Thursday, October 12, 2006

wedding, part one: going to kashi

At both of the south Indian weddings I attended this past summer, the groom symbolically passed through the major stages of life before arriving at the householder stage, when the actual wedding takes place. Both weddings were brahmin families, and among the ideal life stages for brahmin males is the scholar phase, when students graduate their basic Vedic studies and go to Varanasi (known by its ancient name of Kashi) for advanced studies. First the groom ritually concludes his student stage (brahmacarin) during the wedding rituals, even if he never actually upheld any of the practices of that stage. The groom is welcomed 'home' from his studies, and then, symbolically outfitted for the journey to Varanasi, where advanced scholarly studies is best pursued. The groom and his party exit the wedding hall, and are then stopped by the bride's brother, who stops him and convinces him to stay and get married instead.

This ritual was particularly poignant in the case of this groom, because he did in fact wish to pursue advanced Vedic studies, but had to abandon them after a family financial crisis put pressure on him to study engineering instead. In this video, the groom's relatives are escorting him out of the wedding hall. He wears traditional wooden sandals, carries an umbrella, a water pot, a bundle of food and ritual implements. The man in white in front is the priest (purohita) and the one following is the groom's father. Watch the groom "Leave for Kashi."

Once outside, several members of the bride's party accost the groom and beseech him to abandon his plans to travel to Kashi. My friend Neil Dalal tells me he was in a wedding once as a friend of the groom and his job was to 'try to convince' the groom to turn down the invitation to stay and marry. Here, after repairing the sandal that fell apart and came off the groom's foot (view this clip), the bride's family addresses him with great respect, worship him with lights, incense and flowers as if he were a god, and offer him gifts of food and clothing, carried on silver platters by women you can see behind and beside the groom. In this clip, the bride's brother honors him with a great mark of respectful hospitality, by washing his feet. View this clip. You'll note see that many of those involved are laughing, perhaps at their own role-playing, for these are enactments of roles that almost no one manages to actually live anymore.

More coming in this wedding series...

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