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Uttarakhand, also known as 'Devabhumi', literally meaning the land of gods, is a culturally diverse state. As distinct as Kumaoni culture, so are the traditions and customs of an Uttakhand wedding, popularly known as a 'Pahadi wedding'. The term 'Kumaoni' is a significant alternative to Pahadi as it originates from the spoken dialect, the Kumaoni language of Uttarakhand.
In Hindu Indian civilisation, marriage has long been revered as a crucial life ceremony. Marriage is a social structure from which it begins to pursue human heritage, fulfil family obligations, and interact with other facets of life. In the Kumaon region particularly, since it is bound by valleys and mountains all around, the village is the safe haven of the locals. They are a tightly-knit group of individuals bound together by their fierce loyalty to the region and one another. This explains why the neighbours are significant contributors to the Kumaoni traditional shadi. A typical Kumaoni wedding is a simple yet elegant affair. The auspiciousness of the occasion and the serene hillocks in a beautiful land make it a sight to behold.
Let's look at the primitive wedding rituals of a Kumaoni wedding that capture the heart!
Indian weddings hold arranged marriages in high esteem. Thus, the traditional Kumaoni wedding rituals begin with the engagement ceremony post matching of horoscopes and end with Vidaai, when the Kumauni bride leaves her parental home to join her husband for a new journey.
The pre-wedding Kumaoni ritual commences with the engagement ceremony, followed by the Mehendi ceremony and concludes with 'Haldi'. In India, people think of marriage as a link between two families rather than something that unites two individuals. Hence it is natural to consult the planets and houses. Thus, Kumaoni weddings place great emphasis on horoscope matching. This ritual is called the' Kundali Saamya Haige'. The priest typically does it after consulting a 'Panchang', the Hindu calendar. Once the horoscope matches, the priest sets a date for the engagement ceremony.
The engagement ceremony marks the beginning of the unification between two souls. Hence it is conducted with great enthusiasm. Engagements usually draw up a mental image of rings being exchanged between a girl and a boy. However, here's where a Kumaoni caste adds its unique aspect. It traditionally witnesses the exchange of rings between the fathers of the to-be bride and groom rather than the bride and groom.
Once the engagement is fixed, it's only a short time before the families decide on a date for the wedding. A few days before the wedding, the Mehendi ceremony begins. The bride's hands and feet are stained with henna. Beautiful intricate designs and patterns are drawn, indicating that there she's a bride to whomsoever witnesses the art. The bridegroom adorns a modest henna on his palms and feet. It is believed that the more profound the shade of henna is imprinted on the skin, the deeper the love is expected between the husband and wife. A conundrum of folk music and the traditional 'Pahari' dance follows where the women of the family, too, apply henna in their hands while grooving to the folk music.
Irrespective of the region, the Haldi ceremony has always remained a particular part of all Hindu Indian wedding rituals. It is a fun-filled event of dance and music. The Haldi ceremony is held the morning following the mehndi ceremony. Each family member takes turns applying a paste of turmeric, widely known as 'Haldi', at their respective homes. Traditionally, this ritual took place in the respective houses of the bride and groom but now, influenced by the festivities at other weddings, the two families jointly celebrate this event with laughter, dancing, music, and joy. It is a fantastic rite that is carried out with great enthusiasm.
Before the start of any fortunate event, Lord Ganesha, also known as Vighnaharta, is worshipped throughout India because he is revered as the Lord who removes barriers and impediments. Kumaoni weddings are no different. A statue of Lord Ganesha is installed, and he is worshipped with great pomp and show. The family members beseech the Almighty to bless the traditional kumaoni bride and her to-be husband. They offer an array of dishes which includes 'Modak', lord Ganesh's favourite dish. The bride's father and mother observe a fast until the end of all wedding rituals leading up to 'Vidaai'.
A delicious dish of suwal laddoo christened the ritual of Suwal Pathai. This traditional Kumaoni dish comprises wheat flour kneaded thoroughly and then rolled into circles resembling a flatbread, just thinner. As the little round papadums are deep-fried in a pan of oil, they turn a glorious golden brown. This traditional dish called Suwal Laddoo is the highlight of this ceremony. It is offered to the deities as the family members seek the almighty's blessings.
The newlyweds' family distributes the ladoos and suwal to the neighbourhood once the wedding's festivities are over.
Kumaoni weddings believe the groom to be an incarnation of the all-powerful Lord Vishnu and the beautiful Kumauni girl resembles the divine goddess Lakshmi. Hence it is believed that the welcoming of the bride into her new home is considered to be auspicious since it is believed to be the arrival of joy and wealth in the household.
This custom takes place after the arrival of the 'baaraat' at the wedding venue. The courtyard of the bride's paternal home is considered a duliagray. This ceremony is exceptional since, traditionally, Indian weddings are usually an event to pamper the bride. As opposed to the usual customs, the bride's father leads his to-be son-in-law into the courtyard, washes his feet, applies a tilak on his forehead, feeds him 'pithiya', a customary Kumaoni sweet, and then showers him with riches, clothes and jewels. The entire ritual is conducted with the groom standing on a unique stool called a Kumaoni chauki.
Varmala refers to the ceremonial exchange of garlands between the bride and the groom. This ritual takes place before the Saptapadi or saat pheras. The groom is first led up to the centre of the mandap or the wedding altar. The bride accompanies him shortly after. Then, amongst the cheer of laughter and applause of the relatives, the Jai Mala ceremony commences.
After the couple has exchanged garlands, the photographer begins to capture beautiful images of the couple with their family, friends, and loved ones in a typical festive fashion. The kumaoni marriage photo session is a monumental affair and a conventional tradition of uttarakhand. It consists of a series of poses of all the family members separately and together with the bride and groom. The couple is the star of the entire procession. They receive 'nek', money and blessings from the guests as each one joins them for a photograph capturing the absolute bliss of the moments.
The entire wedding is an intense occasion to go through, for the bride and groom. Though they are pampered with a lot of love and blessings, sleep and food often take a backstage. However, Hindu weddings are widely sought after for their delectable cuisine. Hence, the first dinner of the bride and groom as a husband and wife is a grand affair. With the chatter of the family members filling the couple's hearts and the delicious food filling stomachs, they commemorate the day. Once the food has made their taste buds happy, the relatives and family members rush to the stage to light it on fire. Kumaoni folk music and dance also make their way into the wedding.
The ceremony of Kanyadaan is one of the longest practised traditions of any Hindu wedding. The father transfers his responsibility towards his child to the groom during this ceremony. Then, the groom promises to honour him by taking care of his daughter. Thus, kanyadaan refers to the giving away ceremony of the beautiful kumaoni bride. It is a very emotional moment for the bride's family as it officially denotes that she is finally ready to leave her parental home. The father and mother of the bride observe a fast in honour of her new life. This ritual takes place amongst tears and hugs in the presence of the priest, who chants the verses to commemorate the ceremony.
An important ritual in Kumaoni weddings involves the bride and groom taking seven rounds around a holy fire. This is known as Saptapadi. First, the ceremony occurs before a sacred fire, with the couple standing on a decorated platform known as a 'mandap.' Then, the bride and groom take seven steps around the fire, representing a vow of companionship, love, and commitment to each other. Finally, the ceremony is conducted by a priest who recites mantras and prayers for the couple's happiness and prosperity. Saptapadi is considered the most important ritual in a series of unique kumaoni wedding rituals, as it signifies the completion of the marriage and the beginning of the couple's journey together as husband and wife. A distinctive aspect of this marriage is that the 'sapta' or saath pheras are taken so that the groom leads the bride in the first four pheras. They then switch places. Thus, the kumaoni girls takes the reins for the last three rounds. This denotes their promise to be with each other in sickness and health.
Vidai is an emotional and sentimental ritual in Kumaoni weddings, which marks the end of the wedding ceremony and the bride's departure from her family home. The bride, accompanied by her family members, is given a warm send-off by her relatives and friends. The groom and his family members also accompany her to the doorstep of her family home. The pahadi bride's father or brother hands her over to the groom, symbolising her transition from her family to her husband's family. The bride and groom exchange flower garlands and bid goodbye to the bride's family, who bless them for a happy and prosperous married life. This ritual signifies the emotional bond between the bride and her family and the beginning of a new chapter in her life.
Kumaoni weddings are extravagant affairs steeped in rich tradition and culture. The uttarakhand traditional dress male and female, is an integral part of the celebrations.
The men wear 'dhoti,' a long piece of cloth, typically made of wool or velvet, owing to the chilly climate of the region, wrapped around the waist and legs and tucked in at the waist. The 'kurta' is a long shirt worn over the dhoti, is usually made of cotton or silk, and is embroidered with intricate designs. A choga, popularly known as 'jacket' is worn over the kurta. This completes the look.The groom also wears a 'pagdi,' a turban made of silk or cotton adorned with a jewelled or gold-plated ornament known as a 'tikka.'
For women, the traditional attire is the 'ghagra,' which is a long, full-skirted dress that is worn over a blouse, known as a 'choli,' and a long scarf known as an 'odhni.' The ghagra is usually made of silk or cotton and is heavily embroidered with intricate designs. The choli is generally made of soft silk and draped in heavy thread work and delicate and beautiful patterns. The odhni is usually made of silk or cotton and is embroidered with intricate designs. Jewellery is also an essential part of the attire, with women wearing various gold ornaments such as earrings, bangles, and necklaces.
In conclusion, the traditional attire of Kumaoni weddings is a beautiful blend of colours, fabrics, and intricate designs. It is an expression of the rich culture and heritage of the region and is an essential part of the celebrations. Moreover, the attire is a fashion statement symbol of the community and its values.