Thursday, May 27, 2010

Binika bride

I would love to say I had a lovely time at the wedding I attended earlier this week in a small rural village called Binika but I have returned with very mixed feelings. The bride was a cousin of Geeta's, and it was fascinating to be part of the female side of a very traditional Indian marriage. On arrival Geeta, who had arrived several days earlier, looked happy and relaxed to be in the bosom of her family again and they were wonderful family – generous, warm, welcoming and all clearly revelling in the opportunity to be together again. Unlike a Western wedding, the party took place before the ceremony and was restricted to relatives and friends of the bride who, rather than joining in, sat in a side-room greeting and chatting with the random guests and presumably preparing herself for the ordeal ahead. Binika is situated on the banks of the River Mahanadi and after lunch we wandered down there and took a boat across to a temple on the other side. It was a precarious journey - with about 30 of us on board, the boat sat very low in the water and everyone perched on the rim as there were no seats. I was relieved I could swim – I was the only who could – but it was a very romantic side trip - full of rural Indian charm. On our return, we all changed into our finery and I donned my sari – with, I have to admit, a little help from my friends. Suitably togged up we waited for the groom to arrive … and we waited … and we slept … and supper was served … and we waited … and the bride was photographed for several hours … and we slept ... and we waited some more. Finally at 1am, to the sound of drums and fireworks, the groom finally pitched up and the proceedings began. Unfortunately, by this time I had taken so many random pictures to fill the time that the batteries on my camera had run out so I got none of the ceremony itself. It did, however, seem more organised than the wedding I had attended in Bhubaneswar. There was definitely a point which equated to the "I do" bit where a white sheet was placed over the groom's head which was then tied to the bride's veil following which the couple's hands are ritually strung together and then everyone queued up to pour water over them. The ceremony lasted about 3 hours but, at various times, the bride or groom retired to an ante-room whilst the other continued with the rituals on their own – the guests wandered in and out continually. Finally at about 4.30am, the service ended and the couple prepared to leave. Far from being a jolly send-off, their departure can only be as a traumatic affair. It made me realise just what a wrench marriage is for an Indian bride who leaves behind her family and friends – and the only life she has ever known – to join a family she's barely met who, to all intents and purposes, now have ultimate control over her. Geeta's cousin collapsed with grief on departure and had to be carried to the car by her weeping mother and aunts whilst her father looked on with tears straming down his cheeks. Exhausted and distressed I retired to bed which turned out to be a sheet folded in half and placed on a stone floor in amongst all the other guests  … but to be honest I was too tired to care. It's very difficult to say what I thought in retrospect – I was made to feel extremely welcome and they were a lovely and clearly a loving family but the sound of that wailing will haunt me for a long time to come. I sincerely hope her husband and new family are as kind as they looked to be and, if not immediately, she will have a happy marriage.  Click here to see where Binika is. Click here to see more photos.

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