First day: Henna Ritual.
On the first day, someone rushed to my room to tell me that they were beginning to paint the bride and the rest of the family with henna. Luckily for me, they were doing it in the same hotel where I was staying. As the time passed more and more members of the family arrived: the aunt, the grandmother, the other grandmother, the daughter of the sister in law of the aunt, and so on. 300 hundred people in the same room! Everybody is laughing at me, the foreign woman! They invited me to participate and get painted with henna too. Of course, I wanted to take advantage of the moment and live this new experience… so I did.
Third Day. Morning: Pithi Dastoor (the yellow dust ceremony)
Once again I carried my sari with me and hopped on the motorbike. I arrived to the hotel and on this occasion, only the closest friends of the bride wore yellow and red saris. The ceremony began on the terrace hotel roof, with the officiator praying to the Brahman God as each relative approaches the bride and spreads some yellow mud on her face and knees. After this the mother approaches her and the bride starts to cry, it is as if at that moment she realised that she wont be living in the family home anymore. Next when her father approaches she cried even more… her father cried also while smiling at her. It was a beautiful moment! The bride keeps on crying… she is just a girl and she is going to get married in what they refer to as a Love Wedding match, that is, it is not a completely arranged wedding. The couple marry for love, they have known each other for some time. In their case they met at school and her father chose him for her. They had gone out together a few times and they had liked each other… they were friends.
After everybody in the family have paid their respects to her, the women approach the bride and cover her completely with an ointment, at the same time the rest of the family play and laugh as they throw yellow mud at each other. I tried to hide behind my camera but it was pointless, I also ended up covered with the yellow mud.
Third Day: Afternoon: WEDDING CEREMONIES.
When you think it is all about to finish, you realise it has only just began.
We all went to have a rest before the ceremony began: finally the wedding! It hadn’t begun yet and I had already spent three days taking photos! After resting, everybody started to get ready. I was taken to an aunt or cousin’s house where they helped me get dressed; finally I was going to wear my sari! They rapped me in a five metre long sari and it looked just like a dress, it was amazing! They took me to the celebration. The appearance of the groom riding on a carriage pulled by horses and surrounded by his family and friends dancing, referred to as the “Barat”, had finally arrived. The village band was playing and a path of lights was showing him the way. It was fantastic to see Indians carrying lights in their hands and a donkey following them with a generator on his back.
When the family saw me dressed in my sari, they embraced me, and at the same time arranged the sari around my body, again and again. We embraced and I felt so happy because now we were really close.
The groom is dressed like an actor in a Bollywood film, he is also wearing a necklace made of rupees and a beautiful yellow turban on his head. On entering the room where the ceremony is going to take place he goes to sit on a great sofa in the centre of a stage, to negotiate with the bride’s parents, as she is getting ready. For this occasion she is dressed in a red sari with gold embroidery and she wears the family jewels. Her dress must weight at least 10kg without counting the jewels… no wonder she wouldn’t dance! How could she with all that weight!
The entrance of the bride is called “Kanya”. She arrives surrounded by all the women in the family. After her arrival, bride and groom are lifted on to a round altar that turns while spreading flower petals! They exchange necklaces as a symbol of their commitment and as soon as this ritual is finished, they are guided to the big sofa were they receive one by one all the family members and pose for their photograph next to the couple, some even have their picture taken twice! I have forgotten to say that there are 700 guests at this wedding!
The space were the celebration took place was full of colour and also many tables full of food! And only one table for drinks: tea or water, of course. In Spain this would be exactly the opposite, right?
All the guests you see at an Indian wedding are related to each other!
After the photographic session was finished the bride, groom and closest relatives were seated at the only table in the room.
We finished dinner at 1am and Priya came to me and said: “now we will go and rest before the ceremony begins”. I couldn’t believe it! We had spent 3 days celebrating with the whole family and the wedding ceremony hadn’t taken place yet! And it would start at 4am!
I thought it would be better to continue dancing until 4am, but when I looked around everybody had gone. Both families had retired to sleep, and were lying on beads, or on the floor of a big room, covered with blankets. Everybody was dead tired! Even the photographers and videographers were lying on a bed and sleeping!
After the officiator, who is also a family member reads half of the sacred book and does other symbolic rituals with water and food, we all go down to seal the engagement. The last ritual is called “Vivaha Homa”. A fire is light in a room, mantras are recited in Sanskrit language, as they walk in circles around a prayer mat 7 times, and make 7 promises. Now is when the state recognises the union! It is 6am when the father tells me: “at 10 we are going to have the last ceremony”. I laugh and look at him … I want to go home. He just laughs… he is pulling my leg! He invites me to sit down and gives me a blanket to cover myself with. These people are really nice! Some relatives are already asleep and some even snoring! We all laugh!
Pooja’s boyfriend offers to take me back to my hotel. Once there I sit for some time in the terrace reflecting on everything I have experienced in the last three days… I have been very lucky! And it all began with an offering to the sacred river Ganges!
This is not the usual photographic wedding coverage. It is a unique life experience, and it was destiny that made it possible.
Congratulations Nittu and Hassan. Thank you for giving me the chance to live this amazing experience. You welcomed me into your lives as a sister and made me feel as part of your family. I wish you a life full of love, happiness and many children.
In 2014 I travelled for the first time to India. I was going to go across the north of India with only my backpack. The first lesson I learnt was to not plan every minute of your life. Live the present and show your gratitude towards what life brings you.
I ended up in a village near The Himalayas in the state of Uttarakhand, called Lakshman Jhula. There is where I met Amit and Priya, these are their adopted Indian names, they are from Spain but spend long periods of time in this village every year. They showed me around the village and the Ashram, introduced me to Surrender, their yoga teacher, and also showed me the hotel where they were staying and where I also decided to stay for the next two months. I still feel this hotel is my home away from home, each time I go back.
On Amit and Priya’s next-to-last day in India we decided to take some pictures of their yoga and meditation session on the bank of the river Ganges Luckily I had brought my professional camera with me. We were in the middle of the photographic session, focused on what we were doing, when I heard a noise, my camera lens had slipped out from my bag and fallen into the river! I saw small bubbles start to come up to the surface of the water, I slowly took off my socks and shoes and dived into the river, the lens was soaked, but I didn’t get upset. I thought there is always a reason for everything: what the Ganges takes from you, the Ganges gives back. As if nothing had happened, we continued with our session until it grew dark. That night Amit and Priya asked me: being that you are a wedding photographer, wouldn’t you like to cover an Indian wedding, the wedding of the daughter of the owner of the hotel where we are staying? I could not believe my luck!
The next day, Negi, the owner of the hotel, introduced me to his daughters. They all embraced me and I found myself saying: “If you agree, I would love to publish your wedding photographs in my web page”. They all laughed and said: “We are going to be famous in Spain”.
WHAT I LEARNED AT AN INDIAN WEDDING:
Indian weddings don’t last a day, at least three! So try to get as much sleep as you can before it all starts.