Recently my sister got married. It was a traditional Assamese wedding, which lasted for two days and one night, with breaks, of course. It was a hectic event, something I don't really appreciate. There were scores of relatives. There were more than 1,000 guests swarming the place from morning till midnight. The bridegroom arrived at 11.30 pm, and by the time everything was over, it was the next day morning.
Of course, we took loads and loads of pictures, which I am sure would interest no one other than the people who feature in it.
Here’s four pictures, without personages, to highlight a few rituals involved in an Assamese wedding.
>>>> Here is the pandal. Or chamiyana, or tent or canopy. We call it a rabha. It’s the part and parcel of a wedding. Without a gate like this, without these two banana plants on both sides of the gate, a wedding isn’t complete. The banana plants represent auspicious beginning and luck. Traditionally, your neighbours should come and help you build the canopy, with bamboo sticks and coloured-clothes and tin sheds on top during monsoon. This is a way of involving your neighbours in your happiness. Nowadays, however, most neighbours are busy, and in most cases there are no neighbours. Instead, there are private contractors who does these tents; the charges vary according to the type of tent you want.
>>>>> Water plays an important role in the wedding. In the morning, the bride's mother and other women, neighbours and relatives, followed by the band party (The role of the band party is very important. It is to indicate that a wedding is taking place. The idea of a wedding is to let people know that someone is getting married, and it's a nice thing.), go to a nearby river or pond, in short, a public source of water. Privately-owned water won't do. The women carry copper or earthen pots with them. Once they reach the source of water, they perform a ritual to cleanse the water (there are mantras to do so), and fill the pots and return home.
As the day progresses, and the ritual to offer homages to the forefathers is over, it's time to give the bride a public bath. For that a banana tree is planted at a convenient spot, under which the bride would have a bath. This banana tree is important. Once the ritual is complete, the household must tend the plant and keep it alive till it bears fruit. The fruit-bearing capability of the tree is linked to the fertility of the bride.
Now, the bride stands under the tree while the women smear her with raw turmeric, mustard oil and other cosmetic herbs. Then they pour the pots of water collected from the river. Then the bride is given new clothes and the old cloth is discarded and given away to the poor. Once the bath is over, a male member of the family carries the bride to the courtyard. She's not allowed to enter the house until the rituals are over.
>>>> These are the items to welcome the bridegroom to the household. The actual ceremony, in front of the sacrificial fire, takes place outside the house, in the courtyard. Once the ceremony is over, the menfolk, including the priest, retire and the womenfolk take over. The bride's mother welcomes the groom by throwing rice grains at him, then sprinkles water from the pot with the help of the mango leaves, and offers him the whole areca nut and the betel leaf.
This is followed by a few games, where a ring is hidden in the pot full of rice. It is said that between the bride and the groom whoever find the ring first would have the upper hand in the household (as the English people say, would wear the pants.)
>>> This is the holy ground where the wedding takes place. These are the paraphernalia of the ritual. On the left, the sacrificial fire burns. Traditionally, it is the wood of a mango tree that is used for the fire. Ghee is used to keep the fire burning. There is the banana sapling, the symbol of purity. In the middle of it all, is the jantra, the machinery to invoke the gods, to help conduct the ceremony. Prajpati, a version of Brahma, the god of creations, is the presiding deity.
The jantra is made of all organic colours, acquired from nature: The white is rice powder; the black is charcol ashes; the yellow is turmeric; the red is sindoor, the green is dried wood apple leaves. The jantra is designed by the priest who officiates the wedding.