OK, so long time readers of mine will remember how much I loved going to an Emirati wedding a few years ago. I mean, it was pretty amazing.
… Indian weddings are better. I’m just telling it how it is. Apart from the visual spectacle, there is a tangible and incredibly intense sense of joy that permeates every aspect of an Indian wedding festival. It’s a celebration, in the truest sense of the word. A carnival of feasting, dancing, eating, singing, loving and laughing. Following is an account of our first (but hopefully not our last) experience of a wonderful Indian wedding, the union of Deena Mansukhani & Bhavin Asser.
DAY ONE – THE SANGEET
We arrived at the sangeet at 9pm to find the party in full swing. The event was held in the grand ballroom of one of the city’s finest hotels, and was beautifully decorated with gorgeously adorned tables for all the guests. But the first thing I noticed was that all the tables were empty. Everyone was up on their feet, socialising and dancing, chatting, eating at the buffet, drinking at the bar and having fun. We spotted our friend, Love, at the bar and greeted him with hugs and kisses. It was so great to see him again after so many years. He introduced us to his friends and organised some drinks for us. The rest of the party, to be honest, went by in a blur. But here are some highlights.
- The food: Oh, the food. So much glorious food. We piled our plates up high and went back for seconds (maybe thirds??).
- The people: Everyone was SO friendly. Like nothing I’ve ever experienced in Dubai before. People just happy to chat and dance and laugh with us as if they’d known us for years. The social anxiety I usually feel when I go out here completely melted away in the presence of such warmth and acceptance. We instantly felt like we belonged and it was a wonderful feeling that I will always cherish.
- The dancing: Apart from the dancing free-for-all, there were many choreographed performances from both the groom’s and bride’s sides of the family. Traditional Indian music was interspersed with more modern western music so there was something for everyone to enjoy.
A choreographed dance.
- I met a LOVELY woman on the dance floor towards the end of the night who gave me some impromptu lessons on Indian style dancing (it involves a lot of hand twirling and hip shaking). She didn’t speak much English and the music was loud anyway so we communicated using the international languages of dance and smiles. It was an incredibly fun experience and the next day my cheeks hurt from smiling so much (though, to be frank, my cheeks weren’t the only things that hurt – which leads me to…..)
- The booze: OK, so Love had mentioned something about a free flowing bar when he’d invited us, but he never said anything about the bartender going around pouring shots directly from the bottle into people’s mouth (with a courtesy towelette to catch any spillage, mind you – this was a classy affair, after all). Everybody knows, once the shots start, it’s game over. I don’t remember a lot after that, though I do vaguely recall catching a taxi at around 3am.
DAY TWO – THE CEREMONY
The invitation stated that the ceremony would begin at 2pm in the gardens of another five star hotel. So, hungover as hell, we dragged ourselves out of bed at 11am, got ready in our kurta and sari and crawled into a cab. Traffic was bad and we started stressing that we were going to be late. Hahahaha!! When we arrived, the hotel staff hadn’t even finished setting up the stage and chairs. In fact, it would be several more hours before most of the guests would all arrive. Our bad. We didn’t realise that a 2pm Indian wedding actually meant 6pm. Next time we’ll know better. It wasn’t too bad though. We got to chill out by the pool and drink lots of coffee and water and wait out our hangovers with a few more of Love’s friends who had also, foolishly, turned up on time. One great thing about being there so early was that we got to see everything come to life. The red carpet was rolled out and strewn with marigold petals, and the bride’s guests started arriving in their brilliant saris and kurtas. In keeping with tradition, the groom’s party would be joining in later.
One of the awesome marriage rituals was that the close male members of the bride’s party had their heads wrapped in beautiful dusky pink turbans. I tried to convince David to wear a turban but he lay down the law on that one. Plus, it may not have been appropriate as we weren’t actually close to the bride, so I let it go. Still, I’m sure you’d all agree that he’d look pretty fabulous in a sexy pink turban.
Apart from the turban wrapping, there were plenty more traditions and rituals. One of the major ones is the Baraat – the arrival of the groom’s wedding party and guests. Their imminent entrance was heralded by the rhythmic commotion of a couple of dhols (traditional double-headed drums) which had, in fact, been playing softly all afternoon but which became louder and more persistent to mark the Baraat. We could hear the groom’s orange turbaned posse before we could see them, cheering and whooping in time to the fervent, tribal drum.
And, as they descended upon the venue in a whirlwind of dancing and flourish, Bhavin, beaming from ear to ear, made his grand entrance on an elaborately decorated rickshaw. The entire performance was a joyful cacophony of high-spirited merriment which was impossible not to get swept up in. I did wonder at the difference between what we were witnessing and the sometimes somber aspect of western weddings. Yes, a wedding is a serious affair but that doesn’t mean it can’t be fun too.
Once the elders from both families had formally greeted each other, the entire congregation moved back into the venue, where the shindig continued. The wedding ceremony turned out to be a lot more subdued than the night before (thank goodness!). There was no alcohol served and all the food was vegetarian. When I asked Love about it, he told me it was Jain food, made by a ‘Brahman’. In terms of the Indian caste system, Brahmans are the highest of the bunch, the priests! The others are Kshatriyas (warriors), vaishyas (farmers and merchants) and shudras (workers). Food cooked by a Brahman is considered to be pure, and since a wedding is a religious affair, the symbolism of purity is of the utmost importance. Let me just say though, that as pure as the food was, it was decidedly delicious (the best pappadums I’ve ever had).
The wedding ceremony itself was a series of rituals that took place over the course of a few hours beneath a canopied altar known as a Mandap, which was ablaze in colour, flowers and decoration. Unlike a traditional western wedding, the guests at a Hindu ceremony don’t sit and watch the entire thing but instead check in from time to time, interspersing those viewings with social mingling and grabbing a bite to eat. So, in between eating those delicious pappadums and chatting with the other guests, every now and then we would sit down and watch the priest conducting his formalities with the two families in attendance. Arguably, the most important of these were the four pheras, the bride and groom circling a fire four times to signify their desire to fulfill the purpose of their lives, together. Intense.
At one point I noticed that Bhavin was barefoot and wondered about that to Love. He explained that four of the younger girls from Deena’s side had stolen Bhavin’s shoes during the ceremony. What???? Cheeky!!! This was yet another of the quirky wedding traditions. Negotiations to return his shoes continued during the course of the evening until at last, near the end, they wore him down and he relented, giving them each a gold chain and pendant for their efforts. What a nice memento! At this point of the evening, exhaustion was starting to set in for us and we made our way home for an early night in preparation for the final day of celebrations.
DAY THREE – THE RECEPTION
As I mentioned in last month’s ejo, we had a dinner party to attend first, which happened to be retro-themed. David and I got dressed up in our finest 50’s and 60’s glad rags and went along to a lovely dinner before heading out to Day Three of the wedding, the reception.
Once more, this was set in a hotel ballroom, and once more everything was beautifully decorated and everybody was beautifully clothed. And of course, just like Day One, we started the night off with a couple of welcome shots. How easily hangovers are forgotten.
The reception was another night of celebration, the difference being that this time the bride and groom were hosting as a married couple. There was the Indian version of a bridal waltz (much sexier!!!) and a very cool chaise lounge upon which Deena and Bhavin sat to accept guest’s good wishes.
Like no bridal waltz you’ve ever seen before!
It was all very regal (except for the fact that the party was raging on around them, boisterously). There was more dancing, more drinking, more fun. In fact, I haven’t had so much fun in ages. It was very exciting to be part of something so exotic and interesting and exhiliarating. I want to thank Love for inviting us and Deena and Bhavin for having us at their amazing wedding. It was a fabulous three nights I will never forget.