While graffiti on public walls are becoming a design trend in most cities, this town in Rajasthan has a decades old tradition of graffiti wedding invitation cards.
My trip to Jaisalmer had been impromptu and short. So my first concern was, how will I fit all the sightseeing in a single day. While my guide Sanjay bhaiyya named all the must-visit places, I had just one instruction for him.
“Take me to Sonar Kella first. After that, we’ll go wherever you suggest.” Growing up, I’d spent most of my summer and winter vacations in erstwhile Calcutta. Like most other kids my age, I was fed a healthy dose of Satyajit Ray and Feluda. I remember watching Sonar Kella (The Golden Fort) when I was about 6 or 7, mesmerised by the idea of the fort looking like it is made of gold. Long story short, Jaisalmer and Sonar Kella have been on the top for my bucket list ever since. So when I did manage to land in the city, the first stop had to be the Fort.
I knew that parts of the fort were still inhabited but I had not expected to find a buzzing town inside the golden walls of Sonar Kella. There was a temple, a school, restaurants, shops and so many houses! Families have been living there since generations and have made their own complete world inside the great walls. So much, that I had to keep reminding myself that I was technically inside the fort, and not really walking through the narrow lanes of Jaisalmer town.
The inhabitants of Sonar Kella are peaceful and if I may say so, neat. There are lanes thin enough to not allow two bikes to pass each other – the houses on either side are that close at some places. Cars, of course, cannot enter the lanes, and people commute mostly by foot or two-wheeler/cycle. The houses are not very big, yet, one gets the vibe that they are all comfortable in their homes. Sanjay bhaiyya’s family still lives inside the fort. It was from him that I learnt how generations of a family live together and while from outside the houses look really small, they’ve utilised every possible space and made their homes comfortable.
Walking through the lanes, checking out the handicrafts for sale, occasionally stopping to buy something, moving on to another shop, halting every time I saw a beautiful door and clicking pictures, I followed Sanjay bhaiyya through the lanes. Suddenly there came a clearing from where we turned left. And this is where I saw something strange. A house, a regular looking house, with
something painted on it’s outside wall, right next to the main door.
Curious, I looked closer
Moving closer, the painting looked familiar, something I had seen many times before. But, on a wall? “Bhaiyya!” I called out. By then, Sanjay bhaiyya had met an acquaintance and was talking to him. He waved at me. I let him talk and moved closer to the painting, albeit cautiously. In cities, we don’t stare at other people’s houses. Upon closer investigation, I realised that the painting was a wedding card. I looked towards Sanjay bhaiyya and gestured to come quickly. He waved and asked me to come instead. I looked back at the painting, registering the contents and walked away, puzzled.
“Woh kya hai?” I asked, frowning. Bhaiyya laughed and asked me to follow him. Turning the corner, we entered a lane where almost every house had a similar painting outside.
Bhaiyya stopped near one of the paintings and started explaining. “Narendra is my tauji’s son and Manisha is why bhabhi. We are a close-knit society, and everyone knows everyone. So instead of printing wedding cards, the invite which is also a societal intimation, is painted on the wall of the house for the entire community to know. Another card was painted at Manisha bhabhi’s house, but there, it was Manisha weds Narendra.”
Wow. Environment-friendly and all-inclusive!
The practice apparently has been going on since pre-independence era and is not restricted to any one community. The houses I spotted the graffiti wedding invitations outside, could be of a Khatri, a Bhatia, Pushkarna Brahmin or someone else. So there is no community divide either; and that gives it another ten points!
The invitation is painted on the wall next to the entrance, a week before the wedding. It mentions all the information printed cards have, like the dates of events, venue, names of the bride and the groom, and an image of Lord Ganesha along with kalash and swastika. The uninitiated can know if the house is the bride’s or the groom’s by seeing whose name is mentioned first.
The streets and bylines of Jaisalmer, specially inside the fort area, are populated by houses on both sides and every turn brings one face to face with a wedding invitation. It was a delight to walk through the narrow lanes, kept spotlessly clean, and chancing upon the various graffiti invitations on the walls of the houses.
Another information which I wont deny impressed me a lot, is that the newer generations have not tried to change the custom. Modernisation and capitalisation have not creeped into this heart warming custom. The younger generation has moved out to study or work, made few lifestyle changes too, but this unique method of inviting guests for weddings is cherished and carried out with pride. This unique way of making news of a marriage in a family certainly makes the people of Jaisalmer different and far ahead of times. Not only is a lot of paper, but money and effort are also saved.
The invitations remain on the wall until there is another wedding in the family, and that could be years later too. When the next wedding comes up, the invitation is replaced with the new one and that stays up until the next wedding.