My Big Fat Punjabi-Sikh Wedding Story: Lisa & Manny
Updated: Apr 23
In this series I will share with you stories of other's, who like myself, have married into the Punjabi Culture and celebrated their own Big Fat Punjabi-Sikh Wedding. Though firstly there is some confusion around the difference between a Sikh and Punjabi Wedding merely because many weddings happen to predominately be Punjabi-Sikh Weddings.
Therefore to clarify, Punjab is a state of India in which many different faiths exist not only that of Sikhism. Which means not every Punjabi Wedding will necessarily be of the Sikh Faith, celebrating the same wedding traditions. Sikhism is a religion that originated in the state of Punjab. So whilst majority of Punjabi's are Sikh's, not every Punjabi will be. Hence why many weddings will be Punjabi-Sikh Weddings given they both are of the Sikh Faith and were born a Punjabi. Though even a Punjabi-Sikh Wedding can be referred to as either just a Sikh Wedding or Punjabi Wedding.
Even so, the rituals and traditions of a Punjabi-Sikh Wedding can vary greatly between regions and family. Therefore even the most common traditions can differ in how they are celebrated and is usually a personal preference as to which traditions are participated in. Though for the most part many are quite similar.
My Big Fat Punjabi-Sikh Wedding Story:
Lisa & Manny
My name is Lisa, I’m from New Jersey, and my husband Manny is from New Delhi, India.
We met because of the Facebook page associated with my blog, www.buddhafulbritt.com. There are a few thousand subscribers to that page and, out of curiosity, I Facebook-stalk each and every one of them. I’m completely fascinated with seeing the lives of the people who read my posts, I was, and still am extremely appreciative for all my subscribers.
One September day Manny simply “Liked” the Buddhaful Britt Facebook page. His profile picture was of him sitting on the floor in the hallway of an apartment building, holding his German Shepherd puppy in his lap. His eyes… I could not stop looking at his eyes, they held a certain kind of depth, or sadness, that I could not look away from. Admittedly I went through his entire Facebook wall, just like I did for all of my subscribers, but I kept coming back to his eyes. They captivated me.
After about three days of looking deep into the lives of all the beautiful people who read my blog, I decided to send Manny a friend request along with a message introducing myself. He read my message, but did not respond right away. After some time, though, he said nothing more than “hello.”
Manny was quite shy, but very respectful; He was unlike any man I have ever known. From 10,000 miles apart we quickly became best friends and inseparable, even though we had never actually met in person.
After months of getting to know each other via Skype, Whatsapp, and Facebook, I decided it was time to see if my Prince Charming was real, so I packed my bags and headed off into the unknown... and adventure which continues to this day, four years later.
Who was involved in planning your wedding?
You know how women dream about their wedding from an early age? They plan and visualize that one perfect day? Yeah, that's not me. I’ve always believed that maybe I have some allergic reaction to marriage. The mere thought of planning a wedding was honestly the right up there with my desire to go to the dentist for a root canal. So, Manny and his family planned EVERYTHING! I had no input; I had no opinions, my job was to simply show-up. Manny’s sister, Navpreet was absolutely the key to the entire affair. She organized the wedding-hall in a hotel lobby in New Delhi.
Did your ideas clash with any ideas from family and friends involved in planning your wedding?
Originally, Manny and I planned on getting married in Florida on the beach at sunset with no more than 10 people. We were denied our Fiance Visa, so that plan changed from a small intimate wedding with friends, to a large Punjabi wedding in India. My wedding was quite a contrast from my plan and FAR out of my comfort zone.
Luckily, I am not religious and I’m “low maintenance,” in regards to weddings or all things “girly,” so really the only “clash” we had was that my mom is in her seventies, and does not travel. So, I got married with only my son by my side, because no one would travel to India for our “big day.”
What was your biggest challenge planning your wedding?
Astrology and superstition. Trying to organize a wedding date that allowed for everyone in a giant punjabi family to agree upon? Impossible.
I wanted to get married in December when I was out of school for winter break, but there is a superstition about not getting married during your birth month, and I'm born in December.
I had to do a lot of research, compromise, and understanding of these superstitions to come up with a wedding date in March... and even then, not everyone agreed because of exams and The Festival of Colors, known as Holi.
How many guests were invited to attend your wedding reception?
For me, it was huge! But in reality, I think it was only about 75 people in total. His family travelled from Chandigarh, Punjab, to attend in Tilak Nagar New Delhi. This was not his entire family and if there were any issues regarding my culture, background or having a child, it was never brought to my attention. My husband would not allow it.
Did you host your wedding in your home country or your spouse's?
I have a very small family, and originally we planned on an American wedding once Manny arrived in the U.S. so my mother could attend… but if I keep my mouth shut, I think they may have all forgotten, and I don’t have to EVER go through that again. Shhhhh
What is the biggest challenge organising a Punjabi Wedding as a foreigner in India?
I think Manny had some trouble trying to find a Sikh Temple which would marry an American non-Sikh. I know the U.K. is having some issues regarding this right now, but India is still pretty open minded about it. The one stipulation they required was to have at least “one other white person from the brides side,” attend the wedding. I didn’t have anyone but my 9 year old son there, so luckily a friend I had only known via a facebook support-group agreed to attend. She is now like family.
What traditional pre-wedding ceremonies did you celebrate?
I was not really told about these ceremonies before hand, plus there was a language gap. I arrived in India less than 24 hours before the wedding.
I had been out all day doing last minute things in Tilak Nagar with my sister-in-law, and I arrived at my Sangeet in jeans and a pony tail. I had no idea what a Sangeet was; I was embarrassed to be underdressed, jet-lagged and completely lost due to culture and language.
A Sangeet is the ladies party before the wedding, this is when the Henna is done on the hands and feet.
Had I known what was expected of me, I would have planned differently, maybe arrived in India earlier, or BETTER YET… went home to shower? But, no, this American girl was CLUELESS that I was about to meet the ENTIRE Punjabi family, who were dressed to the nines, and ready to party.
Describe your Sangeet Ceremony.
My sister-in-law took me to the Tilak Nagar market to pick out a henna artist. Two men arrived at the house in the evening, and did henna for all the ladies. I was told that the other ladies get less henna than the bride, who gets it all the way up her arms and legs.
They described to me lots of superstitions, such as how dark the henna shows up is directly in correlation to how much your husband loves you. So? All those people who think he is using me for a green-card can relax, because my henna turned out SUPER DARK, thank goodness.
What did you wear as a bride on your wedding day?
This was my ONLY job and it was a tough one. I looked on Pinterest and was blown away at the dresses, colors and fabrics of Indian weddings. At the time, I really didn’t know much about the differences between North Indian or South Indian weddings. I mean Indian traditions and languages can change within miles of each other.
For a girl who had no interest in weddings whatsoever to be stuck in America with almost zero knowledge of Indian weddings was problematic. The three Indian stores within a hundred mile radius tried to sell me Punjabi Suits, but they didn’t look anything like the amazing photos on Pinterest.
I was very confused and overwhelmed by the entire process of trying to not look like a fool.
In retrospect, I should've just listened to everyone who told me to just buy the dress in India once I arrived. I had no idea there were people who literally sit outside on the streets and tailor make anything you want... in like 45 seconds.
Ultimately, I bought a red and gold Lehenga (Punjabi bridal skirt) from the India Day festival in Tampa, Florida.
It was way overpriced for what I could have gotten in India, and disappointingly common. If I were to do it all over, my dress would have had more beads, more bling… more Jersey Girl. Probably pink or coral colored. I would have planned better had I known more, but I was very alone trying to do this from Florida.
Did you also have traditional Punjabi hair and makeup on your wedding day?
I didn't “opt” for anything…. My sister-in-law arranged and planned everything, so I was just carted from one locale to the next, thankfully.
She helped me add more bling to my dupatta (head scarf), and also around the sleeves of my choli (wedding shirt).
She arranged for my hair and makeup at a fancy salon where they airbrushed me to look pale white like porcelain. This was an interesting cultural adjustment that I was not prepared for, because in Florida we lay in the sun for hours to achieve optimum golden-goddess tans.
My hair-style was sort of problematic for me, I wanted it to look wispy and hang in my face a bit with curls. But the hairdresser had other plans; with language-barrier and time-constraints I just gave-in and let them do what they wanted.
Was it how I would have done it? No. But, honestly I was so overwhelmed about getting married… in India… that I was pretty much numb anyway. It was like time stood still and rushed by, all at the same time.
What traditional ceremonies did you celebrate on the day of your wedding?
To be honest, I had no idea what was going on most of the time. We had a traditional Sikh wedding, “Anand Karaj,” but afterwards I just kind of played it by ear and let my husband take the lead.
There was a ribbon cutting, and I was fed cake, but please don’t ask me why. These traditions were lost in translation somewhere. I just smiled and took pictures.
The reception was just like a typical American wedding reception, except there was no alchohol, and MUCH more dancing (to Bhangra, no “chicken dance” to be heard for thousands of miles). I fell in love with my new family at my wedding reception, simply by seeing their happy faces.
There really was no way possible for me to engage in other traditions such as the Dholi ceremony, because I arrived in India only 24 hours before the wedding, and I had no friends or family there with me.
After the reception there was an “after party” at Manny’s uncle's house. They did some sort of tradition at the door of their home with oil.
I don’t remember cutting the cake. I don’t remember a cake at all... really. See that’s the “low maintenance” part of my personality. Maybe we should have had a cake? HAHA, maybe we DID have a cake?
I was given cake at the ribbon cutting, does that count?
I remember all of the family dancing and having a good time, but Manny had never brought a girl around his family before, and he was scared to pay attention to me. He barely even looked my way. Somewhere during the dancing his aunt grabbed his hand, and mine, and put them together. It was like a light went off in his head that he is NOW allowed to have a wife. He could FINALLY show affection, hold my hand, or even smile. I think a lot of Indians feel this way... they aren’t supposed to “date,” then POOF, you have a wife and can hold her hand in public?
Up until that point though, he had not smiled.
He was terrified of the whole ordeal. Neither of us was scared of marrying each other, we were both just wanting the pleasantries of the wedding stuff over so we could head out for our honeymoon.
Describe your wedding day. Did anything not go as planned on the day?
It was long... I was still jet-lagged, overwhelmed and mentally exhausted. It was a whirlwind that happened so fast that I wish I had time to soak in the magnitude of what really happened.
There wasn’t really any issues, or problems. His family thought of EVERYTHING, and it was planned out perfectly.
How long did your wedding celebrations go for in total?
Due to my arrival being the day before the wedding, it was faster than typical Indian celebrations. I really think the REAL interesting stuff happens AFTER the wedding though. You are no longer a stranger, you are now an Indian wife. THAT’S when the real culture shock beings.
Any advice for those in a bi-cultural relationship who are planning their own Big Fat Punjabi-Sikh Wedding?
Breathe. Let them control it, let them do it their way. Their customs and superstitions run deep. There is no way to explain or even understand most of it. Just relax and go with their idea of a wedding. You can have another one the way YOU want it at a different time, but as I was told time and time again… an Indian wedding is about the family, not the bride and groom, so let them have their day!
Do you have a website where others can get in touch with you or read more about your wedding celebrations?
Yes, I am a blogger at www.buddhafulbritt.com. My page is a mixture of travel writing, my relationship with my husband, and natural living.
My post “Your Boyfriend is From India?” set the wheels in motion for a following of many western women trying to navigate the nuances of Indian culture. We are not alone, there are thousands of us who married into an Indian family and we all need to vent sometimes.
Read more about Lisa's wedding experience:
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*Images are courtesy of Buddaful Britt and are original copyrighted content and cannot be used without the express written consent of Buddaful Britt.