Wedding in Varanasi

Traveling to India is predisposing to endless new experiences, you will probably live things that surprise you and that you would never have imagined. During my second trip to Varanasi something happened to me that I had not read in guides or blogs. So I want to explain it to you so you don't miss the opportunity to attend an Indian wedding if you travel to Varanasi between the months of November and February.

And why all Indian weddings are concentrated between the months of October to February? It is a season linked to the good predisposition of the cosmos and they believe it influences the prosperity of marriage. In India many religions coexist. I tell you this because in India weddings of all religious currents are celebrated.

My first contact with a wedding in Varanasi was during my two-day stay in Agra, where a tourist told me that the owner of the hostel where we stayed had proposed to go to a wedding. He accepted delightedly and attended the celebration during the night, he showed me the photos and I just thought that he also wanted to see one.

He told me that it was very easy to attend, that the vast majority of people are receptive to the presence of outsiders. So I set out to attend one, and it really is easier than it may seem. I continued my trip to Varanasi, where the train arrived late at night. We took a rickshaw to our accommodation and to my surprise it was impossible to approach the river because the city was full of weddings that flooded the streets with floats and dances.

The age range for marriage is wide but it is considered that from 18 to 35 years of age it is the appropriate age, a wide range that varies according to the area of ​​the country. In rural areas, the younger the better, since women are considered to be pure and in the most fertile stage.

On the other hand, in more open areas such as large cities, the age is delayed since they are expected to finish their studies and have some first job opportunity. They also told us that more and more, marriages abound for love but it is still something residual and very exclusive to the rich classes. In India, forced marriages are forbidden but not arranged ones, I suppose you will think the same as me. What is the difference?

The Indian weddings are performed after a close an agreement between the families of the bride and groom, it is understood that the celebration is a ritual that brings families above the couple. The wedding is paid in full by the groom's family and the preparations begin just the day when both parties reach the agreement.

Recall that India is a huge country and that traditions can vary greatly from one part of the country to another. Despite the differences, weddings have common features and the Indian ritual is homogeneous although differences can be seen depending on the area of ​​the country.

After the agreement comes the day of the request in which the family of the bride accompanies her to the house of the groom where an exchange of rings takes place. In addition, the bride's family gives jewelry and money to the fiance and the groom's family. After the commitment, both families visit the priest who must give their consent and choose the day of the celebration.

The priest chooses the day after assessing which date is the most suitable for the bond to be durable, it does so taking into account: date of birth of the bride and groom, position of the planets and stars, Indian calendar, etc. The day before the wedding is celebrated the Barat, a ritual in which the boy and his family and male friends travel by horse to the house of his future wife.

And the day of the celebration arrives, the wedding monopolizes several days and each one of them has a specific meaning, the duration has about five days although it depends on each case.

The wedding day takes place in a place decorated with flowers, carpets and all kinds of accessories that indicate that something special is going to happen. As a tourist it will be easy to identify these places, they are restaurants or large venues with festive decoration. You can approach the entrance and ask if they let you pass.

If they say yes you will have to accept (in the case of women) a rose and put the red dot on your forehead. If you feel like living this experience, don't be ashamed to ask when you have the possibility, they are very open and welcome tourists with open arms. In addition, the worst is that they tell you that you can not pass and the best is what I am telling you!

If you get access to a wedding, I don't know how to describe what you will find because it will depend on the social class of the celebration, the area of ​​the country, the opening to the tourist that family has, etc. In my case they let us in for breakfast before the couple met. The initial invitation was in a large room with long tables that reminded me of a school canteen.

Everyone sat as they arrived, not eating at the same time. In our seat there was a closed sheet that we opened for the waiters to serve us.

After breakfast we could go down to the ceremony area where the boy first accompanied by his family's men arrived and then the girl arrived. They posed for the photographer, a very important figure in Indian weddings, and after several rituals the bride and groom went to a nearby temple where the priest formalized the wedding.

Regardless of the wedding you attend, there are many important elements in Indian weddings that can be observed: fire, flowers, rice, food, colors, etc. That is to say, Indian weddings have many small symbolic rituals. It is almost impossible to meet and understand them all on a trip.

Wedding in Varanasi

Personally I was struck by the prominence of flowers in the wedding. They have much more importance and meaning than in Western weddings. They not only serve to decorate but also have an active presence during the ceremony. At the wedding I attended, the priest made an offering of bananas and food to the bride and groom.

Then the boy put a necklace (I think gold) on the bride and they explained that she would always have to wear it for the duration of the marriage. And then they placed each other, a necklace of flowers to each other.

At the end of the rituals between the couple is when relatives threw rice and rose petals inside the temple. After the whole ceremony, the bride and groom left the temple and returned to the breakfast place to continue with the party and food.

In the case of humble families, the celebration continues at the house of the groom, where the woman used to live once married. This custom still predominates in India where the newly married couple is considered to live with the family to strengthen the nucleus and serve the parents.

The day after the wedding is followed by some ritual and/or holiday, I will tell you what I witnessed in Varanasi. If you go to the sacred city, one of the places I like most in India, in the wedding season you have to spend time sitting in the Dashaswamedh Ghat. It is the ghat with more social activity, where more people go and where all the bride and groom go the day after their wedding.

Sitting there, forgetting the clock, and watching life go by is one of the experiences that I recommend the most. Observe without haste to know and understand how they behave in such a different culture. If you are in Dashaswamedh Ghat it will cost you nothing to identify an Indian wedding.

The bride always goes with a specially decorated red dress and is joined to the groom by a handkerchief that symbolizes the union between them. From the five days I was in Varanasi I went to this Ghat every day and learned a lot observed.

The bride and groom go to the Ganges the day after the wedding to close the union process, accompanied by the closest family. When they reach the first steps that make you go down to Dashaswamedh Ghat they stop for a moment and make a small bow of respect to Mother Ganga.

Then they go down to the river and wait for a boat available for the taste and purchasing power of the couple. The negotiations with the boatmen do it right there, which sometimes causes some families to take a walk on the river Ganges. Some families, when they reach the last step, pray again and others wait to leave to have more privacy during their prayers.

It is interesting to observe the outputs of different ceremonies because you can clearly see the difference between social classes. Some families leave modestly in small boats after much negotiation and, on the other hand, other families leave in large boats with many relatives accompanied by a band that plays live.

Another feature of weddings is makeup, especially for women and the bride. They need a long preparation time during the days of celebration. Within what is considered makeup we have the henna, which takes presence in the hands and arms of both the bride and groom. They also paint their feet red because it symbolizes good luck, this is not something exclusive to weddings since they also do it on normal days.

This painting lasts between 3 and 4 days, it is more common in women but some boy also wear it. In addition, married women add to their feet rings that indicate their marital status.

Another of the elements that caught my attention, which all the brides had in their hands, is the sindur bottle. This boat is the one that every married woman has to store inside the powders that are used for the central point of the forehead, which is essential to indicate that the woman is married.

Another of the things that aroused my curiosity were the faces and expressions of the brides, the vast majority did not smile and seemed sad. Even some brides had their entire faces covered by the veil. I imagine it's normal when most marriages are arranged but it made me feel uncomfortable and weird.

Seeing sad girls, on such an important day for their lives, made me empathize and understand that freedom remains a reality within the reach of few. When I asked about the discouragement of some girls they told me that the girls were tired since the ceremonies last for many days but some of them really did not give up happiness and the social pressure that falls on them takes away their independence.

After all ceremony, boat trip, offerings and prayers to the Ganges, families sit in the Dashaswamedh Ghat to eat and have a relaxing time. There they invite you to join and take pictures for your memory, and yours too. As I said at the beginning, it is easy to attend a wedding anywhere in India but Varanasi is special because the concentration of ceremonies is very high.

You just have to sit and watch and you will see them pass incessantly throughout the day. I was at a wedding in South India, in Madurai, and many in Varanasi. All of them are beautiful and special, but in Varanasi there is a special and magical spirituality.

If you travel to India between October and February I recommend that you do not miss the opportunity to live this unique cultural experience, it costs nothing and brings you a lot to your traveling and life curriculum. I close this article with a photo of a couple leaving the Dashaswamedh Ghat, walking with their best galas between cows as it could not be otherwise in the wonderful India.
Kalyan Panja