Since the groom was Indian – American and the bride Dominican-born , there was not one wedding, but two. ( Actually , there were three since they had gotten married in a civil ceremony in Washington D.C the previous week).We had arrived at Punta Cana on Wednesday afternoon and had that evening and Thursday for ourselves . Friday and Saturday would be reserved for the festivities and we would be flying out at noon on Sunday.
Having taken a coach tour of the vicinity on our previous trip to Punta Cana , we decided to skip sightseeing this time. Then, we had gone to a cigar ” factory” ( really one large room) and a couple of churches , driven through the sugarcane fields , through a nearby town and to Los Altos where , in the middle of nowhere , we were taken to a Greek style sunken stadium with seating for 4,000 people. It had been commissioned by a proud Dominican papa for his daughter’s fifteenth birthday. Of all those sights , the sugarcane fields stood out because of their green lushness and the way they seemed to stretch in every direction.
This time, we spent the free time before the wedding chilling with friends , walking on the beach and lazing by the poolside sipping the excellent Dominican beer . That Presidente sure hits the spot. The beach too was wonderful , the beach sands white and very fine ( more about that later). There were people dancing to the sounds of salsa and merengue, touts offering tours of the island , children squealing with delight as the warm incoming waters tickled their feet and some intrepid souls who were para-gliding . The temperature was in the seventies , just perfect ,and the gentle breeze, refreshing . What can be better than lazing on lounge chairs , chatting with good friends , secure in the knowledge that there is nowhere one has to go , nothing one has to do.
Wednesday and Thursday passed by in a flash.
The Catholic wedding was on Friday morning and guests were bused from the resort to the church in three luxury coaches for the 11 o’clock ceremony.The church reminded me of one of those old churches one comes across in Goa. Small ,old, neat , white-washed , charming and full of character. Contemporary churches are all very well but give me a traditionally built one with a steeple and a belfry anytime . It feels like a real church. We settled down in the wooden pews and listened to one of the bride’s cousins sing a stirring Ave Maria. Right on time, first the groom and then the bride made their entrances.He looked so happy and she so radiant as she joined him in taking their vows. The elderly priest counseled them to love and take care of each other ; a few simple words , the exchange of rings , their first ” official” kiss ( as the priest slyly remarked) , a few short speeches from the relatives on either side and it was all over. Short and simple, but touching and elegant in it’s simplicity.We trooped out of the church behind the wedded couple to the park across the street and drank a toast to their future happiness before taking a bus back to the resort.
That evening at seven was the sangeet , which normally denotes a singing program that precedes a Hindu wedding . The purpose is to have fun and have the relatives from the two sides get to know each other. This one took place on the beach under the stars and was a mix of songs and dances , Indian , Dominican and everything in between. No point in describing the individual stars but everybody had a great time watching the show and nibbling on appetizers . It would have been perfect except that the breeze picked up a little and the fine white beach sand blew into the ears and eyes of the audience. Two mornings later , my pillow was still gritty from the sand which I’d been unable to wash out of my hair. Still, everyone had a wonderful time …
The Hindu wedding , also on the beach, was on Saturday afternoon . The wedding procession started in the hotel atrium and wound its way through the lobby , through the resort , past the swimming pool to the beach where a pandal had been erected. The wedding party was preceded by two drummers , followed by the groom and his relatives and friends, all of them dressed in colorful costumes. The groom was under a brocaded umbrella , carried by two of his tallest friends , and he was dressed in a beautiful sherwani .As we progressed through the resort , the resort guests were attracted by the commotion and emerged from the swimming pool or from their rooms . Many of them snapped pictures and more than one remarked that they had never seen everything so colorful.
Such wedding processions have become very popular in modern times and their significance seems to have been lost. Nowadays , they are a ” fun ” thing but , originally , they had a purpose. In olden times , the bride and the groom were from different villages and the purpose of the procession was to make sure that everyone around knew they were well and truly married . That way , eyebrows would not be raised when the bride went to her husband’s home .
Finally , we got to the wedding pandal and waited briefly until the bride made her entrance. She looked gorgeous in her wedding finery as she and the groom took their places before the sacred fire. Two of the groom’s uncles functioned as priests and conducted the ceremony which lasted just under an hour. They explained the meaning of each prayer after they chanted it and it occurred to me that , in spite of the seeming differences with the Catholic ceremony , at bottom there were many similarities. If you cut through all the ritual , the prayers enjoin the couple on the proper mode of conduct towards God , towards each other and towards their families .It concludes with blessings on the couple for a long and fruitful married life.The Catholic ceremony is simpler but it too does many of the same things . In earlier times ( I don’t know if this is still true), the priest met with the couple in a pre-wedding ceremony to tell them how they should conduct themselves after marriage and what their duties were to God and to each other.
Not everything about the Hindu wedding ceremony is about prayers and invocations and blessings. There are some little rituals which have been added for fun and to make the bride and groom and their families comfortable with each other ( important , in the old times when most marriages were arranged marriages and the couple virtual strangers to each other). In one such ritual , a pot of colored water is placed before the couple and , on a given signal , they plunge their hands and try to find a ring which at the bottom of the vessel. The one who finds the ring is supposed to become the ” boss” of the household. In another ritual ,after the wedding has been solemnized, the bride’s mother refuses to be parted from her daughter and bars her from leaving for her in laws house. The groom’s family then tries to buy her off with increasingly lavish presents until she finally acquiesces. During the ” negotiations” , the bride too acts reluctant , turning up her nose at the gifts before giving in . In this case , the groom told us afterwards that his bride did such a good job of acting coy that he began to get a little worried!
The wedding reception ,that evening, was the usual function with speeches , dancing and a sumptuous feast with both Indian and Dominican food . What made it memorable was the portrait that of the bride that emerged . We have known the groom since he was a kid but we’d not met the bride until we came to Punta Cana .We knew that she was a very successful lawyer in NYC , a self-made girl who had struggled to the top from her modest beginnings. At the reception though , we were touched as one after another of her cousins got up to say how much she had done for them and how all throughout she had been a role model and a mentor to them . We were touched also by the genuine affection between the groom’s and bride’s families . At all weddings , there are speeches about how the two families have become one but , this time , such solidarity was evident without it’s even being mentioned. It was a beautiful thing to watch . Akash and Elizabeth , we were so privileged and happy to have been there at your wedding . May you be happy all the days of your lives and may your tribe increase.