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An auspicious date

Aimée Smith, 03 April, 2018
One day, two weddings, 4,000 miles between them. Inntravel’s Aimée Smith explores how a colleague’s Hindu ceremony contrasted with her own Yorkshire celebrations.

Coincidence is a funny thing.

The very day that I returned to work from my honeymoon, I received an email with the happy news that Gauri, a colleague from Village Ways in India, had just tied the knot herself. On 30 September. Exactly the same day that I had walked up (and down!) the aisle.

After spending countless hours (and a significant part of my bank balance) perfecting the finer details of my own wedding, I was naturally interested to learn more about Gauri's celebrations, so I gave her a call to congratulate her and find out all about her special day…

Gauri was married in a Maharashtrian Hindu ceremony. Though the exact rituals and traditions vary from area to area and family to family, Maharashtrian weddings are generally known for their relative simplicity and bright, vibrant colours. Gauri’s ceremony was fairly modern, lasting approximately 2 hours.

As with any wedding, her first task was to find a suitable date. For most Marathi families, this is done in conjunction with the family priest, who helps the couple to select the most auspicious date, often taking their astrological signs into account. I have to confess that my own approach to choosing a wedding date was slightly different – 30 September was the first available Saturday after the cricket season, when I could be sure my cricket-mad brother, friends and (most importantly!) fiancé would be free to attend.

With the date fixed, Gauri and her husband-to-be then held their engagement ceremony. The Sakhar Puda is the first of the Maharashtrian pre-wedding rituals and a chance for the respective families and friends to meet, and for rings to be exchanged. The literal translation of Sakhar Puda is ‘packet of sugar’, and it is this that the mother of the groom traditionally gives to the bride, symbolising her acceptance of her future daughter-in-law and publicly welcoming her into the family.

Another important Maharashtrian pre-wedding ceremony is the Mehndi, which usually takes place in the days immediately before the wedding. This is where the bride’s hands and feet are elaborately decorated with paste made from dried henna leaves. The resulting designs are exquisite, but the Mehndi is not just a cosmetic ritual – the henna leaves are known for their cooling properties, and play a significant part in preventing the bride from tensing up ahead of the big day! Gauri also told me of how, on the eve of her wedding, her hands and feet were covered in turmeric paste (haldi) in a final purifying ritual. Something yellow instead of something blue, I suppose!

Although my pre-wedding build-up was much quieter in comparison (apart from the obligatory hen party, and we won’t go into that here!), the day itself was full of tradition. From the cricketing guard of honour to the confetti shower and tying of the church gates, these were some of the most memorable parts of the celebrations. The custom of tying the church gates after the ceremony is an old Yorkshire ritual, and an easy way for the children of the village to bolster their pocket money – if you want to be ‘let out’ of church after your wedding, you have to pay up! When my grandparents were married, the villagers apparently used wire to secure the gates. Unfortunately for them, my clued-up grandad had gone to the altar with a pair of wire cutters in his trouser pocket, and was therefore able to hold on to his change!

Gauri’s Maharashtrian wedding was based around seven key rituals, performed in presence of her family and friends. As she told me about these, I realised that many were remarkably similar to those at my own wedding, despite the many thousands of miles separating our ceremonies. For example, the act of the parents giving their daughter away is central, as are the vows (mantra) and the throwing of rice. Other customs include the exchanging of garlands and the placing of a chain of black beads around the bride’s neck, signifying that she is now a married woman.

After the wedding, Gauri was welcomed into her husband’s house, knocking over a cup of rice as she entered. I hope this final ritual has brought prosperity to the first few months of her married life, and that 30 September proves to be an auspicious date for us both!

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