Ringing The Bells At An Indian Christian Marriage

Ever since the introduction of the faith by Western missionaries, Christianity has had an deep and abiding impact on the tapestry of contemporary Indian culture. Considered by many to be the epitome of grace and elegance, Christian marriage functions are, while not necessarily being sober and sombre, a treat for the eyes. Like most other Indian weddings, and indeed the world over, the Indian Christian marriage is an elaborate occasion; spread over many little separate events that make up the whole story. Depending on the individual family, these pre-wedding, wedding and rituals that follow the wedding can be extensively lavish and varied. How these events transpire also varies hugely by the region, with some communities possessing customs that would seem alien to a Christian who wasn’t endemic to that area.

christian wedding

Image: Intocandid Photography

As a rule of thumb, in Christianity in general, marriages are regarded as the sacred union between man and woman under the eyes of God. We can only hope that this understanding becomes more inclusive, thus allowing more people who are in love and want to celebrate that emotion by unifying themselves in front of the world, and the law, to do so. The sanctity of this most holy of institutions is clear, and can be inferred from Jesus’ message which states that a wedding is more than a relationship, it is an intimate union of a higher order, where ‘the two become one flesh’. The couple is treated as a singular entity in a Christian marriage. Being so heavily steeped in religious significance, Christian wedding rituals usually take place within the premises of a church, amidst friends and family. Also today, an increasing number of couples are choosing to leave the confines of a building and declare their love and their marriage vows to each other under the blessings of the sky. The different sects and branches of Christianity all have their own understandings and views on marriage; they all have plural diverse approaches to the organisation and orchestration of the separate events and rituals. Most typically, they happen in a set order: the engagement, the bridal shower/bachelorette party and the stag/bachelor party that make up the pre-wedding rituals; the actual wedding day comprises the welcoming of the bride by the groom and all the Christian marriage rituals; and finally a grand wedding reception which comprises of the post-wedding rituals.

The Countdown For W-Day Starts

Pre wedding

Image: Intocandid Photography

As soon as somebody pops the question, a timer starts ticking down to the time when the actual marriage vows will take place. The road to the wedding has started, and the first stop is the engagement ceremony and subsequent party. It’s when the soon-to-be couple first announces their decision to enter the commitment of holy matrimony. There is laughter and a few fond tears. Next up are what are commonly and archaically referred to as ‘hen’ and ‘stag’ parties, informal get-togethers of the close friends of the bride and groom who will help them celebrate their last days of being a bachelor and a bachelorette. Usually, the ladies would gather at a convenient location and get down to partying. Singing and dancing galore, they toast or lament their comrade’s departure from the single life with liberal amounts of wine. After painting the town red, they get down to business. Out come the numerous well-thought out gifts that can be exchanged easily if not to the bride’s liking, and a surprising cake that has a hidden thimble. After the bride has been dutifully showered in love, the cake is cut, and whoever gets the piece that has the thimble becomes the next in line to tie the knot. The lads will congregate around the groom and plan a night of fun and hijinks, and alcohol is not strictly necessary but is considered traditional in certain circles. Again, this is not in any way endorsing drunken tomfoolery, that we have enough and more of in this country; behaviour that leads to some rather memorable anecdotes for later however is greatly encouraged and indeed anticipated. The bash to lament the groom’s loss of freedom as he puts on the yoke of marriage, as some of his still and sometimes perpetually single friends would say. After all the toasts are done, and been recovered from, an appropriation of the Hindu custom of the Haldaat ceremony takes place the night before the wedding. This is traditionally where turmeric and sandalwood paste are applied to the bride and groom. Many local interpretations of this happen; for example, in Goa this practise is referred to as Ross; where a concoction of coconut paste is applied instead of the usual fare. Then the next morning’s sun is eagerly awaited, and people wake up to the day of the marriage!

The Wedding’s Here! The Bells Are A-Ringing, Tralala lalala!

Marriage

Image: Maddie Photography

One of the most potentially heart filling moments of a Christian marriage happens at the beginning, at the time the groom welcomes the bride. After a pre-assigned car is sent to pick her up from her house, the groom waits for the bride outside. Once she arrives, it is the Best Man who usually greets her with a peck on the cheek and thereafter passes her the flower bouquet of popular culture fame. This done, the bride and groom walk along the aisle, solemnly and with grace, with their wedding entourage of bridesmaids and groomsmen and family who follow till they arrive at the altar, where a priest stands ready for the wedding ceremony. He usually welcomes the procession and the guests to the mass, welcomes them and offers his best wishes to the couple. After beginning with hymns and selected readings from the Holy Bible, the priest then delivers the homily, with a distinct and unsurprising emphasis on the sanctity of marriage. After the blessing, wedding vows are exchanged between the partners where they promise to stay with each other through hell and high-water. The wedding rings are summarily exchanged, which are first blessed by the priest to help instill love and faith in the union, they are declared married till death do them part, and the first kiss post marriage messes up the blushing bride’s makeup. At this point, the newly-weds are blessed by the gathering and the priest and the wedding is concluded by the couple signing a register, which will be sent to the Registrar of Marriages, and then walking down the aisle; arm in arm, heading into their shining new future.

Post-Wedding Haze

Post wedding haze

Image: Radhika Pandit Photography

Traditionally at this point, the entire proceedings are rounded off with a huge reception. The party is most often a lavishly grand affair, where the new couple is welcomed by the host and the guests with a shower of confetti. Some places replace this with rice as well. As an aside, you could however be eco-friendly and less wasteful by just donating some of that rice to people who could possibly have better uses for it. Anyway, the wedding cake is summarily rolled out, and is cut by the newlyweds. After feeding each other, they hand out the pieces to be devoured by the hungry guests, who now take this as an opportunity to place the orders at the bar, if there is one. The toastmaster then offers a toast in honour of the couple, and everyone starts to reveal funny or quirky information about the new couple. Then the dancing and the dining begin, there are usually live bands present which provide the tunes, and people who weren’t inebriated before would certainly rectify the situation. As the night begins to wind down, exhausted but happy guests will usually present their last compliments to the new couple before heading to their beds. The newly minted couple, who will be glad to finally take off the shoes and relax will smile and groan, and share a laugh before heading to sleep. They’ve got a plane to catch in the morning, and it is generally advised to not be late for your honeymoon flight.

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