I’ve never been to an actual Nepalese wedding. I’ve come across a few, tentatively. Usually by accident on a Saturday when out for a walk. The most common sight is a tent, lots of ladies in colorful sarees and gents in suits.
But as an outsider with a camera I never felt it appropriate to just self-invite (wedding crash) and venture in.
A few weeks ago my good friend Amir and I were planning to visit Patan for a Krishna festival. But between crazy traffic jams and a hot monsoon morning we pulled over to the Balkumari temple.
“This is my friend’s wedding today,” Amir beamed.
“Oh,” I replied looking at my scruffy shorts and perspiration soaked shirt. “Is it okay just to show up looking like this?”
“No problem!” replied Amir in his bright yellow shirt. “They’ll be happy”.
And so I was invited to witness my first Nepalese wedding.
The Balkumari temple
As you might have previously read here about the Kumari living goddess the Balkumari temple is dedicated to the Kumari. The temple is unique and beautiful. Set in a sunken pit, it has four entrances guarded by lions.
It’s a unique blend of Newari and Hindu that only the Kathmandu Valley has. The Balkumari goddess is featured at the front while at the rear is Bairab her consort. But like everything surrounding the Balkumari their relationship is wrapped up in mystery.
In either case if you come here on a Saturday you are sure to find both Hindu and Newari weddings taking place during the mornings.
The Wedding Ceremony
Birthdays, are rarely celebrated in Nepal. Weddings on the other hand are. But it is quite different to a “western style” wedding.
Close family and friends gather around the temple. There are other couples waiting nearby to get married too. But no one is in a rush it seems.
Sangita and Bipin make their way into the small temple. It barely fits half a dozen people inside. There’s a priest in causal garb inside too.
The ceremony is short. There’s no music and most of the family look on from the outside.
The bride is smiling and looks wonderful in her stunning Newari style red dress with intricate makeup. There’s a cloth over the top of her head to hide the tikka which other men are not allowed to see.
The groom is dressed in a smart suit with a vibrant green garland around his neck. He looks a lot more nervous than the bride. There’s no bolting here though. Unlike many Nepalese arranged marriages theirs is a love marriage.
The couple sit before the priest, exchange vows and exchange some food as a symbol of sharing. They are pronounced man and wife.
Outside after the ceremony
Just when you think the main event is over, Nepalese tradition surprises you. The couple make their way around the sunken courtyard to give thanks and blessings from the various deity statues along the walls. A bell is rung by each and some tikka applied.
Smiles from both the groom and bride are becoming wider as they relax and their family gather on the other side of the courtyard. It’s obvious to see the banter between the newlyweds is a happy one.
The blessings done, they walk over to sit on a wall as family and friends queue up to give the bride thanks.
Thanking and blessing the bride
It’s an all lady affair over by the wall as ladies in these bright sarees gather around. The groom sits beside her as all the attention is now on his wife.
Family members and friends pass blessings, gifts and money to the new bride. Mobile photos are also a big thing here as everyone bustles to take a snap with the bride.
The big party
Being the gatecrashers that we were, there was no after party for us. Though we were invited. It’s basically a big feast back at the main house. We needed to visit the Krishna festival in Patan.
Unlike “western” weddings, the concept of a honeymoon in Nepal has not caught on. It’s very common for the bride and groom to simply go back to their parents’ house that night. What was once a shared room by many family members now becomes their room for the night. The rest of the family move into another room.
I did ask about this several times. It seems to be the norm. Albeit with some jokes about leaving some music playing loud all night to give them some “privacy”.
In more rural villages the couple stay together in a room while the rest of the household stay outside singing and dancing all night.
It’s nothing to do with finances. It’s just the Nepalese way!
The happy couple
Many congratulations to Sangita and Bipin on their wedding. Thanks for inviting us to stay for your wedding and I hope you enjoy the photos!
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