Wednesday, March 9, 2022

A Hindu Wedding in Pearland, Texas

Our very dear friend and family doctor, Dr. Parul Patel's son Ryan is getting married in a Hindu ceremony. We were invited. Being our first time to attend a Hindu weeding, we are excited.

A typical Hindu wedding ceremony can last for days, but being near Houston, Texas where everything is rush, rush, rush, this affair was condensed to a day and half wedding. Starting Friday night with a Henna for the groom's family and friends. Well for the family's female friends, the men mainly stood around and enjoyed the cocktails and food.

What is Henna, other than a dye made from the henna tree? Today, Henna is applied in celebration of special occasions such as weddings and birthdays in the joyous gathering of people. The Henna paste symbolizes good health and prosperity in marriage, in some cultures, the darker the henna stain, the deeper the love between two individuals. 

A henna artist is hired to apply the designs for the ladies. 

Though the henna ink may look black in this photo, the ink dries quickly and flakes off, 
leaving a light brown stain design on the skin. The intricate design will darken on its own over the next few days, then fade away within a week. So the patterns applied Friday night will be very evident for the ceremony the next afternoon.

The Henna artist created beautiful designs on the ladies hands. Some wanted a simple motif, 
others desired something quite elaborate. A few brought design ideas with them on their iPhones, asking the artist to recreate them.

As the ink is applied wet, one must be very careful not to touch anything until it has dried, or it will smear. As it dries, it turns to a crusty dust and falls off, leaving the ink design on the skin. Over the next several days, the design will darken with a wonderful warm tone, only to disappear completely within a week. In the photo above, one can see the intricate henna designs mirrors the intricate designs on this lady's clothing and jewelry. All very much a part of the Indian culture.

Below:  Meena had both sides of her hands done, so she cannot touch anything until it completely dries. She tries to maneuver a straw with her mouth to take a sip of water without touching the straw or the cup.


The following afternoon, Saturday, was the three hour wedding ceremony in the Sri Meenakshi Temple in Pearland, Texas. Said to be the first Hindu temple built in the Unites States. Palatial in structure with architecture common in southern India, the Sri Meenakshi temple is the only one of its kind outside of India dedicated to Meenakshi, the goddess of marriage. 

Though a long drive to reach the temple, it only makes sense to have this important event here. Many do not realize that it can be a hundred mile drive from one side of the Houston metroplex to the other side. 

Actually four Hindu Gods are honored here at Sri Mannakshi.  Stepping inside the main temple which is centered within a large walled compound, you will see homages to Shiva, Meenakshi, Vishnu and Lakshmi.

The white structures are part of the inner buildings while the beige facade is the outer wall. 

Set apart from the main temple area, is a smaller venue reserved for intimate weddings. 
Here we will enter to participate.

Shoes are forbidden inside the temple. Hats are okay. 
Note the pair of cowboy boots in the shoe rack... only in Texas.

The stage is set, guests are gathering, let's go in. 


 Will attempt to relate an understanding of the various steps and traditions of a Hindu wedding, which are quite elaborate to say the least.

The principal activities of the wedding ceremony will take place under the yellow and red canopy (Mandap) lead by the local swamis (priest).

The slightly elevated, draped Mandap (wedding dais) is erected in front of the invitees so all may witness the ceremony. The groom Ryan, proceeds to the front with his family and friends where it all begins...

The elder walking towards us in the aisle is a close family relative. Ryan its standing just to the left of the Mandap.

Swagatam - Welcoming of the groom with a Puja (worship ceremony), 
then Ryan is to step on an earthen pot, breaking it, symbolizing he will not allow any obstacle to come between him and his bride.
(Note: the bride is still not present for this portion of the ceremony)

Now under the Mandap, Ryan is further welcomed by family (Var Puja) by paying their respects as the groom is believed to take the symbolic form of Vishnu, the Hindu God of Preservation. 

The swamis, partially seen here dressed in orange will lead the prayers and chants through out the ceremony. 

Ganesh Puja - Every auspicious celebration begins with a Ganesh Puja. Ganesh, the Lord of Prosperity and Achievements, is invited to grace the occasion and bless the families to carry out all the rituals without any obstacles. 

Arrival of the Bride - Victoria
The bride is brought into the room, but not seated in the Mandap just yet.  She and her attendants patiently await to be invited in.

A veil (Antarpat) is held by family in front of Ryan, blocking his view while the bride is being escorted into the Mandap.  After more instruction and prayers from the swamis, the veil is brushed aside with great fanfare for the two may now view each other. The bride and groom exchange garlands. 

Note: I wonder if in times past when marriages were arranged, was this moment the first time the couple might actually see each other?

Kanyadan - Giving away the Bride
Victoria's hand is placed in Ryan's hand. The joining of hands symbolizes their joining as husband and wife. The groom's scarf and the wife's veil are tied together, symbolizing everlasting unity.

Agni Stapan and Manpal Phera - Fire ceremony and Circling the sacred fire.

The sacred fire, representing Agni - the god of fire - is lit to symbolize purity and to act as a witness to the union. The bride and groom circle the fire four times. Twice with the groom leading, then twice with the bride leading - offering rice grains to the fire each time.  Each circle represents one of the four aspects of married life: 
Djarma - Spiritual Duties, 
Artha - Personal Development, 
Karma - Positive Work and Actions believed to bring goodness to Life, 
Moksha - Liberation from Cycle of Death, Life and Re-birth.

Saptapadi - Seven Sacred Steps

The married couple then stand in front of the Mandap, where they will take seven steps in their new lives together. With each step taken in unison, the couple take vows before God and their community.

1rst Step: Together we shall share responsibility of our home and life.

2nd Step - Together we shall have trust and respect for each other, and live in harmony.

3rd Step - Together we shall fill our hearts with strength and courage.

4th Step - Together we shall acquire knowledge and wisdom.

5th Step - Together we shall love and care for our children, 
and keep our family happy, healthy and strong.

6th Step - Together we shall cherish and support each other in sickness 
and in health; in joy and sorrow.

7th Step - Together we shall remain lifelong partners and grow spiritually.

Mangal Sutra and Sindoor Dharan - Symbols of marriage. Ryan now adorns Victoria with the symbols of a married woman. He puts red vermillion powder (sindoor) on her forehead and ties a Mangal Sutra (wedding necklace) around her neck.

Akhand Saubhagyavati - Blessings from married women. Married females, relatives or friends whisper blessings in the bride's ears, offering advice and wishing the couple a long and happy married life. This is an important step in the ceremony as the groom's mother specifically requested multiple photos of this moment, which the main photographer took.

Aashirvad - Blessings from the family. The swamis prays for blessings from the Supreme Lord for the well-being of the newlyweds and for those assembled.

The swamis now proceeds to take the couple outdoors for additional teachings of spiritual direction and a life of worship.

A large portion of the ceremony is the swamis chanting, praying to the gods, asking for blessings on the couple, the attendees, teaching the couple about life, living together, accepting change, acknowledging higher spirits while honoring each other. 

The ceremony included many symbolic references fire, food, water, plants and life.
A great way to start a new life as husband and wife, honoring all living things and each other.

The attending audience are welcome to stand, walk around, talk, enjoy the food and drink in the adjoining room all the while the long ceremony is happening. 

The colorful sari's make for a happy joyous occasion. By the way, the colors black and white will not be seen at a Hindu wedding as they are associated with death. 

Before all departed for the reception, Amparo and I were able to have our photo taken with the newlyweds, Ryan and Victoria. We wish the bride and groom many, many years of happiness and joy as they now journey along life's path, hand in hand.

The party then continued at Ashai Indian restaurant/reception hall until the late hours of the evening.  Most likely it might have been me, the photographer, but those reception photos are all fuzzy...  and got fuzzzzzzzier as the night went on.

We greatly appreciated being invited to this family's joyous event, 
a new learning experience for us. 
One we will never forget. 

Ride safe, experience something new,  my friends.


Sunday, March 6, 2022

February in Baja - Part VIII Pacific Storm, Ensenada, Tecate

Fernando, our MotoQuest guide, is seen here mounting a small plastic horn on the handlebars of this child's bicycle. Fernando had brought three horns with him as gifts. Soon two other children from the San Ignacio village appeared, each wanting a new horn on their bike. After the three disappeared to show off their new prized sound maker, we could hear the beep - beep - beep sounds coming from different parts of the village.

Fernando was a super hit with the kids.

Obviously is was warm that day, little did we know that in a few short days we would be riding  in freezing weather, wishing for warmer clothing.

Back in San Ignacio, the sun was shining, the people warm and friendly. The setting sun highlights the stone church steeple.

That evening, this elderly musician was once again serenading the outdoor guests at the local restaurant, working for tips. Most of the songs he sang were his original compositions, with a few well known  traditional Mexican tunes mixed in.

A day later as we were preparing to leave La Bahia de Los Angeles for San Felipe, MotoQuest's home office in California advised Fernando to change our route due to an approaching winter blast coming in off the Pacific. They would make new reservations for us in an upscale motel in Ensenada and cancel the reservations in San Felipe. Why this sudden change? Fernando explained that the route from San Felipe to Ensenada took us over several high passes where previous tours had encountered snow, ice and freezing temperatures. Dangerous combinations for motorcycle riders. 

The best laid plans are tossed when mother nature takes over. We were told to ride directly to Ensenada using the lower roads. What was to follow was an adventure and extremely challenging ride.

While at a lower elevation, the road still consisted of many, many mountainous twists and turns. The temperature dropped considerably, the winds picked up. Within the first hour on the road, we are riding in gale force side winds trying to blow us off the road. The two wheelers leaned harder into the wind and paid careful attention to sudden fierce gusts.  I leaned hard to stay on the roadway and to keep the rig from lifting.

Then rain arrived with a vengeance. Not so much quantity but as a hard blowing force. Rain drops stung the skin when they hit. And hit they did. The harsh side wind mixed with stinging rain forced me to ride with only one eye open for hours at a time.  All the while watching for oncoming vehicles, curves, dips and rises in the road, as well as wandering livestock. The storm was not bothering the cattle and horses as they roamed the roadway and shoulders, but we on two and three wheels, exposed to the force of the storm, suffered.  

Four hours later as the storm finally lightened, we arrived in Colonia Nueva Era, a small farming village in the major agriculture area of Baja California. They had no plans for rain runoff. They don't get much rain here. We are in a desert. The main street was flooded across and on both sides on the road. Where the road was not flooded, thick gooey slippy mud covered the surface. Riders extended both boots to act as outriggers in an attempt to stay upright. It worked.  No one fell. But we rode slowly.

Our machines were soon covered in mud, creeping into ever nook and crevice that will take years to displace. Some mexican mud will be baked into a new permanent residence. 

Electric heated hand grips were a blessing, as was leak-proof riding gear for those who had it. Those who's gear leaked, suffered more than others. They will be shopping for new waterproof gear once they are back in the states.

The upgraded hotel awaited us in Ensenada. The storm has moved further east,
 the view of the bay from the room was calming, though still cool out.

After a night in a warm bed, we ride the next day to Tecate and crossed back into the United States. Who would have expected that the ground would be covered with snow in southern California? The rest of the group proceeded to Julian, CA, I turned the rig east, riding in freezing temperatures until I could drop down to sea level elevation. I rode on to Brawley, California, where the truck and trailer were waiting. 

In all a fantastic ride with the MotoQuest gang, Fernando, Brad, Ian and the supporting home office. Would love to be part of a future MotoQuest sidecar ride down Baja and back.

What better way to spend February than be in the warming sun of southern Baja? I encourage you to look to Baja for your next winter escape. Trailer your rig to southern California if you have to, then ride. 
Getting into and out of Mexico was easy. Do your research if going on your own. Everywhere we went, the people were smiling, warm, helpful and friendly. The food was great, gasoline was available, food and drink prices were less than anywhere in the US. No problems experienced by anyone in the group.

Ride safe, ride far my friends,