Of all the Indian wedding traditions I have covered in the last few years, the Buddhist wedding in Ladakh was definitely one of the most interesting ones, and is featured in my book ‘Behind The Indian Veil – A Journey Through Weddings in India’.
Ladakh weddings are not the regular Indian weddings the way many of us imagine. There is no priest, no pandit, no lama to manage this affair. It is a social gathering the like of which is hard to imagine.
Bagston – The Ladakhi Buddhist Wedding
In the outskirts of Leh, the old capital of the Himalayan kingdom of Ladakh, and facing the famous Thiksey monastery, a huge tent was erected. Small tables, beautiful example of the Ladakhi tradition of wood carving, were placed for the guests. Sitting is on the floor and butter tea, a must-have in Ladakh, is served to all.
The couple, Phuntsog Tashi and his wife Angmo, have actually been together for more than ten years at the time of this wedding, and had two children together, a nine year-old daughter, and a four year-old son. The children attended their parents wedding.
This, I was told, is not so unusual in Ladakh as a wedding is a much simpler event than it is in other places. A couple does not need a third person, a priest or a Lama, to solemnize the wedding. It is a simple case of making a decision and seeking parents approval. Later on, and this could be a month, a year, or more, after they have decided, the pressure will start coming from the neighbors and family that wish to bless the couple. They will then organize a ‘Bagston’. The couple will wear the traditional Ladakhi outfit. Ladakhi women wear an attractive headgear called ‘perak’, made of black lamb skin studded with semi precious turquoise stones, covering the head like a cobra’s hood and tapering to a thin tail reaching down the back. For ceremonial purposes, colourful robes in silk and brocade are worn.
The village people come to celebrate and witness this union by adorning the couple and their immediate relatives with the sacred scarf, the ‘Kathak’ as a symbolic gesture saying “we are witnesses to your marriage”.
Traditional songs are played and the dance goes on for hours; slow, calm, and beautiful. ‘Chang’ the local barley alcohol will be served later in the day and brings extra laughter to this anyway happy crowd. Nothing loud and fancy like a wedding in any other place I’ve ever been.
The party started in the late morning and went on till the afternoon when the guests have left to return to their homes in the village for a little break. Everyone returned in the evening for another round of the same thing and a chance for the people that did not give the ‘Katakh’ to do so.
The guests bring presents. It is mainly cash money in small amounts, butter, sugar, wool, and other useful gifts that are carefully registered is a dedicated notebook so that they could be returned with interest when the time comes. This is a way to collect the village ‘loan’ for the young couple to help them start a new life. Later on, when they are financially stronger, they will return this loan little by little to all the people that came to their Bagston as return gifts to the giving family at their own bagston.
After more than six years and almost fifty thousand pictures of weddings in India, my latest book project ‘Behind The Indian veil – A Journey Through Weddings in India’ is completed. It is an exquisite coffee table book filled with breathtaking photographs of wedding rituals in India and the astonishing stories behind them.
I have published books in the past but I now wish to take a new route for publishing and not go through the industry channels. This would be somewhat like producing my own music album and not go through the big record companies. For this purpose I have just launched a crowd funding campaign and I need your support in the final stages of production. You have an opportunity to be a part of a great project and pre-order your copy of the book. Even a very small contribution is a great help.
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