Welcome to Madurai
Madurai:Ancient city in the Province of Tamil Nadu, South India. Home to 14 colorful gopurams (gateway towers) of Meenakshi Amman Temple.
- Temperature: 30 Degree Celsius
- Indian Currency: 88.90INR to £1
- Duration of stay:2 nights
WELCOME TO INDIA
A 7-day wedding event; a mixture of people from different states; a combination of religious traditions; a mish-mash of language and cultures; this was going to be one heck of a week- and as far as hyped weddings go- nothing beats an Indian wedding. The special week had finally arrived for Nam and Sid.
Pre-engagement Party antics
The day of the engagement party; family gathering, meeting a dozen new faces, shaking a lot of hands, Indian cuisine, henna tattoos- it was a lot to take in. Having just landed 12 hours before, I considered myself very much thrown into the deep-end. Flowers were placed on the floor outside of the groom’s family home as an offering of goodwill to both families; in-scents were burning all around; blessings were offered throughout. It was a real family affair and it was amazing to be in the middle of it all.
Lunch was a large home-made Indian buffet, and by no means was there shortage! As Indian food varies from state to state, this meant that not everyone knew what was on their plate. Fortunately, I was given some guidance to help name the food that I was eating- or the plates of food that I was eating!
Both South East inspired dishes: Dish No.1 -The brown dishes, ‘Khatta– a type of marmalade made from jaggery, dates and tomato’, bottom right; ‘Badi Aloo Curry’, made from mustard potatoes- bottom left, mashed potato seasoned with salt, chilli and lemon- and some fried cookies.
Dish No2 – The yellow dish; ‘Dal’ with rice and curried cauliflower.
The food was in some ways similar to what you would recognise in the UK; probably much healthier and organic; much more poignant in taste; more herbs and spices- ginger, onion and garlic in particular and less cream. I think most people, (at least my friends) would have turned their noses up at a few things, but all in all, it wasn’t too much of a shock. The ‘mix and match’ approach was also very much to my liking! And of course… A dish isn’t a dish without a handful of rice plonked somewhere.
Dining etiquette- eating with your hands is completely normal, and apparently, pinching food from someones else’s plate isn’t the biggest crime imaginable- ‘sharing is caring’ – a moto I’m trying so very hard to adhere to. Over all, my first taster of Indian dining was everything I could have hoped for.
Stomach full, I was offered a henna tattoo by a ‘parlour lady’ who drew the most intrinsic design. I must have told her about 5 times how amazing she was in the space of 5 minutes. Painting on both the outside of the hand and inside the palm was the done thing, but after falling asleep waiting for the outer layer to dry, I missed the chance. This evoked a bit of laugher. After sleep, sleep and more sleep, I was almost ready for the engagement party.
Arriving Indian style late, 20 mins late (perfectly acceptable and even respectable in Indian culture- much to my liking) – we arrived on location. The reception was held in a hotel hall; an isle with chairs either side, a stage in front, drinks offered on entry and lots and lots of people.
Ok Google! Engagement ceremonies are common across most religion and ethnicities across India, varying in traditions and types of ritual. ‘Vagdanam’, the name of the Hindi tradition, involves the Groom’s family’s acceptance of the wife and their promise to look after her. Given that both Nam and Sid are from different states, the traditions were either regionally specific or mixed; this meant that, for the most part, nobody knew what the heck was going on- a ‘guessing game’ of what ritual was what; from which state it originated from; this was going to be a common occurrence throughout the week. One thing for certain; it was a Hindi wedding. As the Groom’s family were from the Tamil Nadu province, and the ceremony took place there, the engagement ceremony took the style of a ‘Nichayathartham.’
But first… the dresses. The sari! With only 30kg baggage allowance, I had to save my one and only two-piece for the wedding day. Instead, I was but left with the luxury of eyeing up all of the dresses. Colour was definitely a thing in India; bold colours, red, orange, green, yellow; jewellery- big and heavy. Make-up- not so much. As Tal Nadu is a conservative province, women wear traditional dresses all the time. To show the stomach area is not a big deal, but to wear a V neck style anything is a big no no!
Sari’s almost given the credit they deserve, the first part of the ceremony entailed meeting the bride and groom outside of the venue; this was done on two separate occasions. Crowds of guests, flashing photography, blessings and rituals; hundreds of photos and photographers from every angle calling their names. It was the closest thing to celebrity worship. Nam looked beautiful; really beautiful and coy and innocent. And Sid, on form, also looking the part.
Entering the venue again, this time being introduced with drinks and herbs, it was here that I caught up with Nick and David who had flown in from the UK just hours before. Jet-lagged and probably as taken back as I was, it was amazing to see them pop up from the middle of nowhere. Being the only non-Indian guests and sticking out rather profoundly, it was great to finally share the experience with them- wondering if the person next to me was thinking the same thing.
Back to the ceremony itself…Nam walked down first, followed by Sid. They then sat on the stage floor; their parents sat behind them; both sides facing each other with all kinds of traditional gifts and flowers in front, a man dressed in a white robe, presumably the priest) reciting vows, and asking the Nam, Sid and their relatives to partake in various rituals.
It was all very interesting to watch but it was all very confusing to know what was going. That’s where Google comes in! This kind of ceremony entailed the worshipping of the Almight Ganesha followed by an exchanging of clothes and gifts between the two families. The bride’s brother offers a garland to the Groom and applies ’tilak of kumkum and chandan’ and visa versa, the bride and groom then exchange rings and seek blessings from their parents. Now this made sense. To my surprise, it wasn’t as intense as I expected; people were openly talking throughout the ritual and this seemed the normal thing to so.
Post-ceremony, our stomachs empty, it was time to plough through yet another Indian buffet- absolutely no negative overtone intended. The hotel staff, seeing that neither of us (myself, nick or David) able to eat comfortably standing up like everyone else, were given chairs and cutlery located in the centre of the room -as if we didn’t stand out enough. Post-buffet, post-ice-cream, our stomachs full, what better else than to join in on abit of Indian dancing. Nam leading the way with everyone following her every move, myself having already been taught the dance moves a year before, paraded around in a very Bollywood fashion. Nick and David, too tired to join in, but too polite to tell me to drop the flower hands, preferred to watch from a distance. But, when Gal Mhitti Bon came on, (Nick knows what I mean) spirits became strangely much higher – (like when ‘Hip’s Don’t Lie’ appears from any playlist- but the Indian equivalent) and hips were rotating more than usual. Reminding myself that I was in a conservative environment and that the way you dance at home is always different to the way to dance elsewhere, (unless alcohol is in the mix) I tried hard to restrain myself.
It was a great way to end such a chaotic day. Nam, btw is a fantastic dancer.