A wedding without a feast
The Business Standard was recently invited to a Monipuri wedding in Moulvibazar. What followed was a unique celebration full of beautiful rituals and warmth
We were at Niranjan Singha Raju's home, or RajuDa as we came to call him, a highly respected Monipuri community leader of Bhanubil Majhergaon village in Kamalganj Upazila of Moulvibazar. Although our work here was complete in the afternoon, he requested we stay till evening to attend the wedding of one of his nephews.
The impromptu invitation meant going in our dusty work clothes, but RajuDa assured us, saying, "You will be joining us as my guests, do not worry at all."
Working with the Monipuri community was a great experience – everyone was warm and friendly, especially RajuDa. So, we were really looking forward to the wedding.
As we entered the bride's house, a stone's throw from RajuDa's place, we noticed a circular 'mandap' or stage built in the courtyard. It was well-lit with white lights and decorated with colourful flowers. A few senior family members were sitting on a mat near it.
Before coming into the venue, every guest, including us, had to pay respect to the priest and ask for his permission to enter. "You have to touch the ground like this and bow down your head like this," RajuDa instructed us. The elderly priest smiled and waved his hand in approval to allow us in.
Before the couple arrives, dancers sing kirtan and dance using mandira (hand cymbals) and mridanga (two-headed drum). They wear white dhotis and a light gamcha like shawl is draped over one of their shoulders. Their heads are neatly wrapped in large, white turbans.
We sat at the front of the stage with RajuDa with other community elders (we were his special guests after all) while guests started pouring in.
Each of them had to pick one small white flower from a plate offered to them and tuck it behind one of their ears. Men wearing flowers was a sight uncommon for us, pleasant to the eyes nonetheless.
The colour white seemed prevalent in Monipuri weddings - perhaps symbolising purity - as all male guests wore white dhotis, and panjabis with light shawls wrapped around their necks. Some of the seniors like RajuDa wore a blazer on top (although it was late February, it was still cold in the tea gardens).
The women wore dazzling traditional outfits in bright colours. Their striped skirts, or faneks, had elaborate flower embroideries at the hem. Their upper bodies were covered in translucent inafis made with muslin-like clothes.
Young girls giggled as they fluttered around the stage. Many guests were giving money to the family elders as a form of 'ashirvad' for the couple.
At one point, RajuDa took me inside the house to take a peek at the bride. With her gold crown (known as 'jhappa') and traditional Monipuri outfit (like the ones Monipuri dancers wear), she was perhaps the most beautiful bride we ever laid our eyes on.
The top of her nose and forehead were adored with yellow tilak, also known as chandan. Her white shankha and gold bangles jingled as she gathered her hands on her lap. Her bridal trousseau consisted of more gold heads and neckpieces.
"How are you feeling?" I asked her, she simply smiled back at me.
The unique, cylindrical skirt she was wearing is called 'potloi'; this exquisite piece is designed with figures, stones, mirrors and sequins. Her matching blouse was red and golden and her white inafi, which covered her head, had golden designs.
It was almost 8 pm and we had been working since early morning. Naturally, we were tired and quite hungry. We looked around for food tables but there were none.
Maybe they will serve the food after the wedding rituals are over, we thought. "Maybe they will serve a vegetable pulao," a colleague suggested. Another said we must not skip the dessert, which would undoubtedly be unique.
Our expectations ran high, especially after the delicious lunch consisting of authentic Monipuri dishes RajuDa's wife cooked for us earlier. Cooked without onions or garlic, every item tasted great.
More than an hour passed by, and still, there was no sign of the groom or food. We asked RajuDa, rather shyly, "Was there going to be no dinner for the guests?"
He laughed and said, "Monipuri weddings have no food. A day or two before the main wedding programme [like the one we attended], the bride's family arranges a feast for the groom's family. Another few days after the wedding, the groom's family arranges for a reception, or what we call a 'bou bhaat'."
"And our wedding food is simple: we serve different types of fish, daal, and rice," he added.
Finally, around 9:30 pm, the groom came to the stage. One of the male guests was holding a decorative umbrella over him. He was clad in a golden-hued panjabi with a white dhoti. After paying respect to the priest and the elders, he sat on a bench on the stage.
After a while, the bride entered. The music beats were now stronger.
After sitting on the same bench with the groom and finishing some rituals, the bride slowly got up and began to encircle the groom, known as 'shaat paak' (seven circles), following the beat of the music. It was almost like a dance.
After completing each circle, she poured a handful of flower petals and after the final circle, they exchanged flower garlands. And the wedding was over.
Multiple pre and post-wedding rituals
Earlier that day, RajuDa shared some information about Monipuri weddings with us. For example, there are different pre-wedding rituals before the final one takes place.
"On one day, the bride and groom's families meet and fix a date and time for the wedding ceremony. The bride is given shankha [marital bangles made of conch], sindoor and other gifts. Sweets are distributed among guests. There are no priests involved here," he said.
He also said that Monipuri wedding rituals may seem similar to Bangali Hindu wedding rituals, but they are quite different.
Most Monipuri marriages are arranged and although very rare, some people do marry outside the community. "If a boy or a girl marries outside the community, they and their families are both ostracised by us. Sometimes, if they marry someone from another ethnic minority community, we might accept it."
According to RajuDa, Monipuri weddings are not documented or formally registered, "so, the question of divorce does not even arise."
"There are no concepts of dowry but the society expects the bride and groom's families to spend whatever is befitting, depending on their financial condition," he said, adding, "the bride's family can give jewellery according to their ability, there is no demand for anything."
A little before 11 pm, we left after thanking RajuDa for inviting us to the beautiful Monipuri wedding.