After about a week of ceremonies and parties, Lucie and Jitendra are now officially married. We have spent a very full and festive week in Kanpur joining in on all of the activities and getting to know Jitendra's family. Many of Lucie's friends and family also joined us, so the wedding was an international affair that made our brains twisty from translating French to English for Hindi speakers, and back again.
The wedding was about four days long in total and was filled with more ceremony, food, music, dancing, and fancy clothes than we could have imagined. The first day, a henna artist arrived at our hotel to decorate Emilie and Antonia's hands and feet. They were not allowed to use their hands for five hours afterwards, so they stayed in the hotel room while James and Yann went out to get them food and drinks, and then feed them. Antonia had quite a relaxing time, but she's not sure how James felt about it.
The first ceremony took place in Jitendra's parents' house between Jitendra and Lucie's eldest brother, Etienne. This was a giving away of Lucie, where after feeding each other sweets, Etienne formally invited Jitendra to wed his sister. After this we danced to a live band and ate a catered dinner under an open-air tent on the roof. The entire house was decorated with lights and garlands of flowers. This celebration itself was nicer than most Canadian weddings, although it was only the first of many days of ceremonies, and not nearly the most important one.
The night was marred slightly when a camera man suddenly had an epileptic seizure and vomitted all over James. The camera man was alright, though, and James was back to the party after a trip to the hotel for a change of clothes. Emilie and Antonia got to borrow beautiful saris from Jitendra's mother and were styled by many aunts and cousins who perhaps were a little overzelous with the makeup and gold jewellery. They were completely stymied by Antonia's short hair. In fact, one relative from a small village asked if she was Lucie's brother. All of the women here have gorgeous long hair and got to have hundreds of tiny white flowers pinned in it for the wedding. Antonia is thinking that she needs to grow her hair out.
The next day was a ceremony for Jitendra's parents to bless the wedding and ask for the presence of the gods in the marriage. They also dressed Jitendra in a sash marked with Lucie's handprint over his heart so that he wouldn't be distracted before the wedding, and prayed for three days without any arguments to ensure that the wedding had the greatest chance of actually taking place.
For the biggest day of all, we tried to heed the instructions to "rest as much as possible," although we found that there were always more bangles, bindis, and earrings that we had to buy for all of our wedding outfits. In the late afternoon we went to Jitendra's parents' house for a ceremony to dress the groom, followed by lots of dancing and a trip to the temple across the street, and of course more dancing. Emilie and Antonia got dressed in their beautiful lehangas, rented for them by Jitendra's parents, with more help from the women. Once we arrived at the hotel where the celebration would take place, the groom's side performed the Bharat, which was one of the most fun parts of the entire wedding. A huge, brightly-decorated mobile stage with a live band led a parade of Jitendra's family and friends, all dancing, and taking up the entire street so that the insane traffic had to wait. Jitendra's family are all very skilled dancers and loved to pull the foreigners right onto the middle of the circle to watch us try to imitate them poorly.
After the groom's side arrived with such frenzy, Lucie arrived to meet Jitendra for the garlanding ceremony. They sat on thrones while each guest visited them for congratulations and photographs. Then we danced, and danced, and danced. Dinner followed this at around 1 am, and most of the 300+ guests left as the actual ceremony is meant to be witnessed by only the closest 50 guests. We changed out of our fancy clothes into salwar kurtas and pyjama kurtas, which are very light and comfortable traditional suits. Then, starting at the exact hour prescribed by the priest according to his astrological calculations, the nearly four hour long ceremony began. Lucie and Jitendra sat under a beautiful tent and made their promises and offerings, Jitendra occasionally translating the Hindi into English for Lucie.
After 5 am and after sunrise, the traditional Hindu ceremony ended and Jitendra and Lucie changed for a condensed version of a western wedding, with a ring exchange, cake cutting, and first dance. Seconds before the ring exchange, Jitendra asked James to stand up with him and hand him Lucie's ring, "and, oh yeah, say a few words." James stepped up to the job of pinch best man and made a great speech off the top of his head. By 7 am rush hour we were stumbling down the street toward our hotel for a daytime sleep.
Yesterday the wedding finally concluded when we accompanied Lucie and Jitendra to the Ganges, where they made an offering, were blessed, and we were all sprinkled with the holy river water. We visited another temple where the couple was blessed, and later the final ceremony took place in Jitendra's parents' home between Lucie and Jitendra. It was after this that they were allowed to spend their first night together. Experts were brought in to decorate their bed with a canopy of white and pink garlands.
Lucie and Jitendra seem very happy and understandably exhausted. So do their family. This has been an amazing week.
We have mostly been able to beat the heat in our air-conditioned hotel, other than all of the dancing that we have been doing in the middle of the day. Heat rashes acquired in Lucknow have dissipated, although we have been taking turns suffering from some stomach issues. Our theory is that our systems could only tolerate the food for so long before giving in. We each had one day of wretchedness before recovering, and we have since been managing alright. Jitendra 's family has treated us as part of the family. Tomorrow we will reluctantly leave Kanpur and Jitendra's family - our new Indian home away from home - and return to the backpacker trail.