Click on the photo to see the detail in the costumes.
The seven grooms representatives sing while seated against the wall the bride cries. She is the white bundle leaning against the older lady in the lower part of the photo.
Day Four of the five day Ceremony:
The section from Padum to Reru has a road being built, and it is a long, dusty walk, with many passing dump trucks and jeeps. After about 15km, I had enough of walking on the road and hitched a ride in a passing jeep for the next three kilometers to Mune. This turned out to be a rather fortuitous choice. I had found out while visiting the Mune Gompa that there was a wedding going on in Reru. Later that evening I was in Reru hanging out in front of the house with all the action, hoping for an invite, while Tim, embarrassed at my boldness, looked around the village. It was not long berfore I ran into the jeep driver, Tundup. He invited me in and soon I was drinking tea, then chang (barley beer), and eating dal and rice with the groom's father, Nayupa, and other family members. Nayupa is a tall, handsome man, fabulously arrayed in a long burgundy-purple wool coat and tall traditional Ladakh wedding hat with a white handkerchief pinned to the side for good luck.
From Tundup and Nayupa I learned that the wedding was five days long. It was the final and most important night tonight, and tomorrow was the big day of sending off the bride. The groom lived in a village far away and according to tradition did not come, but tonight seven of his representatives would arrive for the ceremonies. The marriage was arranged and the long distances between villages of bride and groom was necessary because of the small Zanskar population to minimize the chance of inbreeding.
While I was learning all this, a man in the center of the room by the chang
jug was keeping the alcohol flowing. He would turn to you and gesture and yell at you to drink, after which he would top off your glass. In addition to chang, he had bottles of stronger stuff, arrak, which is distilled from chang. It was impossible to know how much you were drinking.
Tundup eventually disappeared, but returned again. "Come, Come" he says to me urgently, "The groom's men are arriving." We run across town and he positions me by the stupa which they walk through. The representatives are fabulously dressed in bright, ornately pattered robes and fantastic, tall gold hats. After walking thorough the stupa, they begin to dance and perform rituals using some type of paint in containers. Chang and Arrak are brought out and passed about liberally. Some people have small cups hidden in their robes, but the rest drink out of cupped hands. I fail this test and spill some from my palm so an eighty-eight year old lady shows me how, without spilling a drop. Nayupa laughs and tells me "We drink for God. They do dance for God" then points towards the seven men who are slowly twirling. Tundup and Nayupa both encourage me to take photos and so my camera, which I have kept discreetly in my bag, gratefully comes out. Tim hears all the commotion and finds his way to the ceremony.
After it gets dark, it is time for the next stage in the ceremony. Nine piles of stones have been placed at equal distances apart along the village road. The groom's men begin to sing as they move towards the first pile. Drums are beating and far away, the bride's family are singing in answer, as they move towards the first pile on the opposite end. I move closer to them and see that they are twirling wildly and snapping whips in the air and at the ground. They have huge hankerchiefs pinned to their hats and clothing. Nayupa has explained this part to me. It is the question and answer ceremony. The bride's family start out by singing "Why are you here? Why have you come to our village?" The groom's representatives will answer "We have come to take away the bride." Now as the ceremony starts, Nayupa is laughing. He tells me the bride's family has responded "No, go away, you are not welcome here." This exchange will go on until late into the night. The bride and groom's representatives and family eventually will meet in the middle and even later on the brides family will signal acceptance of the groom by offering a special food. Tim and I eventually go to bed around 10pm, but we continue to hear the drums late into the night.
Day Five of Ceremony:
The next morning, I arrive early. Tundup tells me that everyone stayed up all night. He takes me to the kitchen, where I eat steamed lamb momos (dumplings). Then he tells me that the bride is in the house. The bride has not been seen until now, spending the first four days of the ceremony shut up in a house somewhere in the village. He brings me to the room where she is. Along one wall, six of the groom's men are sitting to the right of the mother, a tiny, sad looking woman. Leaning against her is a white bundle of cloth, the bride. On the left side of the bride the seventh groomsman sits. Along the opposite wall sits family and friends, all arrayed in white handkerchiefs for luck in the marriage and drinking chang and arrak. Today, Tim and I are given handkerchiefs to wear as well. I quietly take a seat near the far wall, but don't go unnoticed, as I had chosen a spot right behind chang man. Today's chang man was a beautiful wrinkled old man with a constant smile. He was in great, chang-induced humor, laughing, yelling, and pouring chang. At one point, when I tried to refuse more chang, he grabbed my leg with a vise-like fingers and gave me a painful pinch. The bride, meanwhile, spends this time wailing, crying and shouting a short phrase over and over. I imagine it was something like "I won't go, I won't go." A man across from her, possibly her father, began singing in a mournful tone. The groom's representatives joined in. They stood and the one on the left started waving a ceremonial wand over the bride (photo at top).
Later, after everyone is seated again, a man comes in with long strips of fabric. He yells something and hands one to the groomsman on the brides left, who gently tucks the cloth into the bride's waistband. She lets out a wail. This goes on until her waist is thick with fabric strips. Eventually she runs out of the room screaming with her mother and hides in the basement. I catch a brief glimpse then of her large turquoise studded headdress. Other then this small glimpse, the bride is not seen, hidden as she is in a white bundle of cloth. Later I showed Sonam, our pony guide, the photos from the wedding. He tells me that Tibetan weddings are not like this. He laughs at the white bundle and says "very dangerous. dressed like a dead body!" He also tells me that it is very important for the bride to cry and carry on, even if she wanted to leave the village. Her family and village would be very upset if she did not. It seemed also to me, though, that it must be very terrifying for her, to leave her family and village for the complete unknown of an arranged marriage with a strange man in a far off village. I hope for her that her new life and marriage will be a good one. The groom's father, Nayupa, and the representatives seem like kind, gentle people, so I have hope that her new husband will also be a kind, gentle person.
We left around 12 noon, before the send off of the bride, which would happen around 5 or 6 pm, amid many tears, I am told. Tim had come from camp only a short time before we left and so I brought him into the Lama room for a while to sit with the monks. The monks have a room set up for them, and they are here for the entire five days of the ceremony, singing prayers for the marriage and keeping candles lit. They beat drums and build many pregnant figurines out of tsampa (ground barley) dough. Grains are offered for a life of plenty. Before leaving the monks feed us a meal of noodles and tea.
It was an amazing experience to be warmly invited into this wedding, and to have Tundup and Nayupa be able to explain so much to me. Tim and I wondered as we were leaving if we would be treated so kindly as wedding crashers in our own country!
Nayupa, wearing the traditional hat with a white handkerchief pinned to the side for good luck.
The bride is surrounded by the richly dressed grooms representatives
The Bride and her mother. The bride is never visible in her white bundle.
A Lama next to the table of pregnant dough figurines
One of the grooms representatives.
The men wear beautiful long coats of burgundy colored wool.