Thursday, January 17, 2013

Ce-le-bra-tion Time, Come On!

As I have mentioned before, Indians love to celebrate. It is part of their culture. It is in their blood. They drag holidays, festivals, and fairs on for as long as possible.

Bihu is the celebration of specific times in the farming calendar. There are three Bihus: Bohaag (the middle of April), Maagh (the middle of January), and Kaati (Kartik, the middle of October). Bihus have been celebrated in Assam since ancient times and they are especially major holidays in the villages. The Bohaag Bihu in the middle of April is the biggest Bihu because it is the beginning of the agriculture season and the Assamese New Year. It is more of a cultural festival and is celebrated with lots of traditional dancing. The Kaati Bihu celebrates that the paddy in the fields are in the growing stage and the granaries of the farmers are almost empty. It is the least celebrated in Guwahati, but more celebrated in the villages by lighting candles and singing chants as they hope for a good harvest season. The Maagh Bihu (which we are in now) celebrates the end of the harvesting season, specifically the rice harvest. The thought process is that the rice is harvested, thus it’s time to celebrate because we have food for months. To celebrate, people feast for a whole week. (A traditional Bihu food is known as pitha, which is a rice and coconut sweet.)

So to celebrate Bihu, I went to Pinky’s house. While there, we ate a big Bihu meal, consisting of lots of rice and Bihu sweets. They also took me to see the large stack of straw that would be burned the next morning (this is a Bihu tradition). The straw was twice as tall as Pinky's house (so my estimate is probably 20-25 feet high). Then I went to my friend Runa's house whose apartment complex was having a Bihu celebration. We sat around a bonfire and played games, which were actually kind of interesting. They had drawing competitions, speech competitions (where you are given a topic to talk about and you have to talk about it for a specific amount of time), and the list goes on.

As a result of Bihu and the cold weather, Guwahati has become extremely smoky, foggy, and polluted. In celebration of Bihu, people burn LARGE towers of straw and bamboo. Also, people have constant open fires burning to keep themselves warm. It's not the best time to go out for a long jog.

Meanwhile, I went to my first Indian wedding last night. Indian weddings are extremely different than weddings I have attended in America. First of all, Indian weddings usually last for three days. Second, they are huge. To put things in perspective, the bride was the sister of a woman who works at the Guwahati cleft care center. So the sister invited the whole center to the wedding. I thought this was weird, considering the fact that none of us knew the bride or the groom. But most of the center showed up at the wedding, dressed very nicely, totally normal. I asked about this and was told this was standard procedure. Every family member and every friend invites everybody they know to weddings.

Bride sits for hours waiting as guests come in. 
This wedding was an arranged marriage. Of the three days of ceremonies, the second day is the most important ceremony. The bride simply sits for hours and hours and hours. The first thing guests do when they arrive is greet the bride and present her with a gift. In return, she gives them beetle nut seeds. She has only had milk, water, and certain kinds of fruit for the whole day. Once the guests have greeted the bride, they sit and mingle with their friends. When the family feels it is right, they call the guests into the “dining room” and it is time to eat. That night around midnight, the groom arrives and the official ceremony begins. There might be some dancing and nobody will sleep that night. Around 4 in the morning, the bride takes her stuff and moves in with groom’s family.

Guests greeting the bride.
The beautiful bride! 

The sister of the bride, Raina, Me (left to right). 
Me, the bride.

The sister of the bride. She is wearing beautiful gold. 

Where the actual ceremony will take place.

The band.

I went on the second day and hung around until 9 P.M. Maybe one of these weddings, I will get up the energy to stay until the wee hours of the morning and watch it all.

Sending smiles from India,

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