In India, a country that is steeped in tradition, it’s a joy to partake in the many rituals or watch it happening, more so at special occasions. Be it a ‘Big Fat Indian Wedding’ or an ‘Intimate Lean Indian Wedding’, I have always looked forward to attending these ceremonies. Having friends from different parts of India, I found the many different traditions attached to these ceremonies particularly interesting. I used to be (and still am) fascinated by the colours, the flowers, the chants, the rituals and of course the gastronomic delights!
Shoes are a significant part of the big, fat Indian wedding. From sitting barefoot during ceremonies in certain cultures to stealing the shoes of the groom…we bring to you the big, fat shoe & foot stories from Indian shaadis!
An Indian Hindu marriage is all about rituals and customs – it is usually an elaborate ceremony because there are several rituals that should be followed before and after the wedding…and every ritual has its own meaning and significance.
Having spent a better part of my early years in South India, I was invited to many Hindu weddings and I used to look forward to the ‘big day’ to watch the proceedings with fascination. Being a Christian and having also been to several Christian weddings, one of the differences that I noticed was that it was customary for the Christian bride and the groom to wear exquisite footwear to match their various outfits. But during Hindu weddings, no footwear is worn during the entire ceremony and all footwear is kept outside the ‘mandap’. In the South Indian Brahmin weddings also there is no place for footwear during the ceremony, except maybe during Kashi Yathra.
Kashi Yathra is a fun event in a South Indian wedding where the groom embarks on a mock pilgrimage. This happens on the morning of the wedding, after the recitation of the Vedic verses and just before the main wedding ceremony. The groom dressed in a ‘veshti’ in the traditional ‘panchakatcham’ style, wearing ‘chappals’, holding an umbrella, a walking stick, a fan and a towel containing ‘dal’ and rice tied to his shoulder, steps out of the ‘kalyana mandapam’, refusing to marry the bride and pretending to go to Kashi (a sacred pilgrimage site in the city of Benares) to take ‘sanyas’ and lead a celibate life. The bride’s father then stops the groom, persuades him to change his mind and accept his daughter’s hand in marriage instead and promises him a comfortable and happy life. After much cajoling, the groom relents and returns to the ‘mandapam’ to get married.
I clearly remember an incident when the older sister of a Tam-brahm (Tamil Brahmin) friend of mine got married to a fun-loving Christian boy. They had a Hindu wedding ceremony as well as a Christian ceremony. The groom who used to call his lady-love’s father ‘Uncle’, started addressing him as ‘Mamanar’ and got really dramatic while performing the Kashi Yathra ritual…he repeated ‘movie-like’ dialogues, much to everyone’s amusement! He even asked his prospective father-in-law for a long list of material comforts, before agreeing to marry his daughter! It was all done in jest of course.
The ‘Pada Puja’ is what follows the ‘Kashi Yathra’. In this ritual, the bride’s mother washes the groom’s feet with water, ‘chandan’ and ‘kumkum’ (In some customs it is the mother of the groom who washes his feet). The bride is then ushered into the ‘mandapam’.
After some more rituals, there is ‘Sapthapadi’, known as ‘Seven steps’, which signifies the most important part of the wedding ceremony. The bride’s sari ‘pallu’ and the groom’s ‘angavastram’ are tied in a knot and the groom holding the bride’s right hand in his right-hand goes around the sacred fire seven times. In North Indian weddings this is referred to as ‘Saat Pheras’.
‘Sapthapadi’ or ‘Saat Pheras’, the essence of these sacred vows lies in the fact that the bride and the groom make promises to each other and to God. It is only after this ritual that the bride and groom are ‘officially’ married, so it is considered the most significant of all rituals. Amongst the South Indian and North Indian Brahmin communities, there is another important ritual after the ‘Sapthapadi’ or ‘Saat Pheras’. The bridegroom chants Vedic verses and helps the bride place her foot on a grinding stone which is kept near the sacred fire. This act symbolizes the bride’s hope that the marriage will be firm and steady like the grinding stone and their union solid as a rock. In some cultures, the groom helps the bride slide the stone forward, symbolizing the vow that they will overcome the hardships of life together.
The bridegroom then puts silver toe rings or ‘metti’ on the bride’s second toe on both feet. Wearing a ‘metti’ is a sign that the woman is married and also according to Ayurveda, the pressure on the 2nd toe is related to the wellbeing of the uterus, which is good for fertility. It’s mostly worn in silver because according to the traditional custom it is forbidden to wear gold jewellery below the waist.
In a Sikh wedding too, the footwear is removed when the couple visits the Gurdwara for Anand Karaj or “Blissful Union”. The bride and the groom complete 4 ‘lawans’ as part of their ceremony which are ‘pheras’ around the Guru Granth Sahib.
Across India in many cultures, after the solemnity of the main wedding ceremony, there is a bit of fun and laughter when the groom leaves the ‘mandap’ and finds his footwear missing. Hiding the groom’s footwear by the bride’s cousins or friends is seen as an ice-breaker, between the groom’s side of the family and the bride’s family and friends. They demand money from the groom to return his footwear and this is perhaps a mischievous way to check if he is a miser!
A few years back I witnessed a rather fun episode where the groom was trying his best to wiggle out of an embarrassing situation. There were about 15 of the bride’s cousins demanding a fairly large sum of money each from the groom to return his footwear…the groom claimed he had just enough cash for 7 of them at that moment and asked for a ‘credit note’ for the rest. The bride’s cousins would have none of it, so the groom ended up borrowing from his best friend to pay the ‘ransom’!
Now the most significant post-wedding ceremony takes place when the bride is welcomed into her marital home. This ceremony is called ‘Gruhapravesham’ and the bride is welcomed into the new house with love and respect. The mother-in-law performs an ‘aarthi’ and invites the bride to enter the house with her right foot first and gently push a pot filled with rice. This signifies that Goddess Lakshmi follows the bride to her new home. When the pot of rice spills inside the house, it signifies prosperity. Entering with the right foot is auspicious for the bride and the groom’s family. If the groom’s family does not live in the same town where the wedding is held then this ceremony is performed in the ‘mandap’ after completion of all the marriage rites.
The Indian Wedding is like a festival in itself with the many significant rituals, the solemnity, the vibrancy, the colours, the people and the fun.
(Words: Shereen Abraham)
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