“Lagna” is the Gujarati word for wedding. Whether you speak Gujarati or not, everyone knows the meaning of this word. It culminates the entirety of all awkward conversations with older relatives in your twenties as they unsubtly hint at the fact that you still don’t have a ring on your finger until you finally tie the knot; the showcase of your summers in your thirties as every week is another journey with your spouse to a stately home or temple for another cousin’s ceremony (or usually string of ceremonies); the laborious chore of your forties as you introduce your children to the various rituals that you yourself have been getting to grips with for most of your adult life; the expense of your fifties as the time eventually comes to give away your daughter or welcome a new one to your home; and finally in your twilight years it remains the rare opportunity to bring your family together and celebrate the beauty of such a union. This may be the longest sentence I have ever written. However, it reflects the nature of lagna. It permeates each stage of life and is a centrepiece in Hindu tradition. Fair to say, it is kind of a big deal.
Weddings in India are the stuff of film and legend. Growing up watching Bollywood films, I imagined that it would be thousands of people all adorned in their finest clothing, steel cast after steel cast containing delicious food and an intensely traditional ceremony that would give me an insight into how weddings should be done. It wasn’t…quite like that. The bride, my cousin, and the groom had decided to go for something much simpler and so it remained close family and friends – they didn’t want a big fuss. Go figure. The one time that we spent all of this time and effort to see a ridiculous Indian wedding and they had chosen to “keep it basic”.
However, the venue was absolutely amazing. There are a few extremely ornate temples in the UK, but it was absolutely nothing like this. This was on the level of a palace in the middle of a busy city. Domes of marble and coloured statues filled the grounds with large open platforms that lit up a sparkling white when the sun finally came into view. From the very finest detail in the pillars, to the huge carved tiles that made up the ceilings, it looked like someone had gone through this place with a microscope. I had never seen anything like it.
Unlike back at home, the weddings are conducted in the late afternoons here because of the intense heat. Even though this was technically the winter, it reached the mid-twenties when the ceremony started and we all started to sweat into our outfits. Because lagnas are such a big part of Hinduism, both practically as a means of legitimising marriage and spiritually to move forward to the next stage of life, it is important to understand the rituals. It is said to be the bride’s occasion, the very last event before she leaves her parents’ house and moves in with her in-laws. The more lagnas you attend, the more you start to pick things up – I guess this is part of the point so you know what you are signing yourself up for when it finally happens to you.
But that is just it, isn’t it? This preparation and celebration comes with the frightening expectation that the seconds are ticking. I don’t think I really feel it at my age, but I can tell that my brother can. Every wedding we go to now, he can’t escape without another distant relative promising him that they can find him a girl. It doesn’t matter what his current situation is (they never ask that) but they are determined to make sure that he gets married. It has become a running joke that I get to tease him about, but I am fully aware that my time is coming.
The prospect of arranged introductions is promised with love. It is 50 percent inquisition and 50 percent well-intentioned. However, it is 100 percent pressurised. There are a very few cultures where the narrative is so direct and continuous – there is almost no question that an Asian man and woman in their twenties should get married against all of the odds. Homosexuality is never discussed and the concept of staying single must mean that there is something inherently wrong with you.
I can’t imagine the prospect of not getting married. Yet, I don’t know whether I have been conditioned to think this way in all of my relationships or whether this is what I actually want. I am sure it is what I want in the end, but there has never really been any other option. It is scary how the lives of most Indians are already mapped out until their 30th birthday.
I don’t know whether tradition has saved or shackled us in this regard. We don’t question marriage like we do other institutions. It just is. Maybe the big weddings are worth it then, hey?