Saturday, April 14, 2007
Last Wednesday I attended a reception and dinner for Srikanth and Vineela on the eve of their wedding. Srikanth is the son of Dr. V. Kodandarami Reddy, a professor at Sri Venkateswara University. Vineela is the daughter of Mr. and Mrs. N. Rosi Reddy, probably related, though not necessarily so. Reddy is a very common surname in these parts, like Smith or Jones in England.
The reception was held at R.K. Kalyanamandapam, a wedding center in Tiruchanoor, a suburb of Tirupati. A couple of hundred guests milled around in an open space in front of a stage where Srikanth and Vineela, after a formal ceremony of betrothal, were greeted by, and photographed with,a succession of guests, including eventually myself. This was not the wedding, just an opportunity for everyone to meet the bride and groom before they "tied the knot" the next day.
The next morning, bright and early, determined not to miss a thing, I took an autorickshaw back to the wedding hall for the wedding proper. Breakfast was served in a large hall, a very informal affair where everyone sat down where they pleased at long tables while waiters came by with tasty South Indian tiffin tidbits such as idli, sambar, rice, chapatti, curry and so forth. In South India light meals and finger food is always referred to as "tiffin," an Anglo-Indian word meaning 'snack'. I love this stuff!
Just after I finished breakfast and moved outside, the groom arrived at the mandapam (marriage center) and the musicians swung into action. Srikanth was dressed like a maharajah in a full cream and gold-lined coat and pants and matching turban. With mom and dad in tow and an entourage of attendants, led by the musicians he proceeded to the hall where the wedding was to take place.
The reverse of what is customary in America or England, the bride was already there awaiting the arrival of the groom. This is because the mandapam, in a city setting, represents the bride's home. The groom comes in procession to claim the woman who has been chosen to be his mate and the mother of his children.
In the foyer of the hall, the groom is prepared for the wedding. His feet are bathed. Garlands and gold chains are placed around his neck and gold bracelets on his wrists. Gold is everywhere. Everyone's dripping with it. Indians, especially the women, love gold; they can't get enough of it. It's passed down from generation to generation; it's an important slice of the dowry the bride's family has to pay for the pleasure of being absorbed into the family of the groom.
As you perhaps see from the pictures above, the bride is bedecked in a gorgeous red and gold sari. The gold thread is real gold, by the way. She's also covered in gold jewelry from head to toe. She's beautiful.
The wedding ceremony proper, being Hindu, is supervised by Vedic priests. They chant mantras and direct the groom while he "ties the knot"--Kappu, the holy thread--on the bride's wrist, which is meant to ward off evil spirits. The groom also ties the gold Mangala Sutra around the neck of the bride. She will wear this to her grave. Holding the bride’s hand, the bridegroom now walks seven steps with her. This is the most important part of the marriage ceremony, and only when they walk seven steps together (this is called Saptha Padhi) is the marriage legally complete. The belief is that when one walks seven steps with another, one becomes the other’s friend.
Finally, the guests file up onto the stage to congratulate the bride and groom, pouring rice on their heads to wish them prosperity and the blessing of children. Not too many children, though. "We two, ours two" is the guideline given by the Government of India to try to limit the number of offspring. India's population, over one billion and growing, is second only to China, and it's projected to become the world's most populous nation by 2030.
Fortunately, Indians have always, for thousands of years, had a yen for settling in different parts of the world. I don't know how many Indians live in diaspora, but there must be many millions of them by now. Srikanth and Vineela will be joining them when he takes his bride back with him to Lexington, Kentucky, where he's gainfully employed as a Firmware Engineer.