Sunday, July 29, 2007

On Weddings

Yesterday, I went to the wedding of a friend and colleague. They had a cute little civic ceremony. The girl here is the theoretical physicist. The guy is a farmer. A real one, with his own orchard and fruit shop and tractor and everything. The ceremony was set in their orchard. The parents of the bride and groom spoke. Then the bride and the groom sang a song together. Then, they tossed a coin to decide who should say the wows first. The girl won the toss. They exchanged wows, a judge that was hanging around in the background in his robe, pronounced them husband and wife and said “You may now kiss the bride again” (for they had been hugging and kissing all through the ceremony so far, no pretence of virginal purity or any such hypocrisy any where in sight), and they got onto the tractor of the groom and drove away. Cool, huh?

And as always this got me thinking about Indian wedding ceremonies I have been to. I have only been to south Indian tam-bram weddings. And I haven’t been to one in a while as I had decided that I will not go to these “extended-family-no-alcohol-parties” unless I was friends with the bride or the groom and most of my friends got married at inconvenient times and in inconvenient places (in India when I was not able to travel for example). But of course I have distinct memories of the many weddings I went to before I left home for college. And I had an advantage, in that I sat through the ceremonial part of the wedding with my great-granddad, who explained to me the significance of the various aspects of the wedding. But again, his explanation always had a religious tilt to them and over the years I have come to associate social or sociological rationalizations to them as well.

As a consequence, I have categorized the bits and pieces of the ceremony into the adult and the child parts. For example, the “oonjal”, where the bride and groom sit on a swing and are rocked and fed sweet things and sung to, or when the they have the “nalangu”, which are essentially slapstick games of breaking stuff on each other and throwing things and being carried on the shoulder of relatives to see who can be lifted higher must all clearly belong to the “child” category, included to make 8 or 10 year old kids that used to be the bride and groom once upon a time comfortable with the whole process. Then there are the really cute things that broadly belong in the adult category, like the woman following the man when he takes her hand to signify her support for him, or the “ammi mithikkardhu” part, when the man takes the woman’s feet in his hands and puts on the “metti”, to say I am your slave as much as you are mine. If you are not able to see the cuteness, imagine it in the context of 16 year olds in love for the first time.

But in today’s day and age, when 30-somethings are the ones getting married, all of this takes a rather ridiculous bent, doesn’t it? I wonder if our ceremonial weddings have evolved to better fit the social context today. Do you know? And if they haven’t then here is to hoping that they will in very short order!


Anonymous said...

Right. All 30 year olds getting married should know this even while doing the "cute" things:

tangled said...

That is such a wonderful way to look at it!
Gawrsh. I love coming by and seeing what you have to say about things. :)

CuriousCat said...

Anonymous: Thanks for the link...great stuff!

Tangled: Thanks a ton! You so make my day!!

bongopondit said...

I don't know if these are examples of ceremonial traditions
evolving to fit the modern urban society in a broad context, but I can share a couple of personal anecdotes.

During my own big fat Bong wedding (an event of gastronomic proportions that goes on for three days), I was asked by the purohit at the beginning of the ceremonies - how long would you like this to go on ? Torn between the choice of propriety (an assortment of soon-to-be relatives were milling around within earshot and I would not want to appear disrespectful of customs) and personal comfort (sitting legs folded tight on a wooden stool for many hours), my future father-in-law saved me by asking for a medium length one. Later I found out that many weddings ceremonies are being shortened in this manner - with the purohits cutting whole sections of mantras. Wonder how that affects the marriages :-)
Second is a traditional ceremony thing we do whereby the husband hands a pot of rice to the bride and the bride scatters it on a sheet of cloth. The groom is supposed to collect all the rice back into the pot and so on. Its supposed to playfully imply that the husband bring in the moolah, which is to be spent by the wife. Considering we both had jobs and careers - I insisted that both of us do the rice scattering and collecting.

Anyway, sorry about the longish, rambling comment.

CuriousCat said...

Hey Bongo! From the sounds of it you had a really cool wedding! I had heard about the ceremony shortening business from another Bong buddy of mine, he said the purohit invoked only 50% of the gods he was supposed to...But the rice thing...way cool! Goes into my permanent collection of odd facts on Indian weddings...

BTW did you see the email from "Dr. Sabine Duntze" ( over at SC?