...I had heard that Indians do not mess around when it comes to weddings. Today's pre-wedding celebration did not disappoint. Following typical Indian standards, we planned to leave at noon and actually departed at 1:30 pm. Apparently, we had to wait for the groom and his family (our neighbors) to leave first. My host-family, one volunteer, and I rode about 5 km to a place designated just for wedding ceremonies.
We were welcomed by the groom and his family and gathered around for photos. Then we sat at any empty table where the onslaught of appetizers began. In keeping with religious practices, only non-alcoholic beverages, such as Pepsi and Mountain Dew, were served.
Family and friends welcomed me with open arms. I mentioned before that the groom's sister and her family actually live in Phoenix. Thinking what a small world it is, I continued on to meet this man, a childhood friend of the groom. It turns out he is also a pilot. But you would never guess where he completed his private, instrument, multi-engine, and commercial pilot training: Scottsdale Airport! In fact, he had some of the same instructors that I did and probably flew some of the same aircraft that I learned in. Now that's a small world.
It wasn't long before I was summoned inside and escorted by the groom's sister to a prime seat near the left side of the stage. Just as I sat down, the groom's father noticed me and waved me up to sit right next to him on the stage, right behind the groom and priest. How special of a treat is that! The procession had already begun but paused for a moment as I removed my shoes, sat down, and as the priest turned around to place a tilak (a red paste, with rice in this case, that is smeared on the forehead to symbolize the mind's eye) on my forehead.
Today's procession was all about the groom. The bride was not even present and only men were seated on the stage. For the next hour, the groom was literally showered with gifts from the other side of the stage (the bride's family). The procession started with a myriad of religious traditions. Bananas, rice, and hundred rupee notes, among many other items, were used to bless the groom. There was hardly a second in which the groom was not also being fed sweets. After about 30 minutes of religious chants and sprinkling rice and flowers over the groom, the procession took on a slightly less religious tone. The big gifts started coming, including many installments of money, jewelry, and food. Even I was given 10 rupees! I looked at the father for clarification. He simply nodded with a hint of a smile.
Before the big gifts had even started coming, the groom already had a meter tall pile of shiny packages next to him and baskets of sweets and goodies practically buckling the legs of a table behind us. Just when I was thinking he would need a suitcase to take all of these gifts home, lo and behold, here came the suitcase!
Then, it was time for the groom's family to receive gifts. With the groom working on what must have been his 20th sweet, his grandfather received a ring.
Then, his father received a ring.
Then, women from both families came on the stage to give the groom his ring. The woman second from the left is the groom's sister, who happens to live in Phoenix with her husband and daughter (the smallest girl in the photo).
Still chewing on sweets, the groom was now blessed by the women. One-by-one, the women would come onto the stage, circle money around his head, and drop the offering into a towel on his lap.
Now more than an hour into the procession, the children and some of the guests were becoming restless. Luckily for them, the ceremony slowly fizzled to an end and everyone went back outside to eat from the dozens of stations cooking up delicious dishes.
Wanting to try a small bite of everything, I was soon absolutely stuffed. But, I could not pass up dessert!