Looking like a Respectable Married Woman in South India

As our trip went on, my clothes underwent a transformation. I wore jeans, a nice t-shirt, little jacket, and my high heeled boots my first day in Bangalore.  By the end, I was wearing salwar kameez, bangles, bindi, chappals, and mangalsutra/thali.

These experiences come from visiting a medium sized city in Karnataka, South India.  Also I visited a rural village, Jog Falls, and Banvasi’s temple.

Chappals

This was the first transformation.  Our second day in Satya’s hometown we were taken to the shopping district for chappals.  The main consideration was visiting.  Taking shoes off is a must when entering anyone’s home.  Shoes are also considered the dirtiest thing.  Me unzipping the boots each time I was visiting, touching my hands to the shoes just wasn’t going to work.  Plus, wearing boots and socks was hot.  The solution-chappals.    Chappals are sandals that are backless that you can slip in and out of made of leather.  Flip flops made of rubber and plastic are called “slippers” and “sandals” equal sandals with straps that you cannot slip in and out of.

We bought our chappals at a store much like an American shoe store-brightly lit, benches to try on shoes, attendants bringing shoes out from the back, etc.  We didn’t buy them from a market stall, although there are certainly many selling shoes of all kinds.  We bought Bata ones, a brand that seems to be everywhere in India, though not here in the U.S.

Salwar Kameez

Luckily, I brought one that I bought online here.  I quickly learned that despite what Satya said and what his sister said, jeans and a t-shirt was not going to work in India.  When we visited people or when I went out in public I wore either the salwar kameez I brought with me or the salwar kameez outfits given by the wives of Satya’s cousins (one of the nicest things was that as a newish married couple, we received gifts of clothes, money, puja items). 

Did I see women wearing jeans?  Only in Bangalore.  Teenage girls in high school/college can wear them in the medium sized city we were visiting (daughter of a cousin).  One of Satya’s married older cousins, about 40, wore a salwar kameez outfit everytime I met her.  It made sense-she was extremely busy as a wife, mother, and a doctor studying for a new certification.  Other than her, nearly all married women wore sarees all the time.  Especially for formal occasions, married women seem to wear sarees.  When we visited Satya’s old elementary and high school, the female teachers asked me, “Where is your mangalsutra?”  “Do you know how to wear a saree?”  (All the female teachers wore sarees.)

Also, a warning to all the tall women may have problems with readymade salwar kameez outfits.  I’m 5’9” and have a long torso so a lot of them didn’t fit quite right.  When relatives asked my mother in law my size, she said, “Oh, she is about my size.”  My mother in law is 5’2”!  We all had a good laugh over that.  Anyway, my sister tried on some of the outfits and they fit her perfectly-she is 5’5”. 

Also, on the same chappal trip, we bought some Indian-style “tops”.  These were very cute, but again not worn by anyone over the age of 21.  The brands should have clued us in-one was called “18 Fire”.  I had to use the XL size and even that was snug.  Here, I’m a M.  This is not to say all Indian women are tiny-I was not the tallest woman in the family or the widest but readymade clothes seem aimed at the youngest and thinnest women.

Bindi

One item I could not leave the house without.  I used the little stick on ones that you can buy in a pack at the market for 5 or 10 rupees/pack.  Those were perfectly acceptable.  Satya likes me to wear them.  Without a bindi he says my forehead looks “naked”.  Older women use kumkum (a red powder) instead of the stick on kind.  Do I wear a bindi in my everyday American life?  No. 

Bangles

On our trip to the market the night before the small Indian wedding ceremony we had my mother in law made sure I had bangles.  Indian women wear bangles.  It didn’t seem to matter if they were married or widowed-they all had bangles.  What kinds?  Gold bracelets interspersed with glass bangles.  What colors?  Green is most traditional for new brides and for weddings in general.  Red is also popular for everyday.  Sadly, my hands do not fold easily so I could wear small bangles.  It seems the smaller, the better.  At first, the bangles took some getting used to because to me, I felt like a cat with a bell on because every time I moved, I jangled.  Now I kind of like the sound. 

I do wear bangles here everyday but only a few on each wrist.  My advice-get the ones with the color all the way through the bangle.  If the color is painted on, after a few months the color will go away and you will be left with yellowish bangles instead of bright green.  Glass bangles seem to be preferred, but they are a bit more expensive than the metal ones.  I think it is worth it though.  Satya bought me some metal ones here and they were annoying.  Glass makes a nicer sound, glitter will not fall everywhere, and if you wear them overnight your arm will not get weird black marks like they will from the metal ones.  Glass ones take a while to find though-I asked at 4 shops here before I found one that carried glass bangles.

Mangalsutra

If you are traveling to South India and you are a married woman, it is best to wear this.  Why?  Because this is the equivalent to the American wedding ring.  Everywhere we’d go, people would ask about this.  It did not matter if the people were Christians or Hindus-everyone wore them.  Besides it is also important for ceremony.  Whenever a married woman visits another married woman, at the end of the visit they bless each other by applying kumkum and sometimes turmeric to the forehead and the large circles of the mangalsutra.  Sometimes small gifts are also exchanged like rice or fabric for a saree blouse, although the fabric is now mostly for tradition and ceremony and not to really make a saree blouse.

I went with Satya’s parents when we picked out the mangalsutra at the jewelers.  First we selected the chain-small gold and black beads.  Then the large flat circles were selected along with three larger gold balls.  Mine is very similar to my mother in law’s and Satya says it is Maharashtrian style.  I guess that makes sense since we were in Northern Karnataka.   Yes, I do wear the mangalsutra everyday here in the U.S.  I received mine during the small temple wedding ceremony and afterwards felt “more official” and more a real part of the family.

Conclusion

Now I know a lot more about what to expect and how to look like a respectable married woman (I feel old writing that).  Once I did get whistled at in the market-was without mangalsutra, and wearing jeans and an American blouse.  Satya deemed that a great insult and wanted to notify the police (I thought that was an overboard reaction, but he says in the South to whistle at someone else’s wife is a great insult.)  I’m a little nervous though about the next trip.  Satya says that his relatives were “low balling” me and that next time their expectations may be higher.

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Cousin’s Lingayat Wedding

Satya’s cousin got married in India this past weekend.  It was a little bittersweet for him since he is happy his cousin is getting married, but sad he wasn’t able to attend.  Here are some things we found out:

-The festivities occurred over 3 days.  The dates are checked astrologically to make sure they are auspicious.  It is also important that parts of the ceremony are done at certain times, down to the minute.  Again, this is to make the ceremony is auspicious and the marriage begins on the right foot.

-Each of the three days Satya’s cousin got turmeric applied to his skin. 

-He wore different outfits for each day–one day in a suit, one day in a sherwani (the long-sleeved coats that end around a man’s knees), and the South Indian dyoti.

-3,000 people attended which is medium-sized.

-The cousin’s hand hurt after shaking so many hands.

-On the invitation, the women’s names go first.  This is a reverse of how it is in the U.S.  For formal occassions here, invitations are addressed Mr. and Mrs. Man’s first name Man’s last name.  There, the Mrs. goes first and her name is written out first and last and then her husband’s name is mentioned his first name and last name.  Is it the same in North India too?

-Brides are considered incarnations of Laxmi, the goddess of wealth, happiness, and health.

There was one tradition that puzzled both me and Satya…for some reason after the wedding his cousin was not allowed to return to his home.  This was a big deal because Satya’s sister took lots of pictures and so the two of them wanted to e-mail pictures.  They ended up going to a friend’s house, but the friend’s computer has a virus.  No fun. 

Another part that confused us was that Satya says that in his family it is tradition to set out a pole and bucket in front of the cousin’s house.  The pole is then set on fire.  I don’t know what happens with the bucket…in case the pole fire gets out of control??  Has anybody else heard of this tradition and/or know the reasoning behind it?  Maybe the pole is to tell time….after it is burnt the cousin can re-enter his family’s house?  Satya has no idea. 

Yes, the cousin did have a traditional arranged marriage.  It was a process that took a few years because sometimes a girl was found that his cousin liked and his parents did not or the his parents would like a girl and he didn’t.  They met each other in August and decided by early September that they would get married in late November.  Both are Lingayats and they are both professionals in their mid to late 20s.  It turned out that the bride was related to somebody in Satya’s old neighborhood so perhaps that is how they found each other.  No, there wasn’t a dowry because in general dowries make Lingayats uncomfortable.

Everything went well, from what Satya heard.  His sister is returning to the U.S. this week.  Someday I’d like to see a Lingayat wedding, but that will have to wait.

Back Again

Satya and I arrived late last night from our week of hectic planning and wedding celebration.  Sunday’s wedding/renewal of vows ceremony went smoothly and was very beautiful.  Monday’s ceremony at my grandmother’s nursing home was bittersweet.  My 90 year old grandmother has dementia.  I feel very lucky and blessed she was able to participate.  The whole weekend was very emotional and at times bittersweet (thinking about my grandmother, realizing Satya’s parents are leaving for India today, realizing again that everyone we care about will never be in the same place at the same time on this earth, etc.)

 

To everyone who eloped, my advice is to have some kind of traditional family ceremony.  It meant a lot to me to have my family all around and support me and Satya.  Satya and I both agree that the ceremonies did change something about our relationship.  We aren’t sure what, but we can feel it.  Sorry that isn’t very clear, but maybe some of you will know what I mean.

 

To all those in mixed relationships, I think that having the family ceremony is even more crucial because it allows the families to meet and get to know each other.  I think it reassures the families to realize that they do share so many values.  One of my favorite memories was of Satya’s birthday supper at an Indian restaurant.  His sister and parents took a lot of care to show my family how to eat the food, and to describe the food.  Everyone had a few good laughs together.  Another piece of advice is to have a family gathering after all the stress and emotion of the ceremonies.  Everyone is much more relaxed and ready to have fun.

 

 Satya and I are very blessed.  Our wedding count so far is 1 Jewish blessing ceremony, 1 ELCA ceremony, and 1 Catholic blessing ceremony.  Next spring will be the grande finale….1 Hindu ceremony in India.

 

As I get time and energy (I didn’t eat or sleep properly the whole week) I will write more about this past week.

Indian-Inspired Wedding Cakes

Planning is going full steam ahead for our August ceremony.  We’d like to find a wedding cake that has some Indian flare.  Below are some links and photos to some of our favorites:

Blue Cake This is one of my favorite cakes.  For us, we’d like the cake to be peach or orange instead of blue.  It does look a little plain, but I’m thinking the small design from our wedding invitation can easily be added.  This cake was found on the Better Homes and Gardens website.  The caption next to the cake says that all the flowers are made from Belgian chocolate.  Yum!


Chakra Cake This cake has a chakra on the top and Indian designs on the sides.  The chakra represents the wheel of life.

Gorgeous pink and chocolate cake from Mehndi Cakes on Flickr. I love the bottom layer of this cake….don’t know what Satya would say about pink frosting though!

This wedding cake from A Slice of Heaven Confections even has horses!  This one is very over the top, but I can honestly say I’ve never seen one like this before.  The caption beside it said that it was inspired by an Indian town with many English influences where the bride grew up. Click on the picture for a close up of one of the layers.

Looking for something fun and modern?  Try this one by Lindys Cakes.  This is our #3 cake.  The bottom two layers look fabulous, but we are thinking the top layer and pedestal would be difficult to replicate.  Gold and red are common wedding colors.

Our #2 choice was inspired by another mixed marriage, this time a Polish-Indian marriage.  We like the bright colors and the simplicity of the design.  It was created by Vanessa O’Brien.

Finally, if you are feeling creative you can try to make your own as this blog explains.  This is way out of my league, so I’m content to let the bakery work their magic.

If you have links or photos of other wonderful Indian-inspired cakes, please share them below.

Birth Order and Marriage

Yesterday my mother-in-law told me more about some traditional Lingayat beliefs surrounding marriage.

She told me that traditionally, birth order was strictly followed.  This was especially true for girls.  If a younger sister got married before the older, people would ask, “What is wrong with the older sister?” The older sister’s chances at marriage decreased.  For men, this was followed more loosely. 

Another belief is that it is not good for the last child to remain unmarried for long after the older siblings are married.  Often, parents would wait until siblings could be married together or shortly after each other.  This is so that if anything happens to the parents, none of the grown children would be left alone in life.

After all the grown children are married, the parents relax more.  They believe their children will be more secure and less lonely. This last view isn’t so very different from beliefs in the U.S.  Most parents do want their children to settle down with a family.

This all emphasized to me again the importance of family.

Lingayat Wedding Rituals

Since some people have come to this blog to find out more about Lingayat Wedding rituals, I will share what I know.  So far what I know has been gathered by speaking with Satya, his sister, and looking at some wedding photos from his sister’s wedding ceremony.  As our wedding ceremony in India draws closer and after we get back, I’ll be able to write more authoritatively and completely.

 

Preparation

Invitations are delivered by hand.  Sending invitations by mail means that you don’t care if the recipients come to the wedding or not.  Even though people may be scattered throughout the state or even India, this is still expected. There might be hundreds of people to invite as well, but the personal invitation is still expected.

 

Like most Indian rituals, bathing is an important first step.  Usually relatives bathe the bride and groom beforehand.  Turmeric is rubbed into the skin to lighten it (not sure if this would happen to me-I’m already very pale.)  The bride gets henna applied to her hands and feet and flowers are put into her hair.  Jasmine is a popular choice because it is very fragrant.  It grows easily and well in Karnataka and from what Satya has said, seems to be always blooming.

 

Ceremony

My mother in law has warned me that we will be sitting cross-legged on the floor for two or three hours.  I will be wearing a silk saree because it is traditional and because it is probably the most comfortable option (sitting cross-legged in a Western-style gown made of satin or polyester sounds extremely uncomfortable to me.)  Satya will have a suit and possibly a more traditional Indian outfit.  He is a little unsure of this because he’s never worn traditional clothing in his life.

 

The family is important to the ceremony.  At one part of the ceremony, the groom’s parents feed the bride’s parents sugar and vice versa.  My parents most likely will not be making the trip to India so this will not be included.  The bride and groom also have to serve each other sugar.  I’m a little squeamish about this as I’m still working on being able to eat rice comfortably with my hands.

Other important things are coconuts, symbols of good luck, and fire.

 

As you can see, my knowledge at this point is minimal.

 

Anyone have more details, stories or advice to share?  I welcome your comments.

Wearing a Saree

Last Saturday I had the opportunity to wear a saree.  Satya told my Mother in law that I’d be open to wearing a traditional Indian outfit for the Indian wedding ceremony next year.  She brought out a beautiful purple silk saree with gold and orange trim. 

The first step was the blouse. 

Lesson number one: the tiny hooks hook in the front, not in the back!  When she gave me the blouse I was very confused because I thought, “How in the world do you hook all those tiny hooks in the back by yourself?”  My mother in law quickly corrected me and told me they hook in the front…much easier.  I guess I saw the hooks and thought they looked like bra hooks and so thought they hook in the same way.

Luckily, the blouse fit well across my shoulders.  The arms were a little loose, but she said that they could easily be tailored to fit.

Next was the cotton petticoat.  Then finally, the winding and folding of the saree.  I don’t know how she did it.  I will definitely have to find some of those “How to wear a saree” videos online!  I’m thinking of finding a cheaper one that I can just practice wearing around the house.

Then came the next challenge…walking upstairs.  I thought, “Oh, no problem.  I’ve worn long skirts and dresses before.”  Wrong.  Apparently, it is crucial to grip the saree at the center of the skirt to hold it up and out of the way.  Holding it from the sides makes things even more difficult. 

Satya and his mom liked the saree very much.  I will be wearing one for the Indian wedding.  I will definitely need to practice wearing one beforehand!  They both laughed when they saw how tightly I was gripping the saree.  I was afraid it would fall off, but I just have to adjust to the different feel of wearing a saree. 

Satya took pictures, so someday I may post them.  I think I looked like a tall purple pillar, but in a good way.

More things I learned:

          -There are many different ways to wear a saree.  Some stylish, some more utilitarian.  If you need to wash dishes you can tuck it one way.  If you need your legs freer, you can do something else.

          -Pins can be added to hold the saree in place.  I didn’t try this, but it sounds worth trying.

         -Pastel colors are nicknamed “English colors” and should be avoided.  Mother in law says that anything bright is good. 

I’d always wanted to try a saree on, so I enjoyed wearing it a lot.   Also, it was gorgeous!  I didn’t really realize before how versatile sarees are.  They can adjust no matter the wearer’s size or what the wearer is doing.

Here is a great post from A Wide Angle View of India about saris.  She has included a link to a video showing how to wear a sari as well as some great photos. 

At the moment I am looking for a silk saree to wear for the August ceremony.  We are having the ceremony professionally photographed so Satya wants a photos of me in a saree as well as the Western-style wedding dress.

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