June 5, 2022:
Event 2: Haldi
The second event and first religious event of the wedding is Haldi. Haldi is a ritual cleansing meant to help ward off evil spirits. The dress code was yellow traditional Indian attire.
The ceremony was scheduled to start at 10:30. I arrived at 11:15 this time. When I walked into the hotel, a group of 10 shirtless drummers sprang up to play me in.
This time, I was not the only one here. Arisht´s parents, who opted out of last night´s festivities, flew in this morning and were walking around. I introduced myself to them, to the Anushka´s parents and to many of Arisht´s uncles. After chatting with these people, I now understand how a wedding can have 750 people (I don´t think I even know 750 people).
Indian families are huge. Each parent might have 10 siblings and they all have kids. Then, all the family members– even distant ones – can invite guests to the wedding. I met many friends of uncles and cousins. Anushka´s father said he brought 250 family to the wedding.
Indian weddings are a huge part of the culture. One guest told me that a wedding is the biggest event in your life. Indian weddings are so extravagant and elaborate than many families go into debt and financial ruin throwing them (I don´t think that is the case here). Since everyone knows that this is going to be an epic event, they show up.
The Haldi took place in a different enormous ballroom (guessing that the main room is being prepared for the big show tonight). Chairs were set up in rows in front of a main stage. To the right of the stage was a choir of about 30 singing religious chants. A food buffet took up half the perimeter of the massive room. The buffet was so large that it spread into the outer entrance hall. I did not know what any of the food were, but it was all Jain-friendly Indian food. Somehow, they did not repeat any dishes from last night – trust me I know.
At noon, the event finally began. Building on last night, Arisht and Anushka entered in incredible fashion. They walked through a tunnel of dancers and dancing drummers as traditional music blasted. The group then slowly paraded to the stage as confetti sprayed over them and the crowd like a team winning a championship.
After some introductory dances, it was time for the ceremony to begin. Arisht and Anushka sat on the stage on painted wooden chairs inside ornate golden circles that resembled a fire.
The Haldi ceremony is a ritual cleansing that takes place before the wedding. It involves family and friends smearing a mixture of Haldi (Hindi word for turmeric), oil and water on the couple. Turmeric is supposed to ward off evil and is considered good for the skin.
The family starts first. They gently smeared the yellow goop on Arisht and Anushka. After the family, it was time for the extended family. Since the families were so large, it took 15-20 minutes to get through everyone. At the end were the friends. Unlike the family, the friends were not so nice. They poured jugs of white liquid (maybe turmeric milk?) on Arisht and ripped his shirt off. Haldi is a funny event because you can mess with the groom, and they cannot retaliate…until your wedding! Ha!
While Arisht got it bad, Anushka got it worse. Her face was so caked in turmeric you couldn´t even see her skin.
After the event, I nabbed another round of food from the epic buffet before joining my IESE friends on a houseboat which they rented for the afternoon. The double decker floating hotel had air conditioning and the interior looked just like a room in the Hyatt. They even had air conditioning! We cruised around the Kochi harbor for 2 hours.
We then headed back to the Marriott to nap, change outfits and prepare for the big night ahead.
Event 3: Sangeet
Sangeet is the ancient Sanskrit word for ¨sung together¨. Friends and family serenade the couple with dances to wish them well on their journey in marriage. Sangeet is considered to be the biggest party of any Indian wedding.
The event was called for 19:30, so this time we arrived an hour late. We still arrived too early, and nobody was there. Luckily the entry room buffet in operation, so I picked up a plate of food.
Entering the main room, a huge stage was set up on one end. Rows of chairs were places in front of the stage. The back of the room was the largest buffet I have ever seen in my life. There must have been more than 100 stands each with a chef there to dole out a portion onto your golden plate. All but one of the stations were Indian food (that one being European food). Somehow, they still have not repeated a dish. Westerners are shockingly unaware of the incredible cultural diversity of India.
Almost exactly 2 hours after the scheduled start time, the couple entered the room in dramatic fashion that, despite all odds, managed to one-up the previous two entrances.
The dancers wearing red and black suits and top hats danced on the stage to a Bollywood techno song in front of a large pyramid-like structure.
Arisht and Anushka rose to the top of the structure via a secret lift in the back as strobe lights, smoke, bubbles and the most confetti rained down on the crowd.
In what was billed as “the most romantic moment of the night”, Arisht then proposed to Anushka with a diamond ring. This moment really confused me. Did he not already propose in Kashmir? Was she really going to say no a day into the wedding? My guess is that the proposal is a step that has been adopted from the Western tradition and Sangeet (which for many Indian weddings happens days or even weeks before the actual wedding) is when this usually occurs.
So far, the phrase that sums up Indian weddings for me is “why not?”. If proposals are a thing in the West and in Hollywood movies, why not have it at the wedding? If we are going to have an entrance, why not make it grand and why not use all the confetti in the world to do it?
Anyways, it was now time to start the dances. There were 18 dances on the docket.
Most of the dances were from family members. These included: her parents, siblings from both sides, cousins from both sides, and the bride and groom each doing a solo dance. Some of the dancers were good, but many were not, which thankfully took a lot of pressure off us.
Each dance had an elaborate set change and many dances included backup dancers who made everybody look like good dancers. One Indian friend said that the production level was akin to a Bollywood award show.
Interspersed in the dances were video skits and messages including one from Arisht´s family where they reviewed the profiles of different girls and settled on Anushka´s.
As “Arisht´s friends” we were in dance #16. The dance had 5 parts. The first two parts were done by Arisht´s friends from Indian.
Then it was showtime. The first part of our dance was Jeene Ke Chaar Din and just had the men. It is a famous Bollywood song where Salman Khan dances on the beach. The signature move involves the men straddling beach towels and hip thrusting across the beach… a move which we recreated on the stage. The crowd went wild to see the foreigners do this move.
The second part of the dance was to Chayaan Chayyan and included the IESE ladies. This dance involved a lot of dramatic hand movements.
For the final part, Arisht joined us on stage and we were his backup dancers. In the song Tere Shaadi Hone Waali Hai, friends of a groom try to convince him to stay single because being single is more fun. I suppose the show producer picked this song because everyone incorrectly thinks our time in Barcelona was a two-year party.
At the end, we received an enormous applause.
The final dance of the night was a couple´s dance. It was a musical tale of their relationship, from texting to the first dance to the proposal in the mountains. As their relationship blossomed, winter turned into spring.
Next it was time for the party to begin with a special musical guest, Gurdeep Mehndi. While I knew zero of the songs, the Indians knew every song and every dance. EVERY. SINGLE. SONG.
I decided to go all out and dance up a storm. Since I didn´t know any of the dances, I followed the lead of some of the middle-aged men who appeared to know what they were doing and who I knew would find it the funniest that I was trying to dance in their group.
Eventually, everyone got on stage with the singer. Two IESE friends did a “snake dance” and the crowd went nuts.
Then Arisht, who had been absent for this entire show (where was he?!), appeared in a custom Pablo Escobar-inspired “AJ Escobar” denim jacke (his favorite club in Mumbai is called Escobar). The friends lifted him on their soldiers and raged to the music. Other than the Rage Against the Machine concert at LA Rising, I have never seen a crowd with this much energy.
DJ Ganesh came back around 1:30. I left around then but the party went much later. Much later.