It all started as a joke one day…
I was sitting with Mr.Das when a man came up and handed him an envelope…a wedding invitation! I jokingly asked if I could attend the wedding with him. “Yes, probably.” he said. “Really?” I replied, totally serious now. It was on my bucket-list to try to attend an Indian wedding. It turns out that the father of the bride, Mr. Koshy, used to work in SIP! Mr. Das confirmed that he had chatted with him and confirmed that we were welcome to attend the celebration!
The invitation gave us some preliminary information:
Bindu Koshy and Jay Thomas
Bindu grew up in Hyderabad but Thomas grew up in Texas. Both now live (and met?) in Kerala.
The wedding would take place at St. Gregorious Orthodox Cathedral with a reception at a hotel to follow.
With this information we were not sure what to expect- was Jay indian or American? Were both families Christian? Would this be a traditional Christian wedding or a fusion wedding? What do we where? Where do we sit? Do we bring a gift? Any other wedding etiquette?! We bombarded Mr.Das with questions. He told us to wear our nicest kurtas and that a gift would not be necessary. But other than that, he was as blind as we were.
So we spiffed up, did our hair, and even put on a little make-up. A cab picked us up and drove us to the cathedral. We made it by 5:15 with the ceremony to start at 5:30pm. However, when we pulled up, the wedding party was standing right there. I felt so awkward that I didn’t even make eye contact. We found a side doorway, removed our shoes, and entered the cathedral. It was a bare-bones place, and alter at the front with a long walkway down the middle marked with white flower bouquets. The cement pillars were covered in gold fabric and draped colored fabric lined the ceilings. No one was sitting in the back pews yet so we slid into the back row.
Before we knew it, a crowd of people was moving down the aisle along with a mob of camera crew. They are just taking pictures, we thought. But then the priest said, “We will now begin the matrimony ceremony,” and it started. No walk down the aisle, no fanfare, no music. And, the service started early! So much for India Time. 🙂 We were handed and order of service that was 36 pages long! This was gonna be a traditional eastern orthodox service.
As is typical in the orthodox tradition, the entire service was chanted either by the priest or the congregation. Up front was a “worship team” of 4 who led the people in the hymns. Instead of greek, the service was split between Hindi and English language. It was neat to read the English words of the hymns printed along with the Hindi script. But sometimes the printed words were in English and the priest said the Hindi. The songs cracked me up a bit because an instrumental soundtrack played along with the tunes that sounded like a very outdated 90s beat!
The service was split up into two portions: The Blessing of the Rings and The Blessing of the Crowns. My favorite part of the service was the Blessing of the Crowns. The priest blessed both the bride and groom with a gold chain and cross, before placing it around their neck. This signifies the special grace the couple receives from the Holy Spirit before they establish a family. This was followed by the tying of the “Thali” or “Minnu” (a Southern Indian tradition). The Minnu is a small gold pendant of a heart with a cross on it placed on silk thread made by interweaving seven thread thaken out of the “Manthrakodi” (red bridal sari), which is given by the grooms family. The “Minnu” is tied around the brides next by the groom as a symbolic act of accepting her as his own. The “Manthrakodi” is then placed on the bride’s head by the priest as an act of humility, chastity, and devotion to her life-long partner. Instead of a kiss at the end of the service, the priest joins the hands of the two and declares them husband and wife!
As the service carried on, more an more people showed up, but not a ton. By the end of the service there were maybe 50 people total, men on the left and women on the right. There was standing room at the front with seating in pews at the back.
But the weirdest part of the entire wedding was the excessive amount of photographers who hovered around the alter the entire service. This was like intense paparazzi action, complete with large photography lights set up and video cameras. It made it very difficult to see the action up front. At one point, one of the deacons was getting pretty crabby about it too, trying to get them to turn off the blaring lights.
Following the service loads of pictures were taken before the bride and groom walked back down the aisle. Finally, I could see the beautiful couple. Bindu was wearing a silky golden sari, Jay in a classic black suit. I made eye contact with Bindu as family adorned her with flowers. “She has no idea who I am,” I thought to myself. This was awkward, but so amazing to witness!! It was neat to see a blended service- traditional orthodox with Indian traditions mixed in.
Now time for the reception! The cab drove us through the heavy Secunderabad traffic to the Sweet Heart Hotel. Walking through an outdoor archway, a food buffet enticed our stomachs to the right and sheltered seating area to the left. Everyone was sitting in those seats facing a stage area. Seeing some other SIP employees, we sat down behind them and made ourselves comfortable as we waited for the wedding party. The stage area had me puzzled; two golden chairs and colored lighting. Vegas meets India?
In the meantime, the Backstreet Boys soundtrack played in the background…yes the entire soundtrack! Haha! An hour later our stomachs were growling and the bride and groom finally took their places. There were just a couple speeches by family members, the cutting of the cake, and a prayer for dinner.
Then everyone stood up and formed a line to meet and greet the couple. We were happy we had forgotten our box of chocolates at home, very few people brought gifts. As the line continued, we decided to check out the food!
Veg and Non-Veg options lined the room…rice, paneer, daal, and beans along with all the roti in the world!
Check out these guys making the bread right there! The dough is rolled out into large circles and placed on those hot round “skillets” to bake. Similarly, all the food was stewing in enormous copper pots next door.
It was a neat night. I felt privileged to have received the opportunity to experience it. When we left around 9:45, the happy couple was still greeting guests. I felt a little bad that we were never able to introduce ourselves to Mr. Koshy and thank him for this opportunity, so for now, my heartfelt prayers will do!