Based on the two other Nepali weddings I’ve attended, and my own pre-planning, I had a few assumptions about our ceremony. For instance: I expected both of our parents to sit up under the mandap with us—my parents on my side and P’s parents on his (we had little stools set up for them to sit on), I expected the pandit-ji to follow the program that he originally mapped out for us and later approved the draft of, I expected we would exchange rings (something I fretted about at one point, but it never happened, I’m still not sure why, I have a Nepali wedding ring), I expected people to move around more and be less formal, and I expected things to flow a bit more smoothly. But even though many of these assumptions didn’t necessarily happen, it was still a totally awesome experience that I wouldn’t trade in for the world (the whole weekend was, actually :)).
Ironically, I never really thought of myself as a girl who would get so excited over my own wedding (I know—very hard to believe after all these posts), but I think it was the allure of participating in a different type of ceremony, and having these extra cultural pieces, that really pulled me in to getting excited about the overall process.
So here we were: P and I, standing under the mandap in front of a room of about 130+ of our closest friends and family, dressed as Nepali bride and groom. At least eventually it was 130+… many of the “brown people” were still missing at that point, but slowly started to filter in to the back of the room as the ceremony went on. I wasn’t wearing my glasses, so I could only properly see the first few rows, and the people who decided to sit on the floor in the front or stand around the sides. I later joked that since all the “White Americans” (who arrived half an hour early) were sitting quietly and attentively (American wedding style) in the front of the room, it might have intimidated the South Asians from moving around or talking so much. I’m not even sure if anyone thought to get up and have tea and pakora during the ceremony like we had planned.
P and I stepped under the mandap, and settled into our chairs. Luckily we had appointed our friend N as the MC/narrator of the event. He sat opposite the pandit-ji, and offered brief explanations before and during various rituals to make sure everyone in the audience was on the same page.
As the ceremony went on, the interactions between the priest and N, and eventually AS and R (who came up under the mandap to help set up the various rituals—we would have been lost without them!), became slightly tense. The priest, who doesn’t speak much English at all, was Nepali, but was so used to working with Indians in the community that he kept giving instructions to N in Hindi, while N kept answering him back in Nepali. The priest also assumed that N, R and AS had a more encyclopedic knowledge of Hindu wedding rituals, and seemed to get frustrated with them if they started doing something in a different way, or didn’t intuitively know what came next. Occasionally the priest seemed to stop the flow of the ceremony to give them brief lectures or scold them, and they would take a minute or two to explain or defend themselves. Since this was happening in a different language, to the non-Nepali speakers in the room it probably looked like we were making up the ceremony as we went along (in fact, at one point my dad did ask me as we sat together under the mandap, “Is this guy just making it up as he goes along?”)
Anyway—So P and I were up on the stage. First the priest gave me a round silver tray with various (red, yellow, etc) powders and rice on it. At first I thought the priest told me to feed it to P, so I took some in my fingers and went to put it in his mouth, but P said, “No… it’s tikka” and I had to change directions and put it on his forehead. After that, I kind of stopped trying to understand what the pandit-ji was saying, and waited until P or AS/R/N told me to do something.
Next I gave P his dubo ko mala and flower garland. He in turn gave me my tikka, dubo ko mala and flower garland. Next we were each given a handful of flowers to hold in our right hand during the Ganesh puja. If you want to keep tabs–so far the first two items on our “official” program were flipped.
After the Ganesh puja, my parents were invited onto the stage. Much to my dad’s chagrin, the stools were really low to the ground, and he almost toppled over trying to sit down. Because the altar was pretty crowded, he kept accidently knocking over a pot with a coconut that represented a god. AS would fix it, and then the coconut would topple again when my dad made any moves. My mother’s youngest brother—a big guy sitting in the front row, and one of the few people I could see clearly without my glasses—wound up finding the knocking-the-coconut- situation hilarious, and kept trying to contain his laughter. My grandmother and aunt kept trying to shush him, but I kept seeing his shoulders rock with giggles. Luckily it wasn’t too big a deal, but I did keep watching him wiggle.
My parents were supposed to feed P yogurt and ghee (as per the program), but that wound up not happening. Instead they symbolically washed his hands. While my mom was still on the altar she kept asking me, “Where’s the yogurt? When are we doing the yogurt part?” (I think at this point people started disregarding the program, although now that I look back, perhaps at this point the ceremony started to get back on track). Then P presented me with my wedding tilhari and N encouraged everyone to clap now that I had the tilhari on.
Next my parents “gave me away” through a process of us holding out our arms with a fistful of flower petals while P held a conch shell and AS poured water over our hands. The priest chanted various mantras, including invocating our various male relatives (father, grandfather, great-grand father… it was interesting to hear the priest struggle with western names that we all deem “easy to say,” like my dad’s: “Da…da…dan…dan-e…dan-e-ale.”) The mantras went on for quite some time, and my parents didn’t have any idea what was happening, and for them I’m sure it seemed very disorganized and chaotic. My mother leaned over at one point and said, “They didn’t want to rehearse this?? But we rehearsed ours?? This needed a rehearsal!” Rehearsal or not, everyone did a good job and I appreciated their participation.
After my parents “gave me away” they had the choice to continue sitting up there, or to skedaddle, and I don’t blame them for wanting to skedaddle, and get out of the limelight. The pandit gave them each a tikka before they left for the comfort of the audience chairs. I kept waiting for the moment that P’s parents would be invited up to sit with us, but they never were.
Next, AS and R tied some coins, nuts and rice into the folds of a long white cloth, and then tied the cloth around my waist. Of all various rituals in the Hindu ceremony—and I know that there are many that I don’t fully understand, and there are probably many symbols that a South Asian feminist could pick a part and critique, but I found this ritual to feel the most uncomfortable(? I’m not sure what the right word is… odd?)—to literally have a cloth tied around my waist and for P to hold the end of it (as one of my aunts joked, “like a leash”) for the remainder of the ceremony. It made movement a bit awkward, and I couldn’t help but wonder what some of the “white Americans” in the audience were thinking.
The next part was a little bit comical. The priest instructed AS to go in the other room and find some camphor to light the fire. She came back with a new package with several fresh chunks. Although P suggested that she only use one, she put in about five blocks, and once AS and R lit the tinder the fire grew quite large (as indoor fires go). The vent in the room hadn’t been properly turned on by the temple helpers, and it felt at one point like the room was filling with smoke. I later spoke to an American friend who told me that once it got smoky she told her husband, “Hun, I think you need to go stand near a fire extinguisher, and be the hero if you have to!”
I felt a bit panicky too, because I could only see the first few rows of people and I was close to the fire, so it felt like the whole room was becoming gray and murky. I kept whispering to P, “Someone needs to open the vents, or the windows. I think the room is filling with smoke!” and a few family members told me later they were worried a fire alarm would go off and interrupt the whole ceremony. However eventually a temple helper got the vent working, and although the flame was still big the smoke started to clear. At this point P and I had to walk around the big fire, tossing rice and other prasad into the flames. P guided me to walk in front of him (while he held the white cloth behind me) and whispered, “Be careful so that you don’t catch on fire.” (Gee, thanks).
After the fire had subsided, P and I took the seven steps/seven vows.
Then came the most important part–Applying sindoor! The Nepali custom is to take a long piece of white cloth and extend it from one of the god’s on the altar to the forehead of the bride. The groom starts the sindoor at the bottom of the cloth and sprinkles it in a “continuous line” up the cloth until it reaches the bride’s hairline. This is done three times before you are officially “married.” N did a great job MCing this part… explaining the continuous line and joking (when P’s line wasn’t so continuous) that maybe he would do better “the next round.”
I touched P’s feet, and he greeted me as his wife, and then the pandit had us play a game. There seemed to be a bit of explanation, but I couldn’t understand any of it, and P said that the pandit gave us a few nuts and wanted us to pretend to gamble. There were friends/family on P’s side, and friends/family on my side who were cheering/tug-o-warring while P and I took turns throwing the nuts like dice. Whoever had the most nuts facing up was the winner. Someone produced money for the bet, and we kept it up until the pandit said the game was over, and that I won (although P said the pandit told him to “let me win,” whatevs, I had the money at the end).
Then P and I shared a laddu (sweet)—technically the first thing we ate all day, and walked through the crowd as a newly married couple as people took handfuls of flower petals and threw them at us.
The last part of the ceremony was the arti. P and I stood in front of the main temple altar to do arti and receive tikka. Unlike AS and N’s ceremony, the priest did not offer tikka to everyone else.
The ceremony lasted about an hour, maybe slightly longer. P and I hung out in the main temple room with as many of the guests as we could gather, snapping photos with different groups of people while our friends changed over the mandap room so that there were tables for people to sit and eat. A long line was formed, and people grabbed pakora—some thinking that this was the dinner. A good number of my dad’s side of the family snuck out after pakoras to get dinner elsewhere, not realizing they missed the main dinner that was served at the temple right afterward the pakora appetizer.
The temple caterer made puris, daal, raita, mattar paaner, saag paaner, and a channa dish. I was busy walking around trying to talk to as many of the guests as I could, so it wasn’t until one of our friends thrusted a dish into my hands that I snacked on a few chunks of paaner. Some of my relatives avoided the paaner thinking it was tofu, until I said, “It’s a type of cheese. It’s good, give it a try.”
After about an hour of eating and socializing people started to head out. Since alcohol was not allowed at the temple, our friend D had organized an “after party” at a local bar where people could hang out, have some drinks, dance, and continue the celebration.
Our friends had decorated our car with red ribbons, bows, red plastic table cloths and streamers. The back of the car read “P weds C” and the sides of the car said “P2+C2.” One of P’s childhood friends offered to drive us to the hotel to change before the “after party.” We must have looked a sight driving down the street with the red decorations flapping in the breeze.
P changed out of his daura suruwal, but I was feeling so comfortable in my sari I decided to go to the after party in my outfit and tilhari (I was so excited to be wearing tilhari I didn’t want to take it off, I barely wanted to take it off for the white wedding the following day!) I was too exhilarated by the celebration to think much about whether or not it would look bad to the new in-laws or family members to show up to a bar dressed like this. Usually in Nepal new buharis are supposed to be demure and shy, and not look happy in the wedding photos. Here I was, all day, smiling like a crazy fool, and now I’m out in my wedding sari, drinking a beer with friends and dancing with wedding guests. I danced with P’s dad, and the extended Nepali family got in on the action too, so it must have been okay ;)
It was also funny because we were at a bar in the city, so when I left the back area where the wedding guests were congregating to use the restroom, the other women at the bar, dressed in short clubbing type outfits gave me funny looks. They were too polite to say, “What’s up with you?” but you could tell by their looks that that was what they were thinking! So I’d say, “I just got married, and we are continuing the party here!”
The party lasted until 2am. I started getting calls from my mom back at the hotel saying, “You should come home, you will be a wreck tomorrow for your own wedding.” Luckily I only had two beers and two shots (friends were eager to buy the new couple a drink!) but poor P was inundated with offers (especially for someone who doesn’t drink much!) I sent him home with a designated driver and group of friends who practically had to carry him up the stairs of our apartment and tuck him in to bed. He was a bit worse for wear in the morning, as you can imagine, but luckily he had most of the day to recover and was good as new for the afternoon white wedding ceremony.
That was one heck of a party– and the wedding was only half over!