Picture this. As I polished off my breakfast of a banana and honey pancake at my guest house in Pushkar earlier this week, I chatted idly with Vishram, the chef about life in general.
“It’s marriage season here in Pushkar.”, he said. “Many people getting married this week”.
He proceeded to list off four of his friends who were scheduled to tie the knot over the coming days, and finished with “… and my cousin Gordon on Wednesday. Maybe you come along?”
Hold the phone. Have I just been invited to an Indian wedding? Hells yes, I’ll come along! This is only what I’ve been waiting for since I arrived in India!
Pin this —>
So, how do you get invited?
I had read stories on other blogs about their experience being invited to a wedding, but I really never thought it would happen to me. It’s definitely the kind of super cool thing that only ever happens to other people.
But on my travels I had also met some people who had been invited to weddings along the way, so it’s a lot more common than people think. Indian folk are so warm and open, that if you stay in one place long enough and chat to enough locals, it might actually be hard not to be invited to a wedding!
‘Marriage season’, in which lots of weddings take place runs in April and May, when the harvests have been made, the tourist season is slowing down and the rains are yet to fall. This may vary by state, however if it’s your goal to attend an Indian wedding, it couldn’t hurt to travel ‘off season’.
I attended a Hindu wedding about 30km from Pushkar in Rajasthan, near a town called Kurki. As each region and each state in India is so different in terms of its culture, language, dress, and traditions, every experience will be completely unique. That’s one of the reasons this country is so awesome.
Preparing for the big day(s)
You will no doubt have a lot of questions before you go, so check with your host before you go and make sure you know what will be expected from you to avoid any embarrassment.
Indian weddings usually run over several days, and you’ll probably only be going to only one of the days, unless you hit the jackpot!
Make sure you have something sensible and modest to wear. You’re not expected to show up in traditional Indian dress (my offer of wearing a sari got a little giggle from Vishram), but make sure your legs and arms are covered, and you are not wearing anything tight-fitting. This rule goes for the guys as well as the girls, so boys, make sure you wear long trousers.
I asked Vishram if I should bring a gift, and he told me it wasn’t necessary in this case, but you may like to buy something as a token gesture. Take your host’s guidance as they will be best placed to know what the bride and groom might like.
What to expect on the day
OK so the big day has arrived, and you’re on your way to the wedding. You should know that in India, having a foreigner in attendance is likely to be considered a great honour, and like it or not, you will be the subject of intense scrutiny. Your ‘personal space’ will be hereby known as ‘public space’ for the duration of the festivities.
The wedding took place in a small plot of land behind a corner store, and was made up of two makeshift marquees, with cooking area at one end and people sitting on the floor, taking up every last inch of space. There was no bathroom.
Often the bride and groom will have separate events with their families during the three (or more) days of celebrations, and not see each other until the final day. The bride was not in attendance on the day I visited, and around 1,000 of the groom’s family, friends and members of his extended social network came at different intervals to eat the enormous spread and offer their words of congratulations to the groom.
Be prepared for lots and LOTS of food. On the menu for me was a meal of freshly friend puri (puffed out flatbreads) served with spicy daal, crackers and different Indian sweets, including gulab jamun. The meal was served with a cool glass of spiced buffalo milk, which I had to admit, was hard to stomach!
Don’t even think about eating it western style, just dig in with your hands and get dirty. You are being watched by hundreds of people and they are studying your every move. Try to blend in as much as is realistically possible!
The children were the stars of the show, surrounding us with eyes full of amazement. It was the first time that most of them had seen a foreigner, and made the most of it by taking in every detail of our bodies. They touched our white skin and scrunched my fine western hair, and fought over which one of them was next in line to have their photo taken.
The women were particularly interested in my marital status (or lack of), so expect them to ask you if you are married, and for them to be looking for your wedding ring, anklet, facial piercings… Anything that might show that you have been claimed by a man!
The women thought it was hilarious that I was 29 and not married. But the language barrier didn’t allow for much explanation. They were also horrified when I joined the men in smoking a beedie (type of cigarette) – a slight social faux pas on my part, but was met with good humour in the end.
Party long into the night
When you’re finished eating, this is when the party really starts hotting up. The singing begins with one small group of women and spreads like wildfire through the mass of people. And it lasts for a long, long, long time.
At sunset, the singing halts and it’s time for the rituals. Again, this will vary depending on the beliefs system of the family but on this day, the father of the groom and his immediate family coated themselves in a thick layer of paint on their arms and face, and the mother of the groom started a theatrical wail, meant to symbolise her grief for losing her son to another woman.
Shortly after, a bystander climbed gracefully onto a tall stack of chairs and wired up a singular spotlight to light the tent and the groom’s sister got the party going with some traditional dancing to the beat of a drum. As guests of honour, we were expected to lead the festivities. My strong protests were met with much resistance, and as always in India, it was easier to just go with the flow.
Once the first few songs were over, people walked through the dance floor dropping 10 rupee notes for the children to collect, and the crowds thinned, ready for a second round after a few minutes rest. This is where our host chose to call it a day and we were rounded up to make our very public exit.
My day as a guest at an Indian wedding was easily one of the most exciting, enriching and bewildering days of my travels so far, and will be something to share with the grandchildren one day.
Have you ever been to an Indian wedding? Did your experience differ? I’d love to hear about it in the comments below!