Choosing a wedding date in Nepal—the small mountainous country nestled in between China and India—has always been a big deal. Across the world, to the annoyance of couples everywhere, “What’s the date?” is often the first question after the engagement is announced. And while in the United States, the couple may talk to family and friends regarding their availability and check to see if their first-choice venue has already been booked, in Nepal, an astrologer makes this major decision. “Back when marriages were almost all arranged, the astrologer would look at each person’s chart and based on the placement of the sun and the moon at the time of their births, an auspicious date would be chosen,” explains Sneha Shrestha, the founder of Sight Impact, a company that provides bespoke travel experiences to Nepal. Sneha was married a few years back in a traditional seven-day Nepalese wedding, and has also been to her fair share of friends’ and family members’ celebrations. “These days an astrologer might come up with a few auspicious dates,” she says. “And then, the couple’s families pick one.”
While choosing a wedding date with an astrologer is a common thread through most Nepalese weddings, beyond that, they are as varied as the Nepalese people. “Nepal is a mosaic of culture, religion, language, and tradition. With a population split between a variety of tribes and ethnic affiliations, there is no single wedding style or practice,” writes Nadya Agrawal in “The Essential Guide to Nepali Weddings.” Hinduism and Buddhism are the most widely practiced religions in Nepal, but the engagement and wedding traditions in each can differ greatly. For most Nepali couples who are not of the same faith, they pick and choose what they want to include, creating their own traditions. Though love marriages are much more popular than they once were, arranged marriages are also still quite common, and caste generally determines these matches in rural parts of the country. Despite the variety of cultures in Nepal and the different kinds of marriages, Nepali weddings remain constant in one thing: color. “Red and green are the dominant hues in Nepali weddings, speaking to love, vitality, and tradition,” writes Agrawal.
Sneha’s friend Aditi Rana Shahi, a program associate at Practical Action South Asia, was wed in an arranged marriage this past February. Meanwhile, Sneha’s cousin, Akriti Shrestha, who now works as a psychologist in Australia, married an Indian man from Jaipur the same month. Both weddings took place in Nepal and neither was short on vibrant color, but while one was a by-the-book union set up by the bride and the groom’s parents, the other was a complete melding of two different cultures. We sent photographer Matthieu Paley to document the two celebrations.
Aditi’s Hindu marriage to her now-husband Prabodh Shahi was completely arranged by their parents. For a long time, tradition dictated that the bride and the groom couldn’t see each other at all before they married, but in some areas, families are now allowing the couple to set a date to meet and talk before the actual wedding. This couple met two years before their big day. “Prabodh and I were introduced for the first time on March 4, 2015. As it was an arranged marriage, we were made to meet through an aunt who was known to both of us,” explains Aditi.
Before the wedding there was a sangeet—which translates to “music night” or “musical party.” This is where both the bride and the groom’s families let their hair down and mingle before the wedding in a relaxed environment. At Aditi’s sangeet, she wore a lehenga, or a long embroidered and pleated skirt that is secured at the waist and leaves the lower back and midriff bare, and she and Prabodh performed a few Bollywood songs.
At the swayambar, priests from both the bride and groom’s sides were present to conduct the traditional Hindu ceremony that would officially marry the couple. Aditi and Prabodh sat next to each other, but on separate mats, as the priests began the series of rituals by performing a puja or ceremony. The couple then exchanged garlands. Later, Aditi sat while Prabodh put red vermilion pigment along the part in her hair three times. She then made seven statements or vows before taking a seat on the left side of Prabodh. A priest concludes the ceremony by reciting a hymn saying that all assembled wish the couple good luck and prosperity.
A few days later, Prabodh traveled from his home to Aditi’s in the evening. Called the janti, this officially kicked off the wedding festivities and these processions often look downright cinematic. Typically, the groom travels in either a decorated car or horse-drawn carriage—Prabodh made the trip by car—accompanied by family members, friends, and often a band, wearing a new outfit, a tika, and a garland of flowers and dubo or durva grass, which is a symbol of long life. Once Prabodh arrived, the bride’s parents, relatives, and friends welcomed him.
“The next morning, rituals started at 4:00 a.m.,” remembers Aditi. Kanya Daan is also known as “the giving away of the bride,” and it includes that last rituals that take place at the bride’s house before she goes with the procession to the groom’s house.
“At noon, we headed back to Prabodh’s place for the first time,” says Aditi. The return procession or janti upto of the bride and groom is similar to the janti of the groom, but the bride and members of her family now join the procession with a brass band taking the lead. Once at the house, relatives and friends were treated to a traditional type of feast called bjoh to celebrate the marriage.
A reception was later hosted by Prabodh’s family at Hotel Annapurna, located in the heart of Kathmandu. “The food was a mix of Indian and Chinese, keeping the Nepalese palate in mind,” explains Aditi. “The party carried on until very late with music and drinks. Prabodh and I had had a long day. We were really tired so we ended up leaving the venue at 11:00 p.m.” Two weeks after the wedding, the couple travelled to Bali for their honeymoon.
Akriti’s relationship started out very differently. She met Saumitra Dixit, an IT analyst, in Australia through a mutual friend. They kept their relationship platonic for a year before they eventually started dating, and the two saw each other for five years before things became more serious. “It was less of a proposal and more of a mutual decision after dating for five years to make it official,” says Akriti. “He did, however, get down on his knee in front of all of our guests during the engagement ceremony, though.”
Akriti always knew she wanted to get married at home Kathmandu—“I have beautiful memories there.” Her wedding started with three days of both Nepali and Indian traditions in Kathmandu and the festivities continued in Jaipur. All of the Nepali ceremonies were conducted and many Indian traditions were incorporated as well.
During the sangeet, toasts were given and the newlyweds did their first dance to a Bollywood song from the movie Baar Baar Dekho: “Nachde Ne Saare.” “There were choreographed performances, speeches by my parents, a friend from Australia, and Sam’s cousins,” remembers Akriti.?“A friend served as emcee and did a good job of telling the guests our?‘stories’ when he introduced us.?There was a dance party at the end with family members young and old and friends from all over the world grooving to English, Nepali, and Hindi songs.”??The ceremony was long and emotional. “Since we combined Indian and Nepali traditions, it was even more drawn-out than usual,” explains Akriti. “But it was interesting for my family to witness the Indian ceremonies, like walking around the fire and reciting vows, and for Sam’s family to be a part of some of the Nepali rituals. The latter part of the ceremony was extremely emotional for me, especially when my family provided me with blessings and gifts. This almost signifies a goodbye as the bride then leaves the house and goes to the groom’s house—which for me was across international borders.”