June 6, 2022
Event 4: Bohemian Fiesta
The Bohemian Fiesta is not a formal Indian wedding event. While some formalities apparently did occur, the event was most likely added because they needed to do something to fill the day before the wedding ceremony later that night.
Exhausted from last night, this time I showed up 1 hour 45 minutes late. The event had not started yet, but it was about to. I was recruited to help with the couple´s entrance.
This time, they snuck in behind a group of friends who then parted to reveal the couple. The muted entrance matched the low-key-ness of this event.
The event started with Arisht´s friends and Anushka´s friends playing against each other in a Bollywood guessing game. They would play a clip on the screen and then the groups would yell out the movie.
After some time, a rock band started playing. They were apparently on India´s Got Talent.
Outside, there was another endless food buffet. Gosh I am going to miss these.
This was also the first time I got to (very briefly) say hi to Arisht and meet Anushka. They seemed to be in good spirits.
The event ended around 15:00. We shot some video content with the other IESE friends for the couple. Then, we headed home and rested up for the wedding.
Event 5A: Barat
I know what you´re thinking. “Bryce, if this is the wedding, what have you been doing for the past three days?” Well, officially, everything that has gone on was a pre-party. Now it´s time for the main event: the wedding ceremony.
Wedding times are very particular, as they are determined by the astrological charts. Therefore, this is the one event that actually does start on time. While this wedding is a Jain wedding, I have been told that it is very similar to a Hindu wedding, but that there are differences in many of the minor steps and details.
The wedding starts with the Barat, the parade of the groom. Everyone from the groom´s side is invited. Presumably the bride and her family are doing something during this time, but I have no idea what that is. What I do know is that whatever the bride and her family are doing is way less exciting than what is happening on the groom´s side.
All the men on the groom´s side were given matching orange turbans. Since few people know how to tie turbans, there was a guy who could put one on for you.
Our turbaned motley crew gathered outside with a brass band and waited for Arisht to arrive.
Eventually, Arisht appeared in an embroidered white robe and bejeweled white turban. His family helped him onto a white horse. The band then started playing and the parade began. Leading the way was a truck with a DJ blasting Bollywood music.
Everybody was dancing as we slowly progressed towards the entrance of the hotel.
Barat parades do not travel for a long distance – this one only went maybe 200 meters. However, they last a long time. There is an unspoken rule that the friends of the groom must prolong the parade as long as possible to keep the groom single and fun for that much longer. Friends will do whatever it takes to impede the parade´s progress- be it dancing or even doing pushups in front of the horse. “That is the pride of friendship” one of Arisht´s local friend told me.
The family, on the other hand, must ensure that the wedding vows start on time according to the astrological charts, the window to get married is very narrow. They will argue with the friends and even go so far as to yank the friends out of the way to push the parade along. Every step forward in the parade is a battle – a battle born out of a mutual love for the groom – but a battle nonetheless. Arisht´s IESE friends – especially Kasra and Mayank- passionately argued with one of Arisht´s “aunties” in what will go down as one of my favorite IESE memories.
The parade lasted approximately 90 minutes by which point we reached the front of the hotel. Arisht´s brother walked over shaking his head and told us he was disappointed the parade was so quick.
We then walked inside, cooled off in the air conditioning and prepared for the ceremony by enjoying a buffet of fruit including my favorite fruit, the elusive mangosteen.
Part 5B: Wedding Ceremony
About 20 minutes after the end of the Barat, the ceremony began inside the main ballroom which had been completely transformed from Sangeet last night. On the stage was a 7-panel pink flower wall and a ceiling of flowers on the stage. This was by far the most ornate setup of the wedding, although the flowers are all fake per Jain religious requirements of doing no harm to living creatures (the flowers themselves are not the issue but removing a flower from the ground would disturb and probably kill insects living on the plant).
Since this is the main event, the entrance was the grandest of them all. The bride and groom had individual custom-built entrance doorways on opposite sides of the room.
First, a video introduction was projected onto the bride´s door. I could not understand what was said, but the gist of it was that this wedding was destined and blessed by the gods.
Then dancers wearing white emerged and performed as smoke billowed from four machines at the front of the stage.
Arisht appeared from his door in the back left in the same outfit from the Barat. He was led by 8 dancers plus 6 standard-bearers carrying 4-meter tall golden treelike ornaments. The group slowly proceeded to the stage.
Next, the door in the back right fell to the ground and Anushka appeared in the red dress seen during the Bohemian fiesta. She slowly walked to the stage followed by the same 8 dancers plus six maidens wearing huge circular lamps attached to their backs.
She slowly walked to the stage to meet Arisht. As the music crested to a crescendo, the dancers danced, the smoke machines billowed and the crowd cheered, Arisht and Anushka placed flowered garlands on each other to officially start the wedding ceremony.
Then, a table, some chairs, and a fire pit were brought up to the stage. On the table were pictures of their ancestors.
Arisht, Anushka, and their parents sat down. Seated on the floor next to them were two priests. This is done to ensure that the rituals are performed correctly since the priests can check each other.
The ceremony began with many prayers. It was at this point that the audience lost interest and started making their way over to the buffet and chatting. At most 10% of the crowd was watching the wedding. However, we the IESE crowd watched the wedding!
Next, a sacred fire was lit, and the couple fed it various items including ghee. The fire is considered the ultimate witness of the wedding.
Then the couple made seven clockwise circles around the fire in what are called the Saat Phera or Pheras. This, along with the Seven Steps constitutes the most important part of the wedding. The groom leads the way for the first 4 trips, while the bride leads the final 3.
After completing the seven trips around the fire, the couple now takes seven steps together, Each step is accompanied by a specific vow/prayer. The vows are really powerful.
The first step is a commitment to provide food, shelter, and money to each other.
The second step is a prayer for physical and mental strength to support each other through the turbulence of life.
The third step is a prayer for wealth.
The fourth step is a promise to shower each other with happiness and to love each other unconditionally.
The fifth step is a commitment to produce successful children.
The sixth step is an ask. The groom asks the bride “you have filled my heart with immense happiness. Will you walk through life like this with me forever?” to which the bride responds “I will stand by you forever and always keep you happy.”
The seventh step is the one that seals the marriage. The groom proclaims “I am yours and you are mine for eternity” to which the bride replies “With God as my witness, I am your wife now. We will love, honor, and cherish each other forever”. Powerful stuff!
Both families were then invited up to the stage and more prayers were said. Arisht then placed a necklace on the bride. It is this necklace, not a ring, that signifies marriage. Finally, Arisht placed a dot on Anushka´s forehead to finalize the wedding ceremony rituals.
At this point, everyone was free to come up to the stage and take a picture with the couple.
To my surprise, that was the end of the wedding. There was no party after. If you wanted, you could take a picture with the couple. Everyone headed home.
June 7, 2022
Event 6: Post-Wedding Rituals
The morning after the wedding, the families gathered for the final series of events. These are not major events and most guests had already left by this point. However, I happened to be sightseeing in the area, so I decided to go. Also, I couldn´t resist one more endless buffet.
The post-wedding includes some minor rituals. The most important one is the bride saying goodbye to her family before moving in with the groom. She usually is crying and throws rice over her shoulder five times, which signifies paying her parents back for everything they have done to raise her.
At this point, the bride and groom´s sides separate and have their own receptions. Since the bride is now part of the groom´s family, she goes with the groom.
The bride then plays several games with the groom´s family. These games apparently will determine many characteristics of the marriage. One popular game is the ring game. They both remove their wedding rings and place them in a bowl of milk and flower pedals. The first person to find the rings will rule the household. In another game, Arisht used a sword to push plates to the side that Anushka had to stack without making a clinking sound.
Anushka also presented Arisht with a very large wedding contract. This appears to be a modern trend because when I Googled Indian wedding contract, a nearly identical contract with the same font appeared. While the contract looks like a joke, I am guessing that the terms will largely be upheld.
Anushka´s contract had the following terms: 1. Accept that Anushka is always right. 2. Buy Anushka whatever she wants whenever she wants. 3. Take Anushka on 2 domestic and 2 foreign trips each year. 4. Anushka gets to spend 2 months of the year at her parents´ home in Chennai and 5. Arisht must cook for Anushka once a month.
Arisht wrote “Terms and Conditions apply” and signed it. Anushka then crossed out the language.
After the games ended, I actually got to chat a bit with Arisht where he explained all the mind-boggling logistics behind the wedding planning.
The wedding had 750 guests. They picked the venue in Kerala because his older brother had a destination wedding in Kerala, and they wanted to have a similar experience. The wedding had 500 staff. This included a 50-person media team that worked three shifts to produce content live. All the wedding photos were to be edited just 3 days after the event- an unheard-of timeline by Western standards. There were 300 members of the catering company. Because of Jain religious requirements, Arisht´s parents would not eat food from a place that served non-vegetarian food aka the hotel. So, they brought in their own Jain catering company from Mumbai. The 300 workers worked in a special tent built in the back parking lot. Arisht even had a personal masseuse. At the helm of everything was a wedding production company that regularly puts on weddings of this size.
Like all the staff, Arisht barely slept. “I am almost mortal again” he proclaimed as we left the event.
Arisht´s wedding came with a lot of hype, and I can confidently say that it exceeded all my lofty expectations. This wedding is and will be without a doubt the most incredible wedding I will ever attend. The scale, the number of events, and the elaborateness are unparalleled in the West. The number of moving pieces is incredible from managing the invites for 750 guests to organizing transport and lodging, to perfecting all the gifts given out to producing 5 events including one with 18 dances. it truly should be a Harvard Business School case in logistics.
Such a wedding could never be pulled off in the United States. The cost would be astronomical, the level of service provided by the staff simply does not exist, most venues do not allow events to go this late and there are very few venues that can fit this many people.
The other thing that surprised me was that the couple´s love felt genuine despite having known each other for just a short amount of time. It was obvious in the way they looked at each other at every event. In the West, it is assumed that falling in love (not infatuation, but true love) takes time and that making a lifelong commitment after such a short amount of time is foolish. But perhaps when you know for sure that all the details are right (from the stringent screening process), you can immediately start getting to know someone for who they are with purpose and without fear or being burned.
I feel so privileged to have been able to attend this wedding, the experience of a lifetime.
To my Indian friends: please get married invite me to your wedding; I will go!