Sunday, November 11, 2007

Marriage of cultures

In the end, I was very pleased with the way the wedding went, although a few unexpected last minute changes dealt me a load of stress I could have done without. The church was nearly full with wedding guests, over 250 of them. I had Ian watching at one door, and Chris my student on placement watching at the other, just in case the thief who plagues us at St John's decided to chance his arm. I was determined nothing be risk. The city traffic wardens did us proud, and let in just the right number of limousines, just at the right time. The bride, much to her astonishment, was applauded by the crowd of well-wishers that had gathered out of the shopping crowds, standing in the sunshine, enjoying her moment with her.

The two scripture readings chosen by the couple for the service (1 Cor 13 and John 15) were augmented with readings from the Baghavad Gita (in English), and a piece of Indian spiritual poetry (chanted in Sanskrit). A poem by Lord Byron, was read, and the long Nuptial Blessing from the C of E Wedding service, translated into Welsh was read by Dafydd Elis-Thomas, Presiding Officer of the Senedd, a family friend. He seemed to take as much delight in the occasion as I did. He was present in Church for the blessing of the British Legion Memorial Garden last Saturday as well, and spoke about that in a radio interview. Nice to have such a good plug for St John's.

Swami Shri Gopal Sharan Ji Maharaj arrived ten minutes late, straight off a plane from Mumbai via Dusseldorf. He got stuck in Cardiff traffic, as did the bride, though not for too long. He entered quietly and slipped into his appointed seat alongside me on the platform, during one of the readings. We greeted quietly and then listened together. He joined me in blessing the congregation at the end, which he did in a curious mixture of Sanskrit, English and Hindi that somehow managed to communicate his thoughts across all cultural frontiers.

The reception, to which Clare and I were invited started with tea at the Hilton at four, and continued with a reception banquet for 300 at City Hall. This began with a procession by the Groom on horseback, accompanied by a marching band, dancing guests and wellwishers (the road was closed for the occasion) from the Hilton. The bride and her mother, having changed into Saris since church, welcomed the Groom Indian style. The banquet started at half past eight and went on until after midnight.

The Hindu marriage blessing, scheduled for midnight was delayed and delayed again because of security staff anxieties about fire safety for the ceremony. Also the ceremonial fire bucket had got left behind in the Mandir and had to be fetched. The ceremony end up taking place in the great Marble Hall, because of the safety problems with the scheduled
Council Chamber venue and started at 01h45. Reluctantly, we left at two. I was exhausted and consumed with anxiety about sleeping through a 7h15 alarm, to get me up for the first Eucharist. I sure was feeling tired, despite mediating patiently for the best part of an hour and a half waiting for the ceremony to start. It was meant to go on for another two hours. Age is teaching me to quit before I collapse!

I'm so glad I was asked to play a part in this marriage celebration. What really surprised me, in the course of the reception, was just how many people, Europeans and Indians alike, came and expressed appreciation to me for the church service. Yet, it was the bride and groom who did the work, putting together the readings, seeking permission and encouragement to make their Big Day into a day of meeting and cultural encounter. As you sow, so you reap. Several people, particularly Indians, said how moved they were to see their priest side by side with me, and my hand in blessing on a Hindu boy's head. I guess this says it wasn't always thus in their experience.

There's a disappointingly fanciful account of the event published on a BBC web page and heaven knows where else in the realm of cyber hype. The reality was far more exciting, joyous and lovely than the media drivel suggests. I know, because, as our Max says 'I was there'.

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