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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.

3 comments:

mom said...

I loved the text and the photos. This looks like so much fun. What a wonderful event!

Antonia said...

You left out the part about James being puked on, how considerate!

Jean said...

I find the whole narrative fascinating......realy, really interesting...moving, in many ways...