We are rob & lauren: two professional photographers who love weddings and travel. This is where all of those things come
together for us. Within these pages we hope you discover and sense our deep love for the cultures that we encounter and
experience. Our biggest hope is that you come away from this site with a great understanding, respect and love for them and
their ways. Enjoy!
Starving for more photos?
Edmonton, AB, Canada
June 6, 2008
Are some of you out there dying to see more from the weddings and portrait sessions we did while in India and Vietnam? Well, we finally managed to get through all the photos and put some up on our website. So if you head on over to www.robandlauren.ca, click on "weddings" and then go into the "photos" gallery you will see a ton of listing in our "international flavour" section! Lots of previously unseen photos in there, so go and check it out!
To whet your appetite, here are some previously unseen photos from India.
Hopefully I'll be getting a full post up really soon about this new wedding we shot a while ago. But for now a quick little note about how the learning process is never over when you are dealing with Indian weddings.
As our recent bride was from South India (Andhra Pradesh) her traditions were totally different from anything we had ever seen.
Generally the chura (bridal bracelets) we see are red, plastic, and numerous, traditional especially of the North, Punjabi brides.
And yet with this recent wedding, the chura were green, glass, and were only a few in number.
It's one of the most wonderful and baffling things about Indian weddings. No matter how much you think you know, and how many times you have seen things done one way, there is always the chance that you will be thrown a curve ball, and see something totally different and totally new.
Our biggest tip is just to be open, ready for anything, and shoot EVERYTHING!
Finally the time had come, and it was the day of the marriage ceremony. With Sikh weddings, the ceremony is supposed to be finished by noon, which always means an extremely early morning. We were up and ready and at Kimmi’s house by 6:00AM….We barely were even functioning! But we were able to get a really cute shot of this. It is tradition that the bride is lifted from the washroom by her uncle and brothers (and when I say brothers, I mean brothers in the Indian sense, which is really just any male cousins around her age).
Then as she ran off to the salon to get ready all the boys had their turbans tied. It’s really a funny process and I enjoyed getting to see it done! (I'm usually with the girls side, and have never seen it before!)
A quick cat nap for us as everyone finished getting ready, and then off to the location! It was just flat out incredible, an enormous colourful tent full of majestic benches and fans taller than a person!
The ladies were all waiting anxiously for the groom to arrive.
And when he arrived he arrived in style! There was a marching band that brought him in, complete with bagpipes, which were a bit strange to see in India, but neat nonetheless.
When the groom arrives his face is covered by the Sehra, which are garlands made of tinsel, beads, or sometimes even fresh flowers. He also carries a long sword, and I think he looks absolutely downright impressive!
Then the band threw up some ribbons and petals and marched around Harsimran and his mother as they greeted Kimmi’s family.
A nice shot of that sword.
Then the Milni took place. It involves the corresponding male members from each family (ie. Kimmi’s maternal uncle and Harsimran’s maternal uncle) greeting each other, putting flower garlands over each others neck…
And sometimes they take turns to lift each other way up in the air!
A close up of those garlands
Harsimran’s brother looks so happy in this shot, I love it.
And as this all went on Harsimran looked on.
Then, after the Milni was finished, it was time for the gals to have their fun. All the sisters and female cousins strung a long ribbon across the entrance to the tent to keep Harsimran from getting in.
He then had to bargain with them to get in. I’m not sure how much he had to pay, but in the end the girls all cheered loudly so I’m sure they were well compensated ;)
After everyone had some great breakfast the close family and the army of photographers and videographers headed off to the gurdwara for the actual marriage ceremony.
A few details from the ceremony. This is a chaur sahib, which they use to fan the book.
And the book itself: the Guru Granth Sahib. The text is treated as the eternal Guru of the Sikhs. It is not an object that is worshipped, but rather it guides Sikhs in prayer and worship. The text contains over 5000 shabhads, or hymns, that are set to classic music, which is why there is always music during Sikh ceremonies.
Here are the musicians playing.
One of the important parts of the ceremony is when the bride and groom walk around the book. This is similar to when they walk around the sacred fire in the Hindu ceremony, but here the bride is lead and helped along by her brothers as she makes her way around.
A neat shot of them walking.
Kimmi looked so happy and peaceful.
And the setting was so lovely.
One great thing was that all of the women were wearing different shades of pink. It looks so beautiful.
As I've just learned, there is no such thing as a priest in the Sikh religion. Rather, there is what is known as a granthi, who is someone who reads from the Guru Granth Sahib and takes care of it. Anyone can be a granth, as well as either gender. This is the granthi from Kimmi and Harsimran's ceremony. You can see that the Guru Granth Sahib is always covered overhead, and is on a raised platform. Everyone sits on the ground, at a lower level than the book, to show their respect.
Two of Kimmi’s fathers friends, who are holy men, attended the ceremony and blessed the new couple.
A neat shot of the whole setting.
Then after the ceremony was finished, the couple returned to the tent to see all of their guests. This time when they entered Kimmi was alongside Harsimran and his family.
It was a spectacular entrance. Kimmi told me she had wanted a ton of flower petals thrown on her, and she certainly got that.
And, of course, there was a bit of dancing.
But even though so much of the wedding is full of happiness, these weddings also have a ceremony marked by strong emotions. It is called the Doli, and it signifies the bride leaving her parents house to join her husband. We have, on many occasions, had a Doli that wasn’t too sad, but in many cases, as in this one, the couple plans to move very far away from home (these two are moving to California in a month) and so you can imagine how intense the feelings were. Kimmi was definitely overtaken by the emotion.
She and Harsimran sat together as they were fed sweets. But now that they were married they were finally able to hold hands.
And then they walked outside. Kimmi threw puffed rice behind her to signify prosperity, and the returning of what her parents have given her over all the years.
Then she got into the doli, which was carried by her male cousins. Her brother stood at the front to carry his sister away.
It was certainly very emotional, walking down the street as she was followed by her whole family.
Harsimran walked along beside her.
Kimmi and her father hugged goodbye.
And her brother led her to the car.
But not without a last hug from her mother.
Everyone was caught up in the emotion.
And then as the car drove off all her brothers and cousins pushed it away.
And one last one of the grandmas just hugging each other, a sweet way to end such a wonderful wedding.
At the end here I'd like to say an enormous thank you from Rob and myself to Kimmi, Harsimran, and their families for allowing us to be a part of this, and to Kimmi's family for taking such good care of us throughout the whole week. We were once again treated just like family, and always well looked after, and we couldn't have asked for more caring hosts. To our friends, the Mahajans, who let us stay in their palacial home, and were so kind and giving, an enormous thank you. And to everyone we met there, thank you for your friendship. I'm positive we'll all meet again some day!
And that’s a Sikh wedding. I’ll probably be adding to this once I get home, since there are many more photos to add, but I hope you all learned something and enjoyed this! And as always, if you see anything that I got wrong, or anything I should add, please feel free to let me know! We’re all learning here ☺
Anyway, Rob and I are probably on a plane right now on our way home back to Canada. We really can’t believe it’s over already, and at the same time we can’t believe how long we’ve been gone from home. Things won’t end here, as we have much more to add to this website. We have reviews from our travels, of our gear, and where we stayed. We have hundreds more photos to share with you, and more descriptions of different weddings to fill you in on. So please stay tuned, and give us a shout if you have any suggestions. We can’t believe all the support we got throughout this whole trip, and want to extend a very heart-felt thank you to all of you who read along, even if you never commented! We weren’t doing this blog for ourselves, but rather to maybe spread the word about how cool Indian weddings can be, and how gorgeous this whole world is. I hope we succeeded!
Huge hugs and kisses from us, and when you hear from us next we’ll be back home! Yay!
The next day was one of the most fun parts of an Indian wedding: the mendhi! Mendhi, more commonly known as henna, is a form of body beautification. A paste is made up of dried leaves of the henna flower, and then it is applied to the hands. When the paste first goes on and is wet it appears dark green.
As the paste dries, it turns black, and gets hard.
In order to let the colour get darker, you need to leave the paste on as long as you can. You can put on a mixture of lemon juice and sugar to keep the paste moist and sticking on the skin.
The designs are always different, and each hand is different. It’s really good fun to see all the ladies going around and comparing their patterns.
Here’s a shot of me that Rob really likes and wanted me to put up! You can see that I got my hands all covered in mendhi too, my favorite part of Indian weddings :)
The house was looking fab.
Then the girls started getting ready for the Maya. They made up a decorative design out of coloured powder to place in front of Kimmi’s feet.
It started off with Kimmi’s mom putting some oil in Kimmi’s hair with a small bunch of grass.
Then everyone took turns applying a paste made up of turmeric powder (which is called haldi in Hindi. If you’ve read my article on Hindu weddings you’ll realize that this Maya ceremony is essentially the same as the Haldi ceremony, just a different name for Punjabis!) and water.
Even covered with yellow goo, Kimmi still looked gorgeous and oh-so-happy.
Her mom tied a special bracelet around her wrist.
All the female sisters and cousins helped out.
Then it was time for the Chura ceremony. The chura are the special red and beige bracelets that a bride wears. Generally they are worn for as along as possible after the wedding. For some brides it is for a few days, for others it is a few months. Here the male uncles all touch the chura as they sit in a bowl of milk.
Then the brides maternal uncle puts the chura on.
And by now you should know what comes next. Party! Kimmi and her dad had a great time dancing together, with her mom looking on between them.
Even the grandmas get into the action.
Wedding houses are always lit up with gorgeous lights. Check out how spectacular the house looked.
And finally the kalirehs were tied on by the female cousins and sisters.
Kimmi hits her kalirehs above the heads of her un-married cousins for good luck, in hopes that they will get married soon.
According to a Indian bridal magazing we picked up here in Delhi, the shape of the kalirehs has a symbolic meaning. The top is shaped like a coconut, to show that the bride will always have food in her new home. There are metal pieces hanging from it, to show that she will always have wealth.
And a final shot of her gorgeous chura against her beautiful mendhi.
At this point all the events leading up to the big day had been completed. You could just sense the anticipation, as people tried to head to bed early for the wedding ahead. That means that dinner was held at 9:00 PM, instead of 11:00 PM! Lol. Indian people definitely tend to stay up late! We ducked out early, since we knew that we’d be getting up around 5:00 AM, and needed a ton of sleep. And it was well worth it, because the next day was just spectacular. Stay tuned for that!
The next day we got to rest during the day, which was much needed after the very long first day. And then it was time for the ladies’ Sangeet. Here everyone was really dressed in his or her finest and ready for a fun evening. Originally the Sangeet was only for the ladies, but these days both men and women attend, although the groom generally doesn’t come.
They started off the evening with a great round of dandia, a dance where they hit sticks together. I know that sounds strange, but it really looks like great fun.
This time the colour scheme was bright pink.
Kimmi’s younger brother was a fantastic dancer.
And everyone enjoyed bopping to some bhangra
Then they enjoyed the Jaggo dance. Here the ladies take turns holding a pot with lit candles on top of it, as they dance and twirl.
There is always great music and rhythm for these events. On the right side of this shot you can see a guy playing a dhol, and on the left side of the shot you can see a woman who is banging a stick against a big wooden tray. Tons of noise and fun.
Rob loves this shot. These guys asked for a posed shot, but we got this instead and find it so much more energetic. It’s like they are bursting out of the photo.
And to end off the night Kimmi’s brother (the one in the red) hopped up on stage and treated us all to a song.
And that’s the Sangeet! A time for everyone to have fun together, eat some great food, and dance and laugh before the wedding starts and everyone is stressed about getting things done on time.
In the evening following the Shagan everyone got dressed up and gathered at a hall for some more fun and frolicking. Oh, and also some ceremonies!
One big difference that we’ve noticed at the wedding’s we’ve attended here in India versus the Indian weddings we’ve attended in Canada is that here things are decorated much more elaborately. Manpower is an inexpensive cost here, so there are always armies of decorators putting together amazing themed rooms. For this ceremony the whole room was in tones of blue and silver, even with dolphins made of wire and cloth.
When Kimmi and Harsimran first entered they were offered these fantastic looking drinks. But they were both pretty nervous and not feeling like a bevy, so the waiters gave them to us! Score! They were very very tasty.
Kimmi looked flat-out, insanely, and mind-blowingly amazing. In this shot you can see Harsimran’s mother putting a necklace around Kimmi’s neck. She was given a full set of gorgeous jewelry, which was put on by Harsimran’s family.
Harsimran was looking great too. Nearly unrecognizable without the turban from the morning.
One of the important parts of this evening was the placing of the chuni (an elaborate shawl) on the bride by the groom’s mother. That is what is going on in this shot.
Then Harsimran placed sindoor (the bright red powder that married Indian women wear in their hair part) on Kimmi’s forehead.
And then they exchanged rings, just as we do in the West.
Kimmi and Harsimran’s mother.
Then, as with any Punjabi event, there is crazy dancing! Harsimran was picked up and paraded around.
And we even got into the spirit. This pose here is what the photographers at this wedding (there were about 6 besides us, plus 3 videographers, and 20 assistants…it was crazy busy) would always make people do. But they would actually stop them in the middle of dancing to make them pose like this for a shot! We’ve had people in Edmonton do the same pose as well…I think it’s supposed to make it look like your dancing. I find it pretty funny!
And thus ended that event. The next segment: the Sangeet (the ladies’ dance party!)
For the past week we have been completely wrapped up with the wedding celebrations of Kimmi and Harsimran. Like all Indian weddings, this one was a complete whirlwind and before you know it, you’ve spent 6 days straight with all these people, and suddenly it all just ends! Right now we’re sitting in the house, waiting to leave on our train back to Delhi. It’s a strange feeling, for the whole place is very silent, when just yesterday and the days before it was packed to the rafters with all the wedding-goers. But like all things it comes to an end, and we can just be happy that we were able to enjoy it, and have some pictures to remember it by!
I’ll be using this wedding as the main one to explain the Sikh ceremony. Once I get home I’ll probably supplement the photos with some more we have from other Sikh ceremonies we’ve shot. This post will eventually end up in the Weddings section, so you can always revisit it, and learn about the different events!
This Sikh wedding was in Punjab, which is a predominantly Sikh state. As such, I think you can expect most Sikh weddings to be similar (whereas Hindu weddings can be Punjabi, Bengali, Keralan, etc. and all are so very different!). But as always, we give the caveat that every Indian wedding will be different in some way, and you can only prepare youself so much, and then just expect anything ☺
We’ll start you off with the first ceremony we attended. It is called the Shagan, and is when the girls family take gifts to the house of the boys family. So the procession started early in the morning at the home of Kimmi’s parents, and the table full of gifts (including an iPhone!) was loaded up into the cars, and all the men (and me, the only girl!) set off.
When we arrived, the gifts were set on the table, everyone mingled a bit, the men sat in a room and chatted for a while, then we made our way into a beautiful tent to hold a small ceremony. With the Sikh religion, you must always cover your head when in the presence of the holy book, so you can see all the men and women here have their head covered.
As I mentioned previously, music is very important to the Sikh faith, and so there were these men playing absolutely beautiful songs.
Here you can see the priest sitting in front of the book, and if you look closely, you can see Harsimran in the back, in the yellow turban!
The women praying. With Sikhs the men and women sit on separate sides of the room.
In Indian culture the feeding of food is very important, in all religions we’ve encountered. Here you can see Kimmi’s dad feeding Harsimran. By the end of a wedding the bride and groom will have eaten more sweets than you can even imagine! Think of a Western wedding, just after the bride and groom have cut the cake. They then feed each other a piece. In Indian weddings, if they have a cake, generally they will feed each other, and then her mom with feed them both, then his mom, then her dad, then his dad, then all the guests…you get the idea! Basically they get incredibly full of sweets ☺
It was such a peaceful and emotional gathering, it was really great to have been a part of it.
And that was the shagan. We all ate lunch afterwards (of course! You can expect to never ever go hungry or thirsty at an Indian wedding. We probably gained 10 pounds while here!). And then we drove back to Kimmi’s parents house, and took the afternoon to rest. Next up was the Chuni and Ring Ceremony in the evening, which will be our next post! We will try to spread this wedding out over a few days, since we don’t have time to get the whole thing ready just now, lol! Plus this way you get more constant attention from us.
Yes, there is more of these two gorgeous kids! I can just sense you all hopping up and down with excitement!
So for our famous Taj session Megha and Chakshu wore their outfits from their reception. And for an Indian wedding there are two very important sets of clothing. It was only fair that we do a session with both outfits! So Megha and Chakshu went through another grueling round of beautifying themselves and we all hopping into the car and drove into New Delhi. We went to the gorgeous Lodi Gardensto take some shots in their amazing clothes. Here’s what we got.
Megha is super easy to make laugh, which bodes well for us since we can easily get great fun shots like this.
Throwing in a little mystery ☺
The setting was just amazing, although we still weren’t without big hordes of on-lookers. In India it is not considered rude, as it is in Canada, to simply stand and stare. So it was tough to handle, but once again these two did a flat out fantastic job.
I seriously think Chakshu could have a future as a model. He just poses and smiles so easily.
And Megha does a bang-up job as well. One day we’ll have to take modeling lesssons from them!
And together they are just fab.
It was like our dream photo location. Great light, and great architecture, we could have spent all day there!
Now here is a neat one. Rob was trying out a technique he liked, and I think the result is just awesome!
Megha’s chura looked great against her bright pink lengha (a lengha is a ornate skirt, that is worn with a top, and a very elaborate scarf. The whole outfit is unbelievably heavy. Honestly you would not believe it. Serious.
And then we got a little dramatic.
A great close-up of Chakshu holding on to his stole.
So there you have it, the second portrait session, and one that we enjoyed just as much as the Taj session! As fun as Taj was, it was really fast paced and stressful, so it was nice to take it a bit easier with these two, and find some relatively secluded places. And Megha and Chakshu haven’t even seen these photos yet, so we really hope they enjoyed them!
So, here we go. I hope you are all excited for this. Because you aren’t going to believe it.
To put it very simply, we just did a portrait session at the Taj Mahal.
Wow, hey? I still can’t even believe it, and the whole entire thing is just a blur. I think half of it is because it’s just such a huge deal, that we can’t believe we did it. And the other half is because we were under a lot of stress and pressure right from the get-go. It wasn’t easy to do at all, and I’m so happy that we managed to get some great shots even under some tough conditions.
You see, we had this little plan in mind for a while. We all packed our bags, and left Delhi early in the morning for a road trip to Agra, the city that is home to the Taj Mahal. We arrived around 1PM, I believe. We checked into our hotel, took a quick trip to see the magnificent structure, grabbed a quick bite, and then it was time to get ready. Megha and Chakshu changed into their gorgeous reception outfits from their wedding. (They got married here in Delhi in December, and we were unfortunately a month too late with our trip to attend). We made our way to the Taj around 5:00PM, hoping to get some great sunset light to work with.
First off, there was no sunset. Well, not one we could see. Agra was covered in a hazy foggy sky, so there was no real colour coming through. Oh well, we had nice light anyway, but it was darker than we would have liked.
So we all walk down an alley to actually get into the Taj. Megha and Chakshu dressed to the nines, walking down a smelly, busy alley. Funny stuff!
Then we get to the gate. 20 Rupees entry for Indians, 750 for foreigners ($0.50 and just about $20 Canadian). Hilarious hey? But that wasn’t the tough part. Apparently they now have rules that forbid you to bring in any bags.
Think about that for a moment. We’re there to do a photo session, and we can’t bring in our camera bags. Major stress out time!
Chakshu managed to convince a guy to let us bring in his tiny backpack, so Rob and I, in a wild flurry, start to decide what we want to bring in. We had brought everything, since this was going to be a portrait session to remember, and now we had to cut out most of what we brought. We stuffed in a few lenses, and some flash cards, and had to leave everything else behind. And this whole process took up a ton of our precious time where we still had some light to work with! Eek!
Then we all finally get through the gates, and walk in to see the Taj. It’s honestly breathtaking, and we started to get to work.
Chakshu is a photo buff himself, and he couldn’t resist whipping out his own camera to take some shots! He looks so incredibly cool in this shot, doesn’t he??
Megha’s incredible chura. She will be wearing these from the time she got married (December, 2007) until she has her reception back in Edmonton in June, 2008! Dedication!
Just putting on some of her jewelry
Love, love, love, love, love the feeling of this one.
We stepped off to the side to this great red colonnade to take some more secluded shots.
These two really know how to laugh with each other and are always having fun together. We absolutely loved it.
Plus they know how to work the camera like pros. I’m finding it hard to believe they AREN’T models. Seriously, this had nothing to do with us, and everything to do with them.
This shot feels like there was no one else around for miles. I love it.
How about we take a stroll towards the Taj? Ok!
A reflection in one of the pools.
I can’t get enough of this one.
Like a movie.
We took very very few shots of the Taj itself, lol! But here’s one we liked.
I still can’t believe this whole thing really happened.
And in the middle of all those romantic, intense and serious shots it was always goofing around and having fun. Our favorite type of couple.
Self portrait! We look absolutely grungy beside them, it’s ridiculous!
And can you believe this? At this point we pretty much were the very last people in the place, and it was pitch black. Rob had to set the camera on top of Chakshu’s backpack, since we weren’t allowed our tripods. But all the difficulty was worth it. This is Rob’s favorite shot of the day.
And then a few detail shots when we got back to the hotel.
Megha’s mangalsutra, the necklace she gets when she is married. It is one of the five things that signify a woman's married status, so it's very important!
And her fantastic shoes.
And that’s all we have done up so far. There are so many to go through that we just can’t do them justice on this laptop, and we’re itching to get home and work on them on our real computers. But now I’m going to get sort of sappy, so hold on to your seats.
Now, just imagine how many people are visiting the Taj each day. And then place a couple who look like models in the middle of it all, dressed up like they are at their wedding while everyone else is wearing t-shirts and shorts, and then have two people with huge cameras taking shots. Trust me, we attracted a LOT of attention. And even more than that, they attracted a sort of paparazzi, as tourists and locals alike were trying to snap a picture of them or just standing there staring. Some people were even jumping down from these huge platforms to sneak up behind Rob to get a shot. I think many of the tourists must have thought they were famous or something. But it was certainly really, extremely tough conditions for anyone to stay relaxed and happy, with all those people staring at you. Megha and Chakshu did a flat out amazing job, and it’s the honest truth that they completely share the credit for this shoot. The amount of work, preparation, dedication and commitment they put into this is astounding, and we honestly can never thank them enough for doing this with us.
I don’t know how we manage to meet such amazing people, who give so much to us (we’ve actually been staying with them in Chakshu’s house for the past 6 days, and they have been the most hospitable hosts imaginable). And then to put so much effort into doing the Taj shoot with us, it’s not just anyone who would do that, and we consider ourselves so very very lucky. So an enormous thank you to both Megha, Chakshu, and Chakshu’s family who have been so kind to us over this past week. And to Megha and Chakshu, without whom these photos would not exist. As far as we all could tell, this is possibly the first time this has been done on this scale. Photo sessions like this don’t really happen for couples in India, and with the amount of work it took to get to the Taj, it certainly wasn’t just a walk in the park. So we’re very glad to have been a part of this. Now we can’t wait to get home and get some of these printed for our house!
Ok, enough sappiness. We’re off to do another shoot with them in Delhi! Wish us luck!
Alright, everyone, I think it’s about time we added a bit of “wedding” to our “travel”! While we were in Vietnam and Thailand our minds were more on traveling than weddings. But pretty much the moment we got to India things changed. We logged on to the internet to find a very exciting message from Gavin, Rob’s long time friend from all the way back to elementary school. It turned out that Gavin was in India as well for his cousin’s wedding. We had told Gavin about our travels and what we hoped to do with The Wedding Travelers, so he let us know that he had a wedding for us to go to. The stars aligned, the timing was perfect, and we managed to book a flight out to Assam.
To tell you the honest truth, we knew nothing of Assam, beyond me recognizing the name from a type of tea I’ve had back home. A quick check in the Lonely Planet Guidebook told us that Assam is in the North East of India, and is a world renowned tea producing region.
It’s certainly not a region that many backpackers make it out to, and it’s even a bit sketchy, in that there are separatist groups in the area, but we knew that this was the purpose of our trip, to seek out new types of weddings, and so we didn’t even hesitate to make the journey.
A quick flight into Jorhat, landing in an airport that is honestly the smallest I’ve ever seen, and then the incredible hospitality began. At home in Canada when we attend an Indian wedding we adore the fact that we are always treated like family. We weren’t sure what to expect, being that we are really the furthest thing from it, crashing a wedding where we have never met the bride or groom before, but we were treated incredibly well. I’d even go so far to say we were downright pampered! So I’m going to start off by saying an enormous thank you to the families of Runa and Arjun for all their amazing hospitality. We hope that one day we’ll meet up with them all again!
Now down to the wedding. Let’s first introduce you to the wonderful people who made the hook-up with this wedding possible. This is the one and only Gavin (he's half Indian, in case you were really confused about his relation to the groom)
The first time I ever met Gavin was right after he returned from a previous trip to India, and he was incredibly sick. Honestly, he looked like he might collapse at any moment. But since then I’ve had the privilege of meeting up with him many times afterwards, and he got over the sickness and turned out to be a great guy. We give him huge props for hooking us up with this wedding!
And next, Gavin’s cousin Talya. Rob has met her a couple times previous, and I had heard her name mentioned in conversation, but never had the chance to meet her. It turns out we have lived about 10 minutes away from each other our whole lives in Edmonton, and we end up meeting in Jorhat, Assam, India. Go figure. But I need to give her an enormous thank you for all her kindness in showing us around, lending me a ton of clothes and shoes so I didn’t look like a total dweeb, and just generally being incredibly entertaining. Here’s a shot of her teaching the chef how to “pound it”.
And now the stars of the post, the bride and groom. This is Arjun, Gavin and Talya’s cousin. Doesn’t he look like a Bollywood star?
And the gorgeous bride, Runa. I adore this shot of her, so serene and peaceful. And at her own wedding too! Would you believe it?
So it wouldn’t be a wedding if there wasn’t some form of rushing around. Rob and I arrived in Jorhat in the afternoon after flying from Calcutta. We had been up since very early in the morning, we tired and worn out. And the moment we arrived and said hi to Gavin and Talya, I was whisked away to change into some Indian clothes and head over to the mendhi. It was a very low key and calm event, which I was very glad for. And the mendhi artists here do some amazing work (P.S. If you are reading all this and haven’t a clue what I’m talking about, check out the Hindu article under the Wedding menu at the top of the site. It’s still a work in progess, but it explains a lot of this stuff!)
After all the girls had their mendhi finished, it was back to the house so that they could change. That’s one thing about an Indian wedding. If you’re properly prepared, you never wear the same thing to more than one event, which means some days you might change 3 times. I, of course, was not that well prepared, so I just chilled with Rob and Gavin, who had a strenuous afternoon of walking down the road to buy some beers.
Back to the wedding location for the Sangeet. At home this had usually been just a dinner and dance party, where everyone just has a ton of crazy wild fun. Many of the weddings we have been to have been Punjabi weddings, and they are notorious for being partiers. The Assamese are much more reserved, I’ll have you know. And the evening was a quiet one, just a relaxed cocktail party. Some music did break out at one point, though it didn’t last very long, thanks to some terrible DJ-ing. But one moment that was quite memorable was when a traditional Assamese dance broke out. It was unlike any Indian dancing I’ve ever seen, and the movements were very bird-like, in a sense. It was really wonderful to see!
And then the next day was the ceremony day. Here in India the ceremony takes place in the evening. That’s very nice, in terms of keeping things cool, but makes our job 100 times more difficult! Nevertheless we managed to get our flashes out and do our best to capture some of the crazy events that were going on. The night started out with the arrival of the groom’s family to the bride’s family’s house (where all the wedding ceremonies took place). They were greeting with the largest display of firecrackers I’ve ever seen. And fire safety regulations are pretty lax here in India, so they were setting these huge fireworks off just meters away from us. Kind of scary, but it sure got the adrenaline going!
Then what happened next is something I’ve never heard of before, so I’m going to attribute it to the Assamese for the time being. If anyone knows of anyone else who does this let me know!
When the groom’s family got out of their cars to walk up the path to the house they were absolutely bombarded with rice thrown by the bride’s family. Naturally I had to be right in the thick of it to get some good shots, and was hit by the stuff, and boy, does it hurt! But it was hilarious to watch.
The groom is accompanied by his best man, who carries an umbrella to protect him. Arjun is the one on the right of the two young guys in white suits.
The groom’s family had come prepared with their own rice to counter-attack, but they weren’t expecting to be showered with soap foam! Arjun’s mom got it pretty bad!
Then things settled down and the bride’s family performed an aarti with Arjun to welcome him into the home.
And here’s something that we will never seen in Edmonton. The ceremony took place in this absolutely enormous structure that was built on the property for this purpose. It was entirely made of bamboo poles that were covered in fabric. I would say it was about 40 ft high and 150 long….rough guess. Huge, is all I can tell you. And it looks absolutely spectacular. The ceremony was performed under the mandap, which is the little tent-type-thing, and it was gorgeously decorated with tons of fresh flowers.
At Hindu weddings there are always many offerings to the gods. Here they are set out, and those little dishes that they are on are actually made out of banana trees, which we thought was really fantastic.
One important part of the Hindu ceremony is when the couple exchanges garlands. If you look closely at what Arjun is wearing you’ll see that he has a wreath around his head. I believe this is an Assamese tradition, and the wreath is made out of Indian basil.
Another new tradition that we haven’t seen before is that the couple’s hands are literally bound together with string. I absolutely love this shot, and the way Rob processed it. It’s so simple, but I really feel like you can sense the emotion and meaning.
The entire ceremony is performed in Sanskrit, which meant that Arjun had no idea what was going on! Poor guy! But he trooped through, and Runa even translated for him once she came.
The entire ceremony under the mandap took just over 2.5 hours, and for the first hour Arjun was all by himself. You might think that is an insanely long time to be performing a marriage ceremony but this was actually a heavily shortened version, and people told us of weddings they were at recently that lasted about 6 hours. Wow. Thankfully there were guys here that were serving snacks so we didn’t get too hungry.
One ritual that we have seen many times is that of pouring ghee (clarified Indian butter) into the fire. I believe that this is a way of offering the gifts to the gods, by turning them into smoke that will go up to the sky. Don’t quote me, of course, but that’s what I’ve been told! Here’s a great shot that Rob got of Arjun pouring the ghee into the fire (which he did innumerable times throughout the night)
At home the ceremonies are generally indoors, and because of that the fires for the ceremony are generally very very small. So when we saw the size of this roaring blaze, we were quite surprised!
After all the ceremonies were over it was time to eat dinner. But not for Arjun and Runa. They went and paid their respects to their ancestors, and then to all of the elders present. It was hours before they were able to go and eat something, but they never once looked unhappy about it, so major props to them.
The next day was for the reception. We made our way to the house around 3:00PM, which was an hour later than we were told to. And we still ended up being a few hours early. Such is the nature of Indian Standard Time! But we had a fantastic afternoon. We ate some amazing food, had fresh jalebis made for us (no pictures of that, since we were too busy eating, but I’ll take a picture of jalebis soon to show you all what you’re missing out on), had some incredible chai, played with some puppies and just generally sat around enjoying the peace and quiet. We were expecting things to really pick up and get going once the reception officially started, but we were in for a surprise. Nothing really changed for us all evening! We sat by a fire, chatted, and watched the streams of people go by. This is a shot of where we sat on the left, and a good idea of how large the structure was
And the evening for Arjun and Runa was another long one. They sat inside the tent, in front of this massive and gorgeous tree, and greeted all their guests. All told apparently around 1500 people came, but not in the sense that guests come to a reception in Canada. Here people would walk into the tent, greet the couple, go and have dinner, and then leave. And they just never stopped arriving and leaving all night. So at one time you could look around and think there were only a couple hundred people present, but they were different people all night. Very strange, but also very smart! This one shot here pretty much sums up the events of the reception.
You can see that great tree, Arjun and Runa standing on their platform, and the guests streaming by.
Here’s a quiet moment near the end where they were actually able to talk to each other!
And then it was all over. It was certainly much more subdued then we are used to, and as a result all of the family members involved with the wedding seemed very relaxed and calm. The whole thing had a very peaceful air about it and compared to the chaos of Calcutta, this wedding in Jorhat may as well have been an oasis for us. We were so honored to have been a part of it all, and to have seen everything we did. We were even given these amazing gifts as we left.
They are little metal dishes that are generally used to put offerings of masala and paan and whatnot onto. Then there are packets of Assamese tea (which we can’t wait to make when we get home) and some little towels that are used when they want to be respectful (this is what I was told, and I’m clearly doing a terrible job of explaining the meaning, but I hope you get my drift). Isn’t that the most fantastic gift ever? We were so excited to get something so meaningful, and that will always remind us of our time in Assam.
Well, there’s the wedding in a very condensed form. There were, of course, many other little ceremonies, with varying meanings, but we tried to just highlight some of the differences we saw. The Assamese have some very unique traditions and we were very happy to get to see them!
And as if to reinforce the way weddings just bore down upon us as soon as we got to India, last night as we were in our room in Varanasi, we heard this incredible racket, and run out onto the balcony to see what was going on. It was a barat, which is the procession of the groom and his family to the bride, and it was incredible! Here’s a quick video to give you an idea
And while we’re just throwing up videos, here’s a neat one of the rhino in Kaziranga.
(same thing for this video too, I'll put it up as soon as I can!)
Well, I hope that keeps you all occupied! We’re staying in Varanasi a couple more days, and then will be making our way south to see the Ajanta caves. So many more neat things in store!