In a tent across the famous Thikse Monastery in Ladakh, a woman ties the knot with a man she had been with for 10 years. The sun shines on the turquoise stones of her traditional headgear (perak), and the couple’s two children stand in attendance. In another wedding in another part of India, a mother places a sizeable gold chain around the neck of her son, the groom, in true Coorgi tradition. Meanwhile, in Mumbai, 319 Dawoodi Bohra couples come together for a mass wedding ceremony. These are some of the moments that Israeli photographer Sephi Bergerson has archived during his trek through wedding traditions across India. After almost seven years of documenting weddings comes a book Behind the Indian Veil (Self-published; Rs 2,999).
“I wanted to go on a cultural journey — weddings were just the door through which I entered this world,” says Bergerson, who has been in India for 13 years. After more than a decade as an ad man and commercial photographer based out of Tel Aviv, Bergerson came to India in 2002 to reinvent himself as a documentary photographer. The polio project for Unicef in 2011 was a route to this accomplishment.
He says, “A friend asked me to photograph her sister’s wedding in Kerala in October 2007, and I told her I wasn’t a wedding photographer. ‘And that’s why I want you to do it,’ she told me.” Bergerson had just wrapped up his first book Street Food of India, co-published in the UK and Germany, and received international acclaim that included the Best Cookbook Photography 2010 award in the UK, a nomination for Best in the World at the Gourmand Awards in Paris, and a place on the New York Times list of best cookbooks of the year (2010).
It dawned on him that a book on Indian wedding traditions would be an interesting project. “I went to a Tamil Brahmin wedding in Chennai even before I went to the Kerala wedding,” says Bergerson, “In fact, I went to another Tamil Brahmin wedding just a few weeks ago. The groom’s family was so well off, they actually know President Obama personally. The wedding was a simple ceremony outside Mahabalipuram, in an 800-year-old temple. The chairs were plastic, and the food was served on banana leaves. It was like how weddings were 20 years ago, and it really got me excited,” he says. While, on the one hand, Bergerson talks about the simplicity of some weddings, others, he says, are a “matter of style.” “Weddings in the north — specifically with Punjab and Delhi at the heart of it — have a cultural explanation for extravagant weddings. They have more kitsch than any other community. They really know how to throw a party,” he adds.
The project was crowdfunded and the book will include photographs and stories of Hindu Punjabi, Hyderabadi Muslim, Rajput, Kashmiri Pandit, Zoroastrian Parsi and more weddings. It is scheduled to hit Indian stores by May 2015 and London by 2016.