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 šŸ™‚

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) areĀ 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 didiĀ helping out who tied her beaded sari for her. Brides areĀ traditionallyĀ 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 šŸ™‚

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 mallaĀ (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 šŸ™‚

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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Negotiating Skin

Source: famouswonders.com/positano-on-the-amalfi-coast/

In fifth grade, my parents took me and my brothers to the rocky beaches of Italy. One day when we went down to the water, I was utterly shocked to see grown women casually going topless, lying on their blankets, sunbathing, and swimming in such a public place. In the US, from just a wee age, girls (even female babies) are often expected to cover up on top, whether there’s anything to cover or not, at least at the places and beaches I frequented. It’s silly really, but what I was used to. I remember one time when I was at my grandparents’ house as a kid, my grandmother had let my brothers take off their shirts in the hot whether while we were playing baseball outside. My feminist 7-year-old self insisted that I too would take off my shirt in the heat. And I did.Ā But really, I’m quite modest and uncomfortable when it comes to showing skin. I’ve never felt at ease wearing short shorts and bakinis, although I used to wear skirts and pants to the knee pretty frequently and bathing suits at the beach.

Before I came here, I suspected that women in Nepal would be fairly covered, but I found out that it really depends on where you are. Women in urban areas generally cover their legs, but more and more, you see girls and women wearing shorts or very short skirts. In rural areas, older women sometimes bathe bare chested, and it’s really not a big deal. Then, of course, there’s the sari. You can wear it without showing any mid-section, but many women do show at least some of their stomachs.

Some people in Nepal are able to get away with showing more skin, but I have taken a fairly conservative route while living here. Since people already assume all sorts of things about me as a foreigner, I didn’t want to give them any fodder to fuel their opinions, so I’ve always tried to wear simple and conservative pieces that don’t show a lot of skin. Especially as a married woman. If I were to go around in shorts, I would get stares and possibly scowls from those who know me (at least that’s the impression I get).

The other day we had to wear a sari to school for our class photos. I was dreading it because I don’t particularly like wearing them. I only have one, and it’s quite heavy and hard to walk in, but all the other teachers were planning to wear saris, and I didn’t want to be the odd one out. I mind saris not only because they can be uncomfortable but also because they show the stomach. I always feel very exposed in one. I suppose I could tie it in a way that would allow me to cover more of my midriff, but that’s more of a trend among matronly women, and I think people would be bugging me to tie it in a different way. In many places in the US, it’s moderately inapropriate to be walking around with your stomach showing (outside of the beach or another area where people are wearing bathing suits), so I understand where my discomfort comes from, but I’m not sure why I can’t just loosen up and not worry about it.

Where does this leave me? I think I’m caught between American customs and Nepali ones. I’m not comfortable doing it the way I used to, wearing shorts and skirts that at least come to the knee, but I can’t fully adopt the Nepali system either.Ā I don’t want to be so averse to showing my skin, especially when it’s hot out and more comfortable to wear lighter clothing that’s less prone to covering skin. Maybe I I’ll relax a bit when we get back to the US and can find a system that feels both appropriate and comfortable.