Wedding at Bhubhaneshwar – Part Six

With the wedding ceremony and the reception over, everyone was much more relaxed and eager to get some sightseeing done. Unfortunately for us, we couldn’t really sleep in or have a lazy morning as we were supposed to get our wedding registration done in the local government office. Even though more than 300 people witnessed our wedding, we weren’t legally husband and wife until we had that piece of paper from the government that said so. As in any bureaucratic process, this usually takes time and needs oodles of patience (and money) but Ash’s relatives have been living here for quite a while. I am not sure if it in enshrined in Oriya law but I think it helps to be a Patnaik if you need to get any government or political work done in these parts.

Grievance & Consultation

We shuttled around a bit to couple of government offices until we met our lawyer who assured us that we would get our certificate in a day. Folks who plan to get married in destinations other than their hometown are advised to register their marriage in the town they are married in. I’m not sure if this is a rule but when certain legal procedures come accompanied with ‘strictly advised’, you are better off not doing otherwise. After much waiting, we were ushered into the office of the deputy commissioner who witnessed our signatures and we were married. Again. There was some minor jhol with my passport since it showed an U.S. address on my new one since it was renewed in the U.S. That reminds me to get it changed to my ‘permanent address’ in India. On our way out, I couldn’t help noticing that the office for Grievance & Consultation was located next door (see photo). I wonder if it was planned deliberately.

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Wedding at Bhubhaneshwar – Part Five

Everyone around seems more interested in the happenings on the wedding night than the wedding itself but unfortunately, those details cannot (or should not) be divulged. So if you came back expecting those details, you can leave now so I can proceed with the more ‘boring’ details :)

The wedding ceremony and lunch followed by the jhooti fiasco finished up by 3pm and the reception wasn’t until 7:30pm. We couldn’t take Ash ‘home’ since we weren’t home and Ginger wouldn’t give us our room until the next morning. We were booked for the night at Mayfair anyway. So post-wedding, I crashed in my brother’s room as we watched Lake Placid on Star Movies. Not exactly what you thought I would be doing after the wedding, eh? I wondered if the choice of the movie was a harbinger of things to come. Poor Ash on the other hand had to report for her makeup session couple of hours before the reception so she stayed put with her parents at Mayfair. Rest of our guests either snored away their afternoons or headed out to the city for some more shopping. Frankly, I couldn’t understand how could you continue shopping in a city not really known as a shopper’s paradise. These folks would go berserk in Dubai or Singapore. Probably they already had. Shopping, I feel, is more of a social activity that women enjoy whereas men have specific objectives when they are out to buy something.

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Wedding at Bhubhaneshwar – Part Four

Blogging your wedding day can be a difficult task because it might be the one post that your children or even you are most likely to read about in the distant future. You want to capture all the details but everything seems like a blur because so many people and so many things happening on a very important day of your life. Relatives had teased me the night before of my impending ‘doom’ and jokingly asked me to consider one last time before I took that ultimate step. I’m sure Ash faced similar ribbing or perhaps even more by her side of the family.

The wedding muhurat or rather the appointment with the priest since it was an Arya Samaj wedding was at 10:30 in the morning. My parents had insisted that I observe a fast until the wedding rites were completed. You wouldn’t want to be around me when I’m hungry and watching people wolf down a hearty breakfast of eggs, upma, idlis wasn’t helping. Fortunately, the buffet had plenty of options in fruits and juice and I prompted stuffed myself. Fortunately, everyone was ready and dressed up on time and we assembled in our hotel lobby ready to leave for the wedding venue. The wedding venue was at Mayfair Hotel, Bhubhaneshwar’s top-rated hotel or so we were told. As we stood outside the hotel, I spotted the familiar florally decorated car that I would sit in while the rest of my wedding party would walk alongside. Earlier, my relatives had entertained the idea of renting a horse (or rather a ghodi) but thankfully common sense prevailed and I was spared the ignominy of toppling down or dangling from the stirrups as the horse galloped away into the sunset. Yeah yeah, I am aware that the horses are usually used to the cacophony of a typical Indian wedding or even drugged to make them more docile than a sloth in hibernation but it doesn’t hurt to imagine the worst, right? I didn’t want to be blamed for running away from the wedding just because the horse felt I should.

Blowing the conches

We were greeted by a three-party ‘band’ that consisted of some vigorous conch blowing and they faithfully accompanied us doing their thing at regular intervals as we proceeded toward the venue. We were greeted outside by Ash’s dad who as instructed by the priest welcomed me in the usual traditional fashion as other relatives looked on excitedly. Since Ash is the first one to get married among her cousins, the excitement among her extended family was palpable. Incidentally females dominate her cousin gang and I or PJ (P. jiju) was subjected to much scrutiny by my saalis. After the traditional welcome, we were seated in an intermediate hall along with the rest of our wedding party and were served refreshments. Later on, I proceeded to the wedding mandap escorted by my sister (cousin) who was assigned the role of karavlee and my oldest mama.

Wedding Mandap

The wedding ceremony was short and simple since it was carried out according to the Arya Samaj tradition which essentially is a bare-bones version of a complete and drawn out Hindu wedding. Maharashtrian weddings can be a long and tedious affair that requires the constant attention of the people involved and that can be a bit difficult when you see people around you enjoying themselves and gobbling down sweets. Oriya weddings, I was told are equally long and to make it worse are done in the middle of the night. I guess, they must have the concept of suhag subah which involves both the bride and groom snoring their first day together. Anyway, our ceremony took a little under couple of hours and had our respective parents by our side at almost all times. Another feature of an Arya Samaj wedding is that the priest explains all rituals to us and although our priest’s knowledge of spoken English was a bit lacking (“…in your times of entertainment” What? you mean joy, right?), it was nevertheless useful to know what was going on. The ceremony also tries to be fair to the girl since there is no such thing as kanyadaan (women aren’t property that can be given away, right?) but still the ceremony is a tad misogynist. Another interesting tidbit was that husbands are expected to give their wife only three saris in their married life – one during the wedding, other when she is pregnant, and the last at his or her funeral. So technically, Ash has no right to ask for any more. It isn’t in the contract. Of course, nothing stops her from getting her own.

Other than that we had a regular Hindu wedding complete with a havan and saptapadi. We were even adorned with festive mukuts (crowns) which is more of an Oriya tradition and my parents ensured they had an opportunity to give Ash gifts during the ceremony. I was glad that my brother was taking photos with my Nikon D40 because he got far better and candid pictures (the ones that some of you have seen) than the ones the official photographer took. We had a brief photo session with various families both on my side and Ash’s side since everyone wanted their picture taken with the couple. Additionally, we must have touched the feet of nearly 100-odd people in one continuous round post-ceremony. Thankfully, lunch followed soon after and that’s it, we were married.

Joined hands

One downside of Hum Aapke Hai Kaun being such a big hit is that nowadays Punju traditions are considered Indian customs and like in any contemporary weddings, my jootis were targeted by my umpteen young saalis. But when Maharashtrians and Oriyas try to adopt alien cultures, there is bound to be a learning curve. It turned out that my saalis stole my dad’s jootis and I calmly found and wore mine much to their astonishment. Nevertheless, negotiations started in the right earnest. But being the shaana Bombay folks that we are, my cousins in turn stole Ash’s dad’s chappals and turned the tables. After much hulla-gulla and attempts at breaking the stalemate, my dad and uncles made my saalis dance (literally) which they were sporting enough to do. Cash was promptly coughed up and everyone was happy. Ash and I were content to stand back and watch everyone at least get along nicely. It was undoubtedly fun and helped break the ice of formality.

I had hoped to write about the reception as well but more than half of you have already stopped reading so I’ll save that for later.

Wedding at Bhubhaneshwar – Part Three

The wedding rituals started with the haldi ceremony which is done first at the groom’s home and later at the bride’s home. In Oriya tradition, they have a similar ceremony to kick off the wedding rituals called Mangan Handi which has something to do with pots that I am not completely sure of. Ash wasn’t sure either and it was her grandmother’s wish that they do the ceremony. I found the word quite interesting since it is spelled in Oriya-Bong style with ‘O’s instead of the ‘A’ and sounds like Mongono Hondi; almost something that you would cry out loud before attacking the enemy hordes.

Anyway, since the groom’s wedding party was stationed in a hotel, we had to conduct our haldi ceremony in a cramped Ginger Hotel room. Basically, the haldi ceremony involves smearing first the groom with copious amount of turmeric paste, starting from the feet and moving upwards to his face. It is said to be a purification ceremony. No one knew exactly what we were trying to purify until someone mentioned the natural cleansing properties of haldi. Probably, it was an organic and traditional spa-like treatment meant to clear your skin of blemishes, etc. Anyway, ceremonial or religious significance aside all my aunts and other ladies numbering more than 20 had a gala time plastering me yellow as I sat half-naked on a swivel chair covered with newspapers. Much merriment and jokes were tossed around as everyone seemed to enjoy this part of the ceremony. After the aarti, I was allowed to hit the shower and get all the haldi off however even after scrubbing hard for a good 30-40 minutes, I still looked a little yellow (not to be mistaken with shit scared). The only other haldi-related celebration I have seen was at Jejuri, a temple town in rural Maharashtra where you literally have a Holi-like celebration but with haldi.

Ginger Lobby before Haldi

After all the ladies recovered from the haldi fest, everyone dressed in their finery and assembled in the hotel lobby ready to head to Ash’s ancestral home in Bhubhaneshwar. My mom and few aunts carried with them the necessary jewelery and other assortment of gifts that they were expected to bestow on the bride-to-be. Although the haldi ceremony at the girl’s place is also supposed to involve similar smearing and plastering of turmeric on the bride, the primary intention is to adorn the bride with jewelery and other embellishments in order to get her ready for the wedding. They say that there is no going back on the wedding once the haldi ceremony is done. Mehendi is also applied either earlier or during this time.

Mangan HandiThe menfolk aren’t supposed to be around and the haldi ceremony is mostly a women’s affair. We arrived a little later and were allowed to watch from the back. After all, this was the first time the two families, cousins, grandparents, and all were meeting each other. The ceremony started with the Oriya Mangan Handi which involved 5 of Ash’s aunts and equal number of pots. The ceremony was accompanied by ‘ullu ullu’ chants which sounds downright hilarious and even the ladies on our side of the wedding party enjoyed joining in. After this brief ceremony started the much longer haldi ceremony. The girl is dressed in a simple white sari in which haldi is applied to her feet, hands, and face. She is gifted another white sari which is slightly more dressy. The girl then also is allowed to have a bath and she emerges dressed in that gifted white sari. She takes centerstage and five ladies which surprisingly exclude the groom’s mom take turns in dressing her up and adorning her with more jewelery. My mom however was at the sidelines barking instructions but mostly deferring to the most senior of my mami who probably had done quite a few of these.

The haldi ceremony was followed by dinner on the terrace. Interestingly, on that day according to the Hindu calendar and Oriya tradition, we were not supposed to eat onions, ginger, or garlic and hence all food was prepared sans those three important ingredients. And we hardly missed them. The food although completely vegetarian was absolutely delicious and our entire wedding party couldn’t stop singing praises especially more so after they were told about the onion-ginger-garlic factoid. Everyone enjoyed each other’s company and there was much merriment that accompanies a wedding party. The delicious Oriya sweets like Rasogulla (originated in Orissa and not Bengal) and more particularly, Chenna Pod Petha which was a big hit with all those who had it for the first time. The evening culminated with series of group photos and we headed back to our hotel eager to get a good night’s sleep before the big day tomorrow.

Next up – the wedding day

Wedding at Bhubhaneshwar – Part Two

On day two, our wedding party at Ginger had only ten people in the morning and the rest were due to arrive later that afternoon. We had arrived a day earlier just to be on the safe side and avoid the vagaries of the airline industry (one of my dad’s planning characteristic). The haldi ceremony which would kick off the wedding rites wasn’t due to start until evening which left us the entire morning and early afternoon free for a quick Bhubhaneshwar darshan. Getting ten people ready and out in the cars by 8am is a lot easier than doing so for 30 more as we would find out later. Unfortunately, a little miscommunication ended up making us wait for yet another hour before we could proceed to the older parts of the city. Although we were expressly told by Ash’s relatives not to go to the temples on our own, we decided to head out on our own only to be called frantically by one of her aunts asking us to please wait outside before entering the temple.

GanpatiI had heard horror stories from Ash of pondas or rogue priests who whack people on the head if you don’t cough up money so I insisted we wait outside. The Lingaraj Temple is one of the more traditional temples in Bhubhaneshwar and also one of the most worshiped. As the name suggests, it is a Shiva temple. Actually, it is a temple complex that hosts nearly 108 smaller temples with little deities and even more vociferous priests who in a business-like manner try to lure you to their respective deity. We were lucky to have Ash’s aunt with us and quickly realized the importance of her advice of not entering the temple complex on our own. She quickly admonished most pondas and drove them away which in turn got a few curses hurled at us. Since most curses were in Oriya, I didn’t care and even if I had understood them, I would have laughed back. As Mehmood (in Bombay to Goa) retorts to “main tumko shraap detaa hoon” with a “main sharab nahi peeta“. Also, I failed to mention earlier that this temple is off-limits to non-Hindus and you are strictly forbidden from carrying your cellphone or camera and anything made of leather. So unfortunately, I couldn’t take any pictures. I am not sure how exactly the non-Hindus rule is enforced. Poor foreign (white) tourists are clearly kept away whereas Muslims theoretically could easily get in if they didn’t carry Islam on their sleeve (or head). But I wonder if you would want to go to a place where you aren’t welcome.

Orissa Temple Shikhara (Deul)The temple architecture as in any traditional Indian state is breathtaking. Although the brittle sandstone is being rapidly worn away by the salty coastal air, the remnants are enough to help you imagine the grandeur of the place in its heydays. The shikhara or as it is called here, deul is uniquely shaped and arcs gradually to host a round beveled disc sometimes wide enough for a bullock cart to go around at its top (don’t bother worrying about how you would get them up in the first place!) Ash’s aunt gave us a quick history lesson regarding the temple’s origins and method of construction. Although my parents and other relatives went inside the garba griha, one whiff of the interiors and I stayed away. The place stank to the high heavens, no pun intended from the rotting of the milk and ghee offerings not to mention the thousands of sweaty people crammed in a small unventilated sub-basement. I wish tradition and customs would allow for modifying this mystifying aspect of temple architecture. I’m sure plenty more people would visit temples if this experience was a whole lot pleasant. I maintained my newly-found atheism by not joining my hands to the gods although later I would flout this rule in the countless wedding rituals and pujas.


The other temple we visited, Mukteshwar was much more tourist friendly and completely devoid of worshipers. We even spotted the occasional white tourists who were being strictly warned to stay away from Lingaraj. I could photograph this temple to my heart’s content and we could better observe the finer details of the temple architecture here than we could at Lingaraj. The temple strangely lies nestled amid modern urban civilization and borders an apartment complex so it seems just like another other neighborhood temple. I tried hard to avoid those ugly urban characteristics from my photographs. Unfortunately, we couldn’t go to the Raja Rani temple which is also another beautiful temple that most tourists to Bhubhaneshwar visit.

Back at our hotel, we expected the arrival of the rest of our guests. There was much chilam-chili when they arrived. Backs were patted and hands were shook vigorously as everyone settled down to a noisy lunch narrating tales of the flight and first impressions of Bhubhaneshwar. The ladies, of course, were sharing secrets on shopping expeditions and the men were more interesting in the availability of spirits. Generally everyone seemed to be in vacation mode and looking forward to the festivities.

More on the haldi ceremony later.

Wedding at Bhubhaneshwar – Part One

The fact that we were going to be flying across the country to a state that hardly anyone had visited for a wedding enthused many of my relatives. Either the fascination for visiting a new place or the excitement of trooping down in one big wedding party, we were nearly 40+ people flying down to Bhubaneshwar. However, my fears that everyone is out for a joyous picnic was completely unfounded as everyone’s excitement and joy regarding the wedding was palpable. After all, I was the eldest ‘kid’ on both sides of the family and there was a wedding in the family after more than 20 years. Even seeing Abhishek Bachchan at the airport wasn’t half as exciting for my cousin sis (and my aunt). And that is saying a lot since they are big AbhiAsh fans.

The wedding party flew to Bhubhaneshwar in two separate flights and we learned that even the most direct flight with Indian Airlines still halts at Raipur to unload and take in some passengers just like a S.T. bus would. Ash’s dad was at the airport to receive us accompanied by couple of Taveras (we would later need a mini bus) and escorted us to our hotel. We stayed at Tata’s latest chain of budget hotel, Ginger. If you haven’t seen one yet, this chain is modeled on the U.S.style of motels i.e. almost everything is self-service. You get luggage trolleys that you use to carry your own baggage. You check in and take it up to your room. There is no room service and if you have forgotten your toothbrush, you’ve to go down to the lobby vending machine to get one. I advice you to check the night before instead of trooping down in your nightwear. This is primarily a business hotel and everyone is up and about early in the morning. I’ll probably expand on the viability of the Ginger concept in a later post.

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