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.

When will people come?

So I was trying to estimate how many of my invitees will attend my wedding ceremony and how many will attend the reception (the former is at noon and the latter the same evening). While a large number of people have kindly RSVPd, not too many have really mentioned which event they’ll turn up for. So it’s my responsibility to somehow try and figure out how many will come when, so that the information can be appropriately relayed to the cooks.

Personally, if I’m attending the wedding of someone I don’t know too well, or a wedding I’m attending more out of obligation than out of the desire to be there, I prefer to go to the reception. It’s so much quicker – queue up, gift, wish, thulp, collect coconut, leave. The wedding leads to too much waiting, insufficient networking opportunity, having to wait for a seat in a “batch” for lunch, and the works.

Again, I hope that most people who are coming for my wedding are coming more because they want to attend rather than looking at it as an obligation. Actually I was thinking of a wedding invite as being an option – it gives you the option to attend the wedding, but you pay for it with the “cost” of the obligation to attend. In fact, over the last few days, I’ve felt extremely guilty while inviting people whose weddings I bunked (for one reason or another).

That digression aside, what upsets estimates for my wedding is that it’s on a Sunday, when more people will be inclined to come in the morning rather than at night. For one, they have the day off. Secondly, usually people like to spend Sunday evening at home, ironing clothes and the like, preparing for the grueling work week ahead.

And the fact that the venue is on the northern side of Bangalore, while most of my invitees live in the south (the fiancee and most of her invitees are in the north) makes me want to increase my “lunch” estimate and decrease the dinner estimate. And then the fact that I’m getting married on a seemingly “auspicious” day, when there are lots of functions all around, makes me wonder if I should discount the total attendance also.

After the wedding is over, I’m willing to anonymize and share the spreadsheet I’ve used for my estimates. Ok you might think I’m a geek but what I’ve done is to put an “attendance” probability for each event for each attendee, and then taken expected value to get my estimates. As I write this, I think I should take standard deviation also, and assume the law of large numbers (yes I’ve invited a large number of potential guests) in order to provide my in-laws (who are organizing the whole event) 95% confidence intervals for number of guests..

Anyways, I just hope that my (and my in-laws’) estimates are right and we won’t end up erring in either direction (shortage of food, or wastage) by too much in either direction. And the costs of the two (localized costs – as hosts, our costs of food shortage (in terms of reputation, etc.) is much higher than cost of wastage; though from global sustainability perspective it’s probably the other way round) have led our solution of the Newsboy Problem to be conservative in estimate.

And yesterday I was suggesting to my in-laws that after the wedding lunch, we can revise the estimates for dinner to M – X where M is the total number of guests we expect (counting double for people who we expect to attend both lunch and dinner) and X is the number of people who had lunch. It’s important, I think, to use as much information as possible in making decisions.