Z = Zari

Zari is thread that is traditionally made of fine gold or silver and woven into fabrics, particularly made of silk to create intricate and elaborate patterns. Zari has been an art associated with the aristocratic and royal persona in India. Today, in most fabrics, zari is not made of real gold and silver, but has cotton or polyester yarn at its core, wrapped by golden/silver metallic yarn.

It is believed that the word zari originated in a village by the same name in ancient Persia (Iran of today) where the art is known as Zardozi. The art was brought to India by Persian migrants between 1700-1100 BC – the period of Rig Veda. However the art really flourished during the Mughal era under the patronage of Emperor Akbar.

Because of the expense, saris, kurtas and salwars with zari are essentially worn during very special occasions such as weddings, and festivals.

A Banarasi sari is made in Banaras or modern day Varanasi. The sari are among the finest in the country and are famous for intricate and heavy gold and silver zari work on fine silk because of these engravings, are relatively heavy. Their special characteristics are Mughal inspired designs such as intricate intertwining floral and foliate motifs, kalga and bel, a string of upright leaves called jhallar at the outer, edge of border is a characteristic of these saris. Other features are gold work, compact weaving, figures with small details, metallic visual effects, pallus, jal (a net like pattern), and mina work.

A Banarasi silk sari is a must have for the bridal trousseau. In fact, the bride, especially in West Bengal, often wears a banarasi sari for the main event on the day of her wedding. If you wish to feast your eyes on some of the most gorgeous saris, click here.

And that brings us to the end of this A to Z blogging challenge – my very first. I had a blast, came across some very lovely people, read some very awesome interesting blogs (but missed many many more) and already drafted the next one 😉

A big thank you to all you dropped in without whom it wouldn’t have been any fun at all.

Have a great weekend and see you all on Monday, hopefully with something new.

 Quote of the day: “The biggest challenge after success is shutting up about it.”
Criss Jami

For all the A to Z challenge posts, please click here
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Y = Yajna

Yajna is a Vedic tradition and literally means “sacrifice, devotion, worship, offering.” Yajna refers to the ritualistic offerings made in front of a sacred fire accompanied with the chanting of mantras. Fire is central to all Vedic rituals and Agnidev or god of Fire is considered only next to Indradev or King of the gods. Agni is present during all phases of life such as the lighting of a lamp during prayers, the yajna at weddings and finally, cremation upon death.

Yajna’s have been conducted since Vedic times as it was believed that offerings made to  Agnidev or god of Fire would be carried to all the other gods and in return they would be granted boons and success in their ventures. This ritual is believed to serve as a means of spiritual exchange between gods and human beings. Interestingly all vedic chants and mantras related to offerings to Agnidev end with the word Swaha.

Swaha is Agnidev’s wife and it is believed if that she too is not invoked, the gods will refuse to accept the offerings. Hence Swaha is given prime importance similar to Agnideva during yajnas and similarly yajnas are done by a couple. When Lord Ram banished his wife Sita (could do another A to Z challenge on that) he was asked to remarry before the Ashwamedha Yajna. But he refused to do so and instead performed the rites with a statue of Sita by his side.

The Vedic yajna ritual is performed in the modern era in a square altar called Vedi set in a mandapa or mandala or kundam, wherein wood is placed along with oily seeds and other inflammable material.  It is worth mentioning that the groom’s family brings the wood required for the wedding yajna. This is believed to signify the upper hand of the groom’s side in the entire ritual. As described earlier, most rituals and vows between the bride and groom are made in front of the fire, and the marriage vows are undertaken while circumambulating the consecrated fire. During the Bengali wedding ceremonies, the bride and groom, together, make an offering of khoi (puffed rice) to the fire.

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 Quote of the day: “Love is like a friendship caught on fire. In the beginning a flame, very pretty, often hot and fierce, but still only light and flickering. As love grows older, our hearts mature and our love becomes as coals, deep-burning and unquenchable”. Bruce Lee

All but over…

X = eXit

Now that the wedding is all over and done with, it’s time for the bride to bid adieu to her family. Although there is a sense of achievement, satisfaction at having undertaken the most pious of all acts and happiness as she begins a new life, sorrow as she leaves home, perhaps forever, is the overriding emotion at the time of her departure. The bride usually departs home in a flood of tears to the accompaniment of tragic songs and mournful music which would in any case make anyone teary eyed.

The timing of this exit or vidai varies from place to place – straight after the wedding (North India) or a day after the wedding (West Bengal). In the latter case, the groom returns to his bride’s home (alone or with a friend) after completing the wedding rituals. Usually, everyone, including the bride and groom, stay up the whole night chatting, singing and dancing. This enables the groom to bond with his in-laws. In some families, the bride and the groom spend their first night together at the bride’s house. In the morning, after a formal ceremony, the groom’s family arrives to formally take away the newest member of their family (of course their son too).

For the vidai (or goodbye) ceremony, the bride walks ahead and pauses at the doorstep and throws three fistfuls of rice and a few coins over her head, which her mother catches in the free edge of her sari (pallu). The significance of this custom is that the daughter who embodies Devi Lakshmi or the Goddess of Wealth, while leaving her home, ensures that the prosperity and wealth of her paternal home continues to prosper.

In other places (including Bengalis), this ritual symbolizes the bride repaying her parents for all that they have given her so far. This way, debt free she moves on to her new home. This custom, I must confess, I didn’t take very kindly to. In fact, when I was got to know about it (at the time of my vidai) and was told to chant ‘hereby I repay my debt to my parents’ I was aghast. I refused pointblank to repay any of my debts and walked off in a fury of tears.

Once at her in-laws place, the bride is separated from her husband (called kaal ratri or dark night as she is not supposed to see him) presumably to allow them to rest and recover from the hectic activities of the wedding. The following day, there is the Bou-bhat or the reception ceremony after which comes the phool shojja or literally flower bed when the bride and the groom are finally left alone to do as they please.

I suppose it’s time to draw the curtain on this marathon blogging session as well — just two more days to go.

Much like the vidai ceremony, I am more sad than happy…

Quote of the day: “Ends are not bad things, they just mean that something else is about to begin. And there are many things that don’t really end, anyway, they just begin again in a new way. Ends are not bad and many ends aren’t really an ending; some things are never-ending.” ― C. JoyBell C. 

 For the other A to Z challenge posts click here

W = Weddings

As you may have gathered by now, most Indian weddings are long drawn out elaborate socio-religious functions. Yet Kerala Hindu weddings are short and sweet – 15 minutes max and then it is time for the sadhya or the banquet. Moreover, as you may have noticed, traditions and customs are mainly for women. But what embitters women is that often, her opinion or consent in matters of the  wedding or the groom does not hold any significance.

But this wasnt always so – in ancient India, the practice of swayamvara (swayam is self and vara is groom) where the girl chose her life partner from amongst all the gathered suitors was very much accepted. References to it have been made both in the Ramayana and the Mahabharata. In fact it was as recent as the 12th century, when one of the most romantic of swayamvaras (Prithviraj Chauhan and Samyukta) allegedly took place.

Manu, the first man, is said to have devised the laws of Hindu society in the Manusmriti. It is believed that this was first written between 2nd century BCE to 3rd century CE. Most scholars consider the text a composite produced by many authors put together over a long period of time. According to Manusmriti (“Laws of Manu”), there are 8 types of Hindu weddings. Not all weddings had religious sanction.

  1. Brahma Vivah

Brahma vivah is considered the best marriage. In this, the boy and girl belonging to good families and the same varna get married. The boy should have completed his Brahmacharya Ashram (studenthood). There is no dowry involved and the girl enters the boy’s house with two sets of clothes and some ornaments. In this marriage, the boy’s family approaches the girl’s family. Kanyadaan, which is the handing of the bride by her father to the groom, is an important ritual of the Brahma Vivah.

  1. Daiva Vivah

In this type of Hindu marriage, the girl’s family looks for a groom. If a girl has not been able to get a suitable husband for a period of time, her family marries her off to a priest who officiates over sacrifices.

  1. Arsha Vivah

This usually takes place when the girl’s parents can not afford to meet the expense of the marriage. Here the groom gives a gift (a cow and a pair of bulls) to the girl’s family as bride price. This is not considered an ideal marriage because there is a monetary consideration involved in this wedding.

  1. Prajapatya Vivah

Somewhat similar to the Brahma Vivah, except in this case the girl’s family looks for a groom and the ritual of kanyadaan is not followed. Instead of kanyadaan, the bride’s father hands over protection of his daughter to the groom during the panigrahanam ritual. The actual wedding takes place after panigrahanam.

  1. Gandharva Vivah

This is a love marriage, where the bride and groom marry of their own free will, usually by simple exchange of garlands. Usually the consent of the parents is not taken or is not available because either or both parents are against the marriage. This type of wedding was considered acceptable for kshatriyas or the warrior caste.

  1. Asura Vivah

Somewhat similar to the Arsha Vivah where the groom gives presents to the bride’s family in order to get their approval for the marriage. Usually the groom is not of the same stature as the bride. This type of wedding was considered acceptable for traders and certain other sections of the society.

  1. Rakshasa Vivah

In this Hindu wedding, the bride is ready to marry groom, but the bride’s family is against the marriage. In such cases, if the groom’s family forcibly takes away the bride, it is a rakshasa vivah. This type of wedding was considered acceptable for traders and some other sections of the society.

  1. Paishacha Vivah

In this marriage, a girl, who is not in her senses (she may not be of sound mind or intoxicated or drugged, etc) is forcibly married off. This type of marriage is condemned in the Manusmriti as the girl has not consented to the marriage.

Quote of the day:

I dreamed of a wedding of elaborate elegance,
A church filled with family and friends.
I asked him what kind of a wedding he wished for,
He said one that would make me his wife.
~Author Unknown

What’s your favorite kind of wedding?

V = Vermilion

Vermilion, a brilliant red or scarlet color originally made from the powdered mineral cinnabar, is known as sindoor in India. The groom applies the sindoor on the parting of his bride’s hair (called maang  in Hindi) during the wedding and is believed to symbolize a river of blood full of life. The ceremony is called Sindoor-Dana. The groom usually uses a ring or a coin to smear his bride’s hair with the vibrant color.

Sindoor is the most visible and obvious expression of a woman’s marital status as well as prayer for her husband’s longevity. After marriage, the bride is expected to apply vermilion daily after her bath. However, interestingly, this ceremony is considered to be a relatively new practice and one that is not mentioned in the earlier Vedic texts.

The application of sindoor is quite common in many parts of India, although styles and degrees vary from region to region. Some wear it as a dot at the juncture of the parting and forehead others, the entire length of the parting. Or even just as a dot in the center of their forehead. In south India, sindoor maybe worn on the throat near the thaali. Unmarried girls may wear the dot on the forehead but not on the parting of their hair. Once widowed, the woman ceases to wear sindoor or indeed anything to do with the color red. In fact, widows are expected to wear only white. This custom is slowly fading but unfortunately is still prevalent in certain parts of the country.

The act of smearing sindoor on the girl has been used (ad nauseam) in movies to depict a flash/spur of the moment wedding with err all its trappings and unfortunate consequences (for the girl that is). And all married women in television serials are shown to sport thick broad bands (of various designs) of sindoor but it’s use is not without adverse effects. Sindoor has been found to contain high amounts of lead, which could lead to toxicity in women who wear it along the entire length of the parting. In fact, once, a doctor described a case of habitual abortion which was ultimately traced to the excessive amounts of sindoor she applied. After she discontinued the use of sindoor, she delivered a healthy baby. Similarly, there are anecdotal reports of hair loss associated with use of sindoor as well.

In Bengali’s the custom is quite prevalent and women are expected to apply it after their daily bath – to the hair, a dot (bindi) on the forehead and the noa on her hand. In a fun filled joyous not to be missed occasion, married women apply sindoor to each other in celebration of their marital status on the last day of the Durga Puja festival.  Moreover, mother and daughter apply sindoor to each other (every time she leaves her maternal home after a visit post marriage) symbolically wishing and praying for each others’ long married life.

There are many dos and don’t associated with the application of sindoor, most of which I got to know of only much later. For instance, she must apply it before she goes near the fire (kitchen) meaning before she does anything else. She must cover her head and she must make sure to tie up her hair before applying it. And if her hair is wet (which it should be because for Bengalis a bath without rinsing of hair is not considered a bath), she should make loose bun (of course you got to have long hair) or at least hold her hair with the left hand and apply with right hand. Beware, if you apply sindoor with your hair untied, your husband is bound to go crazy. Err umm thinking

Quote of the day:

“red the colour of the rose
red the colour of your lips
red the colour of your tongue….
red the colour of your heart……
red the colour of your passion…..”
Marina G. Roussou

Thanks for reading and commenting – have a great day 🙂

For the other A to Z challenge posts click here

 

U = Uludhvani

A very peculiar and unique feature of Bengali weddings is the blowing of conch shells and ululation by the women during most of the ceremonies.

Ululation or ululudhvani as it known as literally means ‘ululu sound’. In this custom, women roll their tongues and produce a long, wavering, high-pitched vocal sound that is accompanied with a rapid sideways movement of the tongue. Ululation is an integral part of weddings, indeed all festivities. The ululudhvani along with the blowing of conch shells helps to ward off the evil spirits and bring in positive energies. It also serves to alert the other members of the household that some important event is ongoing and enables them to rush to the site of activity for timely participation.

In fact ululudhvani is also used as a communication code. In earlier days, when were large and all lived together in a big house, when a child was born (or news arrived) , three ululus signified a girl and 5 a boy. Quite useful and innovative dont you think – very much like posting on Facebook! No need to go around knocking on each door or listen to complaints about why didnt you tell me first or even better, use it to crow over another without being accused of doing so 😀

That reminds me of a joke:- Once two brothers split and stopped talking to each other. Time passed and the elder brother’s son died. As per custom, he invited all the villagers for the Shradh ceremony (ritualistic customs held typically 13 days after death where the invited guests are also served a meal) except his younger brother. He was furious and vowed vengeance. “When my son dies, even I won’t invite him for the Shradh.

In Kerala as well, ululation, called kurava, is an essential accompaniment in all ceremonial occasions. Ululation is present in other parts of the country as well. Odias call it Hulahuli; Assamese call it uruli. In Tamil it is known as kulavai.

Quote of the day: “We are all a little weird and life’s a little weird, and when we find someone whose weirdness is compatible with ours, we join up with them and fall in mutual weirdness and call it love.” -Robert Fulghum

Well what about it – got anything to say, add or comment? I am waiting….

For links to the other A to Z challenge posts, click here

T = Tatwo

In Bengalis, there is a unique custom of exchanging gifts or tatwo, between the groom’s and the bride’s families. Tatwo comprises of various articles of clothing, cosmetics, jewelry accessories and sweets for the bride and groom as well as their family members. Tatwo arrives from the groom’s side to the bride’s house on the morning of the wedding along with the turmeric paste for the haldi ceremony. Tatwo from the groom’s side includes saris (and other accessories) for the bride along with gifts for her close relatives (mostly saris), sweets, mishti doi (sweet curd) and  a whole fish  😉 Tatwo from the bride’s family is sent to the groom’s house on the day of her bou-bhat or wedding reception.

The beauty and uniqueness of this custom is in the way the gifts are presented. Each of the gifts are artistically decorated and presented on trays and wrapped in cellophane paper and put up for display. These days, professionals are available to prepare the tatwo but usually it is the members of the family who chip in with their creative skills and vie with the other side to show off their skill sets and artistic talents. Even sweets are not spared – although these are professionally done. Since I am a non-resident Bengali, I came to know about the custom only at my wedding (and of my kid sister’s talents in this direction). And it is only last month that I had the opportunity to be involved in the preparation of the tatwo. Beginning over two months before the wedding we would get together on weekends and sit surrounded by trays, saris, shirts, chart paper, paint scissors, ribbons, cellophane sheets, muscle cramps, chatter, laughter and a whole lot of fun. Again most of the credit goes to the bride’s tireless creative sister, but surprisingly (for me) even I managed to come up with some pretty nifty ideas (like the theme for this challenge and dont miss the Spiderman 😉 ). Each item is numbered and decoded in another cute little item called the suchipatra or catalogue. This ensures that each gift reaches the right person.

 

 

As one can imagine, transportation of these items can be a bit tricky especially if over long distances. Hence the peacock drooped a bit after his travel from Delhi to Kolkata (and beyond) and the (sari) boat (along with boatman) were forcibly squashed and made two dimensional.

To make matters more interesting (apart from the suchipatra) each of the clothing articles of the tatwo was presented with a couplet in Bengali. The  groom’s side had to deduce from couplet to whom it referred and only then claim the gift associated with it. My husband rose beautifully to the challenge but the best was when he got an SOS from about 1500 km – the couplet for the sister-in-law is missing!  He had about 10 min to come up with one – a whole lot of excitement, fun and bonding 🙂

Quote of the day: “Who, being loved, is poor?” -Oscar Wilde

Well, what did you think – dont keep it in, let us know 🙂 Have great weekend.