Take my advice: If you are ever invited to a Hindu wedding, accept the invitation immediately. And if it’s in Portland, Oregon, plan to spend a week there.
My sister-in-law and brother-in-law are famous for their event planning, which usually includes a weeklong celebration for a family event. Lucky for us, it’s been in cities that we’ve yet to visit. Our latest family adventure was in Portland, Oregon for my niece’s wedding to a lovely young man of Sri Lankan descent.
The Haldi Ceremony
We are honored to be invited to the lovely home of the groom’s parents and observe this important pre-wedding event. On arrival, we remove our shoes and place them with the more than 50 other pairs on the floor of their grand entrance. The living room furniture has been removed and the wood floor is covered with colorful quilts. The parents and siblings of the bride and groom all take part in an elaborate ceremony conducted by a Hindu priest.
We learn that “haldi” is the Hindi word for turmeric. The women of the family had prepared a special paste of turmeric and herbs. The groom is led to a chair in the middle of the room and one by one, family and friends apply the paste to the groom’s skin. The older relatives lovingly pat on the cream while the younger family members jokingly smear it all over him. Its purpose is to cleanse body and soul. I am also told that because of its antibacterial properties, the groom has just received the equivalent of a $200 facial.
A delicious catered lunch follows and though I am usually a fussy eater, I enjoy every bite of the Indian specialties, along with the interesting conversations with friends and family from as far away as Sri Lanka and England. We thank our hosts and bid our new friends goodbye until the evening’s festivities.
The Sangeet Ceremony
I am here early in order to be first in line to receive a henna application from one of the two artists in attendance. The 300 plus guests have not yet arrived, so Carmen and I have time to chat. She tells me how she became a henna artist and that she mixes her own paste using lavender, known for its calming scent.
The DJ quickly gets the crowd on its feet by handing out colorful sticks and lining us up in a series of long lines facing each other. The Bollywood music starts and we learn a dance, tapping sticks with the person across from us before we move to the left, skip one person and continue.
The “Sangeet” is a celebration of the wedding to come in order to relish in the happiness and joy surrounding the bride and groom and join the two families together. We delight in watching the dance routines performed by family and friends in honor of the special couple and tasting the Indian street food that is served.
We are up early, standing outside the hotel where today’s festivities will take place. In a few minutes, the groom will arrive on a white horse. In times gone by, the groom’s wedding procession would travel to the bride’s village accompanied by friends and family. Today, led by a drummer and taped music, we all dance and sing as we escort him around the block. The look on the faces of the people in the coffee shop as we pass is priceless.
The Hindu Wedding
In the ballroom, a canopy of flowing sheer fabric and pastel flowers sits above elaborate gold gilded chairs. In the center are the items that the two Hindu priests will utilize for the ceremony. On each guest’s chair, is a detailed explanation of what will take place (which we are very grateful for), along with a small, brightly wrapped package containing a homemade cake. It will go well with the hot and cold beverages served. The event is a fusion of colorful saris worn by many of the guests.
The groom looks resplendent in his turban and matching gold and ruby red embroidered sherwani, a long, fitted coat. Only the bride can top this and she does. Her regal lehenga, an elaborately embroidered red and gold, two-piece skirt and top with a sheer sash is magnificent. The intricate henna designs on her feet and hands, the red “bindi” (a dot on her forehead), and the many bracelets that dangle up her arms have transformed my niece into a Hindu princess.
I am transfixed by the many lovely rituals that are performed; the look on the groom’s face when he sees his bride for the first time, hidden at first behind a white cloth; the flower garlands the bride and groom place on each other to proclaim acceptance of each other; the tying together of their scarves to signify their unity; the seven steps that they take together around the sacred fire, each representing marriage promises to each other.
As sacred fires sometimes do, its smoke triggers the hotel smoke alarm. The shrieking sound does nothing to deter the ceremony and the happy couple are gifted with photos of the firemen as part of their wedding album. A lovely lunch of Indian delights follows in a number of beautifully appointed rooms. We make our way back to our hotel and rest up for the next event.
The Western Wedding.
We’ve all changed into yet another outfit and we now congregate in a flower festooned room complete with soft music serenading us. The bridesmaids have changed from their saris to cocktail dresses and the groomsmen are now in suits and ties, rather than their sherwanis. The groom is dashing in his suit and bow tie and, once again, the bride steals the show in her elegant lace, blush colored gown and simple flower holding up her long hair on one side.
The Maid of Honor acts as the celebrant and enhances the ceremony with personal tidbits about the bride and groom, as only a friend can do. At one point, she catches us off guard by reminding us that this year marked the 50thanniversary of the landmark civil rights decision by the Supreme Court to invalidate laws prohibiting interracial marriage; a reminder that sparks emotion on this special day. The bride and groom’s vows give us a peek into their relationship, their promises to each other sweetly declared for all to hear.
We are ushered downstairs to another beautiful room for cocktails and hors d’ oeuvres, then later, we travel upstairs to a spectacular ballroom for dinner and dancing. In between, family and friends of the bride and groom welcome us, toast and even sing to the bride and groom. My sister-in-law and brother-in-law are tonight’s hosts. They were an integral part of every event and I marvel at how they both glowed, maneuvering through fabulous wardrobe changes and protocols as if they were experts. We dance the night away and make sure we hug all our new friends as the evening comes to a close.
The henna has since faded, but the coming together of two families and two cultures in the spirit of love will long be remembered.