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The big day

Asia » India » Rajasthan » Jaipur - 11 March 2012

sunny 27 °C

I was showered, dressed and ready to leave the Maharani Bagh before 7.45a.m., the time Khuman and I had agreed the night before for our departure to Jaipur. He was to be one of my travelling companions for the long, long journey. We had to be there no later than 5.00pm to prepare for the marriage procession and formal ceremony at the auspicious time of 6.17p.m..

Depending on traffic, the journey could take anything from six to nine hours. However, as I may have mentioned before, Khuman doesn’t do mornings.

We set off an hour and a quarter later!

The observant among you may have noticed that, so far, there's only been talk of a bridegroom and the happenings in Sadri. That's because Pintu and his family celebrated the up-coming marriage independently of the bride who, in this case, lived many miles away in Jaipur and was having pre-marriage celebrations with her own family. Only when we reached Jaipur would the two families join up - and then it would only be Pintu's male family anyway, as his mother and his female cousins and aunts were obliged to remain behind at the hotel in Sadri.

Anyhow, back to the story. For the journeys to and from Jaipur, Khuman and I were joined by one of his brothers-in-law, Narpath Singh, a jovial and talkative man who tried with all his might to speak English although he'd never been taught a word of the language. I knew him from my visit in 2007; he was the father of Bablu, one of my young English-speaking helpers at Vinku’s marriage. He'd travelled over 700kms (420 miles) by bus from Gujarat to be here. Unfortunately, Bablu was sitting exams and couldn't attend, but I was delighted to speak with him and his sister on Narpath's telephone.

The first 40kms (25 miles) of our journey took almost two hours on poor roads. In places, ‘road’ would be overstating the facts. It was only 'once a road'! Now, in many places, it was simply a dirt track with potholes and isolated bits of tarmac of less than a car’s width. Vehicles large and small kicked up colossal clouds of dust. Their tyres, suspension and passengers suffered mercilessly.

We halted, thankfully, for a pre-arranged, early lunch at a hotel near Deogargh, the town in which Pintu had his municipal offices and state-supplied quarters. Shortly afterwards, we joined the national highway with its good metalled surface and dual carriageway – and only an occasional tractor, lorry or motorbike coming directly towards us in the outside lane!

We dozed most of the way, Our driver maintained a fairly constant speed for some hours, and we reached Jaipur shortly before 5.00p.m.. I could have had an extra hour in bed this morning!

At the Hotel Mosaic, I hurriedly took a shower and changed into my smart tropical suit with a white shirt and tie, returning to the foyer just in time to see Pintu having the finishing touches added to his outfit and then climbing a ladder to reach a howdah on top of a waiting elephant. He was dressed in all his finery (Pintu that is, not the elephant - although, now I think about it, the elephant had a lot going on too).

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Pintu wore a magnificent pink-gold shervani, an orange, blue and red turban with a tail and a feathery gold top-knot, gold anklets and very fancy gold shoes. The grey elephant, with shiny white tusks and traditional designs in yellow, blue and green painted over almost its entire body, did look rather dull in comparison!

A pair of camels with decorated bridles and saddles led the procession. Guests, accompanied by a band in bright red uniform, gold braid and navy-blue berets followed, together with turban-wearing bearers of red banners with sparkling designs and big yellow frills. Horns, trumpets and drums played loudly. Fireworks blasted off at intervals.

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The elephant, with its mahout in white uniform and colourful turban, came behind. Pintu aloft on its howdah was being fanned with a silver-handled fly-whisk by an attendant in a shiny red and gold shervani. Then came a white horse with pink-painted feet and embroidered blanket, and even more guests. The noisy procession from hotel to marriage venue took fifteen minutes or so.

At the entrance to the venue, the elephant sat, Pintu climbed down a ladder and mounted the horse for the last hundred metres. Through a brightly-decorated entrance gate and along a red carpet went the merry procession, all the while being photographed and filmed from every angle.

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On a stage, a group of people awaited the bridegroom’s arrival. A pundit – the same one who'd come all the way to Sadri to offer the invitation only a few days before – officiated at a puja ceremony.

The bride’s father then presented Pintu with gifts, not least of all a fabulous gold ornament for his turban and a great big pile of cash! Dowry, in these modern times, is not officially sanctioned but it is traditional for the bride’s family to offer copious gifts to the prospective groom. The cash would help offset some of the loans Pintu had to take out for his own sister’s marriage last year. Any balance, plus other monetary gifts from family and friends made during all the pre- and post-marriage rituals, would go towards the costs of accommodation and meals in Sadri for this, his own marriage. He was unlikely to have very much change, if any, after all the bills had been paid.

The reception for several hundred people here in Jaipur, complete with guests’ accommodation, band, camels, elephant and horse, was being paid for by the bride’s family. Pintu also received from the bride’s father a brand new Maruti/Suzuki car. A few days later, his other gifts of a suite of furniture, a dining table and chairs, a huge wardrobe, an 81cm (32ins) flat-screen television, and a tall refrigerator were delivered to Pintu's home in Sadri. Marriage in India is most certainly not a cheap affair!

The initial welcome ceremony came to an end and we made our way to an indoor hall where the pundit sat beneath a canopied dais. Opposite him, sat the bride's aunt and uncle. Unfortunately, the bride's mother had died some four years earlier and, as both a male and female presence was required, her father was obliged to ask his brother and his brother's wife to oversee the marriage ceremony.

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Pintu and his fiancée, Rajshri, arrived and were helped to sit cross-legged to the pundit's right. The ceremony now commenced.

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I had never before seen Rajshri in real life, just a barely-discernable photo shown to me by Pintu during a conversation on Skype some months earlier. Now here she was and I still couldn't see her, except for a hazy outline of her face through a veil that stayed in place throughout.

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She wore a beautiful, heavy, red sari embroidered in gold thread with a design of flowers and vines. Her hands, arms and feet were decorated with mehndi - elaborate, temporary henna tattoos. Glittering jewellery and bangles adorned her hands and arms.

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At this juncture, I have to add that, because the ceremony was to last a couple of hours, most of the guests were outside the hall in the large open-air arena, enjoying a bar and buffet meals - one buffet for vegetarian food and another for those eating chicken and mutton. Soft drinks, water, beer and whisky were freely and liberally available.

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From time to time, some of the guests would come in just to see the ceremony in progress. I did likewise, so cannot comment on every aspect of it - even if I could have understood what was being said by the pundit or the complex rituals that were taking place under his guidance. I was present for the important ceremony involving Pintu and Rajshri, joined by knotted sashes, walking seven times around a flame in the centre of the dais, at which point they became man and wife.

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Some while later, the happy couple left the hall with an entourage of sari-clad ladies, then split up to meet their respective families who were seated around the vast arena. Rajshri remained demure as she went off to meet her female relatives and friends.

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Pintu at last broke into a smile, walking around the tables for some considerable time, meeting people, receiving their congratulations and gifts of cash, and enjoying the moment.

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A band of drummers and percussionists played joyful folk songs. In the early hours, having thoroughly enjoyed the hospitality, we all strolled (some staggered) back to the hotel.

But this marriage was not yet over. The bride and groom did not retire this night to their honeymoon suite. Tune in again tomorrow for the next episode!

Posted by Keep Smiling 02:34 Archived in India Tagged india jaipur rajasthan ranakpur marriage lajpal pintu

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