Behind every happily-ever-after, is the master or mistress of the ceremony. As part of a wedding special, we discover what it’s like to be in the shoes of a wedding planner, particularly when it comes to upholding the intricacies of the couple’s culture and heritage that's slowly vanishing.
Growing up in an Indian household, attending a couple of weddings each year is a common societal norm.
After years of attending weddings, there is one thing you cannot fail to observe – No two Indian weddings can ever be alike, and therein lies the beauty of true traditional Indian weddings.
The rituals, ceremonies, attire, cuisines and décor all differ depending on provinces, ethnicities, communities and religious beliefs, which makes organising a wedding no simple task to achieve.
Gaining a reputation for being a specialist when it comes to South Indian weddings, the engineer turned make-up artist, Rihanna Giuseppe, does more than enhancing the beauty of her brides.
“When it comes to traditional Indian weddings, there are multiple customs that are practised, each carrying its own significance. While couple these days tend to overlook traditions, I always advise my brides to hold on to these rituals, as they add the grace and essence to a wedding celebration,” she says.
Having had close interactions with couples in a career spanning over 17 years, Rihanna talks about the importance of preserving wedding traditions and how to plan a classic wedding in an urban setting.
When do the preparations for an Indian wedding ideally begin?
For most couples, the preparations for the wedding begin soon after the official betrothal ceremony which is held a couple of months before the wedding. The ceremony involves the exchange of trays with fruits, flowers, sweets, clothes and other gifts by the families of the bride and the groom.
This is also the day when families decide upon the official date of the wedding. According to Indians scriptures, a wedding can never be held on a Saturday and the time of the wedding is also very important. So, a priest is generally a part of the ceremony who then helps the families determine an auspicious wedding date and time.
Indian brides are known to have elaborate attires adorning them. Is there any significance to that?
Gold and a kanjipuram saree are a must have for any Indian bride.
While the extravagant jewellery seen on brides today is more of a conventional trend adopted throughout generations, a bride is expected to carry some gold on her as it signifies wealth and prosperity.
The kanjipuram saree, on the other hand, carries multiple connotations. For starters, the saree is woven from the highest quality of silk with great details that lend it the perfect lustre when draped, adding grandeur to the occasion.
According to Indian mythology, the kanjipuram saree is believed to be a favourite of Lord Vishnu and is often worn by brides in the hope of a divine blessing.
What most people, however, don’t know is that this nine-yard silk saree is also very resilient making it manageable for the bride to partake in wedding rituals without damaging her attire.
Are there any rituals or ceremonies that are performed before the actual wedding day?
The ceremonies that lead up to the wedding start taking place 2-3 days prior the designated date.
The rites begin first with a puja that is conducted at respective homes of the bride and the groom. The groom’s family will generally pray to Lord Ganesha whereas the bride’s family will offer their prayers to the deity Goddess Lakshmi. The prayers are conducted to seek blessings for the couple and to hope for an uninterrupted wedding ceremony.
This is followed next by the nallunge or a traditional cleansing ceremony. Haldi, sandalwood paste and oil is applied on the bride and the groom before they take a purifying bath. The entire ceremony is conducted specifically by five or seven married women who must be presented with betel nut leaf, betel nut, kumkum, manjal, bangles and a saree on a tray. All the items signify a happily married woman and are given with the hope that the bride-to-be will have a fulfilling marriage.
Do the bride and the groom need to observe any specific practices in the days leading to their nuptials?
Some people may call it superstitious, but once the nallunge is done, the bride and the groom are not allowed to see each other or leave the house unmonitored.
The Hindu traditions believe that in the days leading to the wedding, the couple is emotionally very vulnerable and can fall prey to negative forces or invite unforeseen circumstances.
The belief is enforced more strictly on the wedding day. The brides are not allowed to leave the house at all during the period of Yamagandam as any activity during this duration is said to lead to failure.
So, what happens on the day of the wedding?
On the day of the wedding, the mother-in-law presents the bride with her wedding attire in an intimate ceremony called parasam followed once again by a brief Gauri puja. This is often the first welcome of the bride to her new home. In some houses though, this ceremony is done a day earlier.
After this, the bride and groom proceed to the wedding venue for a final cleansing ritual in the presence of family and close friends.
This is followed by the exchange of garlands, the groom tying a thali around the bride’s neck and the customary seven steps around a sacred fire where each step signifies a different wedding vow.
Does the wedding feast need to be organised in a particular fashion?
The classic way to honour a union is a banana leaf feast. The dishes served must be vegetarian and the feast should begin with a serving of a pinch of salt. Salt, according to ancient scriptures represents healthy relationships. Toward the end, it is also important to serve some traditional desserts such as payasam or laddoo for the couple’s sweet beginning.
However, nowadays salt is nowhere to be seen and many families have resorted to a buffet style of serving meals.
Are there any rare rituals that are not being performed in Malaysia today?
In a traditional South Indian wedding, before the couple proceeds to take the wedding vows, they are seated on a swing and fed with bananas and milk by their relatives. This ceremony called as Oonjal ends with relatives throwing rice balls on the couple to ward off evil. In the past couple of years, I haven’t seen many couples who undergo this ritual except for a few Brahmin families.
There are several other rituals such as Kashi Yatra and Vvaleyadal that are rarely seen in Malaysia probably due to time constraint and inconvenience.
What advice do you generally give couples who approach you with help in planning weddings?
My first bit of advice that I share with couples is to plan the wedding well within their budget and means. Instead of focusing redundantly on décor, I do tell them to unearth a bit more of their heritage and culture in their ceremonies as it is these small customs and traditions that add more joy, love and blessings that make a wedding the sacred union it is supposed to be.
(Photos: Rihanna Giuseppe)
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