An Indian Wedding

jw-saree2 PART ONE – What happens when a Maltese girl falls in love with an Indian boy and decides to get married… India?!

Yes………. we panicked, yes…………. we were concerned but in the end it was what she wanted and a group of family members decided to make the trip to Southern India and participate as fully as possible in this memorable occasion. After a grueling trip which involved a long distance flight and a long distance train journey we arrived in the groom’s relatively small home town in the province of Andrah Pradesh, right on the Bay of Bengal.

Was it a culture shock? ……. at first certainly but then we were made to feel so much at home and so much a part of the family that we relaxed and enjoyed being part of a traditional Indian wedding with all its colours, rituals and traditions.

As I’m sure we have all heard, Indian weddings normally stretch over a period of days and involve many different rituals which are performed over the period.  No doubt for our benefit, these were condensed into the one and a half days of intense preparations and celebrations.

The ritual most looked forward to by the younger female members of our group was without doubt the ‘henna tattooing’ possibly because it was the one thing we knew to expect.  The older women in the group, me included, were not so keen on having our hands decorated but in the end we all joined in – with fabulous results!

Mehndi (more commonly known to us westerners as henna tattoo) is a ceremonial art form which originated in ancient India. Intricate patterns of Mehndi are typically applied to brides before wedding ceremonies using a paste made from the ground Mehndi (henna) plant. Although originally popular in the North of India it is now also an obligatory part of a southern Indian wedding.

p1020189The Mehndi ceremony is often one of the most important pre-wedding rituals especially for the bride. It is a fun filled ritual, which is celebrated mainly by the bride’s family. The ceremony is usually held at the bride’s house or at a banquet hall on the eve of the marriage ceremony.   Some people celebrate it with great pomp and show.   In our case it was held in one of our hotel rooms. We celebrated it with room service and many bottles of water, using sign language as the main means of communication and lots and lots of smiles, giggles and laughter!!

We watched fascinated as one after the other we submitted to the Mehndi artist who drew the most intricate designs on all of us using a plastic cone in the way one would use a fine paint brush. Traditional Mehndi designs include the sun on the palm, which in this context represents the mind. Often hidden within the Mehndi pattern applied to the bride are the name or the initials of the groom. The painted area was then dabbed in coconut oil in order to create a more intense colour on the skin. When first applied the henna forms a dark crust which is removed after a couple of hours.  When the crust is first removed the henna design is a pale to dark orange in colour and gradually darkens through oxidation, over the course of 24 to 72 hours. The final colour is a reddish brown and can last anywhere from one to three weeks depending on the quality and type of henna paste applied, as well as where it was applied on the body (thicker skin stains darker and longer than thin skin).

According to the ritual, the bride does not step out of the house after this ceremony. This worked fine for us as by the time we were all done it was 11pm and ready for our beauty sleep. According to popular belief, the darker the color of the Mehndi on the bride, the more her husband will love her. As a tradition, the bride is not allowed to work in her marital house until her Mehndi fades away.

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