The Big Day
By Cynthia MacGregor / November, December 2012

AN OLD SAYING GOES, "Everybody loves a wedding." Summer is the season for weddings. In south Florida, where there are both Indian and West Indian communities, quite a few weddings are carried out in accordance with the Hindu religion and steeped in Hindu tradition.

According to Sati of Sati's Indian and Variety Store in Margate, there are two styles of Hindu weddings: Indian and West Indian. While white is the color of the American traditional wedding dress, Hindu brides wear a yellow sari, while the groom wears a white t-shirt and white doti, a cloth garment that wraps around the waist and covers the lower body.

Randy Ramlogan and his wife, Shalini, are a charming couple in Coral Springs who were married this past January. Their traditional three-day Hindu wedding with just under 500 guests began on Friday the 27th, carried over to Saturday, and culminated in a ceremony and reception on Sunday at the Marriott in Parkland.
Friday night's festivities are basically a religious prayer ceremony that takes place separately for the bride and groom, each in his or her respective home, with a priest in attendance, and with friends and family members present. There is food and music.

A major part of Friday night's festivities is the saffron ceremony, in which saffron paste is spread on the body. Saffron represents purity and cleansing, although part of the purpose of this ritual is beautification, as it makes the skin glow. The bride and groom go through exactly the same ceremony but do not see each other. The saffron ceremony follows other religious rites, all of which together take about an hour. This is followed by food and entertainment. Dinner is presented for all in attendance, along with live traditional Indian music.

Saturday is the day of the lawa, a ceremony involving rice. Rice kernels are placed in a pot with oil, which is stirred until the rice puffs and pops in a manner resembling popcorn. The rice symbolizes fertility, and the popping is considered good luck. (Think of the rice thrown following traditional American weddings.) Again, this is performed separately in the bride's and groom's respective homes. The cooking is done by a married woman in the family, usually the mother, although the father's sister is the one to stir the rice.

Another component of the Saturday night festivities is that the bride's arms, hands, and feet are painted with henna. There is no symbolism inherent in this practice; it is purely decorative. The henna is applied only to the bride and the other women, not the groom or other men, although men may be present at the bride's house and take part in the party that follows. All the assembled women get henna designs, but the bride's henna is more intricate and heavy.

Finally, Sunday is the date of the actual wedding ceremony. The groom arrives first, to the accompaniment of drums. All the men in the groom's family come out to greet him first, then all the men on the bride's side. The men of both families meet as the first formal acknowledgment that the two families are joining. The two fathers shake hands to signify acceptance, all of this to the accompaniment of music in a very festive atmosphere.

The groom enters the premises and goes to the altar and engages in several religious rites that take around half an hour, after which the bride enters. Both sit down, and there is another ceremony, lasting about an hour and involving both the bride and the groom. One rite, a big part of the ceremony, is the giving away of the bride. The bride, her father, and her brothers (if any) all hold hands with each other and then take the groom's hand and place the bride's hand in the groom's.

Another big part of the ceremony, and the part that signifies them being married, takes place when a fire is lit in an iron pot, which the bride and groom walk around seven times. At the beginning of each circuit around the pot, they offer the rice from Saturday night's ritual into the fire. Each circuit around the pot signifies a different vow, and, after seven times around the sacred fire, they are considered married. Following that, there are more rites before the wedding ceremony is finished.

The reception that follows would seem much more familiar to those used to the Judeo-Christian wedding traditions. There is music and a first dance, and a slide show. There are speeches, traditional Indian food, beverages, and dancing.

Absent from a Hindu wedding and reception are bridesmaids, a bridal bouquet to carry and toss, and a garter. Traditionally, no alcoholic beverages are served, and the food contains no meat.

Typically, 300 to 1,200 people come to a Hindu wedding. The number reflects the fact that Indian families are large. Naturally, the cost of such an event isn't cheap. The price can range from $40,000 to $80,000, estimates Randy Ramlogan.

With a wedding that takes place over three days, most people would agree that those who practice the Hindu faith really know how to throw a party.

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