at her wedding. In Kolkata, we were geographically fairly close to where we’d met in Bankgok, but we were so far from those days. Our lives had taken very different paths, and yet we’d stayed in touch. That reunion was a moment that brimmed with gratitude for travel experiences and friendships.

The evening’s event was called a gaye holud. The word, “holud” translates to turmeric, and the event is centered around the application of turmeric paste to the bride to make her skin beautiful for her wedding day.

My friend’s hands, arms and feet were gorgeously decorated with henna. She told us that she’d left the henna paste on for hours and after it flaked off, she squeezed lemon juice on it the henna designs to make them as dark as possible. She told us that it is said that, “The darker a bride’s henna is, the more her husband-to-be loves her.”

In one part of the room were two women who were there to apply henna to any other females who wanted their hands to be decorated. From the time the henna dried and flaked off and I saw my design-stained hands to the days when it faded away a week or so later, I began to understand more clearly why people love to get tattoos. I don’t think I’ve looked at my hands quite so much since I was in middle school and obsessed with painting my nails in crazy colors.

When the event actually began, I didn’t always know what was going on. There were flower petals involved, a woman periodically blowing into a large shell which made a horn sound, and then eventually my friend’s family began to take turns spreading turmeric paste on her face, arms and hands. And then her mom nudged me to participate. It is a pretty great thing to be able take part in such distinct traditions.  When it was my turn, I scooped up some turmeric paste on a non-hennaed finger and instinctively place a glob of it on her nose. She gave me a look that showed a remembrance of my sense of humor.

After a sufficient amount of turmeric was applied and many pictures were taken, the bride disappeared and more upbeat music was played so people could dance. The energy on the dance floor foretold what to expect over the next few days. Eventually, the free-stylers stepped aside to make way for the groom who came on the dance floor with a group of groomsmen. They performed a choreographed Bollywood dance. When they were done, the bride, who had washed off the turmeric and changed out of her sari into an even more beautiful and sparkly lehenga sari (a skirt and blouse outfit called a lehenga choli combined with the draping style of a sari), came out to dance with her own entourage of females. Next, the men and women came together for a group couples routine. Pretty awesome.

More traditions followed the Bollywood interlude. There was more shell blowing, more of what appeared to blessing of the bride, and the family fed the bride with sweets. When this was done, we went up to roof of the building where tables had been set up and a spread of food awaited. The meal was the last part of the event and when our bellies were full, we headed back to the Oberoi. It was quite a way to kick off a wedding.

{ 7 comments… read them below or add one }

Terri- Try Anything Once February 7, 2011 at 5:42 am

I think South Asian weddings are so fascinating. Between the colors, the traditions and all of the cool dancing, I am sure it was so much fun. I’m still dying to go to India. Also, I would have totally been shy too!

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Ekua February 7, 2011 at 3:40 pm

People in India really know how celebrate and weddings there are a thing of wonder. You know, it really didn’t cross my mind that I might be so shy about meeting other guests. I’m actually glad I didn’t think of that beforehand and psyche myself out. Having long drives to chat and having four days of wedding activities definitely helped me feel more comfortable.

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andi February 7, 2011 at 1:53 pm

I love that you flew across the world for a wedding for your friend! I’m DYING to experience an Indian wedding.

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Ekua February 7, 2011 at 3:34 pm

Why not? 😉 I’m sure you would love an Indian wedding and enjoy having another opportunity to don a sari 😛

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April Thompson February 11, 2011 at 5:39 pm

I soooo want to go to an Indian wedding or maybe even have one if I ever get married… Sounds like you had a great time!

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Ekua February 14, 2011 at 1:19 am

Yup, if you do, the colors, fabrics, and floral garlands would be lovely to incorporate into a wedding. Thanks for stopping by!

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bweiss February 17, 2011 at 1:56 pm

Sound like a cool way to start life together

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