For Kiran Chadha, weddings have always been intriguing, magical and fascinating. “To me, watching a wedding is a moment of overwhelming joy,” says the author, poet, motivational speaker and former Indian bureaucrat.

So it was no surprise when she recently published a 375-page, lavishly illustrated book on Indian weddings titled Magic of Indian Weddings- Timeless Traditions, Sacred Customs (Rupa).

In Dubai last year where she launched the book at the India Club in the presence of the Indian Consul General Dr Aman Puri, Kiran says a reason she decided to write the book was to underscore the fact that marriage is a magical institution with spiritual, scriptual and societal foundations etched in religious sanctity. “The continuously diminishing fabric of marriage today made me reflect on how this institution has survived for thousands of years,” she says, in an interview to Friday.

The extensively researched book offers a kaleidoscopic view of the weddings of a cross section of Indian communities complete with descriptions of rites and rituals. Covering almost all the states and union territories of India, the book also includes details on some typical pieces of jewellery used by brides, the beauty rituals associated with the bride in the run up her to her wedding day, the significance of the sacred thread that the groom places around the neck of the bride in Hindu weddings, and pre- and post-wedding rituals that are still observed faithfully in many religions.

“It was my curiosity to learn what has kept this institution of marriage alive for thousands of years that led me on the path of writing this book,” says the Dalhousie-based author, a regular visitor to Dubai.

A keen observer of the rituals and customs of different weddings in India, Kiran, who has visited more than 50 countries, was keen to know what each custom in a particular wedding entailed, what the meanings of the holy verses that are intoned during some ceremonies meant, how certain customs came about and how they are continuing to be observed and celebrated during weddings.

To that end, she met with several scholars on the subject requesting them to share with her details of the religious customs and practices. “But sadly I could not get answers to all of the questions I had,” says Kiran, dressed in an elegant red saree when we meet at her son’s well-appointed villa in Satwa.

So, after retiring as a bureacract from the Indian government, she decided to dive into researching the various weddings in India. “Initially I envisaged this as a treatise on the Hindu weddings. But later, following the advice of some well-wishers, I extended the scope of my research to include weddings of other faiths,” she says.

In the course of her research, she also discovered fascinating wedding rituals and ceremonies of certain tribes in India that she included in the book with the result that Magic of Indian Weddings ended up as a compendium of wedding rituals of almost every part of India.

An island in Andaman. Magic of Indian Weddings mentions the rituals associated with the Onge tribe in the Andamans
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“I spent several months exploring libraries in different parts of India,” says Kiran, a civil servant for some 36 years. “I read books on marriage ceremonies of different cultures and religions, spoke to experts in the field, had extensive interviews with religious heads…

“I also combed through newspaper archives to learn more about the cultures in different regions and to pick up interesting facts about marriage ceremonies of communities in remote areas of India.”

Customs from far and wide

The result is the book that has detailed descriptions of marriage customs in the various states and Union Territories of India, including those that are far flung from the mainland, such as the Andaman and Nicobar Islands.

More than just a description of the customs and rituals, she also gives an overview of the state or UT, painting a picture of the people, their history and traditions as well as including interesting tid-bits of the region.

About the Andamanese, for instance, she says that divorce is rare in the community and couples are permitted to cohabit pre-marriage to assess compatibility.

Kiran’s book details the rituals associated with Buddhist wedding ceremonies as well
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Kiran also mentions about the extremely reclusive Onge tribal people, said to be original inhabitants of the southern most island of the Andaman archipelago. Music, dance and feasting is a feature of their festivals, including at weddings. The leader of the Onge tribe, called the Tai, personally monitors the preparation of Biryani during weddings while the marriage ceremony is arranged and solemnized by elders.

She also mentions about a rare wedding among the Onge tribe, celebrated in a place called Dugong Creek in 2018, that was witnessed by tribal welfare officers. There are only 120 surviving members of the tribe who attended this wedding.

“Ceremonies include dances by tribal women and a performance by the groom who is asked to stand on one foot with the other leg folded and touching the knee. The woman then sits on the folded leg of the man to embrace him as he bears her weight. This ritual cements the fact that marriage is a burden for life and he better learn to bear it. This is followed by feasting and revelry,” she writes.

Kiran’s book also includes details about marriages conducted in the various communities including that of Sikhs, Parsis, Jains, Buddhists and Sindhis.

Hues of red and white set the tone for a Parsi wedding, she writes, and are usually performed early in the morning or at sunset as these times are considered most favourable. The ceremony itself is performed near the Parsi Agiyari or the Fire Temple.

There are details of an Arya Samaj wedding ceremony, too. Arya Samaj followers do not believe in superstitions and societal segregations based on castes or other such factors. They follow a simple and non-ritualistic life and there are few rituals associated with an Arya Samaj wedding. The followers do not believe in auspicious dates or times, but weddings among close blood relatives are not accepted, she writes.

About Buddhist weddings, the book says marriage among the followers of Buddha is not an obligation; rather, it is a personal choice. There is no fixed dress code as such for weddings among Buddhists. The couple first pray in the gompa or monastery early in the morning before the proceedings. The groom’s family brings gifts for the bride’s family including jewellery for the bride to wear and pays a kind of dowry to her family. 

Importance of family life

According to Kiran, a common thread that runs through the weddings of various communities is the importance accorded to family life. “The divorce rate in India is the lowest in the world at less than one per cent,” she says.

Kiran Chadha with her book on marriages
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“And isn’t it interesting that the word ‘divorce’ has no equivalent in Sanskrit or Hindi. In fact, divorce was unheard of until the arrival of the British in India.”

She believes a reason for the low divorce rate is because of the positive role families play in a couple’s marital life. The strong pillar of family helps weather the marital storms, she says.

Journey into writing

Kiran’s journey into the world of writing began after her husband passed away two decades ago. A resident of the picturesque town of Dalhousie, a hill station in Chamba district, in the northern Indian state of Himachal Pradesh, she decided to trace the history of the place that was her home. The result was Dalhousie Through my Eyes, a coffee table book, a pictorial history from the time of its founding by the British in 1859.

The book, published in 2017, was well received, even discussed at a special session at the Kushwant Singh Literary Festival in Kasauli in 2019, says Kiran, who has two doctorates– in petroleum and iron ore.

Her second book, Echoes of my Heart… Dil Se is a collection of poems in English and Hindi. This book, also published in Braille, is available in at least 600 libraries in India. “It is an emotional ode to myself and was penned during the lockdown,” she says, with a smile.

In a foreword to the book of poems, journalist Rahul Singh said her “poetry is utterly captivating, filled with emotions depicting her life: joy, love, ecstasy and loneliness. But a positive streak runs through and you come away fulfilled.”

When not writing or researching, Kiran enjoys trekking. She has undertaken several challenging routes including over the Himalayan region of Manasarovar and Mt Kailas, considered to be some of the most gruelling routes in the region.

Kiran says a reason for putting together the book on marriages was to underscore to the future generations the importance and meanings of the rituals. “Years from now, the institution of marriage may become redundant what with different trends of partnerships evolving,” she says. “At such times, those who do marry must know the importance of the rituals and understand their meaning.”

Kiran Chadha’s books are available on amazon.com