HINDU WEDDING TRADITION
SURVIVES IN KENYA
SOCIETY: Standard Group:
By Lillian Aluanga: Nairobi, Kenya: Saturday, December 31, 2005:
From the time I was a child, I always dreamt of a fairytale wedding, and
although even today some Asian weddings are still arranged, I knew that mine
had to be one of love.
When I was about to turn thirty, I was a little anxious because in our
community many consider it to be rather late, and quite a number of my
friends, including my brother who was three years younger than me, were
Despite that, my family has always been very loving and supportive, and I
also made a promise to myself that I would only marry for love and not
because of pressure of the so-called ‘biological clock’.
I was born and brought up in Thika, and went to Visa Oshwal High School in
Nairobi, before going to study and work in the United Kingdom.
I used to think about marriage every now and then, and was aware of the fact
that my parents were concerned too.
This motivated them to organise for me to meet some potential suitors which
is common in my community. We refer to these as interviews.
They had already arranged a number of interviews, which up to then had been
unsuccessful, because although I had met nice young men, there was none I
felt I could spend the rest of my life with.
These interviews take place in an informal setting and it is simply what
most people understand to be a date, which may involve a meeting over lunch
or dinner usually in a hotel or restaurant. And it is only between the boy
and the girl even though their parents may have set up the entire meeting.
And so last year in April, I came back home from London, to participate in
the annual eye-camp in Thika, and also to attend a friend’s wedding.
I remember that it was on a Saturday when my dad cautiously handed me a
phone number and asked me to call the person (young man), and set up a
I was not expecting anything like that so it took me by surprise that
another interview was coming up, but I still called the man and we agreed to
meet at Fairview Hotel in Nairobi.
Feeling fairly anxious, I went with a friend and the man who by then I knew
was called Giran came with two relatives.
We were introduced and then left on our own. I was a bit apprehensive but
decided not to panic, and to take everything as it flows.
Giran recognised me and said that we had attended the same high school, and
that really broke the ice and put us at ease.
It was an enjoyable meeting and we had a great time and hit it off at once.
He called me the next day, and after that we had six other dates in the next
three weeks. On the third date we both felt certain that we wanted to spend
the rest our lives together.
On the seventh date, we involved our parents.
When my parents first told me about the meeting with Sheetal, her name was
not familiar to me at all.
It all happened fast because I did not know very much in advance, but I
thought to myself, ‘Let me go and see her,’ and did not know what to expect.
I am normally very busy with my work so I had not met many girls through an
interview, maybe one or two. And so at our initial meeting at the Fairview
Hotel, it was a pleasant surprise for me to realise that I knew this girl
because we had been to the same high school.
I was not anxious at the time but quite happy to get to know her better.
The meeting progressed very well, and I decided to let everything happen
naturally. If we were meant to be friends I knew that this is not something
that can be forced, and so I also went with the natural flow of things.
We enjoyed each other’s company after only a few dates, and soon there was
not doubt in my mind that this was the girl for me.
We decided to get officially engaged on May 11 and exchanged rings to pledge
our love for one another, and as a sign of our commitment to marry.
At that point, we made our intentions known to our close friends and family.
And as it is with our customs, we then honoured our parents by handing the
process to them during which they meet with a priest to decide on the date
for our wedding.
In Hindu weddings, the timing of the wedding means a lot, so it is not
something one can do randomly without consulting a priest.
It is believed that there are good times and bad times according to cosmic
The priest sets the time and the date with regard to cosmic patterns, the
position of the sun and the moon and the movement of the wind.
It was again a surprise when our parents got back to us in a few weeks and
said that the date would be December 4. We both thought that was sooner than
The plans progress
With a few months to the wedding a few preparations are done in advance. In
relation to the diet, the bride’s mother and her friends started to buy and
prepare lentils that are carefully selected and sorted out to be part of the
In October, Sheetal had to travel to Mumbai in India to shop for a bridal
dress. Many brides who can afford it would much rather travel to India
because good dresses cannot be found here in Kenya.
The dress is special with a lot of embroidery, which works out to be much
cheaper when it is done in India and there is more variety there.
Giran decided to wear a modern suit and not Indian attire which is common
with grooms these days who consider traditional clothes heavy to wear.
The couple also decided to get their cards printed in India, and after the
bride returned from India, apart from the logistical planning for the
catering and decorations, there was no big gathering until one week to the
wedding when everything began to gain momentum.
Let the celebrations begin.
Thursday night December 1
This is the traditional folk dance night, which are part of the pre-wedding
preparations. This was an evening ceremony that was held at the Hindu temple
It started at 8 pm running through to 11 pm, and is attended by the two
families involved and their friends. It is characterised by music, song and
dance, it is a time of rejoicing and the bride and groom also dance
It is a time of great enjoyment and feasting and merrymaking.
Friday December 2
There is an air of excitement in Sheetal’s home.
Many relatives and friends, including her three bridesmaids have flown into
the country from England.
And there is singing in the background, as her aunties bustle about the
household making sure that all the guests are comfortable.
At one end of the house in a quiet spot, Sheetal is spending four hours
having her hands and legs decorated with Mehendi (Henna).
These are intricate designs, which are unique to weddings, and the
beautician had met with her in advance to choose the wedding designs.
They are usually symbolic of the season of weddings and of love and expert
movements. A Mehendi artist explains that Sheetal has selected the design of
a Peacock, and a bride and groom, a perfect choice for a bride.
Saturday December 3
A short early morning function takes place in the temple starting at 7.45
am. It involves only the bride and her family and she receives a special
blessing from the priest.
It takes about one hour.
Groom’s reception party
The bride’s family was hosted by the groom’s family for a special luncheon
in Nairobi, and the main purpose of this is for the families to interact
together and to bond.
The bride and groom interact freely with the guests, on this happy occasion,
which starts at about noon. It has no religious significance.
Sunday December 5
Best men Apul Shah (left), and Dipan Shah escort the groom to
Sheetals's mother, Sheel Shah, in the presence of the
priest and witnesses perform some rituals to the groom asking him if he is
ready to take the bride.
It is 10am at the Visa Oshwal Mahajan Wadi temple in Thika, and the lush
green lawns are teeming with guests. On inquiry about the whereabouts of the
bride, one guest quietly explained.
"At this moment the bride’s people are gathered on the other side of the
temple, and only the groom’s people are at this end."
And within a few minutes we locate Sheetal looking elegant and almost regal
in her wedding dress that was a white and gold sari with beautiful
embroidery. She was carefully made up with stunning jewellery and gold
She greeted us with a radiant smile, explaining that her dressing, hairdo
and makeup started at 6am with the help of a lady specialized in preparing
brides for their big day.
The groom laughed merrily with his friends nearby, and had a symbolic
garland of flowers draped around his neck.
After a brief photo session, the ceremony began.
The hall is decorated with flowers, and the bride is escorted by her friends
to the front of the temple where the groom is seated.
The ceremony takes place in a canopy called a Mandap which represents the
The bride and groom go through a ritual that signifies
royal welcome to the family.
A priest facilitated the various stages involving a small fire, which is a
substitute for the sun and is the witness of the marriage.
Involved in the process of the blessings are the bride’s parents, her
siblings and cousins, and her uncles and aunts. Followed by those of the
Eventually they both recite vows and everybody takes an oath to support the
young couple in their new life together.
During the ceremony guests are served with fresh sugarcane juice by friends
of the couple.
A sumptuous vegetarian lunch followed at 3pm.
Then came the last part of the day called Vidai. It is usually an emotional
time called the bride’s farewell. This is when she leaves with the groom who
is now her husband to start her new role, and is now incorporated into his
Sheetal shed just a few tears.
" I feel sad to leave my family but I am also very happy because I have come
to love my in-laws and I already feel happy to be a part of the family."