Attending a Sri Lankan Muslim wedding reception

Last night we had the honor of attending the wedding reception hosted by of one of my senior colleagues. It was a lovely party, complete with dinner for approximately 300 people, held at one of the best hotels in Kandy.

I have not written anything to this point in my blog about the ethnicity of my physics colleagues. I have not done so because ethnicity really has not played any important role in department affairs that I can see. I have colleagues who are Sinhalese, Muslim, and Tamil. I have students who are Sinhalese, Muslim, and Tamil. So far as I can tell, after two months of being part of the department, all are treated equally.

I only mention the fact that it was a Muslim wedding reception because I imagine that customs may differ between different ethnic groups and so I do not know what aspects of the reception may be specifically Muslim and what aspects are common to all, or to many, Sri Lankan communities.

One interesting thing in Sri Lanka is that civil law, but not criminal law, varies by community. Laws relating to marriage and land ownership, for example, come in four “flavors”: Sinhalese, Kandyan, Muslim, and Tamil. Before entering into a legal agreement, the parties agree on which set of laws will govern the agreement.

The wedding is actually a two part affair. The actual, legal, wedding took place a week ago. The actual wedding is a small, intimate affair with only  family and close friends in attendance. About a week later, there is the “homecoming” reception, to which the families invite their larger circle of friends. Our Western logic assumed that the week in between was the honeymoon, but we were wrong. In fact, the couple indicated that they were still deciding where to go on their honeymoon.

Kris chose this occasion to wear her new sari for the first time. Putting on a sari by oneself is not for the beginner. Kris arranged for one of our neighbors to come over to help. That turned out to be a lesson in itself, because our neighbor was expert at wearing a sari in the Kandyan style, but Kris had decided that the Indian style of wearing the sari would be more fitting for her. Fortunately, our neighbor’s sister was visiting, and she is more expert with the Indian style ans she agreed to come over and help.

The women seemed to have a good time as I heard many eruptions of giggles as the process proceeded. I was called out to view the results. Kris looked beautiful in the sari, almost as if she were born to wear the sari. I learned that the sari does not just get thrown on. Rather each pleat and fold is carefully pinned into place. Mostly with numerous invisible pins, but even a decorative pin that was affixed to the sari where a man would wear a military medal was used to hold in place the end of the sari that is “thrown” (hah!) over the shoulder. The sari itself was made of beautiful handwoven cotton cloth that Kris purchased in a state-owned store that employs local craftspeople. Kris received many compliments on the sari at the reception.

We arrived at the hotel about five minutes before the scheduled start time of 7:30PM. We were among the first to arrive. There was a large, golden, love seat surrounded by an extravagant display of flowers across from the entry door. To the left and right of the entry, there were large groups of round tables set for the dinner to come, with about equal numbers of tables on either side.  We were clearly clueless and some of the other early arrivals graciously invited us to sit. However, when we approached a table on the left side of the entry, we were gently told that, if we wanted to sit together, we should sit at a table on the other side of the entry, which we did. And so it turned out that the vast majority of the guests divided themselves so that woman gathered at tables on one side of the entry and men on the other, with the few couples wishing to sit together sitting on the men’s side of the ballroom.

We arbitrarily sat at a table on the men’s side of the ballroom and watched as the other guests arrived. Our table of seven was filled out by those members of the department that attended without their spouses, generally for lack of a babysitter at home. Our host, my senior colleague, appeared and went from table to table warmly welcoming each and every guest. In this, he was ably assisted by two of his sons who admirably performed the role of gracious hosts. After everyone had been made to feel welcome, our host reappeared again with his other son, the bridegroom. The bridegroom was accompanied by two young men that I took to play the same role as that of a Western “best man.” This group went from table to table exchanging greetings and best wishes with all the guests. Again, each and every guest was made to feel very welcome.

Then came a huge dinner. Water, a fruit drink, and a soft drink, along with several side dishes had been pre-positioned on the table before the guests had arrived. Now, a large platter of rice with chunks of meat and vegetables was placed at the center of each table. We helped ourselves from the platter using a small plate as a scoop. Everyone ate with their fingers in Sri Lankan style, though Kris, having a little less practice than I, chose to take advantage of the spoon and fork offered to us in consideration of the fact that we were Westerners. Everything was delicious, one of the best meals I have had in Sri Lanka. In particular, the chicken side dish had a wonderful, spicy, dry rub, but really everything was very well prepared.

In Sri Lanka, the evening generally ends at the conclusion of the meal. In the US, we are used to socializing both before and after dinner, but here, the socializing is done before dinner. With the meal concluded, people got up to say their goodbyes to their hosts. My colleague took us to meet the bride before we left. She was lovely. She was wearing elaborate and beautiful clothes for which I have no names. Her hands were covered in elaborate designs done in henna. We posed with the bride and groom for the official wedding photographers.

The evening ended about 9:30PM. Our coach and four arrived to pick us up, but apparently at the stroke of 9:30PM it changed back into a tuk-tuk, still driven, fortunately, by our loyal driver NS.

Tim

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2 Comments

  1. Kara said,

    January 8, 2009 at 3:10 am

    So I’m dying to see pictures of Kris in her sari!

  2. June 17, 2009 at 6:18 pm

    […] sari. The occasion was the homecoming following the marriage of Professor Careem’s son that I wrote about in December. Without further ado: Kris in sari at homecoming […]


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