If you can look at it from far enough away, weddings can actually be thoroughly amusing. From the seemingly trivial, managing guests and their moods, to the absurd notions and cultural practices that are thrown from the older generation of relatives, it’s a real test of patience, character, how fast you can switch off and go into robot mode and simply follow instructions. Every ritual and traditional practice that makes a wedding must have had good reason and relevance at some point of time. But thanks to having been handed down so ambiguously and been accepted blindly, they end up seeming random and therefore funny, because nobody has any idea why they are doing them. Here’s a glimpse into the absurdity and hilarity of these rituals and traditions, within India and beyond.
From lands far away
It’s not just Indian weddings that suffer from unusual customs; they are prevalent across cultures, around the globe. To test the groom’s mettle, Fijian tradition demands that a man seeking a girl’s hand in marriage must carry a whale’s tooth with him when he approaches the girl’s father. Then there’s the German way of testing the couple’s bond, one where the newlyweds are expected to saw a tree log together immediately after exchanging vows. A different practice sees family and friends smashing crockery outside the couple’s home, which they are expected to clean together. This, of course, is symbolic of the idea that they’ll be able to overcome any kind of mess in life as long as stick around together.
In Yugur culture, a Chinese minority group, the groom shoots his bride with a bow and arrow (what!), without the arrowheads (thankfully). He shoots her with three arrows, before collecting them and in turn breaking the arrows, signifying how he’ll save her from all evil and keep her safe. This is also their way of warding-off all evil — the single most justified reason for almost all weird customary practices around the world. For instance, in Kenya, the father of the bride spits on her head and chest to ensure that her fortune doesn’t get jinxed. Another one on the list is Blackening, a Scottish tradition, which consists of soiling both the bride and the groom with treacle (a dark, sticky, sugary syrup), ash, flour, feathers and anything else you can get your hands on to make things even grosser. The couple is then tied to a tree, followed by a night-long drinking session. Done a day before the wedding, the intention is to prepare the couple to face any kind of adversity in the times to come.
Another dramatic tradition in Romania is that of kidnapping of the bride. She is abducted by family and friends, or by people hired to do so (they take it very seriously). The groom has to then come and rescue his wife-to-be by treating the “kidnappers” to a lavish feast.
They may not make as good a story, but there are less dramatic and more harmless customs in practice. In the Philippines, the couple releases doves for a long and peaceful life together; the guests in Italy are greeted with a confetti of sugared almonds; couples and their families in China drink sake from the same cup to bond. And there’s the Unity Bowl in Australian weddings, which is a bunch of good-luck stones put together by the attendees for the couple to take with them as a reminder of all their blessings.
In Kenya, the father of the bride spits on her head and chest to ensure that her fortune doesn’t get jinxed. Another one on the list is Blackening, a Scottish tradition, which consists of soiling both the bride and the groom with treacle (a dark, sticky, sugary syrup), ash, flour, feathers and anything else you can get your hands on to make things even grosser. The couple is then tied to a tree, followed by a night-long drinking session. Done a day before the wedding, the intention is to prepare the couple to face any kind of adversity in the times to come.
The colour and extravagance of Indian weddings has everyone’s attention the world over. But if one was to take a closer look, the surprising lack of logic in many of the traditions does often lead to a chuckle or two. The practices vary with every tribe, sect and religion, but the cultural lines are blurring as everyone seems to be borrowing the rituals that they like from different communities and incorporating them into their own customised wedding . For instance, applying turmeric paste to the bride and the groom, or stealing the groom’s shoes as he enters the mandap are becoming increasingly popular at weddings, no matter which part of India they are from.
Beyond those, there remain a bunch of practices that are tucked away and typical only to certain areas. There’s the dressing up of “smiling” fish as the bride and the groom, and this memento is presented by the groom’s family to the bride’s as a token of prosperity — a practice followed by Bengalis and Parsis. Fish takesd centrestage in all north-eastern weddings as well. An Ao Naga groom offers his choice of fish to the bride’s father to seal his engagement. Also, in Khasi weddings, the priests pour wine on a set of three fish to invoke the rain gods. And further, fish are a compulsory part of the feast and are exchanged as gifts and tokens of luck.
The art of hospitality also plays a major role at weddings, although interpretations of those traditions tend to vary. For instance, in some parts of northern Bihar, the baraat (groom’s procession) reaches the bride’s house a week before the wedding, where they are fed and pampered extensively. On the other hand, weddings in Sarsaul, a small district in UP, have a rather curt take on the whole hospitality situation. The baraatis here are greeted with rotten tomatoes and the choicest of abuses, with a belief that relationships that start on such a note can only go up from there. Bihar also has another absurd ritual where the bride is given an earthen pot to placed on her head when she is greeted at the groom’s house. Another pot is added every few minutes as a test of her ability to balance her life and duties.
For grooms with cold feet and the jitters, the “Tambrahm” tradition of Kashi yatra sounds like a moment of respite. The groom pretends to have a last-minute change of mind and decides to turn to asceticism, taking off and running away from the mandap. This is when the bride’s father steps in and urges him to continue with the wedding. This is followed by offering auspicious props — the Bhagwad Gita, a hand fan and a sandal — to win (bride) back the groom.
In certain parts of India, it is also believed that anyone born a manglik (an astrological combination of Mars and Saturn both under the seventh house) brings bad luck to their partners to an extent that their health and life could be in peril. So, to ward off this evil, the proposed solution is to get the manglik married to a tree or a dog. The idea is that their bad luck gets transferred to them (because their lives aren’t worth much, apparently), thereby saving the human partner from all possible dangers.
The rest of the country can try and compete, but it always looks like the north is having the maximum fun. You may be aware of Punjabi tradition in which the bride smashes her kaliraas (hand ornaments) over the heads of the unmarried sisters marking the next-in-line to be wed depending on who’s head the kalira does fall, or the bride’s mother being prohibited from attending the kanyadaan. But there are more. In Baniya weddings, the bride is given a doll of a baby boy to signal her role as the procreator and to convey that she has to take the responsibility of the future lineage of the family. The absurd part being that this is a tradition that takes place at the engagement, when things haven’t even been finalised and the couple is yet to tie the knot. Hurry, much? Weddings in the north are also big on games, participated in by the bride, groom and their extended families. For example, the bride’s mother pulls the groom’s nose to tease him and tells him that he better take good care of her daughter. Holy water is sprinkled, using neem leaves, to ward off evil; there’s also the case of the bride and the groom being picked up by friends and relatives as high as possible with the belief that whoever bows down and gets garlanded first will be dominated for life — the list is a long one.