Stories of a WorkforceTriangle IconTriangle Icon
Menu 1 Image

About Us

Houston Arts Alliance (HAA) is the local nonprofit arts and culture agency that enhances the city’s quality of life through advancing and investing in the arts and diverse cultural programming. The work of HAA encourages Houston’s development and shapes its global reputation by fostering tourism and supporting and promoting the city’s creative economy.

Menu 3 Image

Folklife + Civic Engagement

Houston Arts Alliance’s Folklife + Civic Engagement program identifies and honors the artistic and cultural traditions of the city’s tremendously diverse and various communities and works to address the needs of all residents through engagement, citizen-driven initiatives, and equitable community outcomes. The Folklife program has been in existence since 2010. The addition of Civic Engagement to its portfolio was enacted through an HAA bylaws change in 2016.

Menu 4 Image

Grants

Grants are a fundamental means of promoting excellence in the creative sector. On behalf of the City of Houston, HAA awards approximately 225 grants annually to nonprofit arts and cultural organizations and individual artists through a competitive grant allocation process.

Menu 5 Image

Capacity Building

Houston Arts Alliance provides voice and leadership through its support of arts organizations and individual artists with programs and services that help build and foster a vibrant and creative community—these programs and services help to ensure that the arts professionals’ creative contributions remain a vital part of community life across Houston and the region.

Menu 7 Image

Dialogues

As the designated, nonprofit local arts and culture agency, Houston Arts Alliance provides a public forum for arts and culture issues that our relevant to our community. Throughout the year, Houston Arts Alliance hosts conversations and panel discussions that are free and open to the public. HAA also periodically convenes the arts and culture field for special opportunities important to the sector.

Menu 8 Image

Research

Houston Arts Alliance continues to play an important role in arts and culture research projects, initiating and participating in studies that demonstrate the far-reaching impact of arts and culture on our economy and quality of life.

Menu 9 Image

Get Involved

Looking for a way to lend a hand? Investing in the arts and culture is an investment in the quality of life for all Houstonians. Join Houston Arts Alliance as a donor, member or volunteer!

Menu 10 Image

News

Houston Arts Alliance utilizes different vehicles to communicate with it diverse audiences, ranging from the city’s arts and culture community to residents to tourists. Find out more about HAA’s electronic newsletters and connect with us through social media. Our online Press Room provides resources for members of the media.

  • Anointed & Adorned
  • Meet The Couples
  • Wedding Preparations
  • The Wedding Ceremony
 

Anointed & Adorned

INDIAN WEDDINGS IN HOUSTON

Meera Desai in Wedding Veil

Publication Page Down Arrow

Every day the Houston metropolitan area is refreshed by immigrants from across the world who have chosen to make it their home, thus forming communities that expand the city’s cultural, linguistic and religious diversity and invigorate us all. Newer immigrant communities, such as the region’s growing Indian population, contribute surprising new elements to both everyday life and special events in the city. This exhibition explores one such instance of this and an extremely important one indeed.

Indian weddings are an extraordinary addition to Houston’s cultural palette, involving rituals and festivities that fuse music, dance, oral poetry, visual embellishment and culinary delicacies of all kinds. These elements recur in weddings worldwide, but the Indian celebrations are notably saturated with traditional art forms.

Image 1
Image 1

Henna, jewelry and flowers adorning the bride.
From the wedding of Pooja and Gautam Patankar.

Anointed and Adorned: Indian Weddings in Houston explores continuity and change in the artistry and festivity of Indian weddings in the metropolitan area. A complex mix of East and West, ancient and modern, Indian weddings here offer participants the opportunity to relish the traditions of the mother country performed with nuances that reflect a Western environment. They celebrate the beauty that resides in the old and accustomed, while enjoying the appeal of new additions and the unexpected embellishments to this already complex event.

An important characteristic of Indian weddings, however, both here and there, is that differ in their central emphasis from Western ones by emphasizing the relationship of families over couples. Despite the importance of the bride and groom in Indian ceremonies, their focus is really on the joining of two social worlds. Indian weddings anoint this communion and adorn this most important of ritual moments with a profusion of color, sound and sensation.

The video below demonstrates this. It documents the two pujas conducted by each of the families of Meera and Adip Desai

Pooja & Gautam

Pooja & Gautam Patankar’s pre wedding traditional ceremonies. Cinematography by Dylan Reid [Tall Productions]

The first half of the video shows the pujas done by both families to ask for blessings from their forefathers. Pujas to Ganesh are also performed, as he is the remover of obstacles. This is done to ensure the wedding runs smoothly.

The second half is the haldi ceremony. This is done in both families. It is an event where the maternal uncles and other relatives bless and anoint the bride and groom. A paste of turmeric (haldi) is applied to their foreheads with this ritual the bride and groom are blessed by all the relatives gathered.

It is believed that haldi wards away evil eyes, it is an antiseptic, purifies the skin, and is an auspicious color.

It is also said that after the haldi ceremony, the man and woman are transformed. Officially, they are now the bride and groom and are not allowed to leave the house until the day of the wedding.

Meet The Couples

 

The story was each couple’s wedding is, of course, unique. But throughout the project they expressed similar ideas about their weddings, especially in relation to preserving and changing the marital traditions they knew and the values they represented. From their vantage as the children of immigrants (or in Tom Lang’s case, as initially a complete stranger to Indian wedding practices), these couples have a very marked sense of the differences between their parents’ approach to weddings and their own, transnational experiences.

 Image

Pooja Patankar comments on the different standards for a successful wedding event in Indian culture by noting their comparatively casual and sometimes chaotic character, even in the midst of the ceremony, in comparison to the more strict formality of Western weddings. 

 Image

Alka Tripathy notes that Indian weddings are not as centered on the bridal couple as in the Western tradition (of special import because this was new to her non-Indian husband-to-be), as they are the comfort of and concern for guests and participants.

 Image

An extension of this is Meera Desai’s discussion of Indian weddings as expressing the importance of family and being surrounded by their love.

Wedding Preparations

 

The Shringar

 

In reality, Indian bridal attire and adornment vary greatly throughout India and these regional differences show up in Houston as well; nevertheless, all the Indian weddings share certain elements. The shringar or rites of adornment that constitute the bride’s preparation for the wedding begin a few days before the ceremony. The artful application of henna in intricate designs, known as mehendi, commence the transformation of a young woman into a bride. 

 Image

Audio: Mehendi, or henna, being applied to the hands of Meera Desai by Soniya Gheewala-Ekici.

Shringar (Mehendi Closeup)
Shringar (Mehendi Feet Closeup)
Shringar (Mehendi Feet)
Shringar (Mehendi Hands and Feet)
leftArrow
rightArrow

Shringar (Mehendi Closeup)

Shringar (Mehendi Feet Closeup)

Shringar (Mehendi Feet)

Shringar (Mehendi Hands and Feet)

Mehendi is applied on the hands and arms and feet. The bride receives the most elaborate treatment but female friends and family also enjoy having it applied in a bridal salon-style gathering, offering an opportunity for the bride and close friends to visit before the onslaught of guests.

Shringar (Pooja Sari)
Shringar (Pooja)
Shringar (Pooja Hair)
leftArrow
rightArrow

Shringar (Pooja Sari)

Shringar (Pooja)

Shringar (Pooja Hair)

Distinctive attire, like the white Konkani sash worn here by Pooja Patankar, is a signal of membership in a particular community. Wanting to honor her mother’s roots, she chose to wear it for her Houston wedding.

Shringar (Meera veil)
Shringar (Meera veil)
Shringar (Meera veil)
leftArrow
rightArrow

Shringar (Meera veil)

Shringar (Meera veil)

Shringar (Meera veil)

Meera Desai undertakes the final step in preparations for the wedding – the veil that caps her bridal outfit is placed on her head -- marking the moment of a woman’s complete readiness for the wedding ritual. 

The Baraat

The baraat initiates the groom’s public participation in the upcoming wedding. It is a procession by the groom -- mounted on an elephant or a horse or in a fancy car -- to the site of the impending wedding and to greet his future in-laws. 

 Image

Gautam Patankar pictured on horseback.


Traditional Baraat Standard Song "Mehendi laga Ke Rakhna" - Red Baraat.

 Image

Tom Lang speaks about his experience with the baraat.

During the baraat the groom is escorted by friends and family, who announce their approval symbolically by dancing their way to a place where the two sets of parents meet. Accompanied by the rhythm of the dhol (drum) and, often, the contemporary beats of Bollywood music, the groom is greeted by the crowd. This short, joyous journey begins the joining of two families.  

Accompanied by the rhythm of the dhol (drum) and, often, the contemporary beats of Bollywood music, the groom is greeted by the crowd.
 

Baraat (Gautam and his father)
Baraat (Gautam and his mother)
Baraat (Gautam and his mother)
leftArrow
rightArrow

Baraat (Gautam and his father)

Baraat (Gautam and his mother)

Baraat (Gautam and his mother)

Gautam Patankar greeted by the bride’s parents holding the platter known as the thali.

The Baraat
The Baraat

Pooja thali dish

The thali usually holds a sweet, a water element, kumkum or chandan (sandalwood paste), raw rice coloured red, and flowers. The Thali is carried by the mother of the bride and is used to welcome the groom into the family. Anointing him with sandal paste, rose water and flowers, in turn, the groom offers a sweet to the parents of the bride. After the bride’s parents welcome the groom inside the hall and ask him to marry their daughter. By anointing him, they elevate the groom to the status of MahaVishnu a diefied Hindu incarnation, the highest honor for a man.

The Wedding Ceremony

 

Indian weddings are notably diverse from one region to another, from one family to the next. Still, the core of Hindu rites rooted in the Rig Veda connects all the ceremonies and spells out its significance. The Pandit (or spiritual leader) who performed these rites at the wedding of Alka Tripathy and Tom Lang explains below some of the sources of these differences.

 Image

Alka and Tom pictured with the Christian pastor and the Hindu pandit who performed their ceremony. Audio recording of Pandit Gamgatikar Patmakur speaks on the nature of the contemporary Hindi ceremony.

Wedding planner Therese Cole-Hubbs of Electric Karma, who works with a large Indian clientele in the Houston area, has witnessed the cross-cultural challenges involved in organizing a wedding whose traditions are not familiar to many of the guests. She speaks of this below.

 Image

Guests gathered in a ballroom for the lengthy wedding ceremony

The descriptions or abbreviated versions of the Sanskrit ceremony are often detailed in elaborate printed programs distributed at event to explain its numerous elements to the multicultural attendees. 

Alka and Tom wedding invites
Alka and Tom wedding invites
Alka and Tom wedding invites
leftArrow
rightArrow

Alka and Tom wedding Invites

Alka and Tom wedding invites

Alka and Tom wedding invites

Mandap
Mandap
leftArrow
rightArrow

Meera & Shawn

Pooja & Gautam

The ceremonial portion of the wedding always takes place in a traditional structure erected for the occasion known as a mandap.

Each individual service strings together many different symbolic elements and can expand or contract according to the desires of the participants and the ethnic or regional traditions they observe. This section of the exhibition explores five significant elements of the Hindu ceremony that are usually included in all Indian weddings, whether they are celebrated in Houston or not: the Anterpat, Kanyadaan, Mangalsutra, Pheras and Saptapadi. These are often the very elements that the wedding booklets outline and explain.

The Anterpat is a screen that symbolizes the still separate lives of the bride and groom; when that screen is lowered, the couple is garlanded in a gesture that signifies their union.

Anterpat
Anterpat
Anterpat
leftArrow
rightArrow

Gautam

Pooja

Pooja and Gautam

The Kanyadaan is the part of the ceremony in which the water flowing from the hand of the bride’s mother to her husband’s palm to that of the groom and then on to the bride herself signifies the transition of their daughter to the role of a wife and the blessing of this new relationship.

Kanyadaan
Kanyadaan

Groom, bride and her parents perform the kanyadaan.

The Mangulsutra is the wedding necklace (which functions like a ring in Western weddings) rests on a coconut, until the groom affixes it on the bride as a metaphor for the bond into which the couple has now entered.

Mangulstra
Mangulstra
Mangulstra
leftArrow
rightArrow

Meera & Shawn

Pooja & Gautam

Pooja & Gautam

The Pheras is a process in which the couple circles the havan (a ceremonial fire) seeking the promise of righteousness, prosperity, love and spiritual enlightenment in their life ahead. 

Phaeras
Phaeras

The havan.

The Saptapadi are the seven steps, literally, that the couple take to represent metaphorical vows (partnership, inseperability, unification, joyfulness, stability, among others) that they share upon entering married life.

Saptapadi
Saptapadi
Saptapadi
leftArrow
rightArrow

Pooja & Gautam

Alka & Tom

Alka & Tom

While this exhibition is intended to examine how a tradition can change in a new environment while preserving its core, it is also something of a primer. Like all rituals, the wedding in any culture is always a dramatic composition, replete with expressive elements and rich meaning. Anointed and Adorned explores a sample of these theatrical aspects of the tradition, especially the heightened and artful enactments associated wedding preparations and practices, and the significant ritual moments connected to the actual ceremony.

The couples whose weddings form the basis of the exhibition are the dramatis personae, sharing insights and observations on their adherence to tradition and their decisions to innovate. Their friends, family and collaborators assisted in the process of telling what still remains an immensely complex and intensely cultural narrative overall, but one that is at the same time absolutely unique and completely personal to each of the couples. In each case, whether speaking of tradition or questioning its role, we learned from their considerations.

Research and documentation for this exhibition was conducted by photographer Sohil Maknojia and researcher Rati Ramadas Girish. All photography on this page is by Sohil Maknojia (unless otherwise noted) at the weddings of Alka Tripathy and Tom Lang, Meera and Adip Desai, and Pooja and Gautam Patankar. All interviews were conducted with participants in those weddings. In the inclusive and community-minded spirit of the Indian wedding tradition, this project was welcomed into the celebrants’ community and we are immensely thankful for that. The video of pre wedding pujas was conducted and edited by Dylan Reid of Tall Productions.

Anointed and Adorned: Indian Weddings in Houston was presented by the Follklife + Civic Engagement Program of the Houston Arts Alliance: Pat Jasper, director; Angel Quesada, program manager. It was a part of the Remembered, Regained: Immigrant Arts of Houston series.

Special thanks to Carl Lindahl, University of Houston and the Asian American Studies Program at the University of Houston.

Sponsor Strip
Sponsor Strip