Marriages, Musicals and Mausoleums In Jaipur and Agra
26.11.2008 - 27.11.2008 23 °C
India is a country that is rushing head-long into the 21st century, and there are definite conflicts between tradition and the modern world. This is perhaps visible nowhere more than in romance and marriage. November happens to be wedding season in India, as it is astrologically a very “auspicious” season of the year. Everywhere we went, almost every night we heard or saw weddings taking place.
And trust me, there is no way that you can miss an Indian wedding. In the West, we tie a few cans to the bumper of a car and paint “Just Married” on the back. In India, there is a procession through the streets with the bride riding behind the groom on the back of a white horse (or even an elephant if you can afford it, I suppose, as we saw several times in Delhi). They are both dressed in incredible finery, with ornate bejewelled headbands for her and a big turban for him, and they are preceded by a marching band and followed by a horse-drawn cart with a generator for the string lights carried by the merry-makers. It’s a huge, festive party, and I really wish I had some pictures to share, but I never had my camera along when we came upon one!
But we noticed one odd thing, and this comes back to the cultural differences: the bride was always a lot younger than the groom. In the case of one wedding procession we passed in Jodhpur, the groom was about 25, and the bride appeared to be maybe 15. The whole concept of getting married that young, and probably by the arrangement of your parents with the groom’s, just doesn’t jibe too well with the Western ideal of how romance and marriage work. And it also doesn’t automatically sit well with young Indians, either. Many are being influenced by the relationships they see in the movies, and “love marriages” are becoming much more common than they used to be.
From Jaisalmer, we traveled eastward to two larger Indian cities where we observed a lot about love in India, both historic and modern: first to Jaipur, the capital of Rajasthan, and then to Agra, home to India’s greatest icon.
Jaipur is called the Pink City, and upon entering the old part of town, it’s not difficult to see why: everything, from the city gate...
...to the buildings of the back alleys...
...is painted a lovely warm terra cotta pink. Jaipur may not be the most peaceful or beautiful or dramatic city in India, but the color creates a nice unifying quality that is very attractive.
The city is best known for the famous Hawa Mahal, or Palace of the Winds: an incredibly ornate and stunningly beautiful architectural confection attached to the Maharaja’s palace.
Interestingly, it’s almost just a façade: only one narrow room deep
The Hawa Mahal was built so the women of the Maharaja’s harem could remain secluded while watching the outside world go by. This custom, guarding the virtue of women by protecting them from outside eyes, is called purdah, and is still practiced to some degree today in more conservative segments of Indian society. The Hawa Mahal is fronted with windows filled with fine laticework that shielded the Maharaja’s wives and concubines from the attentions of those going about their business in the streets below.
A short way outside the city is the Amber Fort, one of the most graceful and stately in Rajasthan.
It’s a long climb to the gate
Like every Indian castle, the Amber Fort features two main areas: the public and private rooms where the Maharajas held court and lived, and the zenana, where the women resided. The rules of purdah ensured that only eunuchs served the ladies, and only the Maharaja himself could enter the zenana. This sounds incredibly restrictive and sexist, but it was all in the spirit of protecting the women. Or so we are told.
Today, however, the relationship of the sexes is influenced far less by courtly honor than by the silver screen. India is the world’s most voracious market for movies, and the Hindi film industry has come to be known by the nickname “Bollywood” (after Bombay, or Mumbai, where most are produced). You think the American movie industry is important in our culture? It’s got nothing on Bollywood. The day after the Mumbai terror attacks, the front page of Delhi’s English-language paper, the Hindustan Times, was covered with quotes from... Security officers? Politicians? Nope: Bollywood actors and directors. They’re huge -- looming larger in Indian culture than just about anyone other than Gandhi and the Hindu gods.
Bollywood films are really interesting. They are almost all romantic comedies of the “boy and girl (who are both stunningly gorgeous) meet, fall in love, are separated by some obstacle that they eventually overcome and get married in the end” variety that almost never comes out of Hollywood anymore. They are extremely clean, as India’s censors allow nothing more than chaste hand-holding and longing looks, even after the wedding. And most interestingly, they are almost all musicals, with syrupy balads, soaring duets, and big, flashy production numbers -- all of which may or may not have anything to do with the plot. A really terrific English-language example of Bollywood style is British/Indian director Gurinder Chadha’s Bride and Prejudice, an Indian adaptation of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice that is well worth checking out.
In Jaipur, we decided to go to the historic Raj Mandir Cinema to catch the latest Bollywood offering.
Indian Art Deco at its best
I have no idea what the title means
The movie was a real treat, and seeing it surrounded by Indians who were all curious whether we followed it -- we didn’t understand a word but we didn’t really need to -- was a blast. Prem (Sonu Sood) and Chandni (Eesha Koppikhar) meet in a music competition, fall in love and sing to each other a lot, but can’t get married because her father dies and she has family responsibilities. Prem becomes a music star and Chandni opens a music school, and years later things finally work out for them. Not exactly profound, but good fun.
Interestingly, since the censors are so strict, it forces the directors to find other ways to build romantic tension since the characters can’t just jump in the sack. So they are much more creative; this movie had a really wonderful scene where Prem sings to Chandni as she sleeps on a train. There is a terrific moment when a gust of wind blows aside her sari, exposing her foot. Sonu Sood’s acting and the cinematography in that moment were amazing; I never knew that the sight of a toe could be so erotic. It was very effective!
From Jaipur, we headed to our final destination in India: the big, ugly industrial city of Agra, which just happens to be the home of quite possibly the most beautiful building in the world...
...the Taj Mahal. You’ve seen it in pictures, but pictures really don’t do it justice. And it does change colors throughout the day:
Brilliant white at midday
Dusty rose at sunset
Soft blue at dusk
The Taj Mahal is also the world’s greatest monument to love. It was built by the Mughal emperor Shah Jahan in 1631 as a tomb for his wife Mumtaz, who died giving birth to their fourteenth child -- now that’s devotion. Quite romantic. A fitting end to this examination of love and marriage, Indian style.
And to our time in India.