More Pre-Wedding Activities

According to Jitendra, his mother had been planning the wedding for over a year. This didn't appear to us to be an exaggerated statement. We had only been in Kanpur for a few days and there was one event after another. In the time between events, we had to shop for clothes for the upcoming event. The bride and groom celebrate many of the activities leading up to the wedding separately with their family and friends. Of course, with Lucie's family not being in a position to plan celebrations, Jitendra's mom had been planning activities for both sides of the family. Lucie's events were scaled down, but they all had to be planned and celebrated nonetheless in order to keep with tradition.

Two days before the wedding we had the mehndi ceremony, basically the bride, her female friends and family members have henna painted on their hands and feet. A henna artist had been hired to come to the hotel and decorate all of us, it was a wonderful activity for Antonia and I, mainly because we were forced to sit for 3 hours for the henna to dry, which meant lying in the air-conditioned hotel room watching TV, this was the most rest we had gotten since arriving in Kanpur. Before any henna was applied on Lucie, we held a small Pithi Ceremony for her, where a paste of chickpea flour and turmeric was applied to her body, to cleanse and purify before the wedding day. As part of the ceremony Lucie adorned a white stole with her turmeric-pasted hand print. The stole would be brought to Jitendra and he would wear it until the wedding day as a reminder of his bride-to-be. PUJA - EVE OF WEDDING DAY
A day before the wedding, Jitendra's parents had a small ceremony at their home. Even Jitendra did not attend, so I have little information as to what was actually happening. It seemed that married couples played an important role in the ceremony, both Jitendra's parents and his brother and sister-in-law went through a ritual involving pounding grain, mixing pastes and receiving gifts. It seemed like a celebration of the other couples in Jitendra's life, those who married before him. The married women present (such as myself and Antonia) had our feet painted pink, a ceremony that would be performed the next day on Lucie. Yann and James received their tailored pyjama kurtas as gifts. DANCE PRACTICE
Jitendra's cousins made it clear to us on multiple occasions that we would be part of the Barat (the groom's wedding procession). It seemed that one of the main responsibilities of being part of such a procession, was to impress the bride's family with dance moves. From almost the first moment we arrived in Kanpur, James and Yann began intensive training in the art of Indian dancing. In the evening before the wedding, practice was especially exhausting, much to the enjoyment of everyone present. Most of Jitendra's relatives had by now mastered a pretty good imitation of Yann's "dance face". DRESSING JITENDRA - MORNING OF THE WEDDING
We were at Jitendra's parents place fairly early on the morning of June 30th. The date of July 1st had been chosen for the wedding, and so the actual wedding wouldn't be starting until midnight. This day belonged to Jitendra, and we began a long series of rituals to prepare him to meet Lucie. Almost all of his close family members took part in a ceremony that involved among other things, dressing and feeding him. His brother-in-law had the task of dressing him, his young female cousins also had various roles throughout the ceremony, including suspending a cloth full of grains over his head. His aunt painted on his eye liner and placed the turban on his head, the priest fed him sweets, his feet were painted pink, and finally his mother marked the tilak on his forehead. GROOM DEMANDS MONEY FROM FEMALE RELATIVES
The post puja (prayer) celebrations began with the female guests lining up to feed Jitendra sweets. Each woman takes a turn feeding Jitendra a sweet morsel and he must then return the favour. But before the exchange of sweets takes place Jitendra demands payment, and depending on the relative, he demanded a different amount. After payment and feeding the donor places a tilak mark on Jitendra's forehead. Both Antonia and I took part in the activity, and this one was relatively easy to understand, so everything went well ... except for Antonia trying to use the dessert to mark Jitendra's forehead. DANCING - OUTSIDE THE FAMILY HOME
Once all the women had taken their turn feeding and paying Jitendra, the band began and we danced. Jitendra's father was an absolutely wild dancer, and his children implored him constantly to calm down in order to protect his weak heart (he would hear nothing of it). Note that the photo below illustrates Yann's "dance face" which Jitendra's relatives could all mimic with perfect precision. TEMPLE VISIT
For a break from dancing we crossed the street to the local temple where offerings were made and prayers recited. In the brief time we were at the temple, 2 other grooms arrived with their wedding parties (wedding dates are set according to auspicious days in the Hindu calendar) DANCING - AT THE TEMPLE
Once the offerings were made inside the temple, the dancing began again outside the temple. We had to compete with the two other brass bands playing for the two other wedding parties. THE WELL RITUAL
Near the temple we assembled around a water pump, (the closest thing to a well nearby). Jitendra's married female relatives circled the well repeatedly, as did Jitendra. Jitendra's mother sat on the edge of the "well" as it was circumambulated. The next part of the ritual involved Jitendra's mother threatening to throw herself into the well since her son is leaving her. Jitendra then had to promise that he would always love and take care of her. Happiness and celebration ensue! JITENDRA'S SEND OFF
With the pre-wedding rituals now over, it was time to escort Jitendra to the wedding vehicle. He would not be allowed out until his arrival at the wedding hall many hours later. In fact, he would not be allowed to leave the vehicle until Lucie's brother formally invited him out. But before getting in the car ... more dancing!

The Tilak Ceremony

Jitendra was particularly nervous about the Tilak Ceremony. This was a ceremony to take place at his parents home without Lucie's presence. During this ceremony Lucie's male relatives would officially accept Jitendra into the family by way of an invitation letter and a smear of tilak powder placed on Jitendra's forehead by the oldest Lucie's two younger brothers. All of Lucie's guests would be there, about 20 friends and family members arriving from France. For many of them it would be their first time meeting Jitendra and their first time in India. Many would not be English speakers. The priest's instructions would have to be translated from Sanskrit to Hindi to English to French. Jitendra was unbelievably anxious and talked as if Etienne might not hand him over the invitation letter if things didn't go off without a hitch. Lucie laughed and was simply disappointed that she wasn't invited to the party (although Jitendra had lovingly offered to let her watch from the neighbor's window)!

The day of the ceremony the four of us had to arrive at the house early to help with anything that might need to be done. Of course, we weren't needed as Jitendra's entire family was busy with the finishing touches. The house was draped in lights hanging from the roof, a brass band was seated at the entrance waiting to play for guests, hundreds of sweets had been purchased to serve at the beginning of the ceremony, the first floor of the house had been transformed to accomodate the priest, the altar and the guests, a camera and video crew were on sight to film the ceremony and the roof of the house had been transformed into a beautiful dining area with a catered Indian buffet and even hired espresso machines for the European guests! If we were excited before arriving to the house, we were now giddy! Yann and James had on their Western style outfits that they had purchased a few days earlier, the tilak ceremony was not as formal as others to come, so they did not need their Indian suits yet. Antonia and I got to borrow saris from Jitendra's mother who had quite the collection. We had tried them on the day before which gave us time to purchase matching churis (bangles) and matching bindis. I had been dreading wearing a sari due to their middrift bearing nature and Yann had not made the situation any easier by constantly reminding me that he would be "photographing my belly hanging out". But I did a fantastic job of wrapping myself up in such a way that exposed the least amount of skin. I thought I might lose circulation from the lack of blood flow to my arms, but Jitendra assured me that "nobody wanted to see a loose sari top! They are supposed to give you big bulges at the arms". This might have been his way of making me feel better, or maybe making me stop asking for a new bigger top, but I didn't give my arm bulges a moment's thought for the rest of the night. The brass band had changed into their uniforms and played on the street outside the home as the guests arrived, neighbors watched from their windows and crowds began to gather to watch the dancing and music. We spent at least an hour dancing outside in celebration until we were ushered inside for the religious section of the ceremony. James and Yann had practised dance moves with Jitendra's younger male cousins the previous night, so all eyes were on them and they certainly did not disappoint!

There was only one thing out of Jitendra's family's control: the heat. It was still over 40 degrees outside, even in the late afternoon, and the dancing had left us bathed in sweat as we entered the house to watch the exchange between Jitendra and his soon-to-be brother-in-law. Hindu ceremonies share many of the characteristics of Western religious ceremonies. They are long, boring and for the most part incomprehensible. What seemed to differ between them is a certain recognition of this fact from the part of the participants. It was funny to watch as we Western guests tried desperately to appear respectful: keep quiet, keep our back's straight, watch intently, while the local guests talked, took breaks, made calls on their cell phones etc. The only two people who never seemed to take her gaze off Jitendra was his mother, who had spent months planning the wedding and oversaw every single aspect of the ceremony and Lucie's brother who had been told how important his role was in the evening's ceremony (which it was). Even Jitendra cut off the priest multiple times to make sure his guests needed anything or if the camera man had the right angle. After the priest completed the necessary rites, it was again the band's turn to get things going. Everyone danced this time (even Lucie's father and brother which clearly surprised her when she heard the reports of the evening), crammed together, dripping in sweat, we danced until we were too exhausted to continue. By the time we climbed up to the roof to dine, the temperature had dropped just enough to cool us down as we sat together under the Kanpur night sky. An experience we will never forget.