The ceremony took place at a very small temple just a few yards from the brides home. The building was so small that the wedding took place outside. It all began with the gifts to the gods being blessed during puja (worship). Coconuts and bananas feature heavily in the ceremony. The priest rings a bell and carries a flame to signify the presence of the gods while the couple exchange beautiful garlands of flowers.
The father of the bride placing a tilaka on her forehead.Everyone present places a tilaka, a mark of ‘good luck’ on the foreheads of the couple. This represents the ‘third eye’ or minds eye’ which is associated with the gods and is a sign of meditation and spirituality. A photo is taken of each one – and no-one smiles except us westerners!
The bowl on the right contains coloured rice which is thrown over the couple – a sign of luck and fertility – and all share in the items blessed during puja.
This old man is the village drummer who was beating his drum throughout the ceremony. A village wedding is a noisy affair with loud music and with everyone telling the bride and groom where to stand and what to do. It is difficult to equate this noise and movement with the weddings we are used to in the west; there doesn’t appear to be any reverence but that is the same with much Hindu worship. This is just a difference of custom however, there is a deep spirituality which runs through life in Tamil Nadu and respect for the gods is not lost just because there is movement and noise, after all a wedding is supposed to be a joyous occasion and so there is a great deal of excitement and happiness!
The bride and groom process through the village behind the drummer with all their friends and family following behind.
The entrance to the ‘marriage hall’ where the reception takes place is always flanked by banana trees with great bunches of bananas hanging below.
Once inside the bride and groom receive their wedding gifts. Some are actual gifts but the majority of the guests give money which is recorded in a little book.
Then on to the reception. This is the same for most weddings with people sitting at long trestle tables. They don’t all eat at the same time, as soon as they have eaten they get up and someone else takes their place. The only difference between weddings of the rich and poor is quality of the venue and food.
Here the meal is a very simple one consisting of idli (a steamed rice cake), rice and samba (a sort of vegetable stew) with payasam (a sort of sweet rice pudding). All of the food is served on the banana leaf at the same time by the catering staff who are constantly moving round serving, clearing and setting new places.
It is still the custom for the family to give the bride a lot of gold on her wedding day, and weddings are as extravagant as they can afford (usually more than they can afford). This was a relatively inexpensive wedding but with the gold given and the food for the reception it still cost about the equivalent of around 16 years wages for the father. For someone in the UK on a minimum wage that would be roughly equivalent to a wedding costing over £177,000. And if the family have more than one daughter then they have to spend the same on them all. This is not a problem for the rich, but poverty is still a huge problem in India with the poor having to get into debt in order to do the right thing for their daughter. I believe that there is little hope of many of the poorest of the poor ever improving their lives until this custom changes.
P.S. Please excuse the standard of the photos, they are really just ‘snaps’ as I didn’t want people to feel that I was treating the wedding like a ‘tourist photo opportunity’!