x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

Wedding the modern and traditional

The spectacular marriage ceremony of the entrepreneur Seema Shetty and her husband Nirman marked not only an important union rooted in Indian culture but also showed how local women are now setting their own agenda.

BANGALORE // Dressed in an exquisite salmon pink and gold sari, and wearing traditional gold jewellery and jasmine flowers in her hair, the bride entered the marriage hall holding betel leaves and a betel nut, which she would carry throughout the wedding. Her entrance was heralded by more than two dozen traditional drummers and a procession of men playing trumpets, while a decorated elephant lingered outside. The bride's girl friends were dressed in green and gold silk saris and holding kalashas (brass pots containing coconut and mango leaves, which are auspicious symbols of marriage). The men wore traditional dhoti and kurta with shawls on their shoulders and carried brightly coloured ceremonial umbrellas. The two groups escorted the bride down the red carpet and on to the stage. The groom, resplendent in a maroon dhoti, beige kurta and matching turban, joined her shortly after as thousands of guests looked on.

It was not only the celebration of a marriage, and one of the biggest social events of the year, it was also a union of the modern and traditional. The bride was Seema Shetty, the youngest daughter of the renowned doctors Bavaguthu Raghuram and Chandrakumari Shetty, who founded the New Medical Centre group of hospitals and pharmacies scattered across the Emirates, as well as UAE Exchange, one of the largest money transfer and exchange companies in the GCC.

Miss Shetty, 27, however, is a successful businesswoman in her own right; the founder of BiteRite, the health-food chain, she is also the owner of Zari Zardozi, an Indian restaurant group in Abu Dhabi. She exemplifies the new generation of women in the Emirates who have embraced modern business and commerce practices and who are setting the agenda in their chosen fields. By contrast, her wedding was in keeping with centuries-old traditions that are integral to the life of an Indian woman, modern or otherwise: she married the man chosen for her by her parents, in a ceremony that reflected her roots and respected her culture.

"It was always inculcated into us that I would have an arranged marriage to someone who hailed from our community and had similar values. It was rooted in us at an early age and that made it easy for us to respect our parents' wishes when the time came," she said. However, Miss Shetty was the driving force behind the organisation of the huge celebration. "This is all Seema's doing," said her father, proudly surveying the crowd and dressed in a stylish long kurta and a traditional dhoti. "It is that generation, with all their contacts and friends. All these people are here for her."

Born in Abu Dhabi, Miss Shetty graduated from Boston University in 2003 with a degree in business administration. "I think our generation is a global one," said Yazan Alattia, a friend of the bride who had arrived from Canada for the festivities. "Born in one place, raised in another, studied somewhere, working somewhere else. Yet many of us, after leaving a place, tend to lose touch with those friends but Seema, with her charisma, is one of the distinct few who is able to balance her career and relationships.

"[The fact that] her friends here have made it from across the globe, from as far as North America and the Caribbean, to attend this wedding is an attestation to this." Marriage means Miss Shetty must leave her family and friends in the UAE to go to live with her new husband. Nirman Shetty, 29, is a property strategist for the Lodha group of developers based in Mumbai. Their wedding last weekend saw thousands of guests travel to Bangalore, a south Indian city in the state of Karnataka, for the celebrations. They came from the UAE and all over the world.

Old friends and relatives mingled with multimillionaire businessmen, an adviser to a sheikh, and Indian politicians, among other high-profile guests. The main reception, in the grounds of Bangalore Palace, was attended by 12,000 well-wishers. Eight months earlier, Miss Shetty's father had met Nirman and, having approved of the young man, arranged for the two families to meet. They got together for the first time over brunch where the prospective spouse found the courage to ask to speak briefly to Miss Shetty in private. She suggested they go for a drive, which lasted four hours, and they spent the rest of the day together.

"We spoke about all sorts of things. laughed some, debated a little, and it felt like not more than 10 minutes had gone by," said Nirman. "As you can imagine, this story does have a happy ending. A very, very happy ending. It is also a new beginning." An evening of entertainment, called Sangeeth, kicked off the wedding festivities, where Miss Shetty's friends, having practised their dance routines in Abu Dhabi for more than two months, finally got to perform them. Then, through song and dance, Miss Shetty performed a sketch that showed her telling future grandchildren of how she met Nirman.

Omar and Avan al Mutwali, her high-school friends from Choueifat in Abu Dhabi, were involved in two other dances that evening. "The atmosphere, the lights, music, stage, during the actual dance was indescribable. We enjoyed the dances so much that the time flew by," said Avan. "We felt this was a really personal contribution from us to Seema and Nirman." A day before the wedding, Miss Shetty's parents' garden, decorated with garlands of marigolds and lanterns, had been taken over by the women who congregated for Mehndi. The traditional ceremony saw intricate, henna-paste designs applied to the palms of the bride and her entourage.

Later that evening, at sunset, one of the main south Indian marriage rituals took place to signify Miss Shetty's move from her father's home into her husband's abode. Dressed in a stunning blue and gold silk sari, with jasmine flowers in her hair, she was led to the Mantapam, the main stage, by her aunts for the Muhurtham, a ceremony where the bride is presented with rings for her toes, which in south India signifies that a woman is married, and wedding rings for her fingers.

The next day at dawn, guests rushed to the Bangalore Palace grounds for the main wedding ceremony. Driven by her brother, Binay, the bride arrived in a vintage Mercedes decorated with yellow lilies and red roses. That evening, the main reception brought everyone together, incorporating the city and all its well- wishers. After five or six hours, the feasting and festivities came to an end, but the smile the exhausted bride still wore was one of pure happiness.

sbhattacharya@thenational.ae