Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Of Bangles and Henna

Just days before evil came to Mumbai, there was great happiness in that city...

(It's another guest post! This time by Marco, another co-worker in our Mumbai office, another person I have yet to meet in person but already love and adore. As we were working online the other night, Marco told me that his cousin got married over the weekend -- and of course I wanted to hear ALL about it! Marco was kind enough to write a full blog post (in Live Writer, even!) for my blog! I am forever grateful to Marco, his cousin Rebecca, and all the wonderful people at Rebecca and Ashwin's wedding. Please do leave a comment and let them know what you think.)

My cousin Rebecca got married recently. She's among the younger ones in our reasonably large group of fourteen cousins (that's just from my mom's side!). Over the last three years, there has been at least one big wedding in the family each year, but what made this one so special was the fact that it was defined by so many wonderful occasions and traditions.

India is a land of timeless traditions. And at significant times in people's lives (weddings, most definitely), they get grander and more spectacular than ever. My cousin Rebecca was born and brought up Catholic, and grew up with Goan traditions (of course, being in Mumbai, she's a thoroughly cosmopolitan woman of the world). Her husband Ashwin is Hindu and has a wonderfully diverse background--his father is originally from Kashmir (in North India), and his mother is British. With their union being such an amazing confluence of backgrounds, the four days that preceded the wedding were obviously marked with a riot of colors, tastes, sights and sounds that only the diversity of the Indian subcontinent can offer! It is with a huge sense of pride that I share the experience of the typical, modern, diverse, yet traditional Indian wedding.

The Roce
The 'Roce' (rhymes with 'dose'), is a ceremony typically observed by the Catholics in India from the Goa and Mangalore region. This ceremony is primarily a blessing for the bridal couple and is traditionally conducted separately at the bride's and groom's home. With Rebecca and Ashwin's wonderfully mixed backgrounds, both sides celebrated this tradition together at the bride's home.

It all starts with the Bangle ceremony, where the bride and the other women in the family are made to wear bangles while an elder women (our ever-shining 87-year-old Oma, in this photo) sings traditional Goan songs called 'Mandos'. These songs speak of blessings for the bride, the groom and their families. DSC_4840
The 'bangle man' is specially chosen because he brings the multi-colored glass bangles specially from Goa. He has been present at the Roce of my aunts, all the way down to the cousins, and has been doing this for over 50 years! Interestingly he hasn't aged a day, as far as I can remember! DSC_4833
The ceremony takes place on a mattress where the bangle man displays the different colored ornaments, while each of the girls in the family take turns sitting in front of him as he helps them put on their bangles of choice. DSC_4855
They get to select as many bangles as they want (typically between six and eight), in whichever color. It starts with the bride-to-be, who gets special green bangles with a lace inlay... DSC_4841
...followed by her mother, then her aunts... DSC_4856
...and finally the younger girls. DSC_4914
By the end of it, all the women proudly flash their bangles--a sign that there's a wedding in the family. In the bride's case, she typically doesn't remove the bangles until after the wedding. DSC_4920
Then comes the second part of the ceremony, where each member of the family blesses the bridal couple with a mixture of coconut milk, gram flour paste, and turmeric. DSC_4931
Each person applies this mixture to the couples' head and arms, as they say a silent prayer for their happiness, starting with the immediate family. DSC_4939
This ceremony can get pretty emotional and it's not rare to see the parents and the bridal couple getting overcome with nostalgia. Lots of happy tears here. DSC_4935
After the solemnity comes the fun! As the elders bless the bridal couple with the 'good' stuff, the cousins secretly prepare a concoction of icky stuff. It's not surprising to have beer, cream, eggs, flour, shaving foam and other motley ingredients in this mix! DSC_4994
The cousins and the younger folks swarm down upon the bridal couple of cover them in this batter as they gross out! Obviously, they won't be seen for at least an hour after this, because the bath will need to be extra-long! DSC_5011

The Mehndi
Rebecca's Mehndi ceremony happened the following day. This ceremony is observed all over India by different faiths and subcultures, and it consists of applying an intricate design of henna to the bride's hands and feet.

This is where the bride-to-be dresses in all her Indian finery, including the intricate jewelry and her resplendent 'sari'. DSC_5020
A group of skilled artists are specially called to apply a filigree design of henna on the bride's hands and feet. DSC_5032
Other girls can also get designs done--some choose to have them on their necks, or shoulders. DSC_5027
This process is delicate, but the artists are so adept that they can complete both hands in under five minutes! DSC_5038
In the bride's case, the process is longer and more painstaking because of the level of intricacy involved. DSC_5046
The artists even hide the bride and groom's names in the intricate design--it's fun to try and find them! DSC_5074
The final result is truly breathtaking! Go ahead and click this photo for a larger version. DSC_5092-1

... and finally the Church wedding!
Here's the glowing bride on her wedding day with her mum, dad, and younger brother.


Let's drink to this one--to traditions, marriage, and diversity!

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Maria said...

Stunning and amazing. Thanks for sharing! :)

Anonymous said...

Love, love, love all these traditions. I hold on to the few I grew up with, but am afraid that nobody else will after I'm gone. While mine are certainly not as elaborate as what was described, they are still dear to me. Never having had a large extended family (no grandparents living, other relatives lived far way and I never met them), I feel that I missed out on so much. Much love and happiness to the lucky couple! Thanks for sharing!!!

Anonymous said...

Oops, that last post was mine.

Jen said...

I loved reading this. Thank you to Rebecca, Ashwin and your wonderful co-worker!

I read a wonderful article in the Times about the beauty that is Mumbai, and this seems to have captured a lot of what I read.

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