India is one of those countries that definitely know a thing about wedding ceremonies. I think the largest, most colorful, and most pompous weddings are held in India. Even living abroad, Indians treasure their traditions. And among them are arranged marriages, very strict rules for the ceremony, etc. But this article is actually about a modern couple from the US who chose each other and are trying to mix the opposing wedding traditions of their Indian regions of origin. Will they succeed? Let’s see.
This is Sonya, the bride. She’s 27.
“My culture is very much my family. I definitely insisted that you asked my parents for permission”.
And this is Harsh, the groom. He’s 31.
“I just followed the instructions”.
Over the next 72 hours, they'll dance to Bollywood's greatest hits, get covered in turmeric, and ride a wild animal.
“I wanted an elephant”, jokes Sonya.
“And it’s illegal in New Jersey, apparently”, says Harsh.
“I think it's more about what our parents and grandparents want, honestly. And I think it's really important to them that the wedding is done in a way that they think honors certain traditions”, explains the bride.
“We won't be kissing at the end”, adds the groom.
Even though both their families are Hindu, Sonya and Harsh come from very different regions and cultures in India.
“Andhra Pradesh is from South India. And they’re more traditional, some might even say nerdy. Culturally, in South India, the ceremony is the focus of the wedding. The wedding being somewhat of a spiritual event. The surrounding events around it are quite minimal”, narrates Harsh.
“My family is Punjabi. And Punjabis are known for being loud and boisterous. In North India, the marriage ceremony is going off to the side.
Everybody else is at the bar, eating at the buffet, and no one's actually watching the couple get married”, Sonya tells us.
“We're committed, we'll see if we can pull it off to try to merge the two and try to do it in a timely manner”, says Harsh.
24 hours till “I Do”
“Today, we have the Sangeet. It's basically a big carnival-party-festival thing”, explains the bride.
Translated from Sanskrit, “sangeet” means “singing together”. Traditionally, this event was female only. But in modern times, both genders participate in what's become a Bollywood-style talent show.
“It has lots of dance performances from friends and family. It's really celebratory and it's a way to kick off the whole event. It's definitely a big part of Punjabi culture and North Indian culture. It's less so in South Indian culture – that being sad. The South Indians definitely bring it”, adds Sonya.
8 hours till “I Do”
The morning of the wedding, the bride and groom performed the Haldi or turmeric ceremony in their separate homes. Family members anoint the bride and groom with turmeric paste. This ritual purifies the bride and groom, surrounds them in blessings, and wards off the evil eye.
“It has the added benefit of making your skin glow. A lot of these traditions are part beauty, part religious”, says Sonya.
In addition to the haldi, the bride is gifted a set of 21 red or maroon bangles for the Choora ceremony.
“Your mom's brother, your uncle, helps you put the choora on. And then all of your sisters – I think particularly unmarried sisters or unmarried ladies in the home – come and tie these gold kalire”, adds Sonya.
Shaped like coconuts, kalire symbolize prosperity.
4 hours till “I Do”
“What I will be wearing is a sherwani, which is a royal coat of sorts. It's got a decent amount of gold sparkles, and so you'll know I'm the groom”, says Harsh.
“Red and gold are very traditional auspicious colors for the Indian wedding, and so that's kind of what I'm going with. I'll be wearing a lehenga, which is, basically, a big skirt and a crop top”, says Sonya.
“Seems like red goes for my complexion better than gold”, jokes Harsh.
1 hour till “I Do”
It's time for the Baraat or bridal procession.
“I get to pick an animal of my choosing to go from my village, the house next door, to this village to find my bride, right here. So, I'm going traditional, I’m going with the white horse”, narrates the groom.
“So, you pull up and my cousins and my siblings are sort of like, well, you want to come in and take your bride, let's go, like what's in it for us?”, Sonya tells Harsh.
“Do they take Amazon gift cards?”, asks the groom.
“They will take Amazon gift cards”, answers the bride.
“Once he crosses the barrier and my family has decided that they have been paid enough, he can come in”, adds Sonya.
Now, it's wedding time.
In South Indian tradition, the bride and groom don't see each other before certain rituals are performed.
“In American weddings, people come down the aisle and it's a big moment when the groom watches his bride come down. So we asked Harsh's parents if that would be fine, if they would let us see each other, so we could have that visual”, says Sonya.
0 hours till “I Do”
Sonya is escorted into the ceremony by her brothers, underneath the chaadar or sheet made from her mother's wedding sari.
“So it's really nice to come in with some of your mom's blessings, a little bit of history… A bit of the tension in there when you try to kind of angle to get the garland on first, and whoever gets their garland on first is supposed to have like power, the upper hand in the marriage”, adds Sonya.
Sonya and Harsh are now separated by the Terasalla, a curtain, for the remainder of the ceremony. The Jeelakarra Bellam is the main event at South Indian weddings. The couple takes a paste of bitter and sweet herbs and places their hands on each other's heads. The different flavors are meant to represent the joys and struggles of life.
“The wedding is like a new start in life”, says Harsh.
“It's an amazing thing to be able to open up. I'm taking on a new set of parents and I'm going to love and respect them, just as much as I love and respect my own parents”, says Sonya.
Sonya and Harsh pulled off their wedding with a fusion and a twist… and the absence of a kiss.