A Comparative Study of Marwari and Kannadiga Brahmin Weddings

On Saturday I was at a Marwari wedding. Actually it was a Marwari Hindu marrying a Gujarati Jain (it was arranged scissors, if you’re curious about that), but the ceremony took place according to Hindu rites. As Gandhi and Khushboo were getting married, I was reminded of my own wedding a little over a year back, and I started mentally comparing the two ceremonies. Here I attempt to put those mental notes “on paper”.

I must mention upfront that I have only one data point (this particular wedding) for Marwari weddings. Also, while the wedding ceremony was still on, I was invited for lunch (in a curious twist, bride’s relatives and friends ate out of a buffet while the groom’s relatives and friends were served a multi-course meal on a silver platter. The food for both was the same, though). So I do not have the complete picture, though the lunch was in the same hall so I managed to observe some stuff as I ate. Also, since the groom in this case was Jain, there is a possibility of some Jain rituals having crept in to the ceremony, so my one data point may not actually be representative. For the Kannadiga Brahmin wedding, I use my own wedding as a data point (again not necessarily accurate, since the wife is technically Gult).

The general impression about North Indian weddings is that they are “action packed”, and a lot of fun. There is known to be much singing and dancing, while South Indian Brahmin weddings are generally solemn religious affairs. There was a fair share of fun at the Gandhi-Khushboo wedding. The previous evening there was a Sangeet where relatives of the bride and groom put up dance performances, which was followed by a general free-for-all dance party, and even a Garba session (and also a Marwari Karaoke session). The cars that were transporting us to the wedding stopped 100m away from the venue, where the groom ascended a mare and there was a brass band and we all danced around to the actual venue. I didn’t attend the reception but I’m sure that had its fun components, too.

However, I noticed that when it came to the ceremony itself, my wedding was much more action-packed and “fun” than this wedding. Yes, at my wedding, the rituals took much longer (started at 11am and ended at 5pm, while here it lasted two hours), but at no point of time was either me or the wife just sitting there doing nothing, which was the case for large sections of this wedding. Most of the time when I looked at the stage, the bride and groom were solemnly sitting in their seats (they had a low bench to sit on, unlike us who sat cross-legged on a low wooden board) doing nothing, as the priests chanted mantras into the microphone. On the other hand, we were constantly doing something. There were “fun” elements like throwing rice on each other’s heads, bargaining for an elephant, getting surrounded by a rope that was spun around by relatives around us, tying the thaaLi, the “Challenge Gopalakrishna moment”, etc.

This is a recent inclusion in both ceremonies, I think, but both weddings involved a phase where the bride and groom are lifted by their respective relatives and friends as they try to get the upper hand (literally) in the muhurtham. In my wedding, the muhurtham involved throwing cumin seeds and jaggery on each other’s heads. Legend is that whoever throws first has the upper hand in the marriage. Here, it was the bride trying to garland the groom and he trying to escape it. At my wedding, the large crowd meant that at that critical moment I was unable to locate my big friends, and had to get lifted by two or three relatives. I resorted to jumping to gain the upper hand (Priyanka had a bunch of big cousins ready to hoist her). It was the opposite story at Gandhi’s wedding. The groom’s party was small, and his brother had told us to be ready to lift him, so we used our “matki phod” skills to good effect to hoist him high.

In both ceremonies, it was the bride’s maternal uncle who performed the “kanyaadaanam” (literally “donation of the virgin”) and brought the bride for the muhurtham. Tradition has it that the uncle should carry the niece, and Khushboo arrived that way. Priyanka’s maternal uncle has a bad back so he simply escorted her to the stage. Then, in both ceremonies, there is the “installation” of bride and groom as Lakshmi and Narayana, and their supposedly divine status for the duration of the wedding. The groom’s shalya (upper cloth) is knotted with the bride’s sari, though since Gandhi was wearing a sherwani, he wore a sash over it for this purpose. Our installation as Lakshmi and Narayana had a fun element as the priest described us as (for example) “Venkataramana Shastri’s great-grandson, Suryanarayana Rao’s grandson, Shashidhar’s son Karthik” which was similar to the refrain in Challenge Gopalakrishna where Gopalakrishna’s father addresses him as “Justice Gopalakrishna’s greatgandson … ” (watch from 7:55 in this video).

The other major point of difference I noticed was in the revolution around the fire after throwing puffed rice in it (it’s a common ceremony in both). At my wedding, I led the way around the fire, but here it was the bride who led the way. I wonder what accounts for this difference, or if it is a minor thing that was missed by the priests.

Overall, I had a fantastic two days in Indore, getting pampered and having sweets thrust into my mouth, catching up with old friends and overall having loads of fun. And not to mention, getting fodder for this double-length blog post.

Punjoo Wedding

On Saturday I was in Delhi to attend a Punjoo wedding. Technically, it was a half-Punjoo wedding if you take only the marrying couple into question, but given the overall processes, venue, events, guests, etc. it can be classified as a completely Punjoo wedding. Apart from the groom and a handful of his family members, there were only two things Tam at the wedding – presence of curd rice as part of the dinner buffer, and “appdi pODu” during the “L^2 session”.

The groom was Sriwatsan K from Malleswaram, formerly of Katpadi; also known at various points in time as Free Watsa, Bullet Watsa and Katsa. The bride was his colleague Dipti. The wedding took place in Delhi, at the Hyatt Hotel. And it was the first time that I was attending a Punjoo wedding. I had attended a couple of north indian weddings before but those were of UPites, and I had been told that Punjoo weddings were something else.

The wedding had been scheduled for 8 pm but our kind Punjoo host informed us that most Punjoo weddings start at least two hours late. So reaching there half an hour late would be a good hedge, we were told. Unfortunately the groom, being Tam, had arrived on time and the wedding was already underway. The bride was yet to arrive but Katsa was there, sitting on a low stool and doing some random stuff that the Shastri was advising him to do. And he was fully clothed – if it had been a Tam wedding, he would’ve been topless.

Given that none of us had seen his wife before, someone had come up with the idea that she was a figment of Watsa’s imagination, and that we had all been conned into traveling all the way to Delhi for a non-event. And it didn’t help that when we had arrived at the venue, Watsa was sitting alone in the Mantap. So it was only when Dipti made her way to the mantap and took her place next to Watsa that we were convinced that she existed. “She exists! She exists!”, we shouted. And later on during the reception, to make sure she actually exists, we all made it a point to shake her hand. And I must mention here that she walked to the mantap. If she had been south indian, some uncle would’ve carried her there.

All this took place in a small courtyard in the Hyatt compound. There was a reception hall where the event was being telecast live, and the daaru was flowing freely there. And waiters walked around the place serving starters – all vegetarian. I think that is one thing common all over India – irrespective of the marriage parties’ eating habits, food is always vegetarian. Anyway, given the relative space in the courtyard and the “reception hall”, it was as if we were all there to watch the video of the wedding.

Presently, the couple finished getting married and slowly made their way into the reception hall. It had surprisingly gotten over quite soon – it was only 10 pm. This time, we lined up by the sides of the entrance into the reception hall and shouted “Watsa, Watsa” as he passed us with his new wife. I must say we greeted him like he was a triumphant hero. We definitely had fun. I don’t know and don’t care about the rest of the guests at the wedding.

Surprisingly there was no queue at the reception to wish the couple. In most weddings here, as soon as the couple are seated, a queue builds up all the way to the door of the hall. However, while we waited at the end of the short queue, people (relative types) poured in from the other side. Maybe that’s how things work in Delhi. We wanted to shout “poond, poond” but restricted ourselves to just shoving ourselves on stage and wishing the couple (and making sure the bride exists).

The food was brilliant. Unforunately, of late, the standard of food at Bangalore weddings has ebbed. I don’t konw if it with the cooks taking it easy, or with the flawed incentive system (nature of cooking contracts has changed significantly over the years), but of late it’s just not worth going to a Bangalore wedding for the food. In this context, the food here was doubly brilliant. Hogged like I haven’t hogged at a wedding for a long time.

Two weeks back when I had met Watsa in Bangalore, he had shown me the playlist of songs that were to be played at his wedding. I had cringed back then, for most of them seemed like arbitmax Punjoo songs. And while we were grubbing, the noise had started. Yes, it was noise. Random-max songs, at extremely high decibel. And the speakers were just next to the bar, so you had to really torture yourself if you wanted to go grab a drink. And there were no earplugs in supply.

After a while, though, the music got better and they switched to standard Indian dance-party music. As I had mentioned earlier, they even played a Tam song. Much fun ensued. The demographics of the dancing parties was interesting. If this had happened in a South Indian wedding, at least 95% of the people on the dance floor would’ve been under 30. Here, though, a significant proportion included unclejis and auntyjis and maamas and maamis. Anyways, I think this idea of a dance party attached to a wedding is fairly awesome, and should be replicated at South Indian weddings also (there may not be any thanni but it doesn’t matter).

Some married people in our group had initiated NED soon after dinner, and that had turned into collective NED and we were all back to pavilion (aadisht’s haveli) by midnight. Before we returned we went up to Watsa and told him that he has now become a proper Punjoo.