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My wife and I were invited to a Shagun-Chunni - a Hindu engagement ceremony last weekend.

My wife works for an Indian doctor (husband and wife team) and their daughter was getting engaged. She also is now qualified as a doctor and my wife helped her during her training with role-play ( a requirement in the training of doctors in the UK), so she knew my wife very well.

As ther is no religious part of the ceremony, we decided that we could attend. The ceremony itself was very interesting. The couple came into the large room and walked slowly around being applauded by all the guests, and made their way to a raised platform with a sofa and some seats on it.

They were dressed so beautifully - like a prince and princess - and in the ceremony the girl's family give sweets and gifts to the prospective husband signifying their acceptance of him, and the man's family give gifts to the girl - including a veil - and then paint her hands with henna. Again this signifies their acceptance of her into the family.

As this was going on - it really only involved the families - the rest of the guests either watched or carried on their conversations totally ignoring what was happening!

We were really interested to see what was happening.

The room was in a Holiday Inn hotel and was beautifully set out with large tables of 8, decorated with candles and a centrepiece with floating candles. Napkins folded with peacock feathers, and small packs of 5 Ferrero Rocher chocolates tied in bundles around the tables.

They had a disco with music playing all the time (which did get a bit annoying) but they did stop the music for a short time while the family made short speeches and thanked everyone for coming. There was also a bar with free drinks for everyone (alcoholic and non-alcoholic). After the ceremony they served starters - Indian food of course, samosas, spring rolls, channa dal, sheek kebabs etc all in small portions on the one plate.

The engagement cake was cut - and lots of photographs taken. Then the dancing started - young and old all together on the dance floor - after the first dance or two by the couple.

After 5 hours it was time to serve main courses! By then we were very tired and had to leave, thanking our hosts for their generosity. Had we stayed for the meal it would have been very late for us and we would have had to leave immediately afterwards, which we felt would have been rude.

It really gave an insight into the family-oriented culture, and we were glad to have been able to go.

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