Recently we were invited to a wedding of a Western woman, Lica Andersen, from Denmark, to S. Kumaran, a local rickshaw driver.
The wedding was at Arumugaswami Temple on Chengam Road, south from Ramanasramam.
The temple is across from this tank with the painted lion statue. The light blue painted fence was put up in the last few months.
Our friend, Rajan, and his daughter, Jananee, outside the temple. She is 10 years old.
Inside the building there are many people sitting around, but no sign of the bride and groom. We are here about 9:30 am, when Rajan told us to come. It started at 9 am, which is actually pretty late for an Indian wedding. This is an accommodation to the bride, I think.
I went out the back door, and lo and behold, there is a wedding going on at the shrine behind the building.
Here are Lica and Kumar. I can tell that the wedding has been going on for a while, since the bride is wearing a checked saree. This is usually something that the bride will change into after the first part of the wedding ceremony. A South India woman will usually wear three different sarees during the wedding.
Something is going on in the shrine. What, I cannot see. The priest is chanting.
If you look closely Lica is wearing necklaces, but not earrings, or jewelry in the center of her forehead. I don’t think I see henna patterns on her hands either. Naturally, she is wearing a special flower headdress.
While this is going on, people are sitting inside, and others are outside, sitting at some distance. Some are watching, many are not. There is a Western lady taking pictures. There are just a few people near the bride and groom, not the crowd I would expect from weddings in the USA.
You have to be able to hold a pranam for a long time for one of these weddings, I guess. Carol is in the background, wearing her fancy blue silk and gold thread wedding saree. An Indian woman MUST have one of these.
Carol with Jananee.
The happy couple.
Carol, looking on.
Getting blessed with the holy flame by the priest. The priests that perform the wedding today are from Ramanasramam.
Kumar dots Lica’s forehead.
Now the big moment, the one we all have been waiting for. The actual marriage.
Kumar puts a flower mala around Lica’s neck.This is equivalent to the placing of the ring on the finger in a wedding in the USA. This is the actual act of marrying the other person.
Lica has placed the mala around Kumar’s neck, so they are now married. They hold the ‘placing around the neck’ pose for photos.
Then they walk into the building for the rest of the ceremony. Notice the headdress she is wearing. I have been told they are quite heavy. The bars behind their necks are the support to the BIG malas used for the wedding.
An Indian woman is walking with them, I do not know who she is. I suspect that she is part of Kumar’s family. Lica’s family is unable to attend. They were recently in India, and, at least for now, India has a new immigration rule where people who visit India must wait for two months before they reenter. This is a very new rule, and probably her parents did not know in time. We understand that they were happy about the wedding, and wanted to come, but could not.
They stop for a photo. Raman and Jananee stand with them. Besides the enormous malas to go down almost to their knees, she is carrying a lighted lamp, and he, a flower bouquet.
They walk into the temple. This seems to be old style construction, stone and stone pillars. Notice there are banana tree decorations, with bunches of bananas hanging from them. This is a traditional South India decoration. I suspect that it stands for ‘plenty,’ prosperity.
The couple seats themselves by the priest. Many ceremonial objects are laid out for use during the ceremony. This will be a special pooja. There are two coconuts, adorned with flowers, in metal pots wound with string. These are the two temporary gods for the pooja. Two gods, I suspect, male and female, maybe Siva and Parvati (given the location near Arunachala).
They jointly go through a pooja, taking items from the priest …
And then offering them to the gods.
Eating some holy food.
Flowers for the gods.
Here is the general scene. They are seated next to a wall, behind two banana trees. Women from his family stand behind the couple. People watch the ceremonies. Notice that the men stand in one group, women sit together in another. The separation of sexes is usual in temple settings. They are illumined by a bright light for the videotaping.
Here is Jananee, happy to have her photo taken.
They are giving uncooked rice to the gods. I think the priest gives it to Kumar, he gives it to Lica, and she offers it to the gods.
Now pulses (lentils) are given.
This is not a good photos, but it shows the groom (and not shown, the bride) washing the feel of, I think, his mother. Respect to the parents is a part of these weddings.
Women sit and watch and talk, I guess about the wedding. Maybe they are swapping stories.
There are a few Westerners in the crowd.
Part of the pooja is a fire that they feed with ghee. This is summer here. They are sitting under bright and hot video lights. And now they are heated by the flame. They have to keep it burning brightly. I bet if the fire went out, it would be a very bad sign.
Attendees watch. More men, standing in a group. A white shirt is proper formal wear.
The priest brings a plate with a camphor flame, red kum kum, and other ritual items through the crowd, so people can bless themselves with the flame, and apply red kum kum dots and white vibhuti stripes to their foreheads. In this way, everyone here participates in the wedding.
Meanwhile they are still working with the flame. Got to keep it burning brightly!
All the time there has been a cameraman, videotaping the activities.
I just like this photo. The movement of the camera makes it a colorful abstract.
She takes a coconut in her hands.
The priest decorates it with flowers, just like he did to the coconut gods of the pooja. Is this some kind of direct blessing from the gods to the couple?
The women of his family watch attentively in their fancy silk and gold sarees.
Now he puts a necklace around her neck. She still holds the coconut.
One of the women helps.
Then family members tie a medallion onto his forehead.
More malas. The family women are moving a way. This part of the ceremony must be coming to an end. A mala for him.
Then a mala for her.
They move to another part of the temple, where there are important household items, like this stone grinder. He is putting turmeric and kum kum onto her feet. I cannot tell, but maybe he is putting wedding rings onto her toes, too.
Now they stand together to greet the people, take gifts and have photos made. Here they are with Rajan and his wife, Janakee.
More people giving gifts. This is a pretty long process. Most people who are here today will come up, give a gift and congratulations, and have their photos taken with the new bride and groom.
Out back, tables are set up now with chairs, banana leaf plates, bottles of water and a banana. They are ready to have people some and sit for the meal – Biryani. There will be meals for everybody who comes today. This is always a part of these occasions. Everybody eats.
There was more to the pooja that I showed. I thought that this was plenty to show you the general flavor of the wedding.
We all wish Lica and Kumar the best in their marriage.
A note on weddings of Western woman and Indian men
There are a few Western women that we know who have married Indian men. This can be very hard. The family life is so different here than in the west.
The people we know have not done one thing, common for an Indian bride; they have not moved into the father and mother’s house, which would be usual for an Indian couple. For the Indian couple, the mother would be very happy, not unnecessarily because of her son’s happiness, but rather now there is now a new low-ranked woman in the family to work on family work. And the low ranked women would get all the bad jobs. The western women and their husbands we know all end up with their own house or apartment. There still may be issues with expectations of the bride. There certainly will be family visits to the new couple, where they naturally will expect to be treated by the western woman like they would be by any Indian wife. They will probably be disappointed when this is not done, or when not done correctly.
Another area where things are very different are in pregnancy, child birth, and rearing. With a wedding, there are naturally expectations of children, so all these issues will probably come up. We know one woman who went back to live with her mother in the US for the pregnancy care and birthing. She did not come back until many months after the child was born. Since it is hard, even for husbands of American women to get US visa, he was not able to be with his wife or new baby for about one year.
In the cases we have seen, it looks like the western woman brings a kind of wealth to the husband that is hard to achieve here. I think for an Indian man to succeed as husband to the western woman, he needs to be flexible and to accept that there are differences that cannot easily be changed. They can be happy. It may not always be easy. But is this part really so different? This is what seems true to me for all of us.
Tags: Indian wedding