Come May and you see your inbox/mailbox flooded with Wedding invitations.Indian weddings(“The Big Fat Indian Wedding”) are an elaborate affair lasting for a week, sometimes upto a month!!!. It is a cycle of feasts and exchange of gifts in one’s own family as well as between bride’s and the groom’s family. The weeklong extravaganza comprises of different poojas and ceremonies. They are characterised by colorful sarees( invariably silk sarees in case of South India), flowers, fragrances, music (esp . Shehnaai ), kids playing around and hustle and bustle of the large crowd gathered. With the kind of disposible income in India now marriage extravaganza is at its peak. Esp. in the NRI community weddings are a symbol of your social standing and community sentiment. In fact this also became the subject of a Discovery Channel documentary.Some places where dowry has ceased to be a demand, groom’s family insist on a lavish wedding.
When it comes to marriage customs, India is truly a sub continent. The customs vary based on caste and region. But there are some common threads running among almost all of them. All marriages consider Agni Devta(God of Fire) as a witness to the marriage and hence involves a agni kund  (check out the significnace section at the end). The poojari(priest) says all the mantras, sometimes explaining the meaning of the same and the bride, the groom and their families oblige to all the rituals as told by the priest( I don’t know if the poojaris themsleves know the significance of all the rituals). When the poojari announces everybody throws rice(covered in kumkum and haldi) on their heads. As you go towards South of India marriages are quieter, extravagant nevertheless. Mehendi and shoe-stealing, customs of North-Indian marriages, have become an integral part of all marriages now( Thanks to the hindi movies like Hum Aapke Hai Kaun).
Hosts(usually the girls side) take care that all the guests are fed well ( meaning overfed). More often than not the guests are spoilt for choice( tht is a part of definition for a good wedding ceremony). It is mostly lunch, but also dinner in Northern part of India where marriages start after 10.
For the people getting married, it is union of the two souls and celebration of the moment. But for the others it is an occasion to dress-up , show off your jewellery, family get-together, feasting( dieting is a sin during marriages), for kids it is an occasion to meet lots of other kids and play around when the elders are busy with the customs/rituals. For the event management companies, the mantap owners, the flower seller, even the poojari and the like it is a business opportunity. Bridal wear and Bridal jewellery collection is another story altogether. A different saree for every occasion, matching accessories ( bangles, necklace(s), toe ring, nose ring, mang tikka ( forehead), bajuband( worn on the arms), accessories for hair…). Phew didn’t I mention elaborate.
I personally love these weddings but lavishness has become an unquestionable custom now. At times bride’s parents may end up spending all their life trying to repay the loan taken for their darling daughter’s marriage. That is when they can afford to get one. Else their daughters might end up being single or worse agree to anybody who is ready to marry them. On a long term this also leads to other social evils like “female foeticide or infanticide” in rural areas. I believed as people become more educated and progressive, they will begin to see the absurdity of spending somebody’s lifetime saving for a single dress and occasion. On the contrary educated people prefer this. The few weddings of wealthy Indians (who get all the media attention) seem to have masked the inability of the other lesser mortals to hold such spectacular weddings. Well I just hope better sense prevails and the big fat Indian Wedding doesn’t actually become a hindrance for others.
Customs and Significance
1. The Central Fireplace(Agni kund) is a ritual to be performed at any important occasion as in a marriage. The Saptapadi (Seven Steps) was a ritual to be performed around a central fireplace called agni-kund. The sacred fire was Vedi. The couple to be married had to go around the Vedi seven times, representing seven days of the week. And symbolising the union of the souls for seven lives.
2.Shoe-Stealing – is a custom where brides sisters steal grooms shoes and demend money to return it back. And the grooms frnds and cousins try to hide the same to prevent shoes getting in girls hands. The South Indian counterparts of this custom(though not very common now ) are getting hold of coconut tied to the grooms hand, groom has to pay the brides sister on arrival aarti…