There is nothing like an Indian wedding. They are so grandiose, dripping with religious symbolism, and stuffed full of community, family, and love that they literally cast a giant shadow every other type of wedding there is.
We will start from the beginning, my second day in India, when Adit’s oldest sister, Neerja (or Didi, a term used for older sisters), Ajay, his brother-in-law, and his Dad took me to pick out saris at a shopping mall so I would have something appropriate to wear for the two main functions. When we walked in Didi, who is like an Indian Queen in how she hands out instructions, let the staff know what we wanted in Hindi; basically lightweight and glittery. The store had saris folded and stacked on bookshelves all along the walls like confetti with white mattresses underneath to lay the saris out on for viewing. Because labor is so cheap, the store had four men attending to us, bring us drinks, finding us saris, and opening them on the mattress, all while we sat on a couch admiring the craftwork of each garment.
I wish I could have taken pictures, but they weren’t allowed. Didi helped me select two saris, one for the dancing ceremony and one for the wedding. I was worried, because they were so beautiful and intricate, that they would upstage the bride, but compared to the other women, I looked dressed down! Everyone was dripping with jewels, not only on their saris, but in their hair and as necklaces and bracelets. More is definitely better there!
The day before the first function, we went over to Adit’s house for dinner and to watch his family members practice their dances for the performances traditionally done after the first ceremony. Somehow, Roark and I got roped in to performing a dance with Didi and Ajay, which really was an extreme honor. The choreographer taught us a dance to Disco Deewane, a Bollywood favorite. Roark and I looked hopeless at first, but we stayed up late that night practicing in the hotel. Roark, being a musician, is a bit of a performance perfectionist, and I just didn’t want to look like an ass in front of 400 people.
The night of the event my fever was setting in, and I was feeling out of it. We sat in the large hotel ballroom with his family, watching the ceremony on stage. Roark was asked to sit on stage for Adit’s part of the ceremony, which was another major honor for him. All the elder men from his and the bride, Ambica’s, family were all up there to support him. I relaxed on a couch with the ladies of Adit’s family, until they were needed up on stage for Ambica’s turn. Once the ceremony was finished, the bride and groom were presented to the guests, who were all relaxing at tables in front of the stage.
Next were the performances, which went on for about two hours. Some family members, like Suyesh, Adit’s brother, danced in three dances. We gathered near the side stage, supporting everyone that went up to dance. When it was our turn to go on stage, the MC was laughing at the fact that we were dancing, given that we were the only non-Indian people at the wedding. Well, we tore the house down! Thanks to our hours of practice the night before, Roark and I were (mostly) flawless, much to everyone’s surprise. By the end of our song, the four of us had everyone on their feet and most of Adit’s family on stage tearing it up with us. I’m told there will be video, so once I have it, I’ll be sure to share.
The next few days I was down for the count, sick in the hotel room. Roark attended a few ceremonies at Adit’s house, including one where the ladies in his family scrubbed him down with spices, oil, and milk right in the living room. From the photos I saw, they all looked like they were having a good time, including Adit; however, I’ll spare him the injustice of appearing on my blog in his skivvies by not sharing a photo. There was also the bachelor party that I missed, including a ‘shot girl’ caring a Ghost Buster’s backpack full of some vodka drink, using her squirt gun to heavily intoxicate everyone in the place. I heard bits and pieces of stories about a hilarious bachelor’s cake, and vodka that just wouldn’t seem to stay in your stomach, but the next day details were rather blurry for everyone in attendance. The only thing I know for sure is that I’m glad I didn’t go since everyone that attended fell ill with Typhoid Fever the next day–including the Groom! I’m blaming it on the shot girl’s lack of hygiene (there’s no way she sterilized her gun before thrusting it in her next victims mouth!) Thankfully, because of our vaccines, Roark was only running a low-grade fever, but the poor groom peaked at 105F and was still sick on his wedding day!
Somehow through our sickness, we were able to make it out for the mehndi. We know it as henna, but that must be a western invention, because no one in India knows what henna is; they just call it mehndi. We sat in Adit’s parlor with two artists, one for each hand. They put the paste on, which they squirt out of something resembling a pastry-decorating bag. The paste, which has the dye in it, dries for an hour or so and is then cracked off by rubbing your hands together. The stain gets darker over the next day if you don’t wash your hands, and the darker it is, apparently the more your significant other loves you. I think everyone was a bit disappointed with my color, but I was sick and in India… so of course I was washing my hands a lot. Mehndi has a very unique smell, like musty earth; something that lingers for days. Adit, who despises the smell, only had a small portion of his hands done, but Ambica had her arms and legs fully decorated. I later found out that you are supposed to hide the letters of your loved ones name in the drawing for them to search out, something Roark and I will have to do next time.
The final ceremony was a 14-hour affair, a fact that we were not prepared for, and by the end of it we were half asleep, half dead! We ladies got ready at Adit’s where their parlor girl came to do all our hair, their make up (the colors didn’t work for my skin tone), and wrap and pin our saris. While we were getting ready, family members began arriving at the house for the parade down to the local temple, where Adit would asking for blessings. There was a “band” (I use this term lightly) that consisted of about 30 guys who basically banged on drums and blew on flutes and trumpets, each to his own rhythm and melody. We danced along as best we could, leading the way for Adit, who was on horseback, all the way down the street with no worries about avoiding traffic. If you were dancing well, relatives in the parade would wave money over your head and then use it to tip the musicians (again, a term I use lightly). I think it was a way of blessing the person, but I’m not a hundred percent sure.
Technically, you’re supposed to parade from the house, to the temple, to the wedding, but since his venue was an hour away at a nice hotel, we all separated into cars and drove to the venue. While we waited for everyone to arrive, we gathered in the hotel gardens and sat and sipped on a few of these Sweet Lime Drinks I’m sharing with you today. Then, we paraded again into the actual wedding tent where Ambica, her family, and the guests were waiting. For the second parade, Adit upgraded to a four-horse-drawn carriage. It literally took us 45-minutes to go the 100-yards from the garden to the event; by the time we arrived at the wedding tent we were exhausted from dancing, and everyone was dripping in sweat.
Thankfully the wedding tent was air-conditioned, and Roark and I walked in gratefulyl through the tunnel entrance into the main area. We were immediately blown away. We knew this would be a big wedding, but had no understanding of exactly how large both the wedding and venue would actually be. First off, there were three full stages, one directly above the entrance holding a full jazz band, one right ahead where Adit and Ambica sat, and one to the left for the entertainment. To the right was the food wing–yes, a food wing–home to over 500 different dishes to taste. And somewhere in between all that were enough couches and dining tables to seat the 1,000 guests.
And had I thought the venue was impressive, it was just because I hadn’t seen the bride yet. Wearing a 70-pound dress dripping in gold, silver, and precious stones, she was jaw dropping, literally. Shining above the rest, she sat in a throne with Adit taking in their guests from the stage. When it came time to move for dinner and the private family ceremony, she couldn’t even walk without assistance, her dress weighed so heavily on her! I couldn’t help but worry for her safety; even turning her head too far left or right looked like it threatened to pull her delicate nose ring out.
The actual marriage ceremony, which was attended only by close family and friends (again, an incredible honor for us to be included) began at midnight. By this point we had been going for 8 hours, so under the instruction of Ruchi, Adit’s sister, I took a bit of a nap with her daughter Aashi. I’m glad I did, because the ceremony, which started an hour later, went until 5 am, and we didn’t get back to the hotel until 6:30 am. The room was set up so there was stadium seating around the altar in the middle. There was a fire, which the bride and groom walked around seven times as part of the ceremony. Adit’s dad joked that Roark and I could take the walk too, since all expenses we already paid; and although we laughed, I’m pretty sure he was serious.
Marriage is very important in India culture. It was hard for people to understand that Roark and I were together, but not married. People also asked if we were an arranged or a love marriage, and they were very curious when we explained we were together for love. Arranged marriages are normal in India, and while Adit was happy to not have to date and let his parents do the work for him, I also saw a friend we met struggle to let go of an ex-girlfriend with his marriage to another women impending within the month. Fidelity is understood, and divorce is a very rare and very serious thing.
I think my favorite part about Indian marriages is the emphasis on the joining of the two families, not on the bride and groom. This is why their weddings are so large, because all the extended family gets invited, even the families of the in-laws. Though, while I admire this idea, personally coming from a broken home, it’s nice to think that Roark and I are creating our own little family without all the baggage and drama.
Enough with the introspective, metaphysical stuff, and on to today’s recipe! As I mentioned, we sipped on these Sweet Lime Drinks while at the wedding. Abishek, Adit’s brother-in-law, explained that they are the signature drink of India. I noticed that all the roadside vendors were making them, piles of limes stacked high upon each cart. The drink is very refreshing, but be sure to get the true Sweet Lime variety instead of the normal kind, or you are in for a bitter treat. You can find them at Indian grocery stores or in the produce section during the winter and spring. They are picked green, but when they ripen, they turn yellow. In India, all the vendors I saw were using green ones, so that’s what I did here. Also, in India, they add a bit of salt to the recipe to help with hydration. I can imagine this as a refreshing drink after spending the afternoon in the garden, or something you spike with a bit of tequila for an Indian spiced margarita! Either way, the perfect treat from around the world!
- 1 Cup of Water
- 1 Tablespoon of Honey
- Whole Cumin Seeds
- ½ a Cup of Sweet Lime Juice, fresh pressed
- In small pot, boil your water. Melt the honey in the water while it is hot making a simple syrup. Set aside to cool.
- In a small skillet, heat a dash of Cumin Seeds and Pepper until you can smell their aroma and they smoke. Remove from the stovetop and place in your glass along with a dash of salt.
- Fill the glass with the Sweet Lime Juice and top with the cooled simple syrup. You can either drink it room temperature or cooled. If you want it cooled, refrigerate the simple syrup and Lime Juice before mixing.