Late last year I was fortunate enough to be asked out to India to photograph a wedding in Mumbai and Goa.
Now this kind of thing doesn’t come around every day, and it was such an amazing experience, opening my eyes to a completely different religious ceremony, and reminding me of all the visceral pleasures if found travelling in the Indian subcontinent back when I was 18. One of the many highlights of this wedding was that I got to spend 5 days at the start of the trip, just hanging out and acclimatising in Mumbai. I absolutely loved the mad buzz of that city, the changing smells and suicidal traffic.
The wedding couple at the heart of this story are quite private, so didn’t want this blogging too soon after their wedding for all to nosey at. But I’ve now been given the go ahead to blog this goldmine, and it’s gonna be a long one! Get the kettle on and brew up a chai, and make yourselves comfortable!
But before we get onto the 4 day wedding shenanigans, here are a few highlights of Mumbai to set the scene…
Love this busy little scene
It’s so fascinating seeing the minareted muslim mosques and colourful hindu temples all on each others doorsteps
This was one of my fave street scenes, of a chap stoking the fires to heat water in the enormous human-powered washing machine known as Dhobi Ghat.
The stations and trains around Mumbai are worth a visit to see real India, away from the tourists.
The older parts of Mumbai have the great colonial history. The former Victoria Terminus bears more than a passing resemblance to St Pancras station in London!
And so it was day one of the Hindu wedding…
I wandered up through the oppressive swelter to Grandma’s beautifully decorated flat to join the fun at the body art party known as the Mehndi!
Here’s our lovely bride ready to be painted!
Mendhi is the name for the henna plant, and the green leaves are mushed into a pulp, squeezed into handmade piping bags, and snipped to make insanely precise painting tools. It takes a good while to be painted, then the girls are rendered amusingly unable to touch anything, while they leave it to set and work its magic.
In grandma’s kitchen her cooks and staff were busy preparing tastiness for later…
Then suddenly, the groom burst in, dancing in to the sound of LOUD Bangra drummers!
The brides family were Punjabi, and they’re known for their love of dance, drumming and hard partying!
Check it out! Amazing eh?
The lumpy henna eventually dries and crumbles off, leaving a temporary tattoo.
Everyone who wants can be henna painted. I was more than tempted, but figured it might make the photographic element difficult there-on-in
And so began the dancing!
One of the reasons I was asked along to this wedding was because I’d shot the amazing wedding of these guys Abi & Simon (above), at which this Indian wedding couple were guests. Abi & Simon’s stunning wedding was at The Houses of Parliament in London (check it on the blog here).
I found a minute to get a few quick portraits of our happy couple before the party really got started.
Afterwards, and stuffed with delicious curry, I took a little stroll home and captured a few images of Mumbai by night.
The next day, we all hooked up and took to the air bound for Goa for the next part of the fun! It was cool to see the island of Mumbai from the sky as we left…
…and the beaches of Goa as we landed!
Goa’s got a completely different look to Mumbai, with Portuguese influence in the colonial architecture, and a much more island vibe to the goings on.
Still lazy cows wandering everywhere though!
Our base for the wedding was the luxurious Taj Holiday Village Spa, again, bound in traditional orange marigolds.
I have to pinch myself sometimes, the places I find myself.
After a day unwinding by the pool, guests were invited to an evening meal on the beach
But the real reason was to do more dancing!
And so began part 2 of the traditional Punjabi wedding, a day of feasting and chilling…
…and the evening everyone’s been looking forward to… The Sangeet!
The BIG party, in this case, a riot of colour in the woods up on the cliff!
Yet another ace costume change for our bridal couple!
This traditional Mumbai streetfood stand was serving amazing ‘Bhelpuri’, a little puffed crisp, popped open and filled with deliciously spiced goodness!
And then it was down to the serious business! Dancing and drumming!
Everyone gets a chance to dance, and while drummers drum, the family call our different opposite relations to hop up and take the stage.
It’s great fun. Even I got called up for a boogie!
Then the wedding party and pals, take turns doing their own ‘choreographed’ routines!
These guys have got some energy, let me tell you!
And so, the third part of the wedding, the traditional ceremony.
From what I learned (and saw), these can be very complex and filled with rituals. The nuances of a ceremony seem to vary greatly due to factors such as region and language, and modern couples like these guys, customise their weddings to highlight meaningful aspects of their heritage.
I started by joining the groom for a blessing where he’s given a ceremonial coconut
But the fun part comes during the Haldi ritual, when they cleanse and refresh his skin with a cumin paste!
Hmm, where to apply?!
The brides beachfront house was dressed for the wedding
A little moment between bride and sister before the
The next stage I think is called ‘Vivaha-homa’, where a priest lights a sacred fire and recites the sacred mantras in Sanskrit.
Oblations are offered to the fire whilst saying the prayers. The words “Id na mama” meaning “it is not for me” are repeated after the offerings. This teaches the virtue of selflessness required to run a family.
The ritual washing of conch shell bangles takes place at the bride’s house, dipped in buttermilk / turmeric water, and put on the bride by family members.
The ceremony of adorning the bride with bangles is called “chuda chadana”
Everyone present during this ritual touches the bangles, and tie on the tinkling bells of the Kaleerey, to offer their good wishes and blessings.
This ceremony commences amidst heavy emotions, especially from the parents and close family.
Then it’s time for another costume change…
Meanwhile, on the grooms side, the grooms father and a familial female entourage, steer the groom around the bridal fun to be turban’d up!
The guys that tie these are pretty damn amazing!
One completed groom ready to go!
I thought it rude not to get one myself!
The next stage is called the ‘Jayamaala’ where the groom is drummed to the bride’s parents house, who welcome him and his family at the boundary of the house. A red kum-kum powder mark is applied to foreheads and family members are formally introduced, marking the start of relationship between two families.
During the introductions, matched members from each side of the family formerly meet, and feed each other a sweet biscuit made from Cashew nuts
The guys like to lift each other up too!
Then the kaleerey decked bride in her final wedding gown, is led out to meet her bridegroom!
The bride and the bridegroom then exchange garlands (in a deliberately comically unwilling way!) and declare: “Let all the learned persons present here know, we are accepting each other willingly, voluntarily and pleasantly. Our hearts are concordant and united like waters.”
And just as the sun dipped beneath the horizon, the ritual-filled Paanigrahan ceremony of vows began.
Again, fires were lit and a priest recites holy mantras
The couple walk around the sacred fire four times. The bride leads three times and the fourth time the groom leads. He is reminded of his responsibilities. The couple join their hands into which the bride’s brothers pour some barley, which is offered to the fire, symbolising that they all will jointly work for the welfare of the society.
And then they’re officially married, and the party can begin again!
During the proceedings, and flow of formalities, we didn’t really get to do a huge amount of portraiture, but it was the story they wanted me to capture.
Still, it was nice to get a few relaxed portraits of the newlyweds in their finery.
And a bunch of shots of their mates having fun!
There are lots games played by family members on the bride and groom during the ceremony, one of which includes the bride’s sisters (or cousins) stealing the groom’s shoes as he takes them off before entering the mandap at the end of the night. The groom must pay the sisters to get them back because he is supposed to leave the mandap with the same shoes he came in.
I caught them at this at the end of the night!
It’s a wonderfully rich, colourful and emotional day to photograph
The bride then leaves for the groom’s home where her mother-in-law has placed a vessel filled with rice at the entrance of the home. The bride is supposed to spill the rice by touching it with her right foot to signify wealth and that the bride accepts her new responsibilities.
Amazing eh? What an experience.
It was such an outrageous opportunity to join these guys and their warm and friendly families for this full-on week-long Indian wedding experience!
I do love my job, and the lovely people who enable me to do it in exotic and wonderful places as this.
You know who you are kids. Thank you so much, and here’s hoping you’re enjoying married life.
One other thing this left me with is that I am SO going to go back to India this year! I think Rajastan next, for further adventures in Indian street photography!
…please do make contract if you’re reading and interested in me photographing your destination wedding!