Tag Archives: Red Wedding

Weekend Wedding Post VII: Finally… the Red Wedding

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?”)

Walking up to the Mandap and getting situated

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.

Pic 1: tikka; Pic 2: dubo ko malla; Pic 3: garland; Pic 4: tikka; Pic 5: garland with my sister K's help; Pic 6: Ganesh Puja

Nice pic of the bangles during the Ganesh Puja

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.

An example of the coconut that kept falling over

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.

Receiving tilhari

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.

Pic 1: My parents under the mandap; Pic 2: Symbolically washing P's hands; Pic 3: Receiving the tilhari; Pic 4: "Giving me away"; Pic 5: "We should have rehearsed this!"; Pic 6: Dad receives his tikka before sitting back in the audience

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.

The "audience"

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.

AS and R help to tie the cloth around my waist

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).

Pic 1: Placing the camphor; Pic 2: Lighting the fire; Pic 3: Nice shot with Ganesh; Pic 4: "Don't catch on fire"

Making the rounds

It got pretty smoky...

After the fire had subsided, P and I took the seven steps/seven vows.

Taking the seven steps...

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.”

Marriage sindoor!

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).

Pic 1: P's side; Pic 2: My side; Pic 3: Gambling; Pic 4: Winner!

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.

Sharing a laddu

P's parents bless us

Celebrating with a flower shower

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.

Arti, tikka and final blessings

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.

The getaway mobile

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 ;)

P, U and I at the "after party"

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!

Wedding Weekend Post VI: Temple Set Up, Sari Wearing, and “Where are the Brown People?”

“…The Bride Just Sits and Everyone Else Does the Work!”

I woke up on Saturday morning to sunshine (Friday rained itself out), and thought, “Today I’m getting married, or at least half married.” If there was a common theme as to how I felt, it was probably disbelief. Like, “Wow, it’s finally here. It’s actually happening. Only a few hours left. I can’t believe it. How am I supposed to feel?” What kept me going (considering Friday I was too busy to eat most of the day, and by the rehearsal dinner I didn’t really feel hungry anymore, and the red wedding day P and I were supposed to fast until after the ceremony) were all the tasks (checklists) that had to be completed before the ceremony began, at least it kept my mind distracted.

I packed my bags (I wasn’t returning home until the morning after the white wedding—so as not to see the groom the morning of the white wedding and be cursed with any other bad luck juju), and gathered any last minute red and white wedding paraphernalia.

P and I had recruited friends to meet us at the Nepali temple around 10 in the morning. We had about 130 people coming for the ceremony that afternoon and we had to set up chairs, find places for the tables and organize a “room switch over plan” between the ceremony and the Nepali dinner since there wasn’t enough space in the room for chairs and tables to be set up at the same time. We organized the plates, cups and silverware (brought from VA from my mom), the sagun bags and programs, dropped off the gallons and gallons of mango juice, milk and tea leaves, and water we had for the reception drinks, and worked with one of the temple coordinators to set up the sound system.

S-di, in between teasing P and I about not having goat served at the reception (“What kind of Nepali wedding doesn’t have goat?”) said, “C you are a hard working buhari. In Nepal the bride just sits and everyone else does the work!”

With the temple arranged and ready, P drove me to the hotel where I was staying with my mom and sisters for the night (my first night as a half married woman, how romantic) and I dropped off my stuff and grabbed my box of saris to take to S-di’s house.

“This Definitely Feels Like a Wedding House!”

P dropped me off at S-di/M-dai’s, and that was the last I was going to see him before the Red Wedding. I had previously arranged for women who wanted to wear saris but might not be as familiar with how to wear them, to meet up at S-di’s house so that S-di, her daughters, R, and AS could help people get ready. I had promised a few of my saris to people to wear and had brought a box with me, along with colorful bindis from P’s mom.

I had also sent the newbie sari wearers this Youtube video to help them get an idea of what was involved in the wrapping:

While people started slowly getting ready AS, R and I went to a local Vietnamese beauty parlor to get my hair done. AS had gone to the same woman last year for her wedding, and the hair dresser remembered us. R suggested that I get a “poof” in front (“I guess it is a Nepali thing.” R said, “The poof adds to the look.”) and I put myself at the mercy of the girls’ suggestions on what would “look good.” The final result was great—the small “Nepali poof” in front, a curled bun in back with a dori hair decoration tied around the bun and pinned to the side of my head.

By the time we got back to S-di’s the house was buzzing with people—my two cousins, my two sisters, my mother, and several friends were in various stages of sari wrapping. Make-up bags and hair curlers were out, women were walking around in petticoats and blouses, bangles tinkled.

“S-di, this definitely feels like a wedding house!” I said, while she pinned and tucked pleats for my cousin.

R helped me get into my sari, and I piled on my bangles, and posed for a few pictures under the red shiny veil. And then all of a sudden, it was time to go.

Getting ready-- friends, sisters, S-di in black in picture 1 helping people wrap up.

Arriving at the Temple

AS, R and S-di/family were still getting ready when my mom, sisters and friend left to head to the temple a little before 3:15. Because we had been running so late the previous day, P had told me earlier to be ready and there “at least by 3:30” for the 4pm wedding. The tentative plan was that P’s people (the groom side) would congregate outside the temple and maybe janthi in together, while the bride’s family was already settled inside. For all the pre-planning I tried to accomplish, I should have just realized that some things just happen (foreshadow).

I arrived at the temple just as members of my dad’s family started pulling into the parking lot. I jumped out of the car and walked over to greet them, fully dressed in my red bridal attire, forgetting that this was the first time they had seen me in a sari. My Great Aunt said, “C, I hardly even recognized you before you walked over! You look so different!”

Inside many of our other American wedding guests were already finding seats. P was inside milling about talking to guests, so I started to mingle as well. It’s exciting and a little overwhelming to see nearly everyone you are close to in one place, and they are all coming up to chat with you. I tried to explain to some of my family members that Nepali weddings are not as formal as American ones in that people can get up and move around, that we had pakora and tea in the back of the room if people wanted snacks, and they could move around and take pictures if they wanted. I sat to talk to one American college friend who said, “I’ve never been to a wedding before where the bride hangs out with everyone right before the ceremony.”

The time started ticking down—4 o’clock came and went, and it was still mostly “white Americans” in the temple. P asked me “Where is everyone?” (“The one time I want them to be here on time, they [our “brown friends”] are nowhere to be seen!”) and the Americans—who in American fashion arrived half an hour early—started to get antsy. I didn’t have a clue what was supposed to happen next to kick of the ceremony, and by 4:15, we figured we had to get the show on the road. I asked P’s dad what to do, and he suggested that P and I walk to the front near the mandap and wait for instruction from the pundit-ji.

Little did we know that several of our friends were waiting outside for the janthi, including P’s brother, and they missed part of the beginning of the ceremony because they didn’t think to come inside the temple.

Weekend Wedding Post V: Nepali Wedding Paraphernalia

I’ve mentioned a few things in passing that some of you might be familiar with, and some of you might not. So I thought I’d do a brief post to explain some of the Nepali wedding paraphernalia.

It goes without saying that Nepal, although a small country geographically, is very ethnically, socially and religiously diverse. Thus the things that I mention are not necessarily universal for all Nepali weddings, but happen to be used for our wedding that included mainly Chetri and a few Newari cultural elements (such as the sagun bags).

While some elements of the wedding—such as the use of sindoor– are similar to some Indian customs, other elements might be different, or have a different twist.

Sindoor pot with my wedding sindoor

One such twist is that Nepali weddings don’t necessarily use a mangalsutra, but instead give a different type of necklace called a tilhari made out of small pote beads and a gold pendant. The tilhari is worn for your wedding, and on the festival of teej, and pote necklaces (without the gold tilhari pendant) are generally worn on a regular basis as a symbol of marriage (much like a western wedding ring). Sometimes the potes are thicker multi-strand necklaces, and sometimes they are long single strand necklaces.

My wedding tilhari

The other Nepali culture twist is the dubo ko malla. I’m not sure if there are groups in India who use this type of malla (garland), but in the three major Nepali weddings I’ve been to the bride and groom have each had one. The mallas are made out of grass, and seem to be an important part of the ceremony, although I’m not fully clear on the significance behind them. For AS and N’s wedding AS’s mother sent the mallas through an acquaintance travelling to the US for a visit, and we kept them in our refrigerator wrapped in wet towels for two weeks before the wedding. In our case, P’s parents did the same, smuggling them in their checked luggage, and refrigerating them wrapped in wet towels for a week and a half before the wedding.

Pic 1: N and AS wearing their dubo ko malla; Pic 2: S and R wearing their dubo ko malla

I tie on P's dubo ko malla

Our dubo ko malla post-party. Now they are dried out and hanging on our wall at home.

A Nepali groom’s traditional wedding outfit is also different than what you might see when you think of an Indian wedding. Instead of a kurta outfit, the groom wears a specially woven outfit made out of dhaka fabric called a daura suruwal. Several of our male Nepali red wedding guests also wore white, tan or gray shaded daura suruwals.

P prepping for the ceremony in his daura suruwal, helped out by his mom and N

P and I waiting for the ceremony to start. P in his full outfit. Note the khukuri knife sticking out of his side.

To show the difference between a wedding daura suruwal (P) and the regular traditional daura suruwal (U standing left and Daddy standing right) which are often worn with blazers/jackets

Lastly I was going to point out the Nepali khukuri knife. Again I don’t really understand the significance of the knife as part of the groom’s wedding attire, perhaps a symbol of “manhood”—but in a “white” wedding you don’t necessarily see the groom “packing” a weapon for the ceremony. This bit of khukuri history is from Wikipedia: “The khkuri is a curved Nepalese knife used as both a tool and as a weapon… The cutting edge is inwardly curved in shape and is the icon of Nepal. It was, and in many cases still is, the basic and traditional utility knife of the Nepalese people. Very effective when used as a weapon, it is a symbolic weapon of the Nepalese Army, and of all Gurkha regiments throughout the world, signifying the courage and valor of the bearer in the battlefield.”

P shows off his weapon

The unsheathed khukuri

Wedding Weekend Post I: “Crazy,” “Fun,” “Fast,” and “Exhausting”

Sorry for the prolonged silence. I’ve needed a day or two to recover from the festivities. The weekend was such a whirlwind. People say that your wedding goes by so quickly you hardly have time to get your head around it. It’s true, and it’s only now as I sort through pictures our friends and family have been posting on facebook that I am really getting a sense of what it looked like and what I want to say.

I have to admit that there were many times throughout the weekend where I thought, “I need to write this in my blog!” so I will break my story into several posts so as not to get too long winded at one time.

But now I’m left with the dilemma of where to start. I don’t think I have many words in me today, but I thought I’d share with you a few of the pictures that our friends took. We had a professional photographer there, but we won’t see his pictures for several weeks, so I will share those later.

If I could sum the weekend up in four words I would say “Crazy,” “Fun,” “Fast,” and “Exhausting”– Crazy because after years of being together, years of engagement, and a full year of planning, it was finally here and it felt so surreal; fun because we did have a lot of fun–dancing, talking to friends and family, singing, enjoying; fast because the weekend seem to be over in a blink of an eye, and exhausting because even though it went fast, we still had many long days, late nights, and lots of activity.

As I mentioned before, the weekend before the 4th of July P and I were doing as much wedding prep as possible before his parents’ arrival. My new in-laws arrived a week and a half before our wedding, which made it a bit challenging to sneak out of the house to get wedding stuff done, so I’m glad I did most of it ahead of time. P’s brother came July 1st and stayed with us until the 12th, my mother and sisters came on the 7th. The rest of the time went like this:

7th- last day at work before wedding, mother/sisters arrived, P’s brother’s birthday–took him out to dinner with friends

8th- final wedding prep day, white wedding rehearsal, rehearsal dinner, up until 2am making flower arrangements

9th-Nepali wedding day! temple set up, red wedding, red wedding “after party” (did I mention Nepalis know how to party?) until 2am

10th-American wedding day! last minute wedding prep, white wedding, and formal reception

11th-Get to know P’s extended relatives day and “welcoming the buhari” rituals  (until midnight!)

12th-Crashed like a train wreck

13th-Back to work!

Red Wedding:

Wedding sari pre-ceremony. Many of the sari wearing women got ready at S-di's house where S-di, her daughters, AS and R helped people who are not accustomed to saris get wrapped and folded accordingly

Me sitting under the mandap during the ceremony wearing the "dubo ko mala" (Nepali grass garland), flower mala, and veil

P and I with AS (left) and R (right) helping with the rituals under the mandap. I can't thank these two beautiful friends enough for all their help, we would have been lost without them!

P and I under the mandap walking around the fire

With P's family after the ceremony-- left to right: P's brother U, P, me, Mamu and Daddy

With both our immediate families: left to right: P's dad in traditional Nepali daura suruwal, my dad wearing a Nepali dhaka topi, P, me, my sister K in a sari, my youngest sister M in a sari and mom in a sari, and P's mom

One of my favorite pics of the day (taken by U)-- P and I walking out after the ceremony to find our car decorated with red streamers and bows. The back of the car says "P weds C" and the sides of the car say "P2 + C2" (referencing that both our last names and first names start with the same letter). A childhood friend of P's chauffeured us to the hotel I was staying at so we could freshen up.

P and I after the red wedding but before the red wedding "after party"... wedding round 1 complete!

P, U and I at the red wedding "after party"-- yep-- that's me in my bridal sari with tilhari at a local bar, dancing it up (in front of my new in-laws and extended Nepali family... I guess I'm not the run-of-the-mill buhari, luckily it didn't seem to make a bad impression... I even danced with some of them!)

White Wedding:

White wedding ceremony

I have to put this picture in, because P was so embarrassed to kiss in front of his family. He wouldn't even let me tag him on facebook!

The groomsmen fooling around during the cocktail hour

Father/Daughter dance at the white wedding

International House college friends at the white wedding: 1st KS, 3rd D, 4th me, 5th P, 6th and 7th our American/Bulgarian friends (we are going to their wedding at the end of the month), and AD

More to follow soon!

White Weddings are “Exotic” too!

I talk a good game about how the Nepali wedding will be so “interesting and different” for my family, but I’m being unfair when I fail to mention that the American wedding will be “interesting and different” for P’s family and some of our South Asian friends as well.

For someone who has the cultural “norm” baseline of white weddings—from movies, and tv, from family expectations and events, it’s kind of easy to forget that this isn’t the “cultural norm” for all. Whereas weddings can be fun and exciting in general, going to one that is different can feel even more exciting because it’s a bit exotic (“the other”), and it is funny to think that something that is normal for you is exotic for someone else.

This hits home when I realize that maybe P’s family doesn’t ask too many questions about the white wedding because they are not sure what to ask, where to start, how it will be different from weddings they are familiar with, or what the event will look like (ours will be their very first one). Or when a few of my South Asian friends who wear pants as daily clothing, but salwaar kameez or sari when they dress up for parties or events, find it kind of fun and exotic to wear a party dress to the white wedding.

I was even kind of surprised when my Nepali friend R was helping me look for a white wedding dress, that she wanted to try at least one on herself. She explained how she always thought it would be fun to have a white wedding dress and do “the whole white wedding party” thing. She admitted that sometimes while walking by bridal boutiques, she would think, as she checked out the dresses in the windows, about how it would be fun to rent or borrow one and do a photo shoot for the experience of wearing it. Why should I be the only one who thinks dressing up in the wedding cloths of another culture is fun and beautiful? R was gorgeous in that dress!

Anyway, I’m looking forward to the intercultural exchange and educational moments of both the weddings—my relatives dressing up in clothing and participating in rituals and eating food they are unfamiliar with and vice versa. I’m excited for both sides of my (new) family to learn more about the other and I think this will be a great way to open up a dialogue about the awesomeness of being different.

I hope R doesn't mind... but she looked too great in that white wedding dress to have pictures of it sit idly in my picasa account!

Nepali Wedding Outfits

I mentioned that P brought home some wedding goodies from Nepal. These goodies included our Nepali wedding outfits which was very exciting. I’ve had a white wedding dress for a few months, but now with both outfits it really seems real.

P's on left, C's on right.

Of course I tried it on for a quick look, and have a picture… but I don’t want to spoil it, you guys can wait for the real deal in July :)

He also bought saris for my sisters and mother to wear:

and a Nepali topi for my dad. I can’t wait to see my family dressed up for the event! It will certainly be a new and exciting experience :)

Notes on the “Red Wedding”

Okay, I couldn’t hold back… hope you don’t mind me double posting today…

And to keep with the musical theme–

The lyrics are actually not that positive about American women, but it has a catchy tune.

Again please, I poll you dear readers, for feedback. Have I added too little, too much? I’m I missing anything glaring? Does it sound okay or weird? Suggestions??

Notes on a “Red Wedding:”

Nepal is a small but diverse country– with a population of just 30 million, there are nearly 40 ethnic languages spoken within its borders–thus it is not surprising that there are many different wedding traditions which can vary by caste and ethnic group. 80% of the population is Hindu, so many common wedding traditions include Hindu rituals.

In Nepal, wedding ceremonies include several rituals and receptions which can sometimes last up to a week. However, these rituals are now often condensed into a shorter ceremony when conducted outside of Nepal.

Before the ceremony

Wearing Red– the bride wears a red sari, traditionally chosen by the groom’s family (hence “red” wedding). The bride’s look for such a wedding is to appear ornate and highly decorated. Jewelry can be very heavy and is often costume, and intricate henna designs, tikkas, and make-up add to the decoration. Clothing and even shoes are often highly intricate and decorated with jewels/embroidery and contrasting colors (most often red, green and yellow/gold). Conversely white wedding brides attempt to have a more minimal, subtle, simplified look.

For the ceremony the groom wears a daura suruwal and Nepali topi hat which is very typical of traditional Nepali male clothing. Whereas saris are more pan-South Asian, daura suruals and the its distinctive dhaka fabric are solely Nepali.

Back in Nepal the groom’s family comes in a procession to the bride’s family in a parade called the “janthi” which often includes music and dancing. Family members of the janthi often wear matching clothes (saris, etc). This isn’t as common with Nepali weddings in the US for logistical reasons.

Ceremony

The ceremony is conducted by a Hindu priest. Often the prayers in the ceremony are in the Sanskrit language (Sanskrit is to Hindi and Nepali what Latin is to French and Spanish). During the course of the ceremony the priest will often break from prayer to ask details about the bride and groom such as their ancestors’ names to include in the ritual blessings.

In addition to the bride and groom, sitting on the altar with the priest are both sets of parents. Each set sits next to their child and contributes to the ceremony by performing tasks as indicated by the priest– this includes touching rice, flowers, water, oil and fruits to their foreheads and various ritual objects on the altar.

The pivotal part of the ceremony comes when the bride and groom exchange flower garlands and the groom gives a wedding pote (beaded necklace) to the bride. A long thin white cloth is then extended from the bride’s forehead to the altar and the groom sprinkles orange sindor powder from the bottom of the cloth up to the part in the bride’s hair. The third time that the sindor is sprinkled from the bottom of the cloth to the bride’s head is the moment the bride and groom officially become married.

After this section of the ceremony the priest lights a fire and the bride and groom make agreements to each other as husband and wife, often throwing rice into the fire as part of the ritual. Depending on the tradition, the bride and groom are sometimes tied together and they circle around the fire 7 times, since in Hindu culture a marriage isn’t just for one lifetime, but for seven.

In Nepali culture feet are often taboo– it is considered rude to point your feet at someone, and offensive to touch someone with your feet. However, when showing great respect, especially to an elder, it is customary to bow and touch their feet. During the ceremony the bride may touch the feet of the groom, and the bride and groom might touch the feet of their parents and vice versa.

Reception

During Nepali receptions the bride and groom often sit on chairs at the front of the room, sometimes with family members, and wedding guests come up to greet and congratulate them. This is often when gifts are given, in person, to the bride and groom. Common gifts include flowers or money in denominations of +1 (21, 51, 101, etc) since the +1 is considered auspicious.

Food is served buffet style at the reception. If the reception is taking place at a Hindu temple alcohol and meat are not allowed.

During the ceremony the altar is considered a temple area, so all the participants on the altar have to take off their shoes. One tradition is for the bride’s sisters to steal the groom’s shoes and demand money for their return. He can’t get them back during the reception until he has satisfied the sisters with an appropriate monetary reward.

Also traditionally the bride might play a few games with her mother-in-law as a way to welcome the new bride to the family. These games might include sifting through a large bowl of uncooked rice to see who can find a coin, nut or fruit first. These games would often be played when the mother-in-law welcomes her new daughter-in-law to the family home for the first time. Sometimes these games are played at the ceremony/reception if the family doesn’t live together in the same house.

Lastly, small wedding favors are usually distributed to the guests. These are often small packages of dried nuts, fruits, spices and chocolate.