Amazing stories happen when you travel and are open to the surroundings. This is a story about a big traditional wedding in Nepal and how I was invited there by just riding a local bus alone:)
I was trying to get from my couchsurfer’s house outside Kathmandu to the city center. I squeezed in on one insanely packed bus. Needless to say, I was the only non-Nepali person there. I wasn’t sure when to get off and was looking for help and only one girl on the bus spoke English. Her name was Shraddha and – what a small world – she turned out to be very good friends of my couchsurfer host Bimal. We engaged in a very lively conversation till she had to get off. Two days later I went trekking to the Everest Base Camp, but
we occasionally kept in touch via texting. What was my surprise upon return, when she texted me that she wanted to invite me to her sister Manju’s wedding. I also asked if I could bring my friend Krystal along and it was a yes:)
Then preparation started. We were determined to dress in a complete Nepali wedding (guest) outfit, so it took us almost an entire day of shopping, trying on, fitting and making painful decisions, like which pair of earrings out of thousands to pick…
Nepal still has a caste structure of the society. There are 103 castes is Nepal. Marriages are preferred either within the castes or with minor deviations on the hierarchy ladder.
While there’re definitely more love marriages in Nepal nowadays, arranged marriages are still most common and widespread. And that seems to be well accepted by many newlyweds. ‘My parents wish me only the best in my life and know what’s good for me’ – that seems to be a typical thinking of a Nepali girl.
Manju and Ganesh’s wedding I attended was arranged. In fact, families, and the future couple met each other only three days before the wedding! I couldn’t believe my ears! There was a peculiarity involved though: the bride and the groom were mentally different, so families were just trying to set up their children’s lives the best way possible, within the tradition.
Just like Nepali families, Nepali weddings are big! All family and friends are invited, making it a huge festive occasion. A friend of mine told me that he is on average invited to 12 weddings a year!
The color of wedding in Nepal is red. Women are wearing red sarees, shoes, lipstick; bride is wearing all red as well, red flowers, red rice. Sarees take lots of skill and experience to wrap around nicely,
so every female at the wedding took as a personal responsibility to fix mine. Then you have to wear nice matching shoes. Usually they are red velvet open-heel shoes with embroidery. Lots and lots of jewelry: big earrings, tons of bangles on both arms, covering them sometimes up the elbows. Decorations for the hair, which I decided to avoid it though, fearing to look excessive (no need!). Tika – the sticker dot on the forehead. You go to the store and there’s like hundreds of different tikas to select from, I was blown away!
The biggest part of a Nepali wedding are the rituals. It is believed that the couple, once married, will spend seven lives together! Now, THAT’S a big commitment, and of course everything must be done to bless their joint life (lives!) There’s a priest at the wedding, who does most of the rituals and traditional chanting and prayer.
Some of the rituals involve covering the bride and the groom with a cloth and saying prayer. Every guest gives the bride and the groom blessings (along with the gifts of course!) by putting red rice on their foreheads and flowers on their heads. Then a family member does feet-washing for the bride and the groom.
Approximately in the middle, between the rituals, the bride’s dressing, makeup and jewelry must be changed, and a lot of female guest hands are helping in this intricate procedure.
Then the bride and the groom – separately – walk under the special umbrellas, which blesses their future seven lives that they will spend together. Then the bride and the groom are carried around on the backs of their relatives, mostly cousins, also as a part of the blessings ritual.
The wedding day is a turning point in the bride’s life. She is leaving her parent’s house and entering the husband’s house and family. Manju got very emotional and was crying her eyes out. Her sister Shraddha was only very concerned for her. I later learnt that Manju’s mother-in-law is sort of cutting all communication and access between Manju and her family, and even parents are not in touch with Manju any more! And apparently this sort of behavior is not uncommon!
In the end the guests played a prank: they steal the bride’s shoe. I am not sure, but I had a feeling this joke didn’t play well with the bride’s family. To be completely honest, I was trying very hard to follow what was going on, and even perhaps why, but the cultural and traditional ‘gap’ between us was so big that sometimes I just gave up and simply enjoyed the aesthetics and excitement of the moment.
Nepali are good, heartfelt dancers and we danced a LOT. It was funny to dance to American pop-rock songs trying to hold your saree together:) We met all the family members, and friends, and friends of friends, and lots of kids. Unfortunately I didn’t really get to meet the newly weds. We were introduced but on top of their peculiarity they were so overwhelmed by everything that they couldn’t even look straight in the camera in one direction when the pics were taken…
And what wedding is without food: we lined up for a buffet with traditional food like, rice, lentils, curried vegetables and meat. But can you imagine, cake is not a part of a Nepali wedding! All I want to say, I wanted cake. I always do:)
I’ve observed it at the weddings around the world: seems like that day all the guests are having a blast and the best party ever, while the newly weds by the end of it are overwhelmed and exhausted by ceremonies and attention. Manju and Ganesh looked lost sometimes, just following the directions of what and how to do. They looked tired and detached. They obviously looked like the two who really don’t know each other at all. Sometimes I caught their looks at each other: curious, suspicious, inquiring, laughing, frowning… They met each other 3 days before and entire 7 lives lay ahead of them.
It was such a beautiful, unforgettable and unexpected experience. Now I am waiting for an invitation to Shraddha’s wedding. She said her parents are looking for a husband for her:) And she is patiently waiting and hoping for a good choice!
Please watch a short film I made about this wedding: