Towards the end of every year, as the scale drops to wintry temperatures, the cities in the eastern bottleneck of India gear up for the wedding season.
Throughout the Indian subcontinent, weddings are meticulously planned and hosted with much grandeur and pride. Every Indian wedding is unique. From Kashmir to Kanyakumari, the diversity is remarkable in terms of the culture, costumes, cuisines, or currently more in focus, the vernacular rituals. And this is what makes each one of them exclusively alluring. Spotlighting the capital city of Kolkata in the state of West Bengal, I’d daresay it puts on a splendid display of festivities. Maybe it is the way the stage lights up from the pinkish-blue hues in the sky or how the notes from the shenaai soothes out the commotion, weddings at sundown hit differently. As the sky chalantly unveils into vibrant colors and then fades into pitch black, it’s when the gala gets going.
Now, if you’re planning on a Bengali-style wedding, or are invited to one, it’s good to get yourself up to speed on certain customs because contrary to popular notions, these weddings are so much more than just eating fish and sweets (though they are an integral part!)
One could say the basic principles and orthodox of the ceremony are the same, but if there’s one thing that would make it stand out, it would be fish. A large Rohu fish is decked up as a bride, draped in a sari, and decorated with jewelry, sindoor, paan and some turmeric. This ritual is called Tattva. Fish is a symbolic representation of good luck and prosperity and the gesture of the groom’s family gifting the bride is their way of extending their wishes to her as she embarks upon this new journey.
If you are familiar with a Bengali wedding only through movies and photographs, here is a closer look at the exotic traditions and rituals followed:
Gaye holud: A joyous event that includes food, music, laughter, and dance. In this ceremony, the families of the bride and the groom smear turmeric paste on them (otherwise well-known to us as the ‘haldi’ ceremony). The bride and groom are not supposed to meet each other till the wedding.
Bor boron (welcoming the groom): All is calm at the house of the Bengali bride until the groom arrives with the ‘bar jatri’ - friends and family. The bride’s mother welcomes the groom by lighting a lamp on a bamboo winnow.
Subho Drishti (the first auspicious glance): The rituals start as the bride sits on a wooden stool or ‘pidi’ held by her brothers. She is taken around the groom seven times as she hides her face using betel leaves. She then slowly moves the leaves away and the bride and groom look at each other for the first time on the wedding day.
Mala bodol (Exchange of garlands): A fun custom where friends lift the bride up so it gets difficult for the groom to put the garland around her neck. (‘Perk khao, light ho jao’, ring a bell?)
Anjali (the offering): An offering of puffed rice is made into the sacred fire while the groom holds the bride’s hands from behind her.
Saptapadi: The bride steps on seven betel leaves placed on the ground one after the other. The groom follows while moving a nora with his feet as they move forward. A nora is a cylindrical stone used to grind spices. The bride’s saree is tied with the groom’s clothes (palla bastraaf).
Sindoor Daan (Smearing the vermilion): The rituals conclude with the groom smearing vermilion on the hair parting of the bride, very much similar to the south Indian practice.
#RasamInMyPhuchka is the Bengali version of ‘peanut butter to my jelly’. Cheesy, nevermind. Bengal’s Phuchka-sister to our favorite pani puri is unique in the way it’s ‘rasam’ is spicier and tangier than those from other parts of the country.
Moving on to the most awaited part of weddings - the grand dinners. The aroma emanating from the dining halls tip off the hungry stomachs and soon enough, no matter if the actual rituals are over are not, the area swarms up with people getting plates and ducking lines to get to the food counters. I mean, who could blame them? From the toothsome mishti doi to Sandesh (read as shondesh) and rasgullas, lamb, and fish curry that go with rice and rotis, the spread of delicacies wouldn’t fit in your stomach even if you tried taking multiple rounds. ( I couldn’t!)
Woven with intricate details and adorned with lights, flowers, music and people, Bengali weddings are indeed a visual treat. All weddings are, for that matter. But each one stands out in its own way, true and rooted to its own tradition adding to the fervor and love. Oh, and the next time you visit, don’t forget to try out their phuchka.