My first Indian wedding….Its my last real day in Madurai today, this afternoon I head to a place just north of here called Cesci (a project training centre) for a couple of days of peace and tranquility. After the dirt, dust and pushy men of Madurai I'm looking forward to a few days of being surrounded by the lush green hills and calm that lie just outside the city. Before I leave I had to fill you in on my day yesterday…..When I came to India I really hoped that I'd get to see an Indian wedding. They always look so colourful and fabulous in contrast to the ceremonious affairs we have back home. Over the last few months I've been shown a lot of wedding photos by proud mothers and seen lots of invitations lying about on desks; You can't miss Indian wedding invitations, they are huge, shiny, usually a combination of two bright and clashing colours.Anyway, last week I finally got an OTT invite all of my own! The daughter of one of the workers at the ASSEFA education office (where I have been helping for the last few days) was getting married and I was kindly invited along. I asked so many questions before I left the office that evening; are there any colours I shouldn't wear, should I bring a gift…..the last thing I wanted to do was to come across as rude or a total embarrassment! But I was told there were no formalities and I should just come along and watch. So yesterday I put on my smartest salwar kameese, some dangly earrings and newly acquired payal (silver ankle bracelets), my non-dusty sandals and I even pinned some jasmine in my hair as is the custom here in South India (Just as an aside all the women and girls here adorn their hair with flowers. Not for any special occasion, most do it daily, it is so pretty!). I arrived at the wedding with some other workers from the ASSEFA office but it wasn't hard to spot where the wedding was taking place, a big colourful pagoda had been erected and adorned with balloons and streamers and the names of the bride and groom - Manikumaran and Sasikala - had been plastered in big luminous letters over the doorway. On walking in I was blessed with a tilak - a holy hindu mark on your forehead in powder dye - and greeted by the mother of the bride before entering into a massive marriage hall that reminded me slightly of my old school hall filled with rows and rows of plastic garden chairs. Traditional music was blaring out from a band in the corner and there was a general feeling of commotion; lots of people, lots of colours, lots of talking, babies crying. I couldn't help but compare it to the silent and dignified way guests filter into a church for a western style wedding, but this is India and nothing happens discreetly or quietly! In a way it was refreshing that there was no pomp and circumstance, everyone seemed happy and relaxed.I took my seat with the ASSEFA staff and luckily had Vasantha-ji, the lady that has been looking after my programme in Madurai, sitting next to me to explain all the goings on. On the stage were two holy men from the Brahmin caste, they were sat cross legged facing each other surrounded by flowers, offerings, incense, plastic bags….they also had an empty pot in between them in which to light the marriage fire. During the ceremony a fire is lit by the holy men that signifies the union of the couple.There was no stand up and weep moment during the ceremony like when the bride walks down the aisle of a church and everyone stands up in silence, the music, chatting and commotion carried on throughout as the ceremony went on. Some people were just sitting chatting and laughing away between themselves and seemed almost oblivious to the marriage, which was a little odd!The priests on stage lit the fire, throwing in leaves and oils and other things whilst saying some prayers and mantras. Then, the bride groom was brought out said his vows and blessings and then went back into the side room he'd come from. Then the bride Sasikila came out of a room on the other side and did the same. She was wearing a deep yellow coloured sari and was adorned top to toe in crystals, everything from her head dress to her bangles sparkled out from the stage. From her hair there was a long pendulum-shaped headdress of flowers hanging down her back. After saying her vows Saskila went back to her room and then both Sasikila and Manikumaran came out of their rooms and went through a series of vows and blessings together (at this point I should also mention there were always a crowd of other people on the stage, parents, sisters, brothers, aunts, uncles, but I couldn't quite keep track of who they all were!).During the next stage of the ceremony the bride and groom didn't seem to look at each other at all. At a western wedding you have the moment of union where you see the couple look into each others eyes and make their vows to each other. This was very different and as if the couple were going through the ceremony side by side but not really together. At this point the busiest people were the holy men that kept instructing the couple of what to do and say as they hurried themselves with the fire and the blessings and offerings.I'm sorry if this is sounding confused by that is exactly how the experience felt - very confusing! - I couldn't quite keep on track of everything that was going on. After what, I think, was the moment of union the couple were both given garlands of flowers to wear around their neck and then there was a point when they had to walk round the marriage fire (with their brother and sister in laws as well) with their hands entwined in a cloth. In the mean time all the guests were given blessed rice and flowers and then the music reached a high pitch, drums were banging and the couple stood still as everyone threw their handfuls of rice at the stage. At the same moment a massive popper went off in several explosions that showered the guests with huge GM-sized confetti.After this high the couple again went off to their separate rooms before coming back on stage again so guests could come and greet them and give them gifts.And that was it. The musicians packed up and people gradually left the hall and went on with their day (the wedding was at 10am in the morning) as the family carried on with their more intimate celebrations. There was food offered afterwards but I was taken off by Vasantha-ji to another wedding reception to have lunch. This time the young couple (the son of ASSEFA's auditor and his new wife) had got married in Chennai a few days before but were having a reception in Madurai. There was the same process of queueing up to pay regards to the couple and give gifts and then the meal was served. It was a canteen style affair with rows of dining hall tables and chairs, plastic palm leaf plates and rice and curry and other treats served out of big metal buckets. It was all really tasty but actually felt more like going for a school dinner than a wedding luncheon! By yesterday afternoon I was well and truly wedding-ed out!!It was a great experience seeing an Indian wedding and really highlighted how both Indians and westerners go over the top with weddings in their own way. In India everything is extreme; the size, the colours, the noise, but they do seem to be very open affairs that everyone from your best friend to the random English girl that is working with your mum attends. I thought this was kind of nice, there is no guest-list slashing or table arrangement stress, its a totally free-for-all celebration. In the west everything is planned to perfection, the whole occasion is more ceremonious, tasteful (if that's the right word) and expensive! Everything is considered from the hymns, to the wine list and what songs the band are going to play. So, in our own very different way we go over the top too! I guess with the riot of colours and sounds and people and commotion Indian weddings are very, well, Indian!!