Going to an Indian wedding wasn’t always on our travel plans but when Hamish mentioned him and Michelle were going to one in Punjab and it probably wouldn’t matter if we tagged along we changed our itinerary to fit it in. Don’t worry – we weren’t wedding crashes, the groom Karendeep is a close work mate of Hamish’s said more the merrier. Karendeep lives in Melbourne but is originally from Bhatinda and when his parents thought it was taking him too long to find a wife they did it the more traditional way of arranging a bride. It wasn’t a blind wedding though and Karendeep had met his bride Jasimeen several times and was happy about the match. My feelings about arranged marridges as side (I dont really agree with them) it was promised to be one hell of a party. There was the ‘engagement party’ that evening with the ring ceremony followed by the actual wedding and further celebrations the next day.
We met Mish and Hamish in Amiritsar and shared a taxi to the town of Bhatinda. It was really pretty scenery and as we got further out of the city the road signs were less and less in English and I was excited about heading off the tourist trail (the city with a population of over a million doesn’t even get a mention in the guidebook) and experience something uniquely Indian somewhere off the grid. We had a bit of a delay due to a peaceful protest blocking the highway which meant once we arrived at our hotel we had to quickly meet Karen and his cousin before a quick freshen up before we headed to his family home.
Once we arrived we were greeted with lots of waves and shy smiles before Michelle and I got ushered into some seats to get our henna tattoos done. All the female in the family had already had theirs completed and it all looked so intricate I thought it would take ages. I completely underestimated the professionals and they had done both sides of my hands and arms in about 20 minutes. The long part was waiting for it to dry as it takes up to two hours to dry completely. We were then given some delicious home made food but couldn’t eat it – thankfully the boys were lovely and fed it to us. Since we were in a regional house the food was all eaten by hand so it must have made an interesting scene to watch us four attempt to do it. The whole family were so welcoming and those that spoke english came and chatted an we were played with food and drinks which is just a perfect example of Indian hospitality.
We sat in their courtyard and chatted away as the rest of the family got ready. It was interesting to see the men’s prepare their hair and beards and then wrap their turbans. All the women went off to get dolled up and all came out looking gorgeous in sparkly tunics and dresses with their nice long hair all done. I felt fairly under dressed in my best summery dress and sandals! Once they were all dolled up we headed off to the wedding venue. We drove along and there were three massive venues on the street all lit up with fairly lights. We arrived at ours and walked the red carpet (literally) as we got papped (literally) – there were so many photographers and even a video camera with huge light on it.
The venue was set up beautifully with big marquees filled with drapes and fairly lights full of couches and tables outside in the cool evening air. Inside there was a massive hall with a DJ playing loud Punjabi music but my favourite part was the food. There was two massive aisles off turreens and stalls with all different types of food. Not to mention the tandoori oven and full bar. It was like walking into a food court. We waited on some couches for awhile for the groom to arrive and were instantly surrounded by ten waiters offering us whisky and sodas (the only alcohol offered), soft drinks, food, desserts or just to come over and look at us. And that’s what everyone did!
As we were wandering around a young girl called Max came up to us and started chatting, asking all the usual questions such as ‘where are you from?’ ‘How long have you been in India?’. It wasn’t until a little later she told us that we were the first foreigners she had ever seen and spoken to. She was a really smart girl and such a good conversationalist it was hard to believe she was only 12. As we were chatting more and more people came over asking for our names and for photos. It seemed that we wouldn’t be able to have a quiet night and celebrate from afar.
We had a break from all the attention when the bride arrived and we got to see Jasimeen for the first time. Her family lead her in with a procession and she looked gorgeous in a white and blue dress that sparkled like crazy. She was quite a shy and demure bride as she met Karendeep on a stage in the hall set up for photos. They sat there for hours smiling for photos with different members of the family and any friends who jumped on stage. While this was happening we helped ourselves to some of the delicious food on offer. I was some of the best I’ve had in my time in India and it was a great opportunity to try a few things that were new on Punjabi menu.
It was then time for the ring ceremony which involved the family gathering around, showering the couple with gifts and the bride and groom swapping rings. Once that was all done it was onto the dancefloor and I can tell you the Punjabi’s know how to dance. We joined in and attempted as many Bollywood moves as we could. They had a ritual of the females dancing with a lit up pot on their heads and the men following them with a big stick as people threw money around them. No one really explained why but we gave it a go anyway. By this stage all the formalities were over and the bride and groom joined us on the dancefloor and had some fun. However we were all knackered and headed back to the hotel ready to do it all again the next day.
We were up bright an early the next morning to head over to Karendeeps family home again for more preparations. As today was a more formal day everyone was in even fancier gear and Michelle and I got to wear sarees! I had bought one on my travels as soon as we found out we were going to a wedding and Karen’s family was kind enough to arrange an outfit for Michelle. We duckes into a room to get dressed and luckily for me Karen’s aunt, Mannah, helped me wrap it around. As there are many different ways to wear one we attempted two before we settled on a third way that a rookie like me could walk and dance in. It was a bit of a process as my petticoat, blouse and cloth were arranged and pinned and I have a whole lot of respect for the women who wear them everyday and work, sit on the back of motorcycles and wander town in them. Mish was lucky with a skirt, top and scarf combo the only problem being it was too big but with a bit more pinning we were ready to go.
As we headed back to the venue we were asked to join the procession with Karen and we wandered the road with the family as he rode on a decorated horse with sword in hand as bagpipes played. One of his Uncles was kind enough to explain that this was a gallantry display meant to represent that Karen would save and protect his bride once she was his. We arrived at the venue and Karen and his family was greeted by Jasimeens family where another ceremony was held. This time it was to join the two families and garlands of marigolds were given to each other. Once that was over Karen met Jasimeen in the temple for their official ceremony. We used this time to relax on the couches under the marquees and people watch. We weren’t getting as many requests for photos but we did get to meet more people as they were really friendly and interested as to how four westerners were at a Punjabi wedding.
After the temple ceremony, Karen and Jasimeen walked back in as husband and wife and we followed them into the hall for more photos and and another ceremony of placing garlands of flowers over each other. Jasimeen looked beautiful in her red and gold outfit to match Karen’s gold tunic and red turban. They both looked much more relaxed and happier as all the guests went up to the stage to offer their congratulations. We spent the afternoon feasting on more delicious food and taking lots more photos. This time we spent most of it with Jasimeens family and it was nice to meet her sisters and brother as we had met Karen’s whole family too.
It was all over too quickly and the bride and groom left for the afternoon. It was kind of sad to see Jasimeems family say goodbye as she was led off by Karen’s family to their home. She will be moving to Australia soon too so i am sure they were sad to see her leave. We went back to the home to pick up our stuff and change back into our civvies. The party was going to continue on there but we thought it was best to let the family have some time without westerners intruding and spend some time just the four of us as it was the last time we would all be together for awhile.
It was such am incredible, fun, colorful experience and these guys sure know how to party. It was amazing to be involved in such a cultural experience -the tradition, the food, the dancing and getting to wear a saree. Just amazing. I almost want to urge everyone to go out and befriend a Punjabi and weasle their way into their wedding. It felt really special to be welcomed by so many people into such a family orientated event and we were lucky we got to share Karendeep and Jasimeens special day.