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Decoding the Bengali Wedding Drama #1

fromthecornertable, from the corner table, bengali wedding, indian wedding Copyright: Abishek Biswas-Reshmi Karar

• A long holiday for a wedding and travel
• Bouts of influenza and viral fever
• A sudden rise in mercury levels
• The laptop battling a midlife crisis
• Chronic neck-to-fingertips pain
• Time to deal with messy matters of the mind

These are just a few things that have kept me from being as regular a blogger as I have wanted to be. The drama queen in me tends to look at these reasons as a band of villains that conspire to bring me down. The practical me is struggling to accept the fact that some things are just not in my control; at times, it’s best to go with the flow.

Amid these regular life struggles came the realisation that it’s been a whole month to the big fat Bengali wedding I attended in February. My cousin baby brother has been married for a month already! That wholesome and chunky little white infant is a married man! Wow!
Now I know what the relatives mean when they react with the astonished “you’ve grown up so much!” when they meet me. That’s how I felt during as the kid got hitched!

fromthecornertable, from the corner table, bengali wedding, indian wedding
Copyright: Abishek Biswas-Reshmi Karar

The wedding will continue to be a point of discussion in the family for a while now. After all, the point of a big wedding that involves family, friends and their friends, is to create memories that last you a lifetime. My parents who’ve been married for over 40 years continue to share a laugh about incidents from their wedding; or incidents that took place at family weddings over the years.
• Like the rosogolla eating competition at an aunt’s wedding.
• Or that time when I walked into a glass door at a cousin’s wedding and sported a swollen nose as an accessory.
• Or the time when a group of European friends was force-fed a huge plate of mishti each! Thankfully for us, they were sporting enough and had a good laugh when our game was up!

“Clueless friends” are a fixture at every family wedding I’ve attended. These friends are lost in the hullabaloo of the wedding household. Some of them are lucky enough to find a seat next to a benevolent elder who explains the proceedings to them; which just means they are 20 per cent more clued in than they were before. And I count them to be fortunate!
Had the Hulk-like non-Bengali friend of my cousin brother realised what a furious elder had screamed at the lot of us – cousins and the groom’s friends included – am sure there would have been violence! My heart went out to him – screamed at for no reasons other than following the instructions of us elder cousins. Someone should have handed him the “Bengali Wedding Survival Kit” which would ideally include

1. Notes explaining the pre-wedding, wedding and post-wedding rituals
2. A bunch of antacids to help that overworked digestive system
3. A list of the most often used Bengali words & phrases
4. A healthy dose of patience
5. A stomach for unsolicited advice
6. A warning bell to help those sneaking into corners for variety entertainment

Now for those who’ve already survived a wedding like this, my heartiest congratulations to you. And those planning to get married and/or attending a Bengali wedding in the near future, I’ll help you with the first thing listed in the kit. So here’s what happens at a “Bengali Wedding”.

Note: A wedding in the average Bengali household is a non-flashy (mostly) but colourful affair filled with elaborate preparations. Called ‘biye’ in Bengali language, rituals followed depend on the subculture of the family – the Bangals and the Ghotis. The former being Bengali Hindus who have their roots in modern-day Bangladesh and the latter being those with roots in West Bengal. The rituals are further tweaked by elders of the family over a period of time to suit time, space and availability.

Pre-Wedding Rituals

Aashirvad – Literally meaning ‘blessings’, this is the ‘formal acceptance’ ceremony wherein the bride and groom are blessed by their partner’s family members with gifts (of the material kind). This ceremony is not necessarily the first of the wedding rituals. Depending on circumstances, the aashirvad can be done a few months before the wedding or immediately before the wedding. In my elder sister’s case, the aashirvad ceremony was conducted right before the ritualistic wedding ceremony.

Ai Budo Bhatt – This is the last meal a to-be bride/groom eats as a bachelor/bachelorette and is an elaborate affair held a day before the wedding. The ai budo bhaat entails the bride/groom being offered an elaborate feast including rice, vegetarian preparations, fish curry (especially the fish head), chicken-mutton or both and a selection of the finest sweets. Paayesh (Bengali rice pudding) is a must during the ai budo bhaat.
The presence of unmarried friends and cousins is crucial here – as per traditions, only they can help the bachelor/bachelorette finish the mega meal. (photo below)

fromthecornertable, from the corner table, bengali wedding, indian wedding
Copyright: Abishek Biswas-Reshmi Karar

Note: At most of these ceremonies, blessings are given using dhaan (while rice in shells) and dubbo (tri-headed grass). Conch shells are blown to the accompaniment of ullu dhwani to signify the auspiciousness of the moments.

Wedding Day

Dodhi Mongol – Marks the beginning of the wedding day that begins at dawn. The bride and groom eat a meal of doi (curd) and khoi (kind of puffed rice) – following this they fast till the wedding ends. In some families, this is when the girl is made to wear the shaankhapolla, traditional conch shell and coral bangles.

Jol Saja – After the dodhi mongal, this tradition sees the mothers of the bride and groom visit the nearest water body to fill a pitcher with water, to be used to bathe after the gaay holud. While the waters of a holy river like the Ganges is preferred, convenience is crucial now. My cousin’s mother and her party went to a nearby lake to perform the puja and get the water. No one wants to spend 3 hours in traffic! “This is also when the mothers pray to the water gods to ensure the wedding proceeds well,” Maa adds. The mothers are accompanied by 5 married ladies each. (photo below)

fromthecornertable, from the corner table, bengali wedding, indian wedding
Copyright: Abhishek Biswas-Reshmi Karar

Birddhi Puja, Gaay Holud, Tatto – Things start rolling hereafter with rituals being conducted one after the other. It begins with the birddhi puja where the father or senior male relative of the bride and groom perform a puja to appease their ancestors. As this happens, five married women of the groom’s family grind fresh turmeric into a paste with mustard oil. (photo below)

fromthecornertable, from the corner table, bengali wedding, indian wedding
Copyright: Gautam Chakravarty-Megha Hariramani

This paste is smeared on the groom – before his family and friends turn it into a ‘smearing game’. There has been evidence that the groom is the least yellow person in the vicinity after the holud (turmeric)ceremony! I kid you not! Fun and frolic apart, as the groom is doused in water, his sisters rush to the bride’s home with the remaining holud and the girl’s trousseau. A similar gaay holud ritual is performed at the bride’s place. Other than the turmeric paste, the trousseau called totto, also has gifts for the family members and sweets. The highlight, however, is the whole fish that is auspicious to a Bengali wedding. (photo below)

fromthecornertable, from the corner table, bengali wedding, indian wedding
Copyright: Abishek Biswas-Reshmi Karar

(continued in Decoding the Bengali Wedding Drama #2)

Note: Photographs belong to Gautam Chakravarty-Megha Hariramani / Abhisek Biswas-Reshmi Karar. Reuse of photographs without permission of either parties will be considered infringement of copyright.

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2 Comments on “Decoding the Bengali Wedding Drama #1

  1. That’s beautifully written! One can almost imagine a wedding right in front of their eyes as they read through! Looking forward to the next one!

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