Adulthood
Festival
Initiations
Life cycle
Rituals, festivals, holidays

West Bengal Wedding Traditions

Context:

The informant – RB – is a middle-aged Hindu woman, originally from West Bengal, India. She now works as a nutritionist in South Florida, and is one of my mother’s closest friends. The following happened during a conversation in which I asked her to tell me about some of her favorite Indian folklore, particularly about wedding traditions.

 

Piece:

Indian weddings vary from state to state. In my state, the wedding traditions are different from in our neighboring state. I was just at an Indian wedding. Our wedding is typically a four-day affair. What happens is, the day before the wedding, the groom’s family invites their own friends and family – no one from the bride’s side – because, apparently, that is the last bachelor meal the groom is going to have. So it’s a big deal. When I went, they had invited over 100 people, there was catered lunch… The groom was served on silver platters with all kinds of silver bowls… everything! It was like a big, big, deal: all the groom’s favorite foods. It was almost as if you were taking him for his last meal before you kill him or something. We give gifts to the groom… anyway, that is the day before the wedding.

The morning of the wedding, the groom’s family sends all kinds of gifts to the bride’s family. Clothes, jewelry, anything… It depends how rich you are and how much you want to spend.

The morning of the wedding, there are some rituals from the bride’s side. One ritual is turmeric. It is considered very auspicious and anti-inflammatory. In the olden days, there was no makeup or anything, so I think that’s how it started. That, what they do is put a little bit of oil and turmeric on the bride and groom’s face, then take a shower, so you glow on your wedding. I think that’s how it started because it’s all organic. And they put fresh turmeric, sandalwood, and oil into paint, and you put it on each other.

That evening is when the groom goes to the bride’s house and the wedding ceremony takes place. The groom does not come back that night. In our culture, the bride and the groom spend the night at the bride’s house, because the wedding takes place all night long. There is music and dancing, everybody stays up all night long.

The next morning, the groom brings the bride home to his family. So when he brings the bride home, it’s like a big welcoming ceremony, because the groom’s side of the family invites all their friends and family to meet the bride, and they welcome the bride to the house. They shower her with gifts – usually lots of jewelry. Gold is considered as an asset for the women, because women were not allowed to inherit property, so during the wedding, the father of the bride gives whatever value they would give to the son, equal amount value in gold to their daughter. So that’s how the ritual started. But now, not so much, since women are allowed to inherit property, and are now very independent and professional, so they don’t need that.

Then, again, there is a big lunch where they invite friends and family to meet the bride. The following day, typically, there is a reception. There is no ritual that goes on; typically you just invite five, six, seven hundred people… it is a huge affair, with catered food, but there is no alcohol served: never on the wedding or reception day. This is just for your friends and family to meet the new bride.

 

Analysis:

It is interesting to hear how much bigger an affair weddings in India are than they are here. It seems as though Hindus really value large social gatherings, and will throw huge social celebrations for holidays and occasions, like weddings. In fact, it seems that the point of many religious occasions is much more social than it is religious. I was shocked to hear that a typical Indian wedding consists of 500-1,000 guests. I feel that this is likely the result of a seemingly much more inclusive and accepting religion, that values socializing and lifestyle over religious and social boundaries.

 

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