Indo-Caribbean Hindu Wedding
From wedding house to wedding hall, fruit cake to fruit platter—the Indo-Caribbean Hindu wedding has transitioned through elements and locales over the recent generations but endures as a necessary emblem Indo-Caribbean culture, both in the Caribbean and North America. Accordingly, migration during the past two centuries has carried marriage rituals to new destinations and conventions.
Beyond the pomp of traditional Hindu weddings lies a deep well of meaning associated with one of the most extravagantly intricate ceremonies of the all worlds’ religions. Accepting the doctrine of marriage in Hinduism involves a splendid public display of ones inception to wedded life along with an exchange of sacred promises intended to cultivate matrimonial love and a strong family unit.
Hindu marriage is rooted in the ideals of duty, or dharma, and sacrament, or samskara, as carried out by a Hindu man or woman. Vivaha samskara, which is the most important sacrament of a Hindu’s life, is the entrance into the institution of marriage which is believed to be the dominant factor in an individual’s mental and spiritual development, establishing their footprint in society.
The measure of that footprint begins with a four-day long procession of rites and rituals—used to aid the transition into a life of marriage—without which the Hindu marriage is not valid and after which it cannot be annulled. These rituals can vary depending on the sect of Hinduism that one or both individuals belong to or the country from which they are originating. Thus, it should come to no surprise that West Indian marriage rituals are executed differently from those in the Indian subcontinent.
Typically spanning over four consecutive days in one take, the Indo-Caribbean wedding begins with the West Indian version of the tilak ceremony called the dig dutty or maticore, depending on the Guyanese or Trinidadian roots of the wedded families. The term maticore is derived from motichoor ladoo, a sweet that is traditionally made for special occasions particularly weddings. Performed at the respective homes of the engaged couple, the matriarchal half of each parental unit will perform a series of rituals in which she prays for the successful marriage of her son or daughter.
During the ritual, a combination of flowers, spices, incense and other pooja items are placed into a hole dug into the earth, hence the “dutty” or Indo-Caribbean word for dirt. According to Teerath Misir, Satsang Coordinator at the Shiva Shakthi Mandir in Scarborough, Ontario, this offering is made to the earth, which symbolizes fertility and blessing are asked with Agni, the fire god, as witness to the ritual. Traditionally, this ritual is performed by the maternal unit and is carried out in front of an all-female audience consisting of family and friends. Once the prayer has commenced, sweets in the form or methai are eaten and the women participate jestingly in a tassa dance intended to alleviate the anxiety of wedding consummation for the bride or groom.
Perhaps the most important part of the dig dutty or maticore evening is the dye-rubbing ceremony. Turmeric powder—or dye—mixed with oil is anointed onto the bodies of the bride and groom in two cycles, one in the morning and another in the evening, each of which is performed by a group of five or seven unmarried young girls. Hundreds of years prior to today’s practices, water was initially used but it was later deemed deficient of the requisite purifying powers, so turmeric—which is believed to have the power to avert evil—was subsequently used. Once anointed with the rub, also known as the haldi, the individual cannot leave the perimeter of his or her home and risk nullifying the purification.
A customary rite, the anointment administers a purifying bath in which the bride is anointed first, after which the groom is anointed with the remaining turmeric rub used on his bride. This tradition of using a communal batch of turmeric rub is short lived as the dye-rubbing ceremony is completed at the respective homes of the engaged persons. This allows each household to have their own private celebration and prepare for the formal relinquishment of their son or daughter. The dye-rubbing ceremony is one of the most important rituals that the families of the engaged individuals will perform for them before they leave their family unit as a married man or woman.
With her turmeric glow and hennaed hands the bride can now assume her red or yellow sari—depending on her specific caste—and adornments and await the baraat, or entourage, of her soon-to-be husband. Dressed in his pat-mauri and jura-jama, or headgear and gown, he arrives in fanfare led by the family patriarchs, often times on horseback. Just like his bride, the groom wears a pink or yellow jura-jama depending on his caste. For the duration of the wedding, the bride and groom will both wear headgears which usually have hanging strands of flowers partially cloaking their faces. “The groom is king for the day, being treated like royalty” explains Mr. Misir. “He is placed in an esteemed position and is treated with reverence so because of that [a crown is placed on him]. Similarly with the bride, she is the queen for the day.”
According to hundreds of years of Hindu tradition, the marital ceremony is to take place under a canopy with four masts known as a mandap, or maro to Indo-Caribbeans. Customarily, the maro is made with the leaves and shoots of bamboo. Because of its many knots and strength, the ceremony utilizes bamboo symbolically to implore that the wedded couple and their family grows just as bamboo does, stalwart and intertwined.
Identical, to the dye-rubbing ceremony, Agni is also invoked during the marriage ceremony to drive away evil spirits, eradicate barrenness in the bride, shower wealth onto the couple and most importantly, acts as a witness to the rites, after which the marriage cannot be voided.
Among the rituals that are to be performed before the marriage is valid, perhaps the most important are the gathabandhan, in which the brides sari is tied to the grooms shawl, and the saptapadi in which the couple makes seven steps around the fire and offers a set of promises to each other to ensure wedded bliss. The tying of the bride to the groom symbolically represents the tying of the hearts and souls of the couple and signifies wedlock.
No Hindu bride is complete without her symbolic vermillion—or sindoor—strewn across her parted hair or her manglasutra tied around her neck. These two emblems have taken on substantial weight as symbols of a married Hindu woman. Like nose rings or glass bangles for Indian and Pakistani women, wedding rings for European and North American brides, and most recently toe rings in certain parts of India, a Hindu woman is to wear her vermillion and manglasutra until the death of her husband.
As Mr. Misir details, the last rite performed before the marriage is legitimized is the the bride will assume her position on the left side of her husband, having moved from the right side where she sat for the duration of the wedding.
Once the wedding has commenced, exemplary in the weddings of nearly every world religion, is the merry activities, which for Indo-Caribbeans usually last for an additional two days following the Hindu ceremony. Before these festivities can begin, the bride and groom must adhere to certain traditions which are meant to guide them into wedded life. Of these is the official carrying away of the bride to her new home with her husband.
After a tearful expression of heartache for leaving her family, the bride is taken to her new home where she is to reside henceforth and ultimately manage as the woman of the house. Slowly she walks out of the home of her parents, saying her goodbyes to her family, often to the heartrending “Babul Ke Yeh Ghar Behena”, a song from the 1989 Hindi film Daata which upon its release has been an important cultural element in this aspect of the wedding.
Once she is received by her mother-in-law the bride sits down to a traditional game with her groom. Sitting facing each other, they compete in a friendly game in which a bangle is dropped in front of them as they both race to catch it first—whomever catches the bangle is said to dominate the household.
On-setting the third day of celebrations, the next day’s wedding reception is a new tradition which has been magnified in North America due to the influence of other cultures. Normally, this day would be the kangan or the day in which the couple removes the amulet tied around their wrists during the dig-dutty evening. Used to protect the bride and groom so that they may enter wedlock void of any evils, “the kangan is removed after the wedding and a prayer at the seashore is performed to Ganga, mother of the waters” says Mr. Misir. He adds, “after the removal of the kangan, the religious aspect of the wedding is finished,” and according to Indo-Caribbean traditions, a soiree is thrown at the individual homes of the couple, allowing once again for the parents to host a separate celebration for their now married son or daughter. While the amulet is usually removed the day after the Hindu wedding ceremony, the kangan festivities normally occur a day later allowing for a western wedding reception following the wedding day, complete with western wedding ensembles, a non-vegetarian dinner and a formal party to celebrate their wedded-hood.
The complexities of being married under Hindu rites can cause many many couples to approach matrimony with angst. Bride-to-be, Tristina Padum of Hamilton, Ontario is battling conflicting information as she tries to focus in on the vague traditions of an elaborate Hindu wedding. Ms. Padum, a Financial Systems Board Analyst at the Ontario Clean Water Agency is set to be married early next year and is concerned about carrying out the required rituals accordingly. “I like to know that I’m doing things correctly. The things that don’t make sense to me I may not do” says Ms. Padum. According to her, an important task before the actual wedding is consulting with her family’s pandit to ensure that she understands the significance of each ritual before they are performed. One tradition that Ms. Padum will without a doubt keep is the maticore, saying “It’s the first part of the wedding. You’re planting the roots of the wedding in the earth so that it can grow and you want to give it a good foundation.”
Hinduism lends its lavishness and intricate symbolism to its wedding ceremony which is rich in traditions and customs. Modern day weddings are filled with personalized traditions which accessorize the thousands of years of still prevalent Hindu rituals. Apparent in each modern wedding is the strength of this unifying religion and the diverse ideals of each community that practices its beautifully antique customs.
Indo-Caribbean World, October 14, 2009