D and Y’s Wedding: Mehndi, Swayambar, and Bihaa

When I was a college sophomore, Tri and I decided to go up to Boston one weekend to visit his friend (I’ll call her D) and her boyfriend Y. It was one of my first interactions with his friends from Nepal. I was happy to practice my budding Nepali skills with them, and they were unbelievably kind to me.

These last few years both of them have been living and working in India, flying to Nepal once in a while to visit family. And luckily for us, they planned their wedding for the last week of April 🙂

The first event happened on Sunday. It was kind of a welcome event and mehndi party. Mehndi (or henna) is traditionally more of an Indian thing, but Nepali brides are doing it too these days.

Expert mehndi artist decorating my hand

The front turned out really orange!

 

 

 

 

 

 

The back is more brown

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tuesday night was a reception that we couldn’t make it to, but we did go to the Wednesday engagement (swayambar) and wedding (bihaa). These last three days (Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday) are sahith, which Tri translated as “an auspicious time,” so there have been lots of wedding this week.

Tri dropped me off at D’s house before he headed off to work, and along with some other girls, I got to spend some time with the bride before the ceremonies started. She already had her hair done up when I got there…

It looked absolutely amazing, and as I was arriving, she was putting the finishing touches on her makeup. There was a didi helping out who tied her beaded sari for her. Brides are traditionally supposed to wear blood red saris, but D wanted something that looked a little different, so she chose a darker, almost maroon-red color, and it looked great on her. Mostly Nepalis had come to the wedding, but a number of Americans who work in India with D had flown in from Delhi yesterday morning, so I wasn’t the only whitie 🙂

After D was all dressed and ready, the guests headed downstairs just as the groom, Y, was pulling up in a car. Before he got out, the men in D’s family threw flower petals around the car.

Y got out of the car with a big smile on his face and headed over to the main stage where he sat in the groom’s chair. Then the bride came down from upstairs, and the swayambar ceremony took place. This is the formal engagement. Rings were exchanged as was malla (the green wreath around the groom’s neck)

The priest is to the left, father-in-law to the right, and Y is behind the orange sheet

After a slew of photos were taken, the bride went back upstairs, and the groom stayed near the mandap (a covered tent under which puja is done). His father-in-law came over and they started a ceremony with just the two of them and the priest. Usually people only take tikka from those who are older than they are; I don’t normally see people giving tikka to their elders, but there must an exception with weddings because during this part of the ceremony, Y adorned his father-in-law’s forehead with red powder and rice. Y had to take his shoes off and step up onto a little stool while he and his father-in-law were performing this ceremony, and that’s when the bride’s sisters stole his shoes. (americanepali talks about that here).

Negotiations went on for hours with the groom’s brother and friends, and the sisters even stole the groom’s brother’s shoes, but a sum of 9000 rupees (a little over a hundred dollars) was eventually settled on towards the end of the day. Seriously, kudos to the sisters. The oldest was in ninth grade and quite tough against these late twenty something guys.

The bride came back down again after some time and she and the groom started doing a whole bunch of rituals in the the mandap with the priest. Most of the guests were milling around, eating, and chatting, seemingly oblivious to the ongoing wedding. Here are some more photos from the bihaa (wedding)…

This is when the groom drew a line of sindur along a white cloth and onto D's forehead. That's me in the back holding the cloth on D's head

The car the D & Y drove off in at the end of the day

While D is Baun, Y is Newar. Although both ethncities/castes share a lot of the same Hindu practices, there are some differences. Some of the Newar influence showed up towards the end of the day. D, Y, and their parents sat on the stage around these golden bowls. D had to smell a number of things like leaves and sandalwood and then pass them onto her parents to smell. If anyone knows more about this ceremony, please comment 🙂

Tri left his office early so that he could be there for some of the wedding. However, we left the wedding pretty soon after he arrived. I had barely done anything all day but I was exhausted. I don’t know how the bride and groom must have felt!

Before we left, we did get a photo of us by the mandap. FYI: I tied my sari myself this time. It looks a little strange in the middle because it’s tucked in, but everyone was impressed with my skills. I’m still working on making the pleats looks better (they end up sagging after a while), but it’s getting there.

D and Y looked amazing and incredibly happy. Dherai badai chha!

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Why We Married Young and Thoughts on Married Life

Tri completely changed the direction of my life. If I hadn’t had met him, I would likely never come to Nepal and never have learned to speak Nepali. I would never have realized my interested in Linguistics, probably would not have majored in that subject, and would never have thought about getting a masters in what I’m hoping to go to grad school for. My own habits and manerisms have been deeply affected by my husband and the time I’ve spent abroad. Without having met him I think I would be a very different person with a very different life. And this same goes for him. I know that I’ve changed the way he thinks and experiences things, his view and opinions, and goals. I don’t credit or blame him for every success and failure I’ve had, and I certainly am my own person, but he was one of the major catalysts that set my life going in the direction it has.

I met Tri when I was 18, pretty young to meet your future spouse (although not out of the question), and we got married when I was 21, soon after college graduation last spring. The last year of our lives has been a whirlwind of activity and emotion, filled with a lot of sadness but excitement too. What happened during this time that led us to marry at a young age was a set of events that we could never have predicted.

Everything started in the early spring of 2011. Tri and I had been dating for about 3 years at that point. Right from the beginning of our relationship, we knew that we were in it for the long haul. Everything just felt right with him and always has. I know that sounds horribly cliche, but it’s true. We had always talked about getting hitched sometime after my college graduation (he graduated two years before me), so last spring, we started talking to both of our parents about the possibility of getting engaged over the summer. We didn’t want to get married yet…we didn’t feel like there was any reason to, but we thought it would be nice to take the next step in our relationship.

Both of our parents were very happy with this idea and supported our plan to have an engagement ceremony in Nepal. We all thought that an engagement in Nepal and then a wedding in the US a few years later sounded good. But then Nepali culture and the rules that go along with it kicked into high gear. In the process of planning for our wedding, Tri’s mom consulted an astrologer. He felt like it wouldn’t be appropriate for us to just have an engagement ceremony, that we needed to get married as well. In Nepal, people don’t often have long engagements. Usually they have a khura chine ceremony and then a wedding a few weeks (or sometimes days) later, so the astrologer felt it would be culturally inapropriate for us to have just an engagement ceremony.

Tri’s mom started talking to us about the possibility of upgrading our engagement to a wedding. I think we were both a little bit in shock at this idea. Of course we had thought about marriage and wanted to be married someday, but it was strange to think it would be happening so soon. But after talking about it, the idea started warming up to us, and we agreed.

That set the wedding planning in motion. Tri’s parents were choosing a location, compiling a guest list with hundreds of people, and doing lots of shopping. I was excited to be getting married but a little bit freaked out too. I was trying to finish up my last semester of college and frantically look for some kind of employment. Doing that on top of preparing to be married in a foreign country was a bit overwhelming.

And then everything came to a horrible halt. Tri’s mom died suddenly in April, 2011. I don’t feel like going into the details of what happened because it’s still very painful to dwell on, but maybe later, when we’ve come to terms with her death a little better, I can write more about going through those initial days and weeks of grief.

Everything was put on hold, the wedding, Tri’s job, our lives. Tri left for Nepal within 12 hours of getting the horrible phone call, and I felt stranded and alone. Getting through those last few weeks of my last semester of college was hell. But I do have to say, my friends and family were incredibly supportive and helpful. You know who you are! And I love you guys.

About a month later, after the funeral and initial grieving period in Nepal were over, Tri came back to the US with a plan for us to return to Nepal to live with his brother and dad. I was incredibly supportive of his decision.

But in order for me to stay in Nepal for an extended period of time, I had to be married to Tri. As I’ve mentioned before in this blog, Nepali Hindus believe that having any kind of celebration, doing puja, or going to weddings, etc. is not allowed the year after a family member dies, so us getting married was a bit of a problem. That’s why we decided to have the simplest wedding we could manage, nothing religious and without any bells and whistles. We had the mayor of our small town marry us at my folks’ house. Because it was such a small ceremony, we didn’t get an opportunity to celebrate with most of our family and friends, but we’re not going to leave them out. Tri and I are planning a wedding ceremony that will hopefully happen in about a year and a half…a topic for future posts.

Anyway, some Nepali people were very against our marriage at the time because of breaking the one year rule, but we had no choice. We both felt that Tri needed to go back to Nepal, and there was no way that Tri and I were going to be separated.

In the craziness of those few months and the aftermath of that period that included moving to a new country, lots of culture shock, and language learning, I haven’t really had the time and energy to process and understand the fact that I’m married and what that means for my life and relationship.

It’s only now that I’m really starting to think about how my life has changed after marriage. Being in Nepal has definitely had a huge affect on those changes.

In Tri’s parents’ generation, marrying young, even for educated women living in urban areas, was normal. Tri’s mom was 19 when she married his dad. Even now, women in rural areas marry young, sometimes as teenagers. But it is a bit unusual these days for a woman who comes from an urban, middle class family to be married at age 21. Because I’m mostly around people from urban, middle class families, I sometimes get surprised looks when I tell them I’m married.

I think part of it is that some Nepalis have certain stereotypes about Western women, about them having many different partners and marrying very late, so I don’t fit into their stereotype. But it’s also that there has been a push in Nepal from NGO’s, social service organizations, and other influences for women to marry later.

When I was in Dhampush, I made friends with another one of the girls on the trip who is about 27 and was married last year. We stayed in a lodge, and one day we started talking to the owner about her daughters. Like me, they married in their very early 20’s. My friend started scolding the lodge owner (in a friendly way), telling her that she should have made them wait, finish school, and then marry. But then my friend looked at me and remembered that I was 21 when I married too! We both laughed.

Besides getting some funny looks and reactions from Nepalis about being married young, I’ve also received greater acceptance.

Before getting married, I had some people tell me that life after marriage didn’t change their relationship with their signficant other one bit, and I’ve had others say it changed everything. I’ve found that the way that Tri and I treat each other hasn’t changed, but the way that others treat us has. This is particularly true in Nepal. Our relationship wasn’t really valid in the eyes of many Nepalis before we were married, and although Tri’s parents accepted our relationship, they were hesitant to tell others that Tri had a girlfriend. When I was in Nepal for study abroad, I stayed with Tri’s parents and brother for a week here and there, and they only revealed to their closest family and friends that I was Tri’s girlfriend. Being married has made our relationship in Nepal valid in the eyes of others, which is honestly a relief. Some say that that validation from others shouldn’t matter, and our love for eachother is definitely more important than what others think, but having that societal acceptance does make things easier.

I’ve also found that women treat me differently. For some reason, I think being married has made other people, especially women, see me as more of an adult. They talk to me about more adults things and divulge secrets with me that I probably wouldn’t have been privy to before. Part of this may be the fact that I’m older. But I think it’s got something to do with being married.

Since we were only in the US for about a month after being married, I don’t know if others there will treat us differently as married people. I think that they probably will but maybe not to the same extent that people do in Nepal. I guess I’ll find out in a year or so 🙂