“We understand each other well and respect each other,” said our travel guide Jageshwar “Jogi” Kashyap, speaking of his marriage in India to his wife Reena. “It feels after 12 years together that we just married last week.”
Jogi, Reena and their two boys, Chandrash, 9, and Vedansh, 5, were hosting us four Mother Miracle School volunteers for a delicious dinner at their favorite New Delhi restaurant, Naivadhyam (“Blessed Food”). It was the last night of our two-week medical volunteer trip, and a very special occasion. Reena was charming and shy, trying out her English, and the boys bright-eyed and sweet.
Jogi had ordered many new dishes for us to try: a spicy tamarind and coconut soup, papad (a thin crispy bread made of rice and lentil flour), a thali platter (a plate of various small savory dishes, with puffy, light poori (bread) and a buttermilk drink with coriander.
In our first days in India Jogi had told us some of his life story, how he as a youth washed cars, distributed newspapers, delivered milk and finally went to college to study history and tourism. He included a brief account of his arranged marriage to Reena.
We knew that when Jogi was 19, the youngest of eight children, his parents declared that it was time to find him a bride. Now, over dinner, we heard the whole story. His parents’ first step was to go to spiritual ceremonies in a temple of Hanuman, the monkey god.
There they met a couple who were looking for a husband for their daughter. The pair agreed to meet Jogi’s parents again in a few months. By chance, his parents ran into the other couple again at a friend’s wedding. The couple showed their daughter to Jogi’s parents, who then agreed to the relationship.
Next the bride’s parents and relatives visited Jogi’s parents’ home so they could see and test Jogi. Jogi passed with flying colors.
“A few months later,” Jogi remembered, “with the help of an astrologer and a priest, our four parents set the date for the wedding, April 18, 2006. This was done with the right position of stars in my life and my future wife’s life.” Wedding invitations were then sent to the relatives of each family.
The wedding took place over a period of five days. The first day was kept for Jogi’s and Reena’s purity. In their respective houses, both took a bath with milk and honey, and a turmeric paste was applied to their bodies and left on for three to four hours, followed by another bath of milk and honey. The second day featured entertainment at Jogi’s house, including the folk song of marriage. Still the bride and groom had not seen each other.
A feast in honor of Reena’s family was held at the groom’s house on the third day. On the fourth day, Jogi, dressed like a king, rode out on horseback. Friends and relatives paid him respect by applying holy dots of sandalwood on his forehead. He also stopped at local Hindu temples for blessings from various deities.
Next Jogi walked with his family and male friends nearly 100 kilometers to his in-laws’ village and to Reena’s house. He remounted his horse in her village and stopped at local temples for more blessings. Reena, age 17, was dressed like a queen in the traditional red bridal sari. “Such beauty I had never seen in my life before. I fell in love at first sight, in that moment,” Jogi declared. More than 1,500 people joined them for dinner.
The fifth day, the wedding day, dawned. To begin the ceremony, priests chanted holy mantras for over two hours. The young couple walked seven times around the sacred fire, making seven promises to each other for seven lives, in the presence of the five elements (earth, air, water, fire and sky) and the five deities (Ganesh, Vishnu, Shiva, Durga and Lord Sun).
Jogi’s parents presented gold and silver jewelry to Reena, and her parents and relatives gave the couple many household gifts, such as kitchenware, furniture and even an air conditioner. Jogi’s family did not give a dowry to Reena’s family, as they were against that practice.
The next day Reena went to Jogi’s ancestral home in the village. A month later the couple went on a honeymoon in the mountains.
Dinner was over at “Blessed Food” restaurant, and so was the wedding tale. What interesting customs, and what a beautiful family! We left Jogi, Reena and the boys with tearful hugs, promises to keep in touch and memories of an unforgettable evening.