This passage to India included a special wedding celebration. I went out to Laxsmi Square to find the perfect saree
PART I: WEDDING FESTIVITIES IN INDIA
My most recent trip to India for a panchakarma, the ayurvedic cleanse that I write about in my book, Cleanse Your Body, Reveal Your Soul, included the excitement of attending wedding festivities.
I arrived in Nagpur almost a week before to Dr. Sunil Joshi’s ayurvedic clinic, which features prominently in my book. I was grateful that I had planned it that way because it allowed me to recover from jet lag and enjoy simple, delicious ayurvedic food daily. Because of COVID restrictions, I had to quarantine for three days but did not have to have another PCR test. I did wear my mask inside the building initially but then only in common areas where other patients were present in the downstairs clinic area.
Twelve other foreign guests were due to arrive but due to new COVID restrictions, it would turn out that I would be the only foreign guest to make it through the gauntlet. I realized that the fun part of preparing for this wedding was to be a solo event and I would not have the camaraderie of sharing my journey with other friends.
Finding the perfect saree
The next task was to sort out what to wear. I knew I wanted to purchase a saree in Nagpur so that the blouse could be made from the same material as the saree. Setting out on foot from the clinic, I walked to Laxsmi Square, where I found a lovely green silk saree with gold embellishments at a wedding store. The store had four floors with each level featuring a specific focus of dress, including evening wear, which is preferred for the reception. Each day of wedding festivities in India has a theme color to wear—a custom I learned about on the day of the bride’s family wedding reception. I was able to find evening wear in time for the groom’s wedding reception six days later near Ali Bag, a small village near the Arabian Sea.
The green saree fabric was cut for the blouse to be made. The Indian man helping me spoke little English but one man near him did. He said, “The fabric needs to be taken next door.” After paying for the saree and securing a time to pick it up five days later, I was escorted next door to a tailor, who motioned with his hands that he couldn’t do it. On we went to the next tailor, who agreed to sew it. Quick measurements were taken in the middle of the small but busy shop. I prepaid for the blouse. It would take five days to finish it.
The day of pickup, it was raining hard. I asked the staff at the clinic if someone could pick it up for me. Thankfully, Dilip, who often ran errands for the clinic, was willing. Now I was as ready as I could be for the series of events.
Many family members were arriving from long distances via train and plane. The clinic would be a hub for them to rest and eat, so the clinic was transformed with garlands of marigold adorning the entrance to the facility. I love the aroma of these garlands.
Marigold garlands covered all the banisters on the stairs up to the third floor. Rangolis, which are an art form featuring patterns created on a floor or tabletop in chalk, formed colorful greetings echosing the marigolds lining the stairs. A Norfolk pine came in from the courtyard to adorn the second floor, providing a Christmas tree for us who celebrate Christmas.
A hotel thirty minutes outside of town had been secured for the three days. The events were to be held outdoors except for the wedding ceremony. I decided to wear my N95 mask for all the events, even outdoors, to be as safe as possible. The only time I took it off was for a quick picture or two.
Day 1: Mehndi, the pre-wedding ceremony
My education continued about what type of attire was required for each day of the wedding. I assumed that as it was common knowledge to the family, it didn’t occur to them that I wouldn’t know. For the most part, I had the appropriate attire.
Green was the color for the first evening affair called Mehndi, which is a pre-wedding celebration in Hindu culture when the bride has the red-orange mehndi “stain” applied. It is said that the henna applied to the feet and hands has a cooling and relaxing effect on the bride to reduce her stress of the festivities. The Mehndi is a more casual affair for the bride and groom to greet the guests.
The bride, Siddha, had henna applied to her arms and forearms as well as her feet and lower legs. She had started the process at 4 p.m. I arrived around 7 p.m., and she still was having henna applied. She is not allowed to have a restroom break or eat food because each application requires to be still for about 30 minutes as it dries.
Two women applied the henna. Another three young ladies were available for all the other women interested in decorating their hands with henna. They were artists in action, no stencils needed here. It was magical to watch the artistry and ease of how the applied henna designs would change with a suggestion from a guest. I had the henna applied to the front and back of my hands, so I had to wait for the front to dry before having the back of my hand completed. I had the artisans add a lotus when I returned. Not touching anything or moving too much for 30 minutes was a challenge for me as we all were mingling. Introductions to other family and friends at the event kept me busy. Most people spoke a level of English so we could exchange greetings.
The hotel had a specific outdoor site for this event, allowing for guests to mingle safely with the bride and groom. The night was clear and cool, and a DJ kept the evening lively with loud Bollywood music. Most of the guests knew the lyrics and sang along. Soon, both young and old were dancing. One aunt pulled me onto the dance floor. We had fun as I tried to copy her moves. Laughing as the song ended, I was breathless and happy.
The buffet offered sautéed or fried cauliflower, okra and other vegetable dishes. Basmati rice, two dals, freshly made chapati were available. For me, finding foods that were not too spicy or deep-fried was an ongoing challenge because of my pitta/kapha constitution. Family members usually volunteered to sort out which foods would be the most gentle and wholesome for me. Dessert, too, could be deep-fried but I found delicious halva, an Indian dessert made with semolina, ghee and sugar.
As I arrived back at the clinic, I felt pleased and happy. How beautiful the evening had been, how welcomed I felt. Falling asleep, I felt grateful that I made the journey.