My first Jain wedding

Amit, elder brother of my close friend Amod got married today. I accompanied the bridegroom’s group to Baramati, the hometown of the politician Sharad Pawar and hotspot of the Sugar belt in western Maharashtra. The place is six hours away from Dombivli and I went there by bus, accompanied by another friend Debu (Devendra) and Amod’s family and relatives.

The bus journey started with the cries proclaiming victory for Lord Mahavira one of the 24 Tirthankars of Jain religion, followed by the Namokar Mantra and some other devotional songs. Scene changed next to antakshari and other entertainment.

On reaching Baramati in the evening, the bride’s family welcomed us and ushered us into the Mahavir Bhavan ceremony hall – which was a square building with accommodation rooms on east and north sides, kitchen and dining area on south and wedding stage to the west. Central area was not constructed and was simply covered with colorful, decorative piece of cloth.

After brief rest and cleaning up, the ceremony of Introduction, called bheti-gathi was initiated. Family members from the two sides met each other, exchanged pleasantries and embraces. Members from each family are officially introduced at this point.

After this, the priest setup the holy kalash, the Engagement ceremony began. The bride arrived, dressed in bright saffron saree and the bridegroom in white sherwani. They exchanged wedding rings accompanied by cheering by the guests and chanting of mantras by the priest. The couple were officially committed to the wedding.

The Haldi ceremony began. Here, a turmeric paste is applied to the bride and the bridegroom by the guests. The significance of haldi ceremony is that the aspiring couple is not supposed to go out and expose themselves. Haldi is also an antiseptic and nourishes the skin so that it glows. This paste was later washed in a separate ceremony.

The next day, the groom and his guests left in the morning in a procession accompanied by band, music and dancing. They took a small path and arrived at the wedding location as a symbolic gesture which marks arrival of the bridegroom to the village of the bride for marriage. The groom and the barati (marriage party) were welcomed and Simant Pujan, or puja at the boundary was conducted by bride’s mother.

Maternal uncles accompanied the couple to the wedding stage, where they were separated by a piece of cloth and showered with blessings and good wishes in the form of poetry, called mangalashtak. At precise auspicious time (mahurat), the cloth is lowered and the bride and bridegroom exchange flower garlands. The boy tied the manglsutra or the wedding necklace to the girl and while the priest administered the oath. The couple was officially declared as married.

The rest of the rituals followed. The couple took 7 rounds around the fire symbolizing the cosmos. Following this and some more intricate customs, the marriage ceremony was completed and the guests were offered lunch.

On duty as unofficial wedding photographer, my task started right from taking pictures when departing from Dombivli till we arrived back, 37 hours later. I took approximately 220 shots, of which I guess around 20% are experiments and repeat shots. I’ve seen the results and they don’t look bad!

This was my first Jain wedding. In India, rituals and customs being flavored by local traditions are never the same everywhere – Gujrati Jains and Marwari Jains for example may have different rituals altogether.

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