My top travel experience yet! – The time I attended a wedding anniversary party in India!
I don’t think it’s just me who dreams of being invited to attend a lavish, colourful Indian wedding celebration.
While I haven’t yet had to the chance to attend an actual wedding in India I felt blessed when I shared a family’s vibrant celebration of their first wedding anniversary in the village of Khajuraho.
I loved the exploring the temples of Khajuraho with their intricate and erotic sculptures but this chance meeting and invitation turned out to be one of my favourite travel moments ever!
(Typically my camera ran out of battery so unfortunately my few photos don’t do the celebration justice so I hope my descriptions do!)
Taking a leap of faith and accepting an invitation from a stranger
I have to admit feeling a little nervous when I climbed onto the back of Rajeev’s motorbike and drove through the countryside of Madhya Pradesh. Due to some of our previous experiences in India (like getting scammed in Delhi) I was now a little hesitant to trust anyone but I took a leap of faith and accepted Rajeev’s invitation to his wedding anniversary party at his family home in the old village. He seemed so eager and excited to have us at his party and I was desperate for the chance to met genuine local people and experience authentic rural Indian life.
The family home
The family’s house was in the old village of Khajuraho, famous for the ancient and erotically sculptured temples. We dismounted the motorbike in the dark lane and to enter the house we had to bend down low through an opening in a very low barn style building. There were 2 small, dark, low rooms built out of sticks and mud. Older women were crouched on the floor preparing food and warming themselves over an open wood fire that made the windowless, low room unbearably smoky for me but they didn’t seem to mind.
We came out into a kind of courtyard area. Along the left hand side lean to shelters had been built out of sticks and housed a goat, 2 cows and 2 buffalo who were resting in the straw. Around the courtyard were some outbuildings, tubs of water that had been collected earlier and a concrete box that housed the squat toilet.
At the back of the courtyard was a more modern style, concrete two storey building with a staircase on the outside that lead upto the room above. In front of this was an area that was painted pink and decked out with stacks of speakers, balloons, flowers and decorations and the words “Happy Marriage Day” cut out from shiny paper and stuck on the wall.
Meeting the family
Rajeev gestured for us to come into the room on the ground floor of the main house. It was an average sized room with a sofa, 2 arm chairs, a hard wooden bed, metal lockers that served as wardrobes, and a TV and computer. Bollywood posters, magazine clippings and family photos adorned the walls.
He said this was the room he shared with his wife Anuradha whom he had married exactly 1 year ago today. He also shared the house with his parents, who lived in the room upstairs, and also grandparents, aunts, uncles, siblings and nieces and nephews.
Rajeev signalled for us to sit on the bed while he fiddled around with the computer. We then realised that he was putting on his wedding video for us to watch. He explained that the wedding was 3 days long, a very expensive and tiring occasion where he even hired a white horse and rode around the village while wearing a turban. I felt it would be too rude to ask if it was an arranged or love marriage, but it’s likely it was arranged.
The wedding video was quite modern and professionally done and we watched with great interest. Each day of the wedding lasted about an hour and there were many traditional rituals to perform. Rajeev looked like an Indian prince and Anuradha looked spectacularly beautiful and demure in a striking red sari that covered her head and adorned with elaborate gold jewellery.
This room seemed to store all of the families belongings as there was a steady stream of people getting things out of the metal cupboards. Extended family members kept coming in to introduce themselves in broken English or just talking over the video in Hindi. People seemed to keep appearing from everywhere, many curious children ran in to take a look at us and then became all shy. Outside they were testing out and cranking up the sound system so loud that we couldn’t hear the video. With all this commotion it was hard for us to figure out what was happening, but it was very big, bright, noisy wedding for sure.
Rajeev’s wife Auuradha came in and brought us lovely sweet chai in little fancy china cups. She didn’t speak much English but smiled warmly and was very sweet and welcoming. She looked beautiful wearing a red sari with purple details around the edge that was draped over her head. She wore a red dot on her forehead and a large collection of colourful bangles covering both forearms. Rajeev in contrast wore modern denim jeans and a white casual shirt.
We chatted some more with Rajeev, he told us how he really enjoyed his job as a hotel manager, he could provide for his wife and parents and was very happy. They had only been married a year and had no children yet but wanted them soon. Anuradha didn’t work and had never worked. He said kindly that her job was looking after him and hopefully children soon.
They asked if Kevin and I were married but were very disappointed when we told them that we had been together for 3 years and were not married and didn’t have children. They looked very concerned and pitiful about our non married state. In India it is still unthinkable to be over 25, unmarried and childless. It is not socially acceptable to live together if you are not married and they were surprised our parents had allowed us to come on this trip unmarried.
Joining the crazy celebrations
After the wedding video we emerged into the area where they had set up the music and decorations. Children were everywhere, little kids were jiggling around giggling and smiling to the music while their older teenage sisters danced showing off elaborate moves and routines taken from Bollywood movies and music videos.
The whole courtyard and house was full by now. Men stood around on the sidelines wearing jeans and t-shirts, children were mostly dressed in jumpers and babies were snuggled in wooly hats and enough clothes to go skiing in. The older, married women wore brightly coloured shimmering saris in shades of yellow, orange, pink and lime green, some with their heads covered, while younger women and teenagers wore brightly coloured and spotty patterned salwar kamezs.
Learning how to Bollywood dance
As soon as a song is turned on (at a deafening volume of course) everyone starts leaping around, dancing so whole heartedly, cheering and whooping joyfully. There is no waiting around, warming up or dutch courage required. At first it seemed like women and men dance separately. The women dance together with complicated dance moves, after a couple of songs it is the mens turn and they leap around in a circle together. All the while the children weave in and out grinning, eagerly copying the dance moves or jiggling around on the outskirts of the dancing group.
While people dance children and older women throw flowers and ripped up fake 1000 rupee notes at the dancers. When the music goes quiet or the song ends the family argues animatedly about which song to play next. The choices are quite simple as there are about 6- 8 songs that are firm favourites and these are played repeatedly and almost exclusively thoughout the whole night.
The teenage girls drag me up to dance and I do my best to copy the dance moves that they are showing me. I really enjoy Indian music, it’s fun, uplifting and feels exotic, but the rhythm is so different from anything I’ve danced to before and the strange dance moves are hard to get to grips with but my attempts are met with many wide, genuine smiles.
I think my awkward dancing is of much amusement, especially to the younger children who circle around me vying for my attention. I end up dancing in the middle of room and it feels like I’m the guest of honour, everyone is trying to catch my attention and trying to teach me some dance move. Children encircle my feet, gazing up with their beautiful big brown eyes and cute grins, trying to hold my hand or attempted to copy my really bad attempts at Bollywood dancing.
Having the time of my life
I must look ridiculous, I’m making a complete fool out of myself but I’m having the time of my life as the orange and yellow flowers rain down on me and the dancers swirl in a shimmering rainbow of colours. The language barrier and the loud volume of the music makes it hard to talk but smiles are a universal language. I think they are pleased that I am making an effort, genuinely having fun and enjoying their company.
Then a large, white, cream cake appears. The balloons are loudly and purposely popped to the great delight of everyone. They gather round as the squidgy, creamy cake is fed by hand from the husband to the wife and the vice versa.
The couple then feed their parents the cake from their hands in the same way and then, to our surprise Kevin and I are also force fed cake! It’s a little weird to be hand fed the squidgy cake but it tastes delicious and we suspect that it may be a mark of respect thing that would be rude to object to. An older lady puts a red dot on my forehead and there are smiles and claps all around. The cake is then dished out into little foil bowls and given to the children, some of which also feed us the yummy cake with their fingers.
The dancing starts again even more exuberantly to the Bollywood playlist. The husband and wife dance together, Anuradha dances beautifully, expressively and delicately but they never touch while they dance.
When it was Kevin’s turn to be dragged up to dance with the men they leap and jump around boisterously and I stay on the sideline watching with the other women. He is also centre of attention, the leaping men encircle him and many photos are taken. In the middle of the dancing he is handed a small baby, bundled up in a thick, woolly suit. Kevin jiggles around looking confused trying to make sure the baby doesn’t get hurt in the whooping crowd.
They ask Kevin and I if we will dance together in our country’s style so we put together a rather silly and bad version of ballroom dancing mixed with salsa and go under and over each others arms. They appear very impressed with this dance and applause when we are taking it in turns to twirl each other around but we are wary not to dance too close together.
After this we twirl some of the younger children round and then teach them some silly dance moves that they think are hilarious and run round doing them, and asking us to do them, for the rest of the evening.
A table is set up in the courtyard, near the resting cows and we are invited to eat first. We are hot and thirsty after all the dancing and Rajeev’s father goes out specially to buy us 2 bottles of mineral water as he understands that we can’t drink the water they have collected from the well.
We sit down to eat and are handed a metal tray. Rajeev’s mother loads on chapatti bread, 2 types of vegetable curry and some spicy pickles. Specially purchased mineral water is delivered to us and even a spoon is dug out. Everyone watches us as we eat and looks at us to gauge our reaction to the food, which is pretty spicy but very tasty. I try to eat and smile at the same time to reassure them that I am enjoying the food. Rajeev’s mother smiles as she stands over us while we eat, whenever the curry or bread on our plates is getting low she loads on more until we have to beg her to stop.
I’m so in love with this family already!
As we sit on plastic stools next to cow shed I am amazed by the warmth, love and generosity shown to us by this family that we hardly know. They don’t have much but what they do have they share. They are such a large but tight knit family who have a lot of love for each other and it is incredibly humbling and somewhat awe inspiring to witness. I wish I could be more grateful and happy with what I’ve got like this family.
After Kevin and I have eaten the rest of the family tucks in. It’s now nearly midnight and we have to catch an early train to Agra in the morning. All the men offer to give us lifts back. Rajeev’s father owns an auto rickshaw and we arrange for him to take us to the train station the next morning (we will pay him of course) After many more photos we say a sad goodbye as Rajeev drops us back at the hotel.
What an amazing evening!
I go to bed with my feet still tapping to the rhythm of the songs now etched into my memory. I am still on a high, buzzing from the riot of noise, colour, laughter, warm smiles and love that we were so lucky to experience. This lovely and incredible evening tops all my adventures in India. I feel so fortunate and honoured to have been invited into their lives, to share this wonderful celebration where they have treated us so well.
It was incredible to actually met genuine people, a family that was happy, generous, kind and incredibly hospitable. The feeling of celebration, joy and family unity was incredibly touching and contagious. It was humbling to see and an honour to be part of their celebrations.
It’s a priceless experience that I won’t forget and hope to learn from.
Have you ever been invited into a family’s home? What’s your favourite moment from your travels?