Reporter's Notebook Top

Covid shrunk our big, fat Indian wedding

Kanyadan, when the bride’s family gives her to the groom, is part of the wedding ceremony. Here, the bride’s uncle, who hosted the wedding, gives his niece in marriage on the mandap, where the ceremony took place. Kanyadan is is considered one of the most sacred things one can ever do. (Purnima Priyadarsini/YJI)

Bhubaneswar, INDIA – Weddings in India are celebrations between families, complete with gorgeously colored ethnic dresses (Lehenga choli), diverse cuisines, and a plethora of rituals.

But the most important part is, every wedding in India happens on a date which gets decided after studying stars through astronomy. It is considered a bad omen if the wedding does not happen on that particular date, no matter what happens.

Not even a pandemic can stop it.

When I went home after my university shut down due to covid-19, my parents informed me about my cousin’s marriage that was scheduled to happen in June. I was horrified and excited at the same time.

Finally, a wedding was going to happen at our home, but what about the pandemic?

Weddings have always been crowded affairs – that’s what weddings are for in India. All the relatives participate days before the actual event, conducting several cultural rituals and practices as a part of pre-wedding celebrations.

The bride relaxes at the henna ceremony. Henna is a plant-based dye used to make beautiful designs on the skin. (Purnima Priyadarsini/YJI)

Later I learned that the guest list was reduced to only 50 people, which included close friends and family members of both the bride and groom.

I was a bit relieved, but felt a little sad. I knew we’d miss out on a lot of fun because many cousins and family friends would not be traveling to participate.

But as the wedding day came closer, my happiness was magnifying, and my first concern was what I would wear. After all, in my culture, I was the bride’s sister.

The author’s sister, mother and brother in traditional wedding clothes. (Purnima Priyadarsini/YJI)

The author at right with her sister in their wedding clothes. (Priyadarsini family photo)

All the wedding rituals generally begin one week before the wedding date, but due to the pandemic and small crowd, we decided to begin the functions three days ahead.

So my sister and I began to look for wedding dresses in online stores to wear to our cousin’s wedding. Due to the lockdown and safety reasons, we were asked not to go to local markets.

We did manage to find pretty clothes along with matching pieces of jewelry and shoes, and our enthusiasm soared as relatives started showing up.

In an Indian wedding, there are roles for all the family members, based on their relationship with the bride and the groom.

The most important one is that of the parents of the bride, who perform Kanyadan (giving away their daughter to the groom). My uncle asked my parents to perform it as the wedding was happening at our home.

Then came the location scouting for the wedding venue. There were very few venues available during that time, but we also had to keep in mind the sanitizing measures each one used.

We chose a hotel named Arya Palace near our home after they confirmed they would take the utmost care preparing the food and wedding decorations.

Before the wedding, we had a small Mehendi celebration. That is a ritual where the bride gets henna on her palms before her marriage. The event was filled with music and dance along with pretty henna designs to choose from.

Henna designs on the bride’s arm. (Purnima Priyadarsini/YJI)

This celebration was subtle and delightful, made possible by the masks and gloves worn by photographers and the amateur dance moves by me and my cousins.

On the day of the wedding we had the Haldi ceremony the bride was rubbed with turmeric paste and bathed with holy water. The women of the family made a journey to a nearby temple on foot to collect the water.

We took proper precautions to ensure social distancing while we were walking on the open road to the temple. The temple, which was closed due to the lockdown, opened only for us for a short period to make this important ritual possible. After the ceremony, we all got ready with our new ethnic wear and went to the wedding venue.

The bride on her wedding day, just before the rituals began. (Purnima Priyadarsini/YJI)

The wedding venue consisted of a small pandal, or temporary structure called a mandap, where the wedding took place near burning sandalwoods. The fire acts as the witness of the marriage and makes the couple’s bonding pious.

Our mandap was mesmerizingly decorated with multicolored lights and flowers. Everything was arranged very neatly, and all our makeup was hidden under our masks. After the groom arrived, the wedding rituals began.

In this ritual, the bride’s brother, or in this case, her cousin, is washing the groom’s feet. (Purnima Priyadarsini/YJI)

Following the ceremony, we got to enjoy lip-smacking foods which we ate while maintaining a strict distance from each other.

Usually, the groom comes with booming music, his family and friends dancing fanatically until they reach the venue where the bride is waiting for him, but unfortunately, we missed out on this joyous tradition.

After the wedding, we bid our sister a tearful goodbye, a ritual called bidaai, where the bride says goodbye to her family.

And there and then the big, fat Indian wedding ended for our family.

It was a difficult situation, but we were satisfied that with proper help from my parents’ friends we were able to manage it efficiently without risking our health. I appreciate how the hotel staff was able to methodically control the crowd and the function while maintaining the highest level of sanitization and covid precautions.

And I feel very fortunate that I was able to be a part of such a beautiful event – even in a pandemic.

Purnima Priyadarsini is a Junior Reporter with Youth Journalism International.

The bride and groom during the wedding ceremony. (Purnima Priyadarsini/YJI)

Leave a Comment