Photos: Tribal weddings in India

Published 11:36 AM ET, Mon September 24, 2012
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For many of the migratory Maldhari communities in the Kutch region of Gujarat, India, the Hindu holiday of Janmashtami, which celebrates the god Krishna's birthday, is the one day of the year when marriages are performed. Prabhubhai Kalar, center, a young groom, leads a procession to his bride's home, where the wedding will be held. He will meet his bride for the first time at their wedding, but won't see her face until later that night. Michael Benanav for CNN
Bhavna Khambhalya, who will wed Kalar, poses with her nephew, Alpesh, on the day before her wedding. Nonfamily wedding guests were told that she is 18 years old, the legal age in India, but her age is not easily verified. Child marriage is still practiced in Maldhari communities, but is gradually declining, said Neeta Pandya, founder of the Maldhari Rural Action Group, a grass-roots empowerment organization. Michael Benanav for CNN
A prestigious religious leader blesses the bride's family. Michael Benanav for CNN
In many cases, the groom's family offers jewelry and cash to the family of the bride, while the bride's family pays for the wedding and gives the newlyweds important household items. That used to mean blankets and cooking pots. Today, it also includes refrigerators and television sets. Michael Benanav for CNN
A young relative of the bride tries on her wedding outfit before the wedding day. Michael Benanav for CNN
Hired cooks load up a plate with chili peppers. Traditionally, the bride's family members did all the cooking themselves. But today, families bring in help if they can afford it. Michael Benanav for CNN
Women from Khambhalya's family gather on the morning of the wedding to meet the groom's family for the first time. Michael Benanav for CNN
Another Maldhari groom walks to a shrine outside his new wife's village to make an offering, as tradition requires. Michael Benanav for CNN
One of the main qualities that Maldhari look for when finding husbands for their daughters is called "najar," meaning foresight, or the ability to plan for the future. Kalar seems a good candidate, since he's hoping for a career in a medical field. Michael Benanav for CNN
Though the pre-wedding festivities are already under way in the background, Khambhalya's family still has to look after its 200 or so sheep and goats. Michael Benanav for CNN
Khambhalya and Kalar stand side by side as their wedding ceremony ends. Fewer weddings than usual took place on the holiday of Janmashtami this year, due in part to the drought affecting the area. "Many families who were migrating back to their home villages turned around when they heard there was no rain and no grass," says Lalji Desai, a Maldhari and secretary-general of the World Alliance of Mobile Indigenous Peoples. Michael Benanav for CNN
But having fewer weddings on Janmashtami is also a sign of the times. "Young people are educated now and don't care as much about Krishna's birthday, so they're asking to marry on other days," explained Ladhabhai Klotra, a much older relative of Khambhalya's. "We don't deny their request. We are happy when our children are happy." In this photo, the grooms and their families prepare to bring the new brides back to the grooms' villages. Michael Benanav for CNN
Maldhari women sing as they bid farewell to the brides who are leaving Dhaneti to go with their new in-laws. Michael Benanav for CNN
While the weddings were taking place, traditional Janmashtami celebrations were also held. Here, a child plays the role of baby Krishna being delivered to safety by his father, Vasudeva. Michael Benanav for CNN
Groom Karanabhai Khambhalya arrives back at his home, in the village of Kharapasavariya, with his new wife, Rami. He will see her face for the first time later that night. Michael Benanav for CNN