About 2 days into our trip in India I was talking to Russ Taylor, another photographer that I met there. We were driving back from lunch and I commented that I would love to be able to shoot an Indian wedding. Just after I said that, we passed an area close to our flat where people were setting up for a wedding. After we got back I grabbed my gear and headed out. I reluctantly went into the tent and food preparation area and I was greeted with smiles and requests for photos. I was pleasantly surprised. Russ mentioned that it was honor for an American to attend a wedding but I was not expecting the welcome I received. After being there for about 30 minutes, the father of the groom approached me and asked me to sit down with him. We talked for about 15 minutes after which he invited me to stay, take photos, eat, make myself at home and enjoy the celebration...what an opportunity.
There are those moments as a photographer that you stop and realize the opportunity in front of you is less about the photos and more about the chance to learn and experience another culture and engage in building relationships with those around you. This was one of those opportunities. The photos below are some that I took throughout the evening as I was asked to or felt like the moment was right...but the majority of the evening I found myself being asked to sit at different tables and visit with people, smoke hookah with the older men and share in a meal. Most of the evening I had my camera in my bag. During the evening I met Pramod Kumar and his kids. He was a friend of the groom's family and he became my guide and educator throughout the evening. He led me around and walked me through the events taking place.
At one point he took me into the community and showed the homes of the bride and groom's families. As we approached the bride's family home, Pramod said that the bride does not show her face in public prior to the wedding ceremony but I could see her home and the female bridal party but no pictures. We then proceeded to the location where the wedding ceremony was to take place. The priests were there preparing for the rituals. They had setup a tent and all the various elements for the ritual including the fire the bride and groom would walk around seven times for purification. This wedding ceremony would take place after the grooms had their celebration back at the tent area. Yes, I said grooms...as in two of them. On this day, two brothers were marrying two sisters.
After this we caught up to the groom's procession through the neighborhood which had started about 2 1/2 hours earlier and was coming to an end at the tent area. It was not hard to find the groom's procession...all you need to do is watch for the fireworks and listen for the music and the people dancing. So here's the rough rundown of the evening into the morning.
Tents and carpets are setup while food is being prepared; people from all over the area (family and friends) start arriving and eating, some stay, some eat and leave; as guests arrive, they are showered with marigold petals as a sign of honor and welcoming them to the celebration; a marching band with drums and bagpipes arrive to play some music for the guests and plaster headed characters arrive to play with the kids; members of the family and other community leaders arrive and take their places in certain seating areas; about 8PM the groom procession starts in the community; the groom is on a white horse or in a carriage; men carry lights powered by a generator in a truck behind the procession; a marching band leads the procession and people dance all along the route; the procession stops about every 20 yards and kids set off fireworks and people dance like crazy...people in the community come out of their homes to join the celebration...it's truly amazing; this goes on for about 2-3 hours; groom arrives at the tent to a massive display of fireworks and I mean a massive display (remember it is now about 11PM); some gifts are given to them, mainly cash and they take their seats with the family; the family enjoys a meal with the groom and some ceremonies are performed; groom leaves the tent area and heads to the location for the wedding ceremony; the wedding ceremony begins around 1AM and lasts for about 2-3 hours; groom then takes his new bride to the home of his parents; bride is welcomed into the family and another series of wedding rituals are performed which can last another 2 hours. Some of the rituals and whether the bride can be seen or not will vary by the religious background of the family - strict Hindu traditions or not, Christian, or another variation of Hinduism.
I left around 12 midnight as the groom was getting settled in the tent area and ready for the meal. It was such a cool event to experience and be a part of. Truly amazing. Can't wait to attend another one. Enjoy the photos below...most of them are explained in the paragraph above.