My Big Fat Punjabi Sikh Wedding Story: Jen & Jag
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:
Jen & Jag
Hi my name is Jen. I was living in San Diego when I met my husband, Jag on a dating website. We dated for about 6 months then got engaged. Jag had already lived in the U.S. for about 14 years so he wasn't very connected to modern Punjabi culture. He also isn't a practicing Sikh, but that is the religion of his family. I have been to over 43 countries, so I love to travel and experience different cultures. He felt obligated to have a ceremony in his home country and I was never really a wedding person so it was fine by me. We had a small courthouse wedding in San Diego before heading to India for the big production...
What Was Involved In Planning Your Wedding?
Looking back, I don't know how we even pulled it off!! I bought my reception lehenga at a designer boutique in Los Angeles so that I would have something to wear in case things didn't work out when I go to India. In hindsight I would have waited to buy my lehenga in India since it cost thousands of dollars in L.A. and the price and quality would have been more favorable if I had gone local. I also had 15 guests getting ready to fly over from the U.S. so it was fun to shop and play dress-up with some of the ladies who were getting ready to attend.
I knew that whatever happened, I wanted good photos so I flew my photographer over to India in exchange for wedding photos. My parents and brother, cousin, and friends made up the guest list from the U.S. To be honest, the local photographer was terrible, so I would suggest having someone around to take some decent photos. We arrived in New Delhi and our flight to Chandigarh was delayed by something like 18 hours. When we finally made it to Jalandhar I was super jet-lagged and already tired. We had about 10 days to get the wedding together.
I was incredibly exhausted for the first few days as we ran around looking for a wedding lehenga. His parents took us to a place where I found something. I remember trying to find the cheapest one and the salesmen kept showing me more and more. I picked out a few other items for the other events, not really knowing what they were for and when I would wear them. Everything went straight to the tailor and we hoped for the best.
We booked the D.J. and met with some people to pick out wedding colors. Another family member had wrecked the car so we ended up riding around town on a scooter, looking for the traditional Sikh sword, and other accessories that Jag would have to wear at our wedding. It was hilarious; I remember thinking that it was a scene straight out of a movie, but I was the only one who was laughing. Everyone else was so stressed out!
I had a good friend from San Diego meet me before the wedding and she provided me with moral support while my in-laws and everyone else was speaking in Punjabi almost the entire time. The most challenging part was when we went to the reception venue and it was all outdoors. The forecast called for rain so we had to cancel that venue! A few days before the wedding we had to look around (by then the car was fixed) and find a new venue for the reception!!
No one would accept us because our guest list was so small in comparison to the typical Indian wedding. We drove around then I spotted a place with green and purple décor from another wedding. Those happened to be our wedding colors. We stopped and negotiated an arrangement so that we could use the venue and keep the decorations up. It was a miracle that we found something so last minute since places book out months in advance. It actually turned out okay!
What Traditional Pre-Wedding Ceremonies Did You Celebrate?
One of the most memorable moments for me was at the Mehndi Ceremony, when all my female guests were at my hotel room and Jag had sent a henna artist. The artist gave everyone the henna that they requested from a book filled with pictures of different designs. When Jag got the bill we talked on the phone and says to me, "Do you realize that everyone got bridal henna?" I looked around and saw that all the ladies had henna up to their elbows and knees. I figured it was meant to be. It was a once in a lifetime opportunity for all these guests to be in India attending a wedding.
I believe we had a Kurmai and a Chunni Ceremony combined at the Gurudwara. I never even knew what a Kurmai Ceremony was until just now as I researched this. I remember my mom coming up to me saying they had to buy Jag a golden kara, which is the bracelet worn by Sikh's. During the Chunni Ceremony I recall everyone feeding me traditional sweets. I didn't particularly like them, so they were only tiny pieces.
We did host a Jaago but I had no idea that's what it was until I researched it afterwards. I wore a simple Punjabi Suit, but in hindsight I would have worn something more elegant. I was also told that I wasn't even supposed to be there, so I felt awkward the entire time. Though that was fine by me, because I was exhausted and wanted to get some sleep before the wedding reception the next day. A few of my guests and I ended up retiring to the hotel pretty early.
From memory there were a few other events thrown into the two days worth of ceremonies. Yes, just two days! When these customs typically last much longer. I remember some kind of ceremony at my in-law's house involving money and maybe jokes, though I couldn't understand a word so couldn't be sure. I also remember after the wedding a man dressed as a woman (hijra) came to my in-law's house and danced. I still don't know that that was all about, but it was entertaining and confusing at the same time.
Describe Your Wedding Day
On the day I wore a traditional bridal lehenga in gold, but very understated compared to a typical Indian bride. I wore the traditional jewelry, but the smallest versions I could find. That was just my preference. I woke up early to have my make up done. From what I saw in the photos, Jag rode in on a white horse with his little nephew. There were also some other ceremonies with family members he participated in. I was sitting in a nearby house out of sight the entire time, eating saltines and drinking Sprite so I wouldn't pass out from hunger.
One day I would like to attend a real Punjabi wedding with all the events laid out properly so I can experience all the traditions and customs involved. However we did perform Anand Karaj and I did participate in the Dholi Ceremony, as that was the one thing I requested since I had seen some photos from Indian weddings. I remember throwing rice and climbing into the dholi (the carriage that carries the bride to her matrimonial home) at the hotel.
There was no alcohol or meat at our wedding given my in-laws follow a spiritual tradition of vegetarianism and no alcohol. I did not incorporate any western traditions. I had absolutely no preference for anything in particular as my goal was to be as easy-going as possible to mitigate the high levels of stress all around me.
Any Advice For Those In An Interracial Relationship Who Are Planning Their Own Big Fat Punjabi Sikh Wedding?
My advice to anyone getting married in India is to simply let go of any expectations that you may have and go with the flow. If you want a wedding done in a certain way, then you can have a separate ceremony on your own terms, and perhaps in your own home country.
If you do travel abroad, I would suggest having a good friend who knows you well to be there for you. You will need someone around who speaks your language and who can be a listening ear, because trust me, things can get crazy.
Bring snacks. I know that sounds weird since Punjabi weddings are full of food. I'm also a little lactose intolerant so I can't eat much of the traditional food that's ladened with cream. Keep any food sensitivities in mind as the last thing you want is a stomach ache at your wedding from unfamiliar food. I barely ate during the two days of ceremonies and felt so lethargic as a result. Remember that while all the guests are eating, the bride and groom are required to pose for photographs with every single guest. Stay hydrated and have a bottle of water close by.
Most of the time I was isolated in my hotel room, getting my make-up done, or sitting up on the stage with my newly wedded husband. Put a mirror in your purse as being a bride consists of long hours and I was always wondering if my very heavy make-up was dripping or out of place.
Find the silver lining; I remember one of my favorite parts was walking around the Sikh book (lavaan) during the actual marriage ceremony (anand karaj). Even though my husband was stressed out and anxious the entire time, I had fun.
I remember thinking that my experience was pretty cool. I met this guy on the internet and before I knew it, I was in India wearing a golden lehenga and walking around a singing man with a spiritual book. Remember that despite any drama that comes up, it's all an experience and it makes great dinner conversation for years to come!
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