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The Indian Wedding, a Modern Marvel

Planning a wedding? Whether you're the bride-to-be, her mother or any other participant, organizer or subsidizer of these complicated, expensive and emotional events, it may help to hear about the wedding I attended last year. Your life will seem, suddenly, simple and uncomplicated, your guest list meager, your catering bill reasonable.

On Nov. 27, 2003, a day picked as auspicious by Hindu astrologers, India's capital city, New Delhi hosted 14,000 weddings. (It hosted the same number again for the next two days in a row!)

Today's urban Indian weddings are a picture of national and international integration. In earlier times brides and bridegrooms would be of the same caste, perhaps the same geographic state and most assuredly the same religion. Modernization of thought and tradition, socioeconomic factors and a prosperous middle class have changed this. And nowhere are these changes more evident than in the wedding feasts. From exotic to authentic, from regional to international, the wedding banquets are truly spectacular.

Armed with every single piece of formal clothing I owned, I attended a week-long, 15-event family wedding in Delhi, culminating with the wedding ceremony itself on that very lucky day. Wedding guests, flying in from five continents, swelled to the thousands. (Wedding invitations, in parts of India, are often addressed to family, friends and even friends of friends. The hosts consider it an insult if you do not bring along a huge group to the wedding.)

Breakfasts, lunches and dinners were seamlessly coordinated for hundreds of people and their chauffeurs and servants. Each event (sometimes there were four a day) required a unique feast and decor not to mention new outfits, shoes, diamonds and other finery for those attending these celebrations. The menus were dictated by the religious theme of the event or the whim of the bride. Chefs and cooks were ferried in from other cities in India, along with their own mobile kitchens, haandis (cooking vessels), enormous tandoors (clay ovens) and troupes of helpers.

The festivities for this North Indian Hindu wedding began at the bride's home on Saturday, Nov. 22, five days before the wedding, with a prayer ceremony. Hindu scriptures dictate the food for this occasion be free from garlic and onion (known in ancient times as aphrodisiacs) to maintain its purity. The vegetarian menu featured more than 30 choices, ranging from velvety tomato soup tempered with mustard seeds to a creamy peas and almond curry.

The next three nights seemed like one long endless party. At "cocktail dinners" you had your choice of eight different pastas (farfelle to fettucini) topped with five different toppings and served with one of four different sauces (spinach, mornay, mushroom or arabiata). A more adventurous cocktail menu featured the Swiss specialty rosti: potatoes were shredded, sauteed until golden brown and then served with generous amounts of cheese. At another station at the same party, lovers of Indian food could sample Kathal Biryani, a rice dish layered with curried jackfruits, or the Dal Khushk Punjabi, a creamy combination of lentils simmered for more than eight hours. Or (ignoring Dr. Atkins) a guest could head straight to the bread counter for a choice of cumin, mint, butter or even chocolate-laced Indian breads prepared in the tandoor by chefs flown in from the Indian city of Meerut.

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