An Indian wedding is not an event, it's a string of events. The contemporary version is spans at least three days with major functions on each day including Mehndi, Sangeet, and prayers. There is lots of joy, more than a few tears, and inevitably some little dramas that make such events the memorable experiences of our lives.
My brother's family before the Mehndi
The little dramas started early. Our family is not exclusively in Atlanta. Sleeping arraignments were sorted, cribs were relocated, cars were rented, and everything was set. At least until the untimely breakdown of my parent's AC. Flight, plus 2 small children, plus Georgia summer heat, minus AC is not a good equation for my little brother. Thankfully they were able to redirect to our house and we got the added bonus of extra time with them. Though the original intention of getting the kids to nap failed miserably.
Mona, Sonali, and Mira showing of their Mehndi
The first major function of modern Hindu Indian weddings is when the Bride and the other women in the wedding have mehndi, a type of body paint, applied in intricate patterns on the hands and feet. The Bride's is often so extensive that it can take more than an hour for the artist draw.
To make the color last, one should not move the parts of the body where mehndi is applied for as long as possible. Meaning the responsibility of feeding the women and chasing after the children falls on the men (possibly the real reason behind the function).
Cousins with the Bride: From left to right, Me, Jay, Hershal, and Shivam
The first wedding prayers to calm the house and welcome the gods
The Mehndi is a prelude, the true opening ceremony is the Graha Shanti. This is a collection of rituals and prayers that ready the family spiritually for the upcoming festivities. Blessings are sought from elders-past and various gods. At the end a small stake is planted outside to signal the festivities are open. Once the wedding is complete, this stake will be removed in another ceremony by the immediate family.
What actually happens in these prayers is a little open to interpretation, a generally uncontroversial observation. Unless one happens to make it within earshot of the priest.
Mira ready for the Sangeet
Every function in an Indian wedding requires a new outfit. Most men switch back and forth between Western and Indian clothing. Women generally stay with Indian outfits of differing levels of convenience. The Bride has the most elaborate outfits, but also has to change a few extra times due to the extra mini-ceremonies between the larger ones.
Thankfully we have a daughter that loves to dress up. Between the driving and the changing, there's no time for crankiness. For me, that means I get to wear every fancy outfit I own over the course of 1 weekend.
My brother's and my family, photobombed by my cousin Ritika
The Sangeet was traditionally a ladies-only function with singing and dancing (sangeet means music). Today's Sangeets are a huge party attended by all members of both families (think a rehearsal dinner on steriods). It's an opportunity for the families to get to know each other, catch up with the out-of-towners, and warm up the dancing legs for the real event on the following day.
Mira and Sonali dancing at the Sangeet
While the number of functions can be overwhelming, it is nice to have some more time with everyone in one place. Mona is a cousin on my Dad's side. She and her husband met in Cincinnati and now live in Seattle. Just considering my Dad's side, we have family in New York, Austin, Washington DC, Detroit, and Mumbai to go along with everyone in Atlanta and it's surrounding suburbs. We have 4 new members of the next generation since the last wedding.
Without the extra days and functions there would not be any time to spend with each other and catch-up. It is a rarity that we are all in the same place and it would be a shame if it were to only last two days.
Sonali, Mira, and I ready for the wedding
The Bahraat massing in front of the hotel
The wedding took place at the Atlanta Hilton Northeast, on a typical summer day. An Indian wedding really starts with the Bahraat. The groom's family announces his arrival with a parade backed by music and drums. The groom will often arrive on a horse, but in this case Varun opted to go with the contemporary equivalent: a convertible 911 Carrera S. In another of the little drama's, the priest showed up late. Perhaps he was offended by the statement made the day before. Perhaps he was just on IST. Either way, the Bahraat had to go on longer than plan, but I don't think anyone really minded.
Mona entering the hall
The religious ceremony starts after the procession enters the hall. Your author can only provide minimal commentary on what exactly happens. The wedding starts with just the immediate families and the groom as the central participants under the Mandap (wedding stage). Other family members are called to the stage to give their blessings and take their special part in the rituals. In a sweet gesture, Varun made his 9 year old cousin his best man.
The groom may get a grand entrance on the back of a Porsche, but the bride takes center stage at the wedding. A veil is raised, the audience looks towards the door, and even the little kids put down their iPads. Mona walked in radiant in a glimmering red saree escorted by her maternal uncle. An early memory of mine is being in Dallas, TX talking with my mom about what my uncle and aunt were going to name their new baby. Now she's walking in to meet her husband.
There are more blessings and the bride and groom take their ceremonial circles around the fire to become husband and wife.
Husband and Wife
Everyone exits the hall to take a little break before the reception, or sadly for our Austin cousins, caring for their child who came down with a stomach issue.
Most of the female cousins
Most of the male cousins
The reception was like the other events and beautifully put together. Mona's long known efficiency was on display, as was noted in a few of the speeches. The parents, siblings, and a few close friends gave touching remarks to the occasion and the couple along with a few semi-embarrassing anecdotes (not repeated on the internet).
The parents of Mona and Varun
The cake was cut, dinner was served, and the couple had a very well done first dance. The DJ opened the dance floor and the party went on long into the night.