A few weeks ago, I travelled to India! I have been lucky to go to India twice before… once for a school program and extended backpacking trip in 2016 and the second last year for work. However, this was a different type of Indian adventure for me… I was going to see my friend Nundini get married.
I started my travels in Mumbai, where I met up with my Ivey undergrad friends Alex and Nathalie for a few days of activities before the wedding festivities started. We saw a few touristy sights in Mumbai, including the Gate of India and Elephanta Island, but we were really just excited to see each other and catch up. We indulged in many great meals and drinks, including cocktails at Mumbai’s first bar (located in the Taj Mahal Palace hotel). After Mumbai, we travelled south to the province of Kerala, where we took a houseboat through the canals. It was an incredibly peaceful experience. We enjoyed seeing the local communities in this area and felt totally relaxed as we ate all of our meals and slept on the boat.
From Kerala, it was time to head to Chennai to begin the wedding festivities. Nundini, Patrick and their families had organized a number of events for those travelling from out of town. On our first day in Chennai, Nundini organized a meeting with a local non-profit organization who works with women in the community. They help women (many of whom work as domestic workers) negotiate better wages and working conditions. We also visited the temples of Malappuram, which was quite near to the wedding venue.
While in Chennai, we also had a lot of wedding preparations to complete! We wanted to purchase some traditional outfits for the different events (so we spent a whopping 6 hours in a local mall one day), Nundini’s sister had coordinated all of the young people to perform a choreographed Bollywood dance so we had some intensive training sessions, and Alex, Nathalie and I were hard at work on our wedding speech.
The wedding itself was amazing. There were three main events – the mehndi, ceremony and reception. The mehndi is traditionally just for women attending the wedding, but Nundini and her family wanted to make it more inclusive. This event is where you get henna applied to your hands, so we all received fantastically beautiful designs. This event was more casual so I wore an outfit called a Shalwar kameez, which consists of a pair of tights, tunic and a long scarf.
The next morning was the ceremony, which was the biggest and most formal of the events. The ceremony itself was about 2 hours, followed by lunch. There were more than 200 guests present to watch Nundini and Patrick get married, where they went through an elaborate ceremony, including seven steps Nundini and Patrick took together and a fire walk (thankfully they walked around a fire, not over it). The ceremony is traditionally in sanskrit, but Nundini and Patrick had found an awesome priestess (female priest) to officiate the ceremony. She translated the key moments to English and made some jokes along the way. For this event we wore saris (one long piece of fabric that is draped around you in a very specific way). We had to get up early to be tied into our saris (but no one was up as early as Nundini, who started her highly intricate hair and make-up at 4am).
Finally, the last event was the reception, which took place in the evening. This was for a smaller group and there were speeches and some performances (such as dances and songs) to celebrate the couple. In some Indian weddings, these performances could take place at a different event altogether (the sangeet) but the couple decided to merge these together. For this final event, we were outfits called lehengas, which is a crop top (choli), a long skirt and scarf. These were much easier to dance in than the more formal saris.
We had an amazing time celebrating Nundini and Patrick and learning many new wedding traditions. Since then, I’ve had lots on the go in Singapore… Alex visited immediately after the wedding, Andrew visited shortly after that, I went to Bali with some friends (and Andrew!), I have been training for an upcoming triathlon and gearing up for Mom and Bruce to visit in two weeks. Lots of excitement over here and more to report soon!