Tag Archives: Wedding

Mehendi

Mehendi (henna) is more of an Indian tradition than Nepali. I am sure you could check several other gori blogs to find pictures of amazing intricate henna up and down the arms and legs of soon-to-be pardesi brides. However I think there is a growing trend for Nepali brides to take up this Indian tradition, due to the cultural influences of Bollywood, and let’s be honest… mehendi is beautiful and fun.

When I was a student in Jaipur a friend and I ventured to the “pink city” to have henna applied before a special dinner program where we girls dressed up in saris for the first time. This was also the first time I ever had mehendi “officially” applied.

You can almost see the henna on my hands. First attempt at wearing a sari.

The next time I had the chance was in Nepal for my friend R’s wedding (more pictures HERE). P’s mom seemed so confused why we would want to do this. She kept shaking her head saying, “This is not our tradition. Why is she doing?” I came back with my hands all designed and ready to go.

Henna from R's wedding-- with sugar and lemon juice making my hands glossy and sticky. Supposedly a way to "darken and strengthen the mehendi"

The third time was for my friend AS’s wedding. In lieu of a “bachelorette” party, we invited female friends over to eat, dance, rub turmeric and sandalwood paste on AS’s face and arms, and to apply henna on each other’s hands. I just applied it on my palms so that while I was at work the henna wasn’t as noticeable, but it was still fun!

Before the henna dried

So after two weddings worth of henna, R and AS thought it would be fun to organize a mehendi party for me, and invited friends over on Sunday for some food, wine, and henna paste. I guess traditionally it would be a “women’s only” event, but we had the guys over too, and they were able to amuse themselves during our henna making with a different Nepali tradition—card playing (although a Bulgarian friend was the eventual winner!)

R and AS decorated R’s apartment with saris and dupattas to give it a “Bollywoody” feel, and many of us dressed in colorful kurtas. R’s brother-in-law’s new fiancé was designated as the mehendi artist for me, while AS and other’s took up the henna cones to design each other’s hands.

It was fun—and R’s soon-to-be sister-in-law hid a small P on one of my palms to see if P could find it within 60 seconds. The bet was that if he found it I would have to get up and dance for the whole group to the song “Shelia ki Jawani” which of course I wound up having to do, but at least he joined me halfway through the song!

It’s funny having henna on my hands in the US, because there are those who know about P and the region of the world he is from, and kind of “expect this kind of thing” from me. Yet then there are others—like the custodian in my office who came in the other day to collect the trash and noticed my palms when I handed him the garbage can and exclaimed, “What on earth did you do to your hands?!” and continued to look at me funny while I explained. My sister, who works as a bank teller, said that her co-workers asked if she was bored over the weekend and wrote on herself with brown marker. I’m sure for some people it just looks weird.

But I still like it. The reason we did the mehendi early is because my mother already warned me (she falls into the category of “expecting this kind of thing” out of me) that I was not allowed to have “anything on my hands that will ruin the white wedding photos.” (She was even concerned about the sindor before I was able to convince her that it can be easily washed off in time.) However being the rebel that I am, I kind of want to find someone to do henna on my feet for the wedding, kind of like a secret, since at least for the white wedding my feet will be covered. I’m sure I can find one of my Indian students who might be interested, although P’s mother again will probably be perplexed, “Why do this, it is not our Nepali culture?” Hmmmm… We will see.

Photos from the event:

The designing begins...

1st from left- college friend, 2nd in blue-AS, 3rd in white-my sister K, 4th-C, 5th-R, 6th-R's soon-to-be new sister-in-law, 7th-S's sister

Some of the hands, waiting to dry...

P in KTM

P departed last Sunday for a month long trip to Nepal. The trip came up all of a sudden. He had connected with some researchers at a conference in the fall, and about two months ago they asked if he would like to join them on an expedition to Langtang in the high mountains north of Kathmandu. The researchers will be collecting glacial ice cores, but P is planning to collect water samples for his work. It wasn’t until about two or three weeks before his departure that he actually had a ticket and was certain he was going.

He departs this upcoming Sunday for a multi-week trek into the mountains. I asked him to take lots of photos so that he could potentially put together a guest  post about his trip.

Anyway, P came online last night while D, RH and I were eating dinner. I had jokingly told P before he left that I was going to eat nothing but pasta while he was gone, to cleanse myself for a rice filled summer (pasta-rice wars, please no more rice). The three of us were sitting at the dinner table chowing down on large plates of pasta/veggies/marinara sauce when my googlechat popped up. The electricity had finally turned on in KTM.

I’ve discussed load-shedding before, but it still never ceases to amaze me that the capital city of Nepal lacks hours of electricity a day. As P said, “It’s better to ask how many hours of electricity did you have versus how many hours of load shedding, because it is a smaller number.”

But I guess one doesn’t need electricity to enjoy time at home with your family. Sitting on the roof in the fresh air drinking endless cups of tea, well, endless until it is time to go shopping. With so few days in the city before his expedition, his family has been taking P around on marathon wedding shopping trips. Buying my wedding sari, as well as saris for my two sisters and mother and a dhaka topi for my dad and various other guests, getting measured for his own wedding clothes, etc.

If any interesting stories come up, I’ll be sure to let you know.

Sometimes a Church Just Doesn’t Feel Right

Our wedding has made life interesting the past few months. Sometimes I feel like a lot of the preparation has been a giant negotiation. We want everyone to feel included, and we want to make sure we cover the important cultural aspects of each of our “traditions,” but we also want to be true to ourselves. Because of this, I feel it has made planning the American wedding (in particular) all the more… “challenging.”

I come from an Irish Catholic family (on both sides), and even though not every one of my relatives is “religious,” they still have church as an important part of their lives (Baptisms, First Communions, Confirmations, weddings and holidays, if not most Sundays).

On the other side I have really struggled with faith (a WHOLE separate and long blog post), and because of this, church has not been an important part of my life. So when it came time to choose where to get married, I was pretty adamant that I didn’t want to get married in a church by a Catholic priest. I have nothing against that choice for others, but it didn’t feel right for me.

This revelation, as one can imagine, was quite upsetting to some of my family members. At least on my father’s side I am the third eldest cousin and several years ago my eldest cousin decided not to get married in a church, and broke that barrier (while her younger sister did marry in the church), on my mother’s side, I think I’m probably the first one in generations (and generations) not to be married in a Catholic church by a Catholic priest.

I think my grandmother doesn’t get it. I think for her and some of my other relatives it is hard to image what a “white wedding” actually is (or means) without a church and a priest. I’m sure they blame my parents—thinking they “did” something to me to make me turn against my faith, or somehow “raised” me wrong (so I can understand the pressure/criticism they have been under/getting, because of my choices). However it has nothing to do with my parents—again religious musings surely deserve its own post—but ultimately I think my relatives probably felt betrayed.

Here I was, claiming that I wanted to make sure both of our cultures were represented—AND I was willing to get married in a Hindu temple by a Hindu priest (blasphemy!) BUT I was throwing one of my family’s main wedding traditions—Catholicism—out the window. In one phone conversation with my aunt, as I reassured her that we were still doing a lot of American traditions: white dress, wedding rings, vows, first dance, cake, wedding party, etc, she said “If you throw out the priest and church, everything else is just cosmetic.” Ouch.

So I feel I have had to tread carefully when deciding on what details are important to include in the American side of our ceremony/reception and what not to. What battles am I really ready to fight for, and what am I willing to concede because the biggest thing of all—not doing it in a church, was finally hard won (although I think my grandmother is worried about my soul and that I might be going to hell, and thus won’t see me in the afterlife).

And not to confuse the situation further, but the third side of this is that I feel I have little control of what happens in the Nepali wedding—sure there are details to iron out like what to serve at the reception, making playlists of music, organizing a program for those unfamiliar with Hindu weddings, but mostly I am just as much along for the ride as some of the guests. It’s really P and his family that have a say in the Nepali wedding—including what I wear that day, and what traditions are followed, so it makes me all the more adamant to make the American ceremony “my own” in terms of personality and flavor. So there is this constant delicate balance between what I truly would love to have and what others expect, and what is a reasonable compromise between the two.

Anyway, this has colored everything from creating invitations (and insisting that even though it was tradition to include an image of Ganesh on Nepali invites, it was probably more politically correct to omit that detail for now), to what I wear (no I cannot put henna on my hands, even  though I think it would be fun and beautiful–technically it isn’t a Nepali tradition anyway, but a newer trend influenced from India and Bollywood– but none-the-less, because it may, according to my mom, “ruin” the “white wedding” photos, I’m not allowed to do it), to ceremony details… and my next topic—to Ring or Not to Ring.

100 Days Until Nepali Wedding

I think there are now 100 days until our Nepali wedding. It sounds like a lot, but I think it will go very quickly… and you know, I’ve done very little thus far to actually “prepare” for it. Most of my attention has been on the details of the American wedding since logistics are characteristically sorted our much farther in advance. Certainly there are details that once completed for the American wedding were also sorted out for the Nepali one—such as printing invitations, or booking a photographer who will cover both events, however I feel there is a whole lot that I need to start thinking about as I shift gears.

And just as the shifting has begun—P decided to leave for a month to go to Nepal! His phd research is on glaciers and climate change, and he made a connection at a conference with some Chinese researchers working on a similar project. About a week or two ago, everything fell into alignment, and he was asked to join a group heading into the mountains for the next month. So he will be almost entirely out of contact as I begin the next phase of organizing.

His family, of course, is very excited to have him home, if only for a few days, before they fly out to the US sometime in late June. He will be able to explain to them more about what to expect on the American side, and I am sure they will take him on a few shopping trips during the short time he will spend in KTM—including picking out saris for my mother and sisters to wear at the Nepali ceremony and a Dhaka topi for my dad (definitely breaking new ground here!)

With P leaving so soon (in a week!) and being gone so long (there will only be about 60 days before the weddings when he comes back!) it is really making the time feel short. How the heck is it April already?