A Hindu wedding in Mauritius
A diverse and multicultural island, you don’t have to go far in Mauritius to see churches, temples and mosques.
Here, Diwali is celebrated as much as Eid or the Assumption, with these important religious events punctuating the calendar and bringing colour to the Mauritian streets. And beyond the traditional religious festivals, there are also those that enrich the lives of families. As sumptuous as they are meaningful, weddings can bring together several hundred people for several days. I was one of them, and here is the incredible experience I had at a Hindu wedding.
The whole village gathered for the preparations
I met Ritesh and Rouma a few months ago. When I met them, they proudly announced, ‘in January, we are getting married!’ I congratulated them, not understanding that I would be on the guest list.
Towards the end of December, I bumped into Rouma again, who was in the middle of preparing for the wedding. ‘Will you come?’, she asked me. A month later, I was on my way to Poudre d’Or, a small fishing village in the north of the island where Ritesh is from. It is Friday when I arrive in the village and the women are gathered in a courtyard. The oldest woman is at the controls of the karay, a giant pan in which she prepares a Mauritian curry. Around her, a dozen others are busy, each with a specific role; cutting up the apples and lemon, preparing the chicken, mixing the spices – turmeric, coriander, masala – and preparing the herbs to garnish the dish.
The smell of the courtyard is already making my mouth water but we’ll have to wait a little longer to taste the feast. Tomorrow, Saturday, is the big reception.
Day of prayers and Saffron ceremony
Friday is Ritesh and Rouma’s first wedding day. There will be four in total.
After observing the preparations for the meal, I ask the women where the bride and groom are. ‘You won’t see them today, it’s the day of prayer,’ I am told. And indeed, I do not see them. The relatives of the family are gathered at the parents’ house for a day of prayers for the bride and groom.
Then comes Saturday, an important day for Rouma as it is the day of the Saffron ceremony. Her face, shoulders, knees and feet will be smeared with saffron so that she is purified before her wedding. As I am not married, I am unfortunately unable to attend the ceremony. I see my friend just before she is covered with the golden powder – she is wearing a yellow sari, covered with embroidery. I hardly have time to wave to her when she and her ceremonial outfit disappear. I then run to the big tent that’s been set up for the wedding, knowing that I will finally be able to taste the delicious curry prepared the day before. But when I arrive at the tent, I am far from being alone; dozens and dozens of people – family, of course, but also neighbours, friends, colleagues and people from the village – have come to celebrate the wedding. A hubbub prevents me from understanding what people are telling me. So I do as they do; I drink and eat in honour of my friends, looking forward to the next day.
Sunday: the religious ceremony
It’s the third day of the wedding and I finally get to see the bride and groom!
When I join the other guests, I melt into an assembly of shimmering colours that contrast with what I’m used to. For Hindu weddings, white – as well as grey, black and brown – is forbidden. The women wear warmly coloured saris and the men beautiful embroidered kurtas. Suddenly, emotion grips the crowd. Rouma arrives wearing a beautiful red sari – the colour of luck and strength. She wears gold jewellery and her hands are covered with henna. Accompanied by the Pandit, Ritesh gets out of the car and joins his wife for the start of the religious ceremony.
After invoking the God Ganesh and the nine planets, Rouma and Ritesh tie a piece of their garment together, they take the seven steps of fidelity, and then they exchange their wedding rings.
They are married!
Back home, I think about this ceremony, so different from the ones I know.
In a few months’ time, I have been invited to another wedding, this time a Catholic one. There will certainly be the church, the long white dress and the vin d’honneur, but Mauritius celebrates every union according to the rites, wishes and dreams of its bride and groom.
And that’s what’s important; that this day is an extraordinary moment for those who exchange their vows.