With summer around the corner, the South Asian community is gearing up for wedding season. Since many of us have extended networks of family that we may not get to see all the time, weddings are the perfect reason to bring everyone together. My wife Anoop and I are among that group, as we recently got married in March in South Vancouver.
When the both of us sat down during the preliminary planning stage, we identified key features that are of significance to us and an overall vision that we’d like to execute—a lot of which goes against the normal expectations of a South Asian wedding in the Lower Mainland. Simple, organic, and intimate is how we would describe the way we wanted everything to feel for us and those attending.
Since the both of us feel a deep connection with spirituality and Sikhi, we paid close attention to the Anand Karaj ceremony itself, where it would be held and which granthi would lead the laavan were a few areas we paid close attention to.
The overall focus for us began at the day of the wedding and extended out from there. The spiritual significance behind the actual laavan, is what we believe to be at the core of the experience therefore everything that follows, including the other weekly wedding events, weren’t as salient for us.
Neither one of us truly felt the significance of the events which take place during the week, and therefore were not interested in having any of these when it came to our celebrations. We understood that these celebrations hold significance in our culture, however in our opinion they’ve simply devolved into another excuse to host a weekday party, while running up the costs in the process.
But, our desires for the wedding weren’t the only thing to keep in mind during the planning process. As explored in a series in 5X Press, the wishes of the family play a huge role in the scale and ultimately the cost of South Asian weddings in Canada.
Immigrant families that have settled in Canada in the 60s, 70s and 80s often possess large social networks where it’s not uncommon to see over 600 guests at wedding receptions. Since my dad, who came to the country in 1976, is among this wave of immigrants, subsequently his network runs quite deep.
Ultimately we, as the bride and groom, needed to ask ourselves this—how many of the people in our parents' networks do we actually know and have established relationships with?
Answering this question isn’t easy, because in our community most parents tend to foot the entire bill of the wedding expenses.Thus, they naturally tend to assert a certain level of control over the event.
We also didn’t want to host a grand reception party with 500+ guests in typical Punjabi fashion. Instead, we hoped to host a small dinner party at a local restaurant in Downtown Vancouver with a group of 50 of our closest family and friends—which is far from the norm in our community. Before approaching them, Anoop and I knew convincing our respective parents was going to be a challenge. Over time, we realized how instrumental the art of compromising would become in making sure the wedding reflected both our values and our parents’.
For us, the compromise between our desired guest list of 50, and our parents’ desired guest list of 500 ended up being a 300 person guest list for both the wedding and reception.
As expected, we ran into multiple barriers, such as not being able to agree on dinner menu options and shrinking of the guest list without upsetting relatives. It became clear that having a small dinner wasn’t going to be feasible, so we compromised by hosting an intimate reception at a hall. Overall the process of convincing them and meeting in the middle was not as hard as we had imagined and eventually they grew quite receptive to the idea.
In hindsight, their receptiveness to a smaller wedding may have been due to the societal shift during the pandemic, when smaller guest lists became necessary. We as a community have become so accustomed to such large events that what we consider to be small and intimate is viewed as the exact opposite from other segments of society.
After compromising and agreeing to hosting a wedding reception at a hall with a reduced guest list, we had decided against any weekday events. However, it didn’t take long before both sides of parents began to conspire with one another thereby coaxing us into hosting a joint mehndi party at the hall in the week leading up to our wedding.
Looking back, one weekday event followed by the wedding and reception was a fair compromise. We wanted our wedding celebrations to reflect the simplicity and ease of our relationship.
Furthermore, unconventionality was sprinkled throughout the entirety of the wedding right down to the doli ceremony which we held right in the Gurdwara parking lot immediately following the Anand Karaj.
While negotiating the size of the wedding was one hurdle to jump over, Anoop and I made several other “unconventional” choices when it came to planning a wedding.
We decided against hiring a wedding planner and did it ourselves. Well, actually, my wife did the lion’s share of the work as I played second fiddle.
I’ve sensed that this is a reality with most couples. I believe this to be the case perhaps due to the overall significance that marriage is ascribed for women in our community versus the men. Women are taught to dream of this day since childhood whereas, a lot of the men are more concerned with the bachelor party and reception—in other words, the alcohol fueled segments of the endeavor.
We both also abstained from drinking during the entire process as we wanted to fully immerse ourselves in the experience and remain as present as possible. I personally have not drank alcohol for almost four years, therefore I opted for non alcoholic beer as my beverage of choice during the celebrations.
A few guests remarked on how that’s the first time they’ve seen that as we’re all accustomed to seeing the groom getting heavily inebriated immediately after his wedding, and at the reception. I’m hopeful that this narrative that is deeply embedded in our community will shift over time.
As a man going through this process, I felt that I was supposed to play a supporting role to my wife and assist when called upon. What I realized quickly was that our perception of various occurrences or mishaps throughout the planning process would differ greatly.
As mentioned at the beginning of the article, the Anand Karaj (the Sikh wedding ceremony) was quite possibly the most important feature of the wedding for the both of us. We wanted all guests in attendance to understand the significance behind the ceremony, which is why we planned for an English translation to be presented on screens for the guests.
Following this, we decided to opt against going to the park with our friends for a photo shoot while transporting everyone in a party bus. Instead, the two of us went for a photo shoot by ourselves where I drove us in our family vehicle. We didn’t see the value in renting limousines or being driven around, especially since we were sober.
Once we made it to the end of the week and had a moment to reflect on the totality of the wedding week, we were pleased with the way things turned out. Our own happiness coupled with the joy on the faces of our parents further assured us that we made all the right decisions when executing on our plan.
We truly felt that we were able to enjoy ourselves during the experience while watching our vision come to life. In traditional spring fashion it rained heavily in the morning followed by sunshine once the Anand Karaj had taken place.
In my opinion, Indian weddings have transformed greatly since the 90s and we as a community have become quite used to the extravagance to the point that it takes away from the real reason why everyone is present. The union of the bride and groom should always be the center of attention and we should not fear embracing being unconventional as long as it’s reflective of what we truly want.
The icing on the cake for my wife was unknowingly walking down the aisle at 11:11 as we prepared ourselves for life as Mr. and Mrs. Johal.
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