I arrive at the premier address for bridal fashion in Ernakulam district of the South Indian city of Kochi. There is a reason for this. I have been invited to a wedding in Kerala. It is monsoon season. The rainy season after tormenting dry-hot months is sometimes violent and at times less violent. The showers alternate for days, and everything is submerged in a penetrating moisture. Monsoon wedding during the rainy season in India is considered especially auspicious.
Kerala is considered the flagship state with the highest literacy rate and the highest life expectancy in the country. My friend has found a good match for his daughter via an advertisement, and now, after the bridal couple had the opportunity to meet for a few months, they will be celebrating for several days.
From the floor to ceiling shelves are crammed with colorful dreams of fine fabrics. There are Kurtas and Pyjamas shining around me with imaginative combinations. In another section is the saris, floor-length skirt and meter-long scarf in exuberant pattern and embroidery. It glitters and shines.
In front of the shelves are several employees in a uniform. They spread out according to my rough color and price specification various gems, which I examine and feel, discard or select for a fitting. I'm the only one in the luxurious and pleasantly air-conditioned clothing store who has to make his own buying decision.
The ladies have come in groups to shop together for upcoming weddings. Without a certain amount of imagination and focus I am hopelessly lost. The ladies have experience with this special shopping experience and also know when it's better to continue looking elsewhere. But after a while I find it and the purchase is sealed with milk with a glass of sweet spice tea.
The landlady in my small homestay by the sea, curiously awaits me back. I had told her about my plans to equip myself appropriately for the local wedding. Then she had given me a list of addresses that I could, if necessary, one after the other with the auto rickshaw. My selection finds her favor and she takes the time to correct something here and there with needle and thread.
She artfully gather and fix the scarf so that it naturally flows elegantly from the shoulders. The groom and the bride will of course wear real gold. For the dream wedding, the guests also wear fancy jewelry. The first part of the wedding ceremony is borrowed from a North Indian tradition and begins in the early evening in a hotel in the hometown of the bride.
With few guests, this is just a relatively small function" a casual happy evening. The bride had wished such a sangeet, in which relatives and friends enjoy in music together. My friend's family is very musical, as some members have even completed a classical vocal education.
And so I enjoy some beautiful Karaoke style vocal performances with cheerful movie tunes with lots of dil and pyar from the Bollywood to classic bhajans, alternately in Hindi and Malayalam. A nice custom is for the bride to place herself on the floor with betel leaves in her hands. So I make a first little contact with the bride, who I did not know until now.
Since I am not related to or known to the bride, I am exempt from the most complicated traditional gift transfers. In the course of the evening, the other guys in the car quartet find their pleasure in painting the hands of the women present with delicate henna patterns. In no time at all an individual floral pattern is created on each hand.
The design takes a while to dry. The bride smiles merrily mischievously. She giggles occasionally, and regrets a little that she will be away from the people she loves so well, but luckily there's WhatsApp! And then cut. The light is dimmed, cracking from the speakers techno music as the DJ from Kochi hangs up. The bride in the green-red-gold sari becomes a disco-queen.
We dance hilariously and with Latin rhythms, as one or the other guy turns out to be a salsa king. The petite elderly ladies with long gray hair also seem to enjoy these performances and acknowledge some dance with appreciative words.
There are refreshments at the buffet, today with fish and meat. And since there are still many programs to come, the sangeet ceremony around midnight from one moment to the other is declared finished by the father of the bride.
The entire wedding party in chartered minibuses breaks up to Guruvayur. The alleged thousand-year-old Krishna Temple is one of the most important Hindu pilgrimage cities in Kerala. Numerous hotels are grouped around the sprawling complex of temples and are tailored to the needs of pilgrims as well as wedding parties.
Many locals visit the city once a year for a few days of retreat. This is also possible for very few rupees, and daily free feeding takes place in the sacred area of the temple.
Some of the wedding guests use the arrival in Guruvayur for a visit to the temple after they have set themselves in the rooms. The hotel mainly offers shared rooms. The bride will have to change clothes for the main part of the wedding party for each function in a new sari with all necessary accessories.
I suspect that this absolute absorption of rituals and involvement has the advantage that there is no time for emotions. The young woman has to be aware that she turns her back from the day of her wedding at home to join her married life. The young couple will soon move to Dubai together.
In the Emirates, many Keralites, including the bridegroom have found a well-paid job and bring about this detour also a certain material wealth in their homeland. The emotions come later, when it's all over. The groom's family has arrived as well. My friend and his wife are a little tense. The big day they have been preparing for months is coming. The exact schedule is not clear.
And it does not seem to exist either, but there is always someone close by who pokes me carefully when something is supposed to start somewhere. At all times I experience a great unruffled cordiality, which makes me feel very well on these exceptional days.
We set off in the morning together to the temple, where already several bridal couples queue with their wedding in a kind of arcade. On a small pedestal, a priest and the couple perform the thalikettu, a ritual of lacing the wedding band. There is a symbolic movement of the fire, a ceremony that takes much more time in northern India and here takes only a few minutes to complete.,
The couple looks very serious and strained, almost a bit scared. I radiate proudly and gracefully in all directions and follow the rituals with devotion. This is followed by a series of other customs, this time in the large wedding hall, in which rows of seats are set up with seats for several hundred people.
The action is now taking place on a stage that is surrounded by thousands of flower garlands and decorated with magnificent images of gods and statues. Very much present is Ganesha. Everything is recorded in the spotlight of several cameras and film cameras. A video drone rushes through the hall to capture the perspective from above.
Gradually, with breaks, different groups of people appear on the stage, as well as the parents and the closer relatives. They show themselves with colorful fans, pouring rice out of sacks. The bride and groom are hanged up with heavy flower garlands and each time looks even more magnificent.
The groom symbolically hands over a sari, and gold chains are exchanged. Everything has symbolic value. The guests enjoy the view in silence or meet for a chat. The whole thing is accompanied by a six-piece orchestra, which playfully plays classical ragas on traditional instruments such as bamboo flute, mridangam, tabla and violin. Every scene that captures the cameras becomes the perfect staging.
My friend inform me that around 500 guests are expected for the main ritual. Suddenly I get the announcement that it is now lunchtime and I am asked to go to a room where several long tables are covered on one side only with fresh banana leaves instead of plates.
On the other hand, waiters with aluminum containers pass by and distribute various dishes on the leaves. There is chutneys with fresh grated coconut, spicy pickles, various tasty vegetable curries, and crunchy pappadums. They are all prepared in coconut oil and with spices such as cardamom, pepper, cinnamon and chili. There is of course, the local rice, which is thicker and rounder than the ever popular and more expensive basmati rice.
There is also the desserts with even sweeter pancakes. Do I enjoy the food? I had imagined a wedding dinner to be a little more comfortable, but the next group of guests is already in front of the door. As soon as we are done with the food, the remains in the banana leaves are rolled up with the paper towels and disposed of.
There is still time to step on the stage and I walk past the tirelessly proud bride and groom and give them good wishes. A new change of clothes is on. This time, the groom will wear a western suit instead of the traditional dhoti and the long silk kurta.
So he will present himself at the evening reception in his parents' house for a smaller family circle and other glossy photos. After a few days, the couple will leave for Dubai for their future together. Just over a week after, the memory of colors, smells, sounds and other sensory impressions of the South Indian wedding remains very lively even after my return.