Tag Archives: Sagun

Making Sagun Bags

My first “real” Nepali wedding experience was at R and S’s week long ceremony in 2009. I stored away different ideas that I saw as possibilities for our own wedding down the road. However they are both Newari, and what I didn’t realize at the time was that various rituals and traditions that I was taking note of were often specific to the Newari community in Nepal–and that even within the Newari community there were various “takes” on different traditions (as was evident when R and S would debate their own family’s particular wedding traditions).

P’s mom is Newari, but P’s dad is Chetri, so generally the culture of a household (if the household in Nepal is blended) tends to be that of the father, so much of P’s family traditions were Chetri instead of Newari growing up. (Conversely, S’s mom is Chetri but dad is Newari, so he grew up with Newari traditions).

One tradition that I noticed at R and S’s wedding was that R’s family gave guests small red velvet bags with a picture of Ganesh with “R weds S” imprinted on it. Inside was a small packet of nuts, dried fruits, and chocolates. I assumed that this was a universal custom, not necessarily a Newari custom. So while budgeting for various aspects of our wedding, I had assumed that we would give small favors at the American wedding (as per our tradition) and that we would give a small bag of nuts and dried fruits at the Nepali wedding as a favor.

I mentioned this to P a few months ago, and he said, “Oh that’s sagun that’s a Newari thing. I don’t think we have to do that, but you can ask my dad.”

So we asked, and P’s dad said not to worry about the bags, we didn’t have to do it.

Around the time that P was in Nepal (three months ago), P’s dad realized that I had googlechat because P would message me when I was at work (if the power was on in Nepal). P’s dad loves keeping in contact with people, so after P left, he started messaging me nearly everyday to say a quick hello and ask how things were going.

A few weeks ago I mentioned to him that I was going to give out small favors at the American wedding, since that was the tradition, and asked if he wanted to do anything similar for the Nepali wedding. I think when he heard that there were favors for the American wedding, and thought it would be nice to do sagun bags too. So he told me he would talk to Mamu about it.

Eventually they decided it would be nice, so P’s parents went to a shop to order the red velvet bags with Ganesh that said, “Happy Wedding! C weds P July 9 2011.” (I bet it was the first time that the shop keeper put my name on a sagun bag!)

When his parents arrived in the States, they came with a suitcase of food, included several bags of cashews, almonds, pistachios, and 150 red velvet sagun bags.

R and S made a surprise visit this weekend (in part because the boys decided to take P out for a bachelor’s party– in true P style–deep sea fishing! That’s where they are as I type) so R offered to help put the sagun bags together.

We laid out a sheet, and put the different nuts and chocolates into different bowls for easy access, and R, Mamu and I started filling bags. The first 75 seemed to take a long time (especially when Mamu declared, “No mistake, no mistake” and R and I rushed to keep up with her pace), but later in the evening, after a long break, the last 75 went very quickly.

R and I filling sagun bags with cashews, pistachios, almonds and chocolates

So now we have baskets and bags full of 150 red velvet “C weds P” sagun bags to distribute next Saturday!

Monsoon Wedding VI- The Final Chapter

So thanks for baring with me… at least there were lots of photos to look at.

This final ceremony, the Mukh Herne, is specifically a Newari tradition. Mukh Herne literally means “face looking” and it was explained to me that after the bride spends a few days with the groom’s family she is brought back to her relatives so they can “look at her face” and see if she is happy and being treated well. For R it started back in Chitwan, where S’s family made sure she was looking great, including an elaborate hair style.

So remember the pile of gifts that the groom’s family brought to the bride’s family during the Supari? The bride’s family reciprocated by adding more gifts to the pile and displaying them during the Mukh Herne. During the reception many of the edible gifts were distributed to the guests as sweets but other gifts like cosmetics, purses, clothing, etc, were brought back to the groom’s home.

One of the more creative gifts came from R's brother. Inspired by sets of tee shirts that S brought from the US as a funny treat for their families with different logos printed on them (like a tee shirt for R's brother that said, "I love my new brother-in-law"), R's brother dressed two fish in mini "I love" shirts. The fish wearing pants has a shirt that says "I love R" and the fish in a red sari says "I love S."

Similar to the other receptions, the bride and groom had a special place to sit where family and friends greeted them and offered gifts.

R's dad gives a gift while the family priest (who married them) looks on

R accepts the gifts by bowing and touching her forehead to the offering

At some point during the ceremony, R changed from the clothes given by S’s family to a set given by her own family. The second part of the evening occured after the reception when the groom (and the groom’s friends) returned to the bride’s house to be officially welcomed as a “jwai”– a son-in-law. Supposedly the groom’s friends are usually teased by the bride’s family, but I think by this point we were well loved by R’s household.

S was greeted and introduced to each member of R’s extended household individually (even though by now they already also knew him), and each gave him a monetary gift and blessings, which he touched to his head and receive tikka. As S’s “groom representatives” we were also given gifts by R’s mom and dad.

Groom's friends pose with bride and her grandmother

The very very last step in this process was symbolically sharing a meal with R’s family (Sagun)… we were given eggs, rice, roti, and different curries to try. At the end of the evening R and S’s wedding had officially concluded. Slowly, afterward, R was able to start wearing colors other than red. Phew… what a journey!

P and C... a little "wedded" out :)

Monsoon Wedding V- Groom’s Celebrations

After the Swayambar, it is time for the wedding ceremonies to shift from the bride’s side to the groom’s side. This shift starts with the “pita biee” (in Newari) or Bidaai– saying goodbye to the bride. This is quite an emotional ceremony (especially when everyone is exhausted because they had two hours sleep after a nearly all night wedding program), because traditionally this is the last time the bride is at her house as a regular member of the household and not as a wife visiting from another home.

R still manages to be beautiful despite her undoubted exhaustion. I guess it makes it easier to look sad and serious.

The bride and groom are ritually fed (Sagun) before their journey (which is usually not so long since many people in the Kathmandu Valley marry others in KTM, but R had to travel 4 hours away by car to Chitwan!)

Near the end of the Bidaai the bride is led by her family to the groom's awaiting entourage. Tears flow freely. Here R is hugging her brother good bye, while her tearful mother leads her to the car's open door.

Tucking her into the car

I jumped in the car with the bride and groom and was given the job of protecting the bride’s new wedding jewelry in a little case from “bandits” we might encounter on the winding road between Kathmandu and Chitwan. S laughed it off, saying that Kathmandu-ites don’t know what life outside the valley is like, but I made sure to keep the wedding bling close at hand along the route.

A little more than halfway through our journey the wedding entourage stopped for refreshments. Even though the monsoon rains had started right before the wedding began (bringing a bit of relief from the sweltering heat of the pre-monsoon summer), Chitwan is known for its heat (hence my shorter dress, rather than longer sari–poor mzungu).

P and I are to the far left. R and S are in the middle, surrounded by other friends

Once we arrived in Chitwan the janthi (return of the janthi!) started to gather at S’s old elementary school on the outskirts of town. Those of us who participated in the original janthi were joined by legions of S’s relatives, neighbors and family friends who couldn’t make the trip to KTM. As the janthi time approached we swelled to quite the crowd.

S triumphantly returned to his home city atop a regal horse, while R was loaded into the flower draped basket from which S originally departed the city, and was carried along the janthi procession. The marching band (with the long round horns) led the way.

R peeks out from her veiled basket at the janthi procession

R and S in the janthi crowd

S assured us that Chitwan was much cooler since the rain had come than it had been before (during his own wedding prep time), but it was still unbearably hot and humid. As part of a massive, dancing, pulsing crowd, our sweaty bodies squeezed together in the celebratory chaos, the temperature was suffocating– but it didn’t stop the revelry. Some of S’s uncles bought cold beers to pass along the janthi procession to refresh the crowd while the city seemed to stop and watch the entertainment of our entourage.

Crazy dancing... yep, the pale one is me

Wedding processions-- a spectator sport

One of the most interesting aspects of the procession was the ingenuity of the lighting. Since there wasn’t proper street lighting, the procession was lit by electric tube lights strung together and held atop people’s heads in wooden boxes, and powered by a wagon drawn generator.

I was told that the procession wasn’t so far… only a kilometer or two, but if that was the case, it was one of the longest kilometers of my life. The entourage processed slowly. Every time one of us tried to break to the front of the janthi for a breath of fresh air one of S’s uncles would tell us to walk slower, dance more, so that the janthi had more time to celebrate and clog the streets before arriving at S’s family home.

As we approached, S’s mother (seeing the wedding procession for the first time) meet the janthi party outside the front door holding a lantern and a metal platter with welcoming prasad. R’s basket was placed on the ground and S’s mother waved the platter in front of R in a gesture of welcoming, helped R out of the basket, and gestured for her to go inside. It was all pretty remarkable. It struck me how nerve wracking the experience could be. R had the advantage of knowing S’s immediate family quite well, and she had friends (us!) along for the ride, but everything else was new– new city (she had never been to Chitwan before), a sea of new faces, new relatives, new family traditions. Not to mention she was probably utterly (utterly!) exhausted by this point. I couldn’t help but think, wow, how brave.

Anmaune-- welcoming the new bride to the groom's home. I blocked out R's face for privacy reasons, but if you could see her eyes you would know how tired she looked

We were such good friends, that we abandoned the couple for the next 12 hours. The group of us (from the picture above) headed to Chitwan National Park to go on an early morning elephant safari and see some wild rhinos.

Views from the top of an elephant... two wild rhinos

While we were gone on safari, the wedding rituals for the new couple continued with early morning pujas at the temple. Remember… it’s ungodly hot, but as per tradition, the new bride has to wear the groom’s family’s clothing (that they purchased for her), and new brides are supposed to be kept covered–meaning long sleeves and shawls. Poor R was boiling.

At his family temple, S again ritually applies sindoor to R's scalp, this time in S's family's style... one end of the white cloth is touching a god, the other end touching R's forehead. S sprinkled sindoor powder from the god, across the white cloth up to R's forehead. S's mom, pointing at the cloth, explains the procedure.

At last, the groom’s reception. Being the chivalrous guy that he is, S spoke up to his family about R wearing the heavy long sleeved wedding sari in the heat. The family compromised, R could wear her family’s lighter weight sari if she wore a shawl with it.

Friends

and Family. The groom's family gifts matching saris to all the women in the janthi-- so all the family members have the same look. Even though I was part of the janthi, I cheated, and S bought me a sari of my choosing (the green one).

After three days in Chitwan, it was time to leave. R had to settle into her new “home” (although, in name only since she lives in the US) and get to know her new extended relatives. P, myself and the others journeyed back on the four hour long winding road up into the hills and into the KTM valley.

Only one major wedding ritual left… Mukh Herne.