Dhaam, Baaja, Baraat (and LOTS of crying) – Inside a traditional Gaddi wedding!

Growing up in India, one does know that we love our overly-extravagant weddings. For those who don’t, here’s a small insight: the wedding industry in India is over Rs 100,000 crore and a regular person spends one fifth of the wealth accumulated in a lifetime on his/her wedding ceremony. Decorators, caterers, make-up artists, costume designers, choreographers, henna artists, hair stylists, it’s all so crazy! I saw my older sister organizing her wedding a year ago, and just the craziness of it all made me make a not-at-all-grand-wedding pact (I’d much rather splurge on traveling!)

And then I attended a traditional Gaddi-style wedding in Himachal earlier this year, which easily was the most beautiful, life-altering experience for me! The sheer simplicity and amount of love I observed at this one wedding, made me see more clearly how fickle and pretentious everything at our regular wedding functions back home is.

Minni Di, as she is known to everyone in the tiny hamlet named Khirku, is one of the most beautiful Himachali women I’ve met. She’s an independent young woman, working odd jobs to look after herself and her brother, while also saving for her own marriage. The first thing I noticed about her was her relentless love for animals, ALL kinds for animals! She can just naturally sense their fears and needs, like a psychologist of sorts for animals, and this positive vibe always attracted them towards her.

Minni Di - The bride-to-be! Ooo rhymes :D
Minni Di – The bride-to-be! Ooo rhymes 😀

Gaddi’s are a tribe in Himachal, essentially the shepherd tribe, people who move from one settlement to another with their families and flock of sheep. Things have changed for them over the years, and so you shouldn’t be surprised that most Gaddi men are not wandering shepherds anymore, but have settled in villages like Khirku to bring a little stability to their lives. Minni Di belongs to one such Gaddi family.

My connection to Khirku - friends beautiful little haven up in the mountains!
My connection to Khirku – friends beautiful little haven up in the mountains!

 

Minni Di ki “Chhayi”…

The excitement of attending her wedding began in April, when I was living in Khirku for a good fortnight, which was also when her first wedding function took place and got me hooked to the beauty of it all.

It was Minni Di ki "chhayi", a simple function that marks the beginning of wedding preparations, wherein all the men (and boys) of the village go into the forest to collect wood for the wedding cooking and ceremonies (hawan). 
It was Minni Di ki “chhayi”, a simple function that marks the beginning of wedding preparations, wherein all the men (and boys) of the village go into the forest to collect wood for the wedding cooking and ceremonies (hawan).

 

Chai and food being prepared over gossip!
Chhayi ki chai pe charcha!

 

Watching all neighbors come together, taking an off from their work, to manually cut and collect huge wooden logs from the mountains, made me realize how beautiful the sentiment of a community belonging is. A wedding for them wasn't just about dressing up and showing up for 2 days, but they were all a part of it in spirit and soul, and isn't that a memory you would cherish all your life?
Watching all neighbors come together, taking an off from their work, to manually cut and collect huge wooden logs from the mountains, made me realize how beautiful the sentiment of a community belonging is. A wedding for them wasn’t just about dressing up and showing up for 2 days, but they were all a part of it in spirit and soul, and isn’t that a memory you would cherish all your life?

 

This was going to be a wedding where neighbors were family, men of the house were decorators, chefs and servers, women were makeup, hair and henna artists, and almost every person at the wedding was sans-makeup & jewelry – the true and purest emotions of a union came to the fore! And I wasn’t going to miss it for my life…

 

(A month later) First ceremonial shower!

Day 1: Food being prepared for the bride. So the wedding functions begin 2 days before the actual ceremony, by giving the bride a ceremonial shower. Here, the bride is made to stand between a circle of women in the kitchen / verandah, and everyone puts water over her head to help her "cleanse". This marks the beginning of festivities, and the bride must not step out of the house after this first shower!
So the wedding functions begin a month after the chhayi. 2 days before the actual wedding, the bride is given a ceremonial shower. Here, the bride is made to stand between a circle of women in the kitchen / verandah, and everyone puts water over her head to help her “cleanse”. This marks the beginning of festivities, and the bride must not step out of the house after this first shower!

 

After the shower, the bride is made to eat her food, because she won't be able to for the rest of the night (Mehendi ceremony begins right after!) Here, it was interesting to see little kids come to the bride and ask her to offer them food (like asking for prasad at a temple).

After the shower, the bride is made to eat her food, because she won’t be able to for the rest of the night (Mehendi ceremony begins right after!) Here, it was interesting to see little kids come to the bride and ask her to offer them food (like asking for prasad at a temple).

 

So, about the crying!

Now one thing I have to mention here, while the bride is being “made to shower” by the women, the brides only task is to cry! YES, to CRY HER EYES OUT! It is considered as some kind of a ritual almost, wherein the bride is intimated 2 mins before any ceremony begins, so that she can get into the mood and begin to bawl. I will be honest, the first time I actually saw this I was so taken aback (which explains why I have no pics of the showering ceremony). Ladies around me didn’t find this odd at all and no one tried stopping the poor bawling bride. In fact, I could overhear stories of women boasting about how they cried louder, or “almost fainted”, when it was their turn! And mind you, this continued before EVERY SINGLE FUNCTION until the wedding, and then there was the bidaai which was even more disturbing to watch.

So I tried asking everyone why is crying so important for the bride. No one could answer reasonably. And I was convinced that just like any regular Indian tradition, the original reason for the tradition has been twisted manifold over the years, and no one now knows what the actual reason is anymore! But one of the more sensible friend of mine offered the argument that maybe (and I kinda like the sound of it) the crying tradition began as a means of catharsis to allow the bride to enter her new life with a clean slate. What d’you think?

Ok, now back to the wedding…

 

Mehendi ceremony:

Cousin sisters and neighbors of the bride moonlighting as mehendi artistes, and doing a very good job at it! Also note here, the bride didn't wear a single new piece of clothing until the main wedding function (which is also a part of the many Gaddi beliefs)
Cousin sisters and neighbors of the bride moonlighting as mehendi artistes, and doing a very good job at it! Also note here, the bride didn’t wear a single new piece of clothing until the main wedding function (which is also a part of the many Gaddi beliefs)

 

Happy kids with happy painted hands!
Happy kids with happy hands!

 

Dulhan ki Sakhiyaan
Dulhan ki Sakhiyaan

 

Day 1: Mehendi - Done and done!
Day 1: Mehendi – Done and done!

 

Haldi…

Day 2: Haldi ceremony during the day. While the tiny house was choker-blocked with more guests than it could practically accommodate, panditji came in the initiate the haldi preparations. He collected all the havan samagri, hand-decorated the place with powdered inscriptions, and ordered for the bride to be brought down for the ceremony.
Day 2: Haldi ceremony during the day.
While the tiny house was choker-blocked with more guests than it could practically accommodate, panditji came in the initiate the haldi preparations. He collected all the havan samagri, hand-decorated the place with powdered inscriptions, and ordered for the bride to be brought down for the ceremony.

 

When I went to pass the message to the bride, she was happily chatting with her cousins, but like I knew would happen - the moment she heard that she has been called - she started crying again. Her friend helped her put on the traditional luan-chhari (which was passed down from the brides grandmother), and we took the crying, bawling bride to the puja.
When I went to pass the message to the bride, she was happily chatting with her cousins, but like I knew would happen – the moment she heard that she has been called – she started crying again. Her friend helped her put on the traditional luan-chhari (the gown) – which was passed down from the brides grandmother – and we took the crying, bawling bride to the puja.

 

The puja to initiate the haldi ceremony
The puja to initiate the haldi ceremony

 

Haldi is an important ceremony in our tradition, wherein the bride (and the groom over at his place) are caked with turmeric paste on their bodies. This helps add a tinge of pre-wedding glow to the stars in focus!
Haldi is an important ceremony in our tradition, wherein the bride (and the groom over at his place) are caked with turmeric paste on their bodies. This helps add a tinge of pre-wedding glow to the stars of the moment!

 

The haldi ceremony was about an hour long, and my heart went out to the bride who kept crying throughout! At one point, a lady actually came next to her and asked her to stop by saying "Itna kaafi hai" (This much is enough) I was like WHAAAA?
The haldi ceremony was about an hour long, and my heart went out to the bride who kept crying throughout! At one point, a lady actually came next to her and asked her to stop by saying “Itna kaafi hai” (This much is enough) I was like WHAAAA?

 

Preparing for the feast!

While the haldi ceremony was happening inside, the men of the household were busy in the verandah, chopping and cooking for the big evening feast! I found this so fascinating, as all the women at this moment were, well, you'll see in the next picture.
While the haldi ceremony was happening inside, the men of the household were busy in the verandah, chopping and cooking for the big evening feast! I found this so fascinating, as all the women at this moment were, well, you’ll know soon.

 

Work work work work work...
Work work work work work…

 

Some women helped!
Some women helped!

 

This sight made me so happy...but not as happy as the next...
This sight made me so happy…but not as happy as the next…

 

Ladies party!

So, as I was saying, while the men worked and chopped and stirred the kadhais for the evening feast - the women sat in the balcony upstairs, drinking whiskey with chhole! Oh yeah!
So, as I was saying, while the men worked and chopped and stirred the kadhais for the evening feast – the women sat in the balcony upstairs, drinking whiskey with chhole! Oh yeah!

 

You go, girls (Um, ladies)!

 

The super pyaari (and only person who was supposed to be dressed up) maami-ji!
The super pyaari (and only person who was supposed to be dressed up) maami-ji!

 

Day 2: Ladies party

 

I told you there was no space!

 

Dhaam, Baaja, Baraat!

Day 2: Dhaam, Baaja, Baraat! The mandap is up, the food is ready, the baraat is enroute, and we're all set for the wedding to commence!
Day 2: Dhaam, Baaja, Baraat!
The mandap is up, the food is ready, the baraat is enroute, and we’re all set for the wedding to commence!

 

Preparing welcome snacks for the baraatis!
This is exactly 5 minutes before the wedding started. Everyone is busy making welcome snacks for the baraatis who will be tired after dancing their way up the mountain!

 

Swagat nahi karenge humara?

Oh, I had to look twice to make sure I was right. Yes, the groom is dressed with lightning from head to toe. Quite a sight, I must say! The stupid halogen light killed my thunder and I just couldn't get a shot of the heavily lighted attire!
The groom arrives! Oh, I had to look twice to make sure I was right. Yes, the groom is literally covered with trippy lights from head to toe. Quite a sight, I must say! The stupid halogen light killed my thunder and I just couldn’t get a shot of the heavily lighted attire! PS: He also had nail-polish on his feet and mehendi on his palms!

 

Would you look at that gorgeous, gorgeous outfit? Yes, it's a kurta with an embroidered ghaghra / skirt, and a beautiful sehra / headdress!

Would you look at that gorgeous, gorgeous outfit? Yes, it’s a shirt with an embroidered ghaghra / skirt, and a beautiful sehra / headdress!

 

Sister of the bride performing the rituals with the groom. The bride is sitting with her friends in a different room at this time.
Sister of the bride performing the rituals with the groom. The bride is sitting with her friends in a different room at this time.

 

So at this time, while the ceremony was taking place downstairs, I went to check how the bride is doing. And my first reaction was, why is she not dressing up!!! At any other Indian wedding (atleast the ones in our cities), the bride starts dressing hours in advance, and by this time is already too tired of the makeup and jewelry. Well, not in this one. This is exactly how the bride walked to her wedding. Isn't that amazing!
So at this time, while the ceremony was taking place downstairs, I went to check how the bride is doing. And my first reaction was, why is she not dressing up!!! At any other Indian wedding (atleast the ones in our cities), the bride starts dressing hours in advance, and by this time is already too tired of the makeup and jewelry. Well, not in this one. This is exactly how the bride walked to her wedding. Isn’t that amazing!

 

And well, while the groom is in the mandap, and the bride is busy waiting for her turn to be called in, of course everyone else was busy hogging on the delicious homecooked dhaam / feast!
And well, while the groom is in the mandap, and the bride is busy waiting for her turn to be called in, of course everyone else was busy hogging on the delicious home-cooked dhaam / feast!

 

The bride was finally called to join the party, and it was a good thing her face was covered, because, guess what, she was crying all through the ceremony! The panditji actually had to keep up to be louder than her.
The bride was finally called to join the party, and it was a good thing her face was covered, because, guess what, she was crying all through the ceremony! The panditji actually had to keep up to be louder than her.

 

Bidaai…

Goodbye's are always the hardest, and this was no different! It was nice to see the entire village come together to say goodbye to Minni Di, but it was equally heartbreaking to know that she won't be around the next time I'm visiting.
Goodbye’s are always the hardest, and this was no different! It was nice to see the entire village come together to say goodbye to Minni Di, but it was equally heartbreaking to know that she won’t be around the next time I’m visiting.

 

This picture speaks for itself.
This picture speaks for itself.

 

By this time I was hoping this should be the last time I see this woman cry!
By this time I was hoping this should be the last time I see this woman cry!

 

And it actually came true! Minni Di's doli left the village 15 minutes before we did, and by the time we reached the caravan, she was surrounded by all her friends, smiling and looking so happy, for the first time in the last 3 days!!!!
And it actually came true! Minni Di’s doli left the village 15 minutes before we did, and by the time we reached the caravan, she was surrounded by all her friends, smiling and looking so happy, for the first time in the last 3 days!!!!

 

And so was everyone else!
And so was everyone else!

 

Over at the grooms’…

As is tradition, some members of the brides family accompany the procession back to the grooms and join the festivities there!
As is tradition, some members of the brides family accompany the procession back to the grooms and join the festivities there!

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Back at the grooms house, Minni Di was welcomed with another ceremony, another feast, lots and lots of dancing, and no more crying!
Back at the grooms house, Minni Di was welcomed with another ceremony, another feast, lots and lots of dancing, and no more crying!

 

 

Laada-Laadi! <3

Laada Laadi (Husband-Wife) - Never crying again! :)
To the happy couple, for a happily ever after 🙂

 

PS: I thought I should add that this is a love-marriage. So please don’t think that she’s crying because she was forced to marry someone she didn’t approve of!

Also, this post is nothing but my observation of a Gaddi wedding, as a total outsider, and someone who was witnessing the culture for the first time. So if I have made some errors, feel free to write to me and I’ll be happy to edit (and learn!)

 

6 thoughts on “Dhaam, Baaja, Baraat (and LOTS of crying) – Inside a traditional Gaddi wedding!

  1. That was a lively description of the wedding! Awesome to read. One thing tho was he dressed in lightning or lighting.. couldn’t figure out if you were being allegorical 😛

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