When I started working on my book on Indian weddings I had a very thin knowledge, if at all, about Indian wedding traditions. There was a notion of an idea but I could not have even imagined where this journey would take me.
One of the most surprising things that I learned about Indian weddings is that they are at times very unexpected. For example the tradition of a mass wedding in which several couples are married at the same time. Mass weddings are sometimes preferred for economic and social reasons, such as the costs for the venue, officiants, decorations, and sometimes celebrations afterwards can be shared between multiple families. I was lucky enough to come across a mass wedding in Mumbai in which 340 couple from of Dawoodi Bhora communities across the world had their Nikah (marriage) solemnised.
It took a while to get permission to shoot it. As a matter of fact the permission never came despite my repeated emails and telephone calls to the secretary’s office. I ended up showing to the procession on the streets of Mumbai one hot and humid summer day in June with the hope to get into the main mosque at one point. Could not afford to miss it just because permission did not arrive.
The procession of hundreds of bridegrooms, many of them on horses, started early in the morning and moved through lower Mumbai into the narrow alleys between Mohammed Ali Road and Khetwadi. It eventually reached the main mosques in the heart of the Dawoodi Bhora neighbourhood of Bhendi Bazar.
Wearing a towel on my head, I sneaked into the mosque without permission. The first images I shot inside where from the balcony but I slowly dared coming closer. The brides sit apart and the wedding actually takes place between the bridegroom and the bride’s father in front of the Da’i al-Mutlaq, the spiritual leader of the Dawoodi Bohra community. The Da’i al-Mutlaq was at the time already over one hundred years old so his elder son was sitting in his place. I was caught!
The general secretary pulled me aside. A white foreigner wearing a towel on his head is not someone you’d expect to find at the mosque during this wedding. I told the story of how long I tried getting permission. Of not hearing back from the PR person. Of my book. The man made a call ordering the PR person to show up immediately. He did remember my emails though so things were getting calm. I was introduced before his holiness only to be blessed for giving respect to their community. Access to shoot was open after that and I was allowed to get as close as I wanted. Definitely an experience to cherish on this long journey through wedding traditions in India.
The Dawoodi Bohra (also spelled Daudi Bohra) are a sub-sect of Shia Islam and trace their belief system back to Yemen, where it evolved from the Fatimid Caliphate and where they were persecuted due to their differences from mainstream Sunni Islam and Zaydi Shia Islam. Around 1530 CE, the Dawat was relocated to India. The word Bohra itself comes from the Gujarati word vehru (“trade”) in reference to their traditional profession, while the term Dawoodi refers to their support for Dawood Bin Qutubshah in the 1592 leadership dispute which divided the Tayyibi sect, creating the Dawoodi Bohra.
The Dawoodi Bhora Muslim Mass Wedding in Mumbai is one of many Indian Wedding traditions featured in my book.
After more than six years and almost fifty thousand pictures of so many different wedding traditions in India, my latest book ‘Behind The Indian veil – A Journey Through Weddings in India‘ is completed. It is an exquisite coffee table book filled with breathtaking photographs of wedding rituals in India and the astonishing stories behind them.
I have published books in the past but I now wish to take a new route for publishing and not go through the industry channels. This would be somewhat like producing my own music album and not go through the big record companies. For this purpose I have just launched a crowd funding campaign and I need your support in the final stages of production. You have an opportunity to be a part of a great project and pre-order your copy of the book. Even a very small contribution is a great help.
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