"You have been destined to live together as husband and wife from your previous lives," said the young priest in Kathmandu as Raj and Claudia sat down cross-legged in front of the altar where scores of sacrificial objects were spread out on small cups made of banana leaves held together with tooth-pick sticks.
Not all the stainless-steel thalis and Meissen porcelain would be ritually pure in comparison to the hand-made natural taparas for the Gods and Goddesses of the Hindu pantheon. And there they were, a German-Nepalese pair, out to receive the blessings of the Banaras-educated Sanskrit-reciting Brahmin priest. In civil-life he worked for the Nepalese government, but since he was a Brahmin and a jyotishi at that, he would be invited to carry out all forms of puja by the Hindu population of Kathmandu.
Long before they'd planned the journey to Kathmandu, Darjeeling and Sikkim, Deviji had consulted her house-bahun so that the time of the rituals could be coordinated with astronomically calculated time factors. An auspicious day for the wedding had been found, for the human being is a microcosm of the rhythm of the universe.
Claudia, Raj's German-wedded wife, sat near him full of expectation and excitement. A young daughter is treated as a holy person, even holier than the cows that you see in the streets of Nepal, Sikkim and India and a young daughter brings a lot of positive aspects or punya to her parents. Normally, the parents of the bride wash the feet of both bride and groom. The foot-washing is accompanied by the recitations of Vedic lore by the Bahun priest beckoned by the parents of the bride.
Since Claudia and Raj were already married in Freiburg (Germany) at the Standesamt, it was decided to skip the foot-washing and the kanyadan ceremony. Claudia was told by the brahmin to get up and accompany Neeta and her sister Geeta to the adjacent room to change clothes.
In the meantime, the brahmin performed a graha shanti jap during which Vedic prayers and sacrifices are made to the Hindu trinity of Brahma, Vishnu and Mahesh. The reason the graha-shanti ritual puja was performed was because Deviji s younger son had died two years ago, and she and her two daughters had mourned for a whole year in order to appease the departed soul. The priest had a lot of patience, and explained which Gods and Goddesses were symbolically represented by the figures and Raj translated it into German for Claudia.
After the graha-shanti ritual was over, the priest performed the bratha-bandhana ceremony during which Raj received the long sacred thread that Hindus from the higher castes wear across their bare chests. He had gone to Germany two decades ago "for further studies" having done his Bachelor's Degree in Zoology and Botany from Kathmandu's Tri Chandra College, and had met his Allemanic wife at the Freiburger University ballroom-dance. They'd realized that they were both passionate rumba-dancers, the queen of all the dances, and had a lot of things in common despite their different ethnic origins.
"And now I will give you a personal secret mantra which you can repeat whenever, and wherever, you are in the world, a mantra that will bring you peace and tranquility," said the priest. Raj had to repeat the mantra thrice and after that the ladies were beckoned into the altar-room. Neeta and Geeta had helped Claudia drape a sari.
Claudia appeared in a scarlet sari and blouse and traditional jewellery. Her brown and blonde hair was parted in the middle. She wore pearls on her ears, decorated with gold, and a shy smile on her face. She seemed to be enjoying the entire tamasha. She sat near Raj and the priest performed the ceremony with the rest of the family members, who received sacred threads on their right wrists after making a number of sacrifices to the Gods and Goddesses by sprinkling them with jamara and holy water. This was followed by the entire family chanting "Om jaya jagadisha hare" to the accompaniment of a small ritual damaru (drum), the chiming of a bell and the blowing of a conch.
Then came the actual swayamvara-ceremony with the sacrificial fire, which was made in the form of a quadrangle that enclosed the ritual article: the sacred altar with the fire in the centre.
Various offerings were made to the deities: Ganesh, Agni the God of Fire, the sky, wind, earth, water, and the Hindu trinity: Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva. Sacrificial rituals have been an essential part of the Vedic way of life. The sacrifice is simple, but its meaning can be complex.
That was followed by the sindur-potay ceremony. Raj had to place vermillion (sindur) as a sign of marriage on the parting of Claudia's hair. A Hindu bride is expected to apply the sindur as long as her husband lives. Claudia bowed her head and he placed the potay-necklace on her slender neck.
After that, they were obliged to walk around the sacrificial fire three times. In Hinduism, Agni is not only the God of Fire and ritual but also the fire itself and summons the power of the Sun God Surya to the sacrificial altar.
Now Claudia was extremely scared of fire, and Raj told the priest about her phobia. Since he was a tolerant Brahmin, he said they could improvise and do it fast. Claudia took a deep breath and ran like a hare. Neeta had never seen a bride wearing a red sari run around the fire so fast in her life. She'd told her once that she'd been the fastest girl in the 100 meter-sprint in the German Prefecture Baden W|rttemberg during her school days but this beat anything.
The ritual ceremony was over and Claudia was relieved and sat down next to Raj in the sofa for the family photographs. He looked silly with his Nepali topi which sat at an abominably rakish angle, and kept falling off his head because it was a wee bit too small for his cranium. Claudia had to wear a scarlet shawl over her vermilion-strewn head, as the bride has to hide the sindur on her head for the entire evening.
Claudia was the toast of Kathmandu in the days to come with her conspicuous scarlet-sindur and her yellow salwar-kameez, as she walked along Kathmandu's bustling Asan Tole buying Nepalese apples and papayas from the Terai. It had been great fun shopping with her and little Evelyn. Claudia had learned a bit of Nepali, after all she was an anthropologist, and it was cute to hear her and Neeta's niece say, 'dhanyabad, namaste, ramro chha' in Nepali.
And here she was visiting them in their German surroundings after a 8000 km flight that had lasted 12 hours.