Indian Journey Part VII: Why Indians Rarely Divorce

July 1, 2010 in India, Travel by pacejmiller

I don’t want to paint with a broad brush, but statistics (of which I have none at hand) show that Indians rarely divorce.  There are probably many cultural reasons for this, but having just been to an Indian wedding, my guess is it’s because they never want to go through another wedding ever again.  It’s a lot of hard work.  And it’s exhausting for everyone involved, especially the bride and groom.

I can only tell you what I experienced as an outsider who witnessed bits and pieces of the three days that I attended.  I am from the groom’s side, but I assume other things happened separately on the bride’s side too.  Hindu weddings are conducted using Sanskrit, an old language which most Indians cannot understand, so it must have been equally tedious for all the Indians in attendance as it was for us.  Nevertheless, let me assure you — as grand and merry as it was, no sane person will want to go through it twice!

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The first day is the retelling of some old Indian story.  The groom is supposedly renouncing everything in the world and is heading north (I presume to become a monk or something similar).  This is when a male member of the bride’s family (usually the brother) will come out and ask the groom not to go, and will give the groom his sister instead!  Very interesting story, but I can understand if the “I’m renouncing the world” routine starts to get abused by desperate single men.

In our case the bride’s brother is still a little kid, probably around 10.  The groom (following the first round of chanting) gathers his walking stick and fake baggage and pretends to go on his pilgrimage, and the kid stops him once he gets out to the balcony.  Then follows the washing of the groom’s painted feet with water by the bride’s brother (poor kid, I know how badly my mate’s feet stink from years of personal experience).  But the joke’s on the groom because the bride’s brother then feeds the groom with the same hand!  They then wipe paint on each other’s faces and exchange gifts.  I’m not making any of this up.

Then of course, more chanting.  We left after lunch but I understand it keeps going.  Then everyone comes back that evening for the big party, the Sangreet/Mehendi (I think — apologies for my ignorance).  This is the most extravagant event, where the girls get henna on their hands and more chanting is involved.  The groom’s family meets and greets everyone and there are more rituals to be performed.  In our case, the bride arrived late in the evening.  It could have been cold feet (since my mate kept telling me “she should be coming any minute now” for 3 hours) but maybe she was just getting ready.

For entertainment they had the Indian Idol host/performer guy who brought along his team of singers as they performed one popular song after another.  I didn’t understand what he was singing but even I could tell the guy was very talented.

I understand the party goes on until midnight (we left around 10:30) and the formal ceremony commenced the next morning, around 6am, but the official time of marriage was around 8am.  We arrived around 7:30 and watched more chanting until the big moment.

There is a long white cloth held between the bride and groom (sitting) on stage so they cannot see each other (in ancient times this would have been the first time EVER that the bride and groom meet).  After more chanting they pass things under the cloth and hold hands.  Then they place their right hand on the other person’s head, and the cloth is removed!  Voila!  Married couple!  (I think)

The really fun bit begins here.  Family and friends swarm the stage (no shoes) and literally dump rice on the married couple’s heads.  There must have been some liquid involved as well because the stuff sticks.  Before long, both the bride and groom had a nasty clump of yellow rice on the top of their melons, like two gross hats.  But that’s not all.

The bride and groom then have to sit across from each other and start dumping bowls of crap on each other’s heads.  First it was rice, but then it was coloured jewels, and confetti (?) — this was very amusing actually, watching the bride and groom “get to know each other” by dumping handfuls of crap on their spouse’s head.

Just some of the things that get dumped on the happy couple's heads

Not over yet.  After more chanting, the bride and groom leave the stage to a side area (where it is safer) and they build a fire which they sit around.  They pour stuff that looks like oil and lard onto it in turns and at some point also get tied to each other.  Amidst the chanting, they have to get up and at various times walk circles around the fire.  In total I think it’s 7 rotations.

One thing I should mention here is that the groom (my mate), apart from getting virtually no sleep for 3 days, suffered a nasty eye infection on the morning of the wedding when the make-up “artist” stabbed the eyeliner pen into his eye.  Being the genius he is, the groom tried to wash it out with oil, making it worse.  Of course, he then tried soap water, which only exacerbated the irritation.

To make matters worse, the cameraman and the videographer continued to flash and shine bright lights in his eyes all throughout the ceremony.  On top of that, when they built the flame, all the smoke kept getting blown into his (and his bride’s) eyes.  They were both choking and in tears by the end of the ritual.

But those were not the biggest issues.

You see, every corporate lawyer naturally develops two “keep awake” moves.  The “eye-rub” and the “force your eyelids open with thumb and index finger” maneuvers.  Ordinarily, it’s quite useful for those late nights at the office, but when your eye is badly infected, your hands have been handling all sorts of dirty crap, AND you are wearing contact lenses, constant rubbing of the eyes is not the smartest thing to do.

As I understand it, the groom went to see an eye specialist that afternoon, who declared: “You may NEVER wear contact lenses ever again!”  But I think he overreacted a little because when the groom asked, “Never EVER?”, the doctor replied with a head wobble, “Just until your eye gets better.”

My experience of the Indian Hindu wedding ended there.  However, there was also an “event” that evening, and also another one the next morning.  Just looking at the expressions of the groom’s older unmarried brother, I have a feeling he isn’t planning on getting married any time soon.