Age-old rituals embraced at Malhotra wedding
Lewistown native’s nuptials take place in India
EDITOR’S NOTE: In 2010 and 2011, Drs. Rajeshwar and Shashpal Malhotra, of Lewistown, shared a glimpse of their Indian culture’s celebration of marriage by inviting coverage of the weddings of their daughters, Monica to Karthik Jayaraman, and Anita to Anant Viswanath. Our coverage this year focuses on their son, Ajay’s, wedding to Sumedha Majumdar, which took place in her hometown in Chennai, India, in November 2017.
LEWISTOWN — India is a land steeped in culture and traditions. So it comes as no surprise that marriages in India are marked by a multitude of customs and traditions that are religiously followed to this day with traditional multi-day affairs and many intricate ceremonies.
So when Lewistown physicians Drs. Rajeshawar “Raj” and Sashpal “Pali” Malhotra’s son, Ajay, announced he was engaged to be married to Sumedha “Simi” Majumdar, plans for the wedding immediately commenced, both here in America, and in Majumdar’s parents’ hometown in Chennai, India.
Soma and Sishir Majumdar, welcomed their daughter, future son-in-law, family and friends to their country for the four-day long wedding in November 2017 in Chennai, which is located on the southeast coast of India, off the Bay of Bengal.
Raj explained that Majumdar, who is the only daughter, comes from a small family and it would have been hard for them to travel to the United States for the wedding. Her family wanted everyone to go there. So Ajay and Majumdar started asking friends and family to save the date for the once-in-a-lifetime experience.
Ajay and Majumdar, who both live in New York City, met several years ago in the city where Ajay is a dentist and Majumdar works for Goldman-Sachs Group. When they were ready to announce their engagement, Ajay called his father and asked him to come meet his fiance.
With his daughters, Monica and Anita in tow, and a few other family members, Raj traveled to New York City’s Four Season’s restaurant to meet Majumdar.
“Oh, I can’t believe it, she is an Indian girl and she is very beautiful,” Raj said about the initial meeting. “She eats and drinks like us, she is quite talkative, she has wordly knowledge about everything.”
Monica agreed that this was one thing that Ajay had done right, and gave him the go ahead.
Immediately the Malhotras met Majumdar’s parents to set a wedding date and inform everyone that not all of the customary Indian pre-wedding rituals would be held due to the quick engagement announcement and upcoming holiday season.
“We really like her parents,” Raj said. “We have a lot of commonalities even though we’re different religions. They know our language and customs.”
About 100 people from the United States traveled to the historic city. For many, it was their first time in India.
“A lot from the States made it to India,” Ajay said. “Close friends who I stay in touch with regularly. It was great to see everybody and have a reason to celebrate and get to spend time with my wife as well.”
Raj, who presented the 100 guests with an all-expenses-paid stay in India, thanks his nephew, Neeraj Malhotra, who lives in Delhi, for helping plan such a grand wedding on behalf of the Malhotra family. Raj said Neeraj, who once lived in Chennai, had connections and was able to arrange for guests to stay at the Radisson Hotel, in Mahabalipuram, India, a five-star hotel on the beach, for two of the nights. Raj said his nephew had every detail taken care of for guests, including transportation, check-in and check-out at the hotel and a hospitality room set up for eating and drinking 24 hours a day.
After all guests had arrived and had a day of rest after an 18-hour flight, the first of many ceremonies started.
Mehndi – Nov. 17
Derived from the Sanskrit word “mendhika,” translating to the henna plant itself, the mehndi ceremony is the auspicious ritual of applying henna or “mehndi” to the bride, thereby completing the adornments of the Indian bride. This pre-wedding ceremony marks the beginning of the never-ending celebrations of the lifetime union of the bride and groom.
After the mehndi, guests made their way to Fisherman’s Cove Hotel for a night of music, from live bands and a disc jockey, dancing and, of course, eating and drinking — all on the beach. Some informal performances were done by family, including Raj and Pali, who did a rumba routine to Michael Buble’s, “Sway.” Later, the DJ took over and played “Bhangra,” traditional dance music that features heavy drum beats.
The next morning, two buses awaited the guest to transport them to the next hotel, Grand Chola, the second-best hotel in India, where the wedding ceremony would eventually take place.
“They have six indoor pools,” Raj said. “You’ll get lost. We had a butler and were embarrassed because we didn’t know what to ask him.”
Sangeet – Nov. 18
Cascading with love, laughter and lifelong memories, this musical ceremony celebrates the joyous union of family and friends coming together to relish in the happiness surrounding the couple. Translating to “sung together” in Sanskirt, this custom finds its roots deep in Indian family values where marriage is not only the sacred union of two people but also the coming together of two families.
Raj said the semiformal ceremony is much like a cocktail party, this time with better performances and music. Raj and Pali performed a tango for guests and then enjoyed music from a very popular DJ from Bombay.
To celebrate all the regions of India, nearly 100 different items of food were available, representing various regional specialities.
“It’s a poor country, but they don’t skimp on anything,” Raj said.
Wedding – Nov. 19
En route to the wedding, a “barat” or procession was carried out while reaching the wedding venue. Attended by the relatives and friends from the groom’s side, everyone watched as Ajay was transported to the venue by a four-horse drawn chariot, on which he danced while listening to the beats from several drummers.
“There were four to five drummers playing very loud,” Raj said. “Drummers play so hard until the drum rips open. This means they are playing really good.”
Once they reached the venue, everyone was very hyped up as they greeted the bride’s side of the family. Gifts were exchanged and garlands were placed on each other.
Once inside the hall, everyone sat down while a military band started playing military music for almost an hour, before the wedding ceremony started. During this time, Ajay changed into his wedding clothes.
Raj said the stage, adorned with thousands of flowers, was set for the most opulent wedding he’s seen in his lifetime.
Unique to Bengali weddings, it’s a beautiful sight to witness, as the bride is carried to the altar on a wooden stool, her eyes covered with sacred betel leaves. Keeping her lifted, her brothers walked around the groom seven times, with each step corresponding to a vow they make to each other.
A traditional Bengali wedding is completed with the “sindoor daan,” where the groom puts “sindoor,” a red vermilion powder, in his bride’s hair partition, thus the symbol of her marital status.
“It was a fairytale wedding,” Raj said. “I have never seen anything like it. It was eye opening.”
After the wedding ceremony, a cocktail reception was hosted by the Malhotras to end the four-day festivities. No receptions were going to be held in the United States due to the approaching holidays.
To further celebrate, the couple and 20 of their friends traveled to Thailand for a few days. A honeymoon is planned for later this year.
Now that the newlyweds are back in New York City and settled, Ajay reflected on the wedding.
“The whole experience was pretty amazing,” he said. “It was done so well.”
Going back to his parents’ homeland for the ceremony was very special to him.
“It took me back to their roots,” Ajay said. “To see the family and see the union of our two families was amazing.”