Tuesday, 14 February 2012

An Indian wedding

I was lucky enough to travel to India recently for a close friend's wedding. She and I have known each other since we were fourteen, so it was really lovely to be there to see her get married. And it was a privilege to be part of an Indian wedding in the extraordinary city of Calcutta.

One part of the wedding I was particularly inspired by was the henna ceremony, or mehendi, where the bride (and in this case, several of the bride's friends) had her forearms, hands and feet covered in delicate henna patterns. The artist drew all the patterns freehand, and altered her styles depending on the person. She used the henna pen skilfully to change the pattern with thinner and thicker applications at different points.

Each part of the wedding involved the bride wearing a different sari - some more casual, some more formal, and some, like the saffron coloured sari seemed intentional for the purpose of the ceremony (a turmeric bath). My friend's relatives helpfully explained the ceremonies to the few of us foreigners attending.

The final part of the wedding began at 11:30 at night on the first day of 'wedding season'. Seven of us piled  into a car designed for a smaller number of people, and drove through the streets of Calcutta to the wedding, passing by many 'wedding houses' decorated with lights and big signs, and spotting many wedding cars decked out in flowers and ribbons. We arrived at the house around 9pm, to be fed and to visit the bride and groom, each sitting in different rooms on different levels of the house.

At around 11:30 we gathered in a room on the top floor of the house, where the groom was brought in and after sitting down with the priest, and being given a special hat for the ceremony, was guided to stand on a rather large stone. The bride was carried in by her male relatives, and carried around the groom several times (possibly seven) amidst shouting and laughter by many of the onlookers. The bride and groom then exchanged garlands, before being seated on the floor. Several ceremonies ensued, culminating in the fire - the witness to the ceremony - around which they walked seven times. Finally the bride and groom rolled a stone along seven leaves, and then vermillion was placed on the bride's forehead to signify that she was now a married woman.

I was inspired by all the colours, images and patterns used in the wedding. Everything was so heavily decorated and so many different patterns and colours were used together, something you rarely see in more austere Western style designs, and certainly Western weddings. It has given me lots of ideas!