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Around the world in a daze

Wedding Days

BANGLADESH | Wednesday, 20 October 2010 | Views [282]

When my colleague invited me to her wedding I was over the moon. I was picturing beautiful dances, laughter and joy, but the reality was different.

In true Bangladesh style, I did not receive the invite until four days before the wedding. It takes one day travel to get to her village where the wedding was to be held, which gave me three days to organise leave from work, buy bus tickets, buy two new saris, cancel the trip I originally had planned that weekend and pack. But I made it, along with my flat mate and colleague Anna.

She had been married four months earlier but this was the ceremony. Although she was married by law, she was not considered so by society and was not able to live with her husband (or stay the night) until after the ceremony.

Traditional weddings last four days. The first is a turmeric ceremony with close family, the second is held at the bride’s house. The third day is supposed to be a rest day, the bride stays at her in-law’s house and is not allowed outside. The neighbours will all come to visit and meet the new bride so it is really not much of a rest for her. The third day is the same as the second but held at the groom’s house.

The turmeric ceremony

The turmeric ceremony is the most enjoyable part of the wedding. As it is just close family (and two white hangers on) everyone is more relaxed. People are laughing and joking. But it still seems incredibly uncomfortable for the bride.

She is dressed a bit like Big Bird, in a bright yellow sari adorned with heavy gold jewellery and flowers. She sits on a stage while family members take it in turns to sit beside her and paint her skin with turmeric from a beadle leaf and feed her sweets. By the end of the night she was stuffed from all the sweets but has to keep eating as people take it in turn to sit by her on the stage under the bright lights from the camera man. At the end of the night she was dripping in sweat from the camera light and tired to the bone. Anna and I were lucky enough to be staying at a guest house so got a decent night sleep. The bride wasn’t so lucky and when we turned up the next day, she was still exhausted.

The Second Day

On the second day the bride’s family hosts the ceremony. The wedding ceremony doesn’t seem designed for the enjoyment of either bride or groom. The 1000 or so guests who are invited seem to get the best deal. They come in, have a free meal, go and look at the bride for a couple of minutes and leave. Meanwhile the bride is dressed in a heavy sari and weighed down by jewellery until her shoulders droops. It takes 4 hours to dress her and finish her makeup. Then she is placed on a bed and made to sit for the rest of the afternoon so people can come and gawk at her. Again it is filmed and when the bright light of the flash rests on you for a minute it is so hot, make up starts running down your face. I can only imagine how hot she must’ve got with it resting on her for hours.

The groom shows up at about 4, the wedding started at 1. His friends must pay money for his car to pass into his wife’s father’s house. Then he too sits for the neighbours to see on a small stage. After an hour or two they are allowed to see each other. They move into the dining hall and are presented a massive plate of two whole chickens, beef (nearly didn’t happen thanks to the antrax scare) and rice, lots and lots of rice.

Anna and I had already had one meal at the wedding, where we had been forced to eat more than comfortable but they’d decided it was time we ate more again. There wasn’t enough room on the top table for us and the horror of two foreigners not having the best seat was too much for our hosts and they forced the bride and groom to move to another table where there was room for us, much to our horror. Our plates were filled up and we were shortly ready to burst.

After dinner, the bride has a tearful farewell with her family. It is a far more significant change than in Australian families, it really is a farewell to your family as you know it. Then with her new husband she travelled to his home town, two hours away. We caught a mini-bus to the same town, Rangpur, where we had a hotel booked and planned to do some sightseeing the next day. It felt like it was the middle of the night but we were tucked into bed by 9pm.

Anna and I had to be at work so travelled home on the fourth day of the wedding missing the groom’s side. But we did visit their house during the rest day.

The wedding couldn’t have been much more different to an Australian one. There was no singing or dancing, speeches and definitely no champagne.

There seemed to be more tears than laughter. Anna and I were forced to eat until I was literally sick. The excitement of having foreigners took some of the attention away from the bride as people came to practise their English on us and see how good our Bangla was. We felt guilty taking away the bride’s attention but to be honest I think she appreciated it, it was an extremely intense day and we offered a diversion.

I feel extremely honoured to have been invited to see a traditional wedding, but I do not think I need to experience it again.

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