Sunday, 11 May 2008

Travel Journal #8 (7 May): The Wedding

Today is the big day.

The house has been packed since yesterday. Relatives are coming and going all the time and I have long given up trying to keep track of everyone's names. Some of Sasanka's family came from other parts of the country and they needed to take his room so he and I had to bunk together in the guest bedroom. He needed a good night sleep but tat didn't go so well because we ended up chatting until late at night about bhuddism and the wonders of married life.

From the moment Sasanka woke up this morning until the time he and Bhagya drove off as newlyweds at around midnight, all his actions were rigorously timed. Both to ensure that everything went smoothly throughout the day and also because there are auspicious times for doing certain things such as leaving the house, groom and bride entrance, signing the papers, etc. This goes as far as to determine the dates for the wedding and the home coming. It's something to do with calculations done on Sasanka's and Bhagya's Buddhist horoscope (I am not going to pretend to know what I am talking about here, so google it if you are really interested. I will do so myself once I am back in Auckland but an extensive Google research is a luxury my short stay in Sri Lanka does not allow the time for.)

I joined Sasanka and the groomsmen to the studio where some photos were going to be taken. There we were joined by the bride, the bridesmaids, and a few other relatives. It was quite an experience sitting in a waiting room of about 25 m2 with 20 other people, most impeccably dressed up, running around and bumping into each other to finish up the last touches before the photo shoot. I felt like I was in a Bollywood studio.

The couple then headed to the hotel where the wedding was taking place for another photo shoot. I took some of my own photos but I had a feeling I was getting in the way of the photographers so I just decided to wander around the hotel instead. And what a hotel it was. I am sure it wasn't short of stars. I stopped for a quick snack at the cafe to review the photos taken during the day and do some people watching. Mainly foreigners, most of the locals I saw were hotel staff. I ordered a chili prawn pie and an iced coffee. yum.

By the time I went back the guests had already started to arrive. In a matter of minutes the room was full and it was time for the wedding to begin. Sasanka came in first, followed by his family and groomsmen. They were all greeted by the bride's guests on arrival as if being welcomed into the community. Once all the groom's crowd were in it was time for the bride to be brought in by her family and bridesmaids so she and the groom could finally "meet". Bhagya looked stunning in her wedding dress. Actually both of them did. And very happy: throughout the ceremony I could see them exchanging looks, smiles, winks, and kisses at a distance. Isn't life beautiful?

The ceremony went on into a series of rituals which I will not try to describe here for lack of knowledge and space on the page. Most of them involved receiving blessings from relatives and symbolic acts to bring prosperity, such as the boiling of milk. This was followed by dinner with three different kinds of rice, three or four curry dishes, and some veggies and salads (which looked and tasted very much western), followed by deliciously sweet deserts and fruits.

Then it was time for the baila, a Sri Lankan style of music that to my untrained western ears sounds much like a combination of folk Portuguese/Italian music common in countryside Brazil and some Indian type music. I had already "experienced" the baila at Bhagya's sister's home coming (yes, there were two weddings, keep up will ya.) so I wasn't surprised to see a huge crowd immediately going up to the dance floor and start dancing away. The whole baila dancing thing has a really happy feel to it and it just makes you want to dance along. So I did! But maybe I overdid it a little: I later found out that everyone thought I was drunk!

Two boys called Dilshan (age 15) and Kulanga (11), both Bhagya's cousins, seem to have taken an interest in me ever since I met them a few days ago. They seem fascinated about this tall stranger of fair skin and poor eating skills. Both of them are still learning English so they are rather shy when it comes to speaking but are heaps of fun to be around and have kept me company throughout the party. By the end of the ceremony Kulanga came up to me and asked "Can I see you again?" Was that cute or what? I told him yeah of course bro, I'll be at home coming.

I feel quite privileged to be here and witness all the preparations leading up to the wedding. I could have come to Sri Lanka and done the usual touristy things: stay in a fancy hotel and chill out by the swimming pool, take city tours in air conditioned coaches, hang out with other tourists. And I would have gone home without really knowing Sri Lanka. I don't think many tourists to this country can say that they have experienced first hand a traditional Sinhala wedding.

Tomorrow I am leaving Colombo for the first time since I arrived to explore the southwest coast of the country. The beaches of Hikkaduwa, Unawatuna, and Mirissa, the turtle hatchery in Kosgoda, and the Dutch fort in Galle are the main destinations in my three day trip. I will welcome some "me" time relaxing on the beach, away from the hectic pre-wedding routine in the impossibly crazy metropolis that is Colombo.

I will be back for home coming. And I can hardly wait to do the baila again.