Kolkata: Love Songs of the Year – Armenian Wedding

The Statesman, India
Dec 15 2007

Love songs of the year
Armenian Wedding

2 Armenian Street is the place to be next week as Kolkata’s Armenian
community witnesses two weddings after more than a decade. Vivian
Stephen walks us through the proceedings

Over a decade ago, December turned out to be a special month for
Armenians in Kolkata. Community members gathered on 21 December 1996
to celebrate a marriage. Every union promises expansion of the
closely-knit community. In a few days time, two couples will be
united ~ Victoria Stephen and James Wong, and Elizabeth Marcar and
Janik Zadoorian.

Meandering through the narrow Armenian Street in Dalhousie is an
experience of a lifetime. On both sides wares ~ paper cups, large
packets of rubber band, stationery, etc. ~ are sold at wholesale
prices. Attracted by the market-like atmosphere, you would soon lose
track of your objective ~ to find the Armenian Church. As the lane
turns keep your eyes glued to the left. A large gate, guarded by some
friendly security personnel, welcomes you. As you walk over graves
towards the main building, curiosity enters the soul. 2 Armenian
Street is an institution that narrates a million tales about our
city, takes you back in time when the number of Armenians was much
more.

Religion has always played an important role in the community. An
Armenian wedding taking place inside the Armenian Holy Church of
Nazareth after a decade is an occasion to be remembered. While
Elizabeth Marcar and Janik Zadoorian will be married by the priest on
22 December, Victoria and the Chinese James Wong will be blessed on
23 December.

So, what’s an Armenian wedding like ~ something that you might have
seen in movies. Music, food, 300-odd people ~ simply a night to
remember. There are many traditions attached to an Armenian wedding
and many of them will be observed. Marriage is one of the seven
Sacraments of the Armenian Church, in which the couple is called upon
to make a vow before the Lord to be true to each other for life. The
groom and the bride are crowned king and queen of their little
kingdom ~ the home ~ which they will rule with wisdom, justice and
integrity.

The spread at the wedding is simply scrumptious ~ dolma (stuffed
grape leaves), hummus (sesame and chickpea puree with garlic)
babaghanoush (a pureed egg plant spread), bourek (spinach and filo
dough appetizer), salad, pickled beet, chicken and lamb preparations,
kebab, pita and lavash ( flat bread), to name a few. A "fruit table"
is laid out, on which fruits are mixed to take on shapes of animals.
Every table, of course, will have bottles of vodka, cognac, whisky
and tequila. Adding colour to the celebration are Armenian dances and
songs.

Marriages conducted at the Armenian Church are rich in symbolism.
"Crowning" is an important part of wedding service (it’s a sign of
honour with which God crowns couples during the Sacrament). During
crowning, the bride and groom face each other and the best man stands
between them holding a cross over their heads. After crowning, the
"Common Cup" is blessed. In this a goblet of wine is blessed in
remembrance of the marriage at Cana of Galilee, which was blessed by
Christ’s presence. Next, rings are exchanged and the ceremony ends
with the priest blessing them, asking Christ to "protect them under
the shadow of thy Holy and Honorable cross in peace".

Victoria is both nervous and happy. "I’ve known James for many years.
Though he is not an Armenian, to me it doesn’t make a difference. I
simply love him. Hopefully, we would see more Armenians getting
married in the Church in the near future."

About the seven Sacraments, the priest says, "The most important
point is that the bridegroom and bride are regarded as king and
queen. It’s necessary for the bride to wear a white dress." Different
colours symbolize different meaning ~ white stands for purity, red
for life and green for field. In Armenia the priest blesses the
garments.

There are some "unwritten" traditions that are followed, like prior
to the wedding, relatives and guests visit the bride’s house and put
henna in her hair. On wedding day the bridegroom has to reach the
church before the bride and before the bridegroom leaves, he kisses
the bride’s father to show he’s no longer a child and can shoulder
responsibilities.

Hopefully, we don’t have to wait for another decade to witness
another Armenian marriage.

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