Excited women of the house settled with a dholki (drum) churning out one wedding song after the other… a halwai (sweet maker) preparing oil dripping pakodaas (fritters) to go with the chai-shai and thanda shanda (hot / cold drinks) anxious relatives critically examining the preparations… cousins and friends planning the last minute details of a daru (drinking) party…
A bride relives the melodies & delicacies, rituals & ceremonies and hugs & tears that made her big, fat punjabi wedding memorable.
If this all sounds like a Bollywood setup for a Punjabi wedding then Bollywood has it right: every bit of it. Recently-married, I can vouch for the Punjabi wedding as being one of the most colourful, exuberant, emotional and opulent events you could ever experience. To be honest, weddings had never been ‘my kind of thing’ so I expected my polite smile to vanish as the D-Day neared, but the beautiful spectacle not only widened my smile but also brought moments to cherish for a lifetime.
Weddings are special occasions in any culture; what makes Punjabi weddings exceptionally memorable is all the peripheral paraphernalia. What constitutes the paraphernalia? Well… epic food, loud music… okay, let’s admit it, very loud music… bling clothes (read gotta and tilla (gold embroidery and lacework), bright lights, brighter smiles, lots of photography and wedding-centric jokes: a Punjabi wedding is all this and more. Much more, in every sense.
Punjabi weddings are seven-day events at least, with each day having its own significance. The inflow of relatives a week in advance marks the onset. Some are almost total strangers; others who won’t believe the bride-to-be has grown up, even though they visit every month.
Love them or hate them, they’ve arrived, to make sure that every day brings new advice: success mantras for happily married life. Once the well-meaning relatives have settled down, it’s time for the dhol (drum) and sangeet (music) that form integral parts of the shaadi vala ghar (wedding household). While the courtyard belongs to the women, with young and old singing and dancing to the beat of the dholki, outside the house there’s a tent for the sangeet: everything a leg can be shaken to, played by a DJ. Besides the music, the other essential ingredient is, of course, the food. Calling it a major feature would be an understatement: most of the proceedings revolve around it. From the snacks turned out 24/7 from grandmother’s kitchen to the butter chicken and kebabs for parallel liquor
sessions, and the endless variety of starters, mains and desserts on the day itself, everything edible serves to strengthen the bonds between participants. And every haldi (grooming and preparation) ceremony has its own special item: gulgule (sweet pakodaas) for one, khichdi (rice and lentils) for another; as a food lover, I found enjoying these great therapy for toning down wedding anxiety.
While guests, music and food take up much of the wedding household schedule, endless shopping sprees account for most of the rest: the show of bling – clothes and jewellery – is essential. There’s the traditionally embroidered phulkari (flower work) clothes for the bride; the gotta work and tille vali jutties (ornate bridal shoes); the designer lehenga (long, embroidered, pleated skirts) and matching stilettos; the big tikka (pendant) and even bigger nose rings; the necklaces, cocktail rings and branded accessories. Along with the traditional heirloom jewellery, no Punjabi wedding is complete without a show of all that glitters. And the perfectly
accessorised clothes are accompanied by endless photo sessions. While some are clicked for the sole purpose of social media sharing, most are taken with a view to producing a seriously bulky wedding albums. Whatever the reasons, the full- and part-time paparazzi will be out in force.
As D-Day arrives it’s finally time for ‘lights, camera, action!’ For those from the groom’s side, dancing to the dhol (drum) is pretty much compulsory. The day belongs to them as the hospitality from the bride’s family is sure to make them feel like they’ve acquired
royal lineage. As for the hosts for the day, well, everything from the reception of baraat (bridegroom’s procession) to the doli (departure of the bride from her parental house) is a test of their event management skills.
For the Punjabi bride, the day starts early as the laavaphere (vows and blessings) must end before noon. As a late morning person, the prospect of waking up at 5am to reach the parlour seemed unachievable, but on the night itself, the last in my cosy room, I could barely sleep. No amount of bling and Yo Yo Honey Singh could change the way I felt as I stepped out of the house that morning: mixed emotions weighed heavy. But almost before I’d realised it, the dhol brought back the rhythm of life.
A bride usually has to make do with second-hand commentary of all the groom-welcoming action as they wait, decked out, for the call to set off for the Gurudwara. Whereas the groom can enjoy every bit of the day: the sisters-in-law make sure of that. From the ribbon katai (traditional welcome) to the famous jutta chupai (hiding the groom’s footwear: he must pay to get them back) the groom has a lot to do, distributing cash as he goes along in exchange for the sisters-in-law’s demands.
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Then it’s time for the laava-phere: a half hour ceremony with sacred vows that make the bride and groom part of each other’s lives forever.
As I stepped out and said the final goodbye, tender moments raced across my mind: my first step, holding my parents’ hands; the fights I’d had with the siblings I love; and my grandmother’s warm cuddle. A superhuman effort was required to leave my old house and enter the new one, promising to make it my own.
With the main events over, the Punjabi Wedding takes a day or two to wrap up. There are phajji – special sweets – to accompany the goodbyes, and lengthy discussions about just what makes big, fat Punjabi weddings such great occasions.
(Bhavneet Bhatti tied the knot with Naminder Singh in December 2013. The couple stays in Chandigarh. We wish them a happily married life!)
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