Being invited to an Indian families Sikh Wedding Ceremony is a special privilege and my experience was one that I’ll never forget. Beyond my wildest dreams, the wedding was welcoming, colourful, light hearted, long lasting and bursting with butter chicken.
Here are some things that you need to know to Survive a Sikh Wedding
1. The Invitation
The first thing that you’ll notice about your wedding invitation is that it’s four pages! and exceptionally beautiful. No expense is spared when inviting two families to join in celebration and the invitation that I received was a great reflection of the wedding week to come.
A second thing that you might notice about your wedding invitation is that it probably includes a list of “helpful hints” or rather, “instructions for white people” that won’t really be helpful at all. Instead, it will make you wonder about things you hadn’t even thought of and will force you to consider how many ways your can screw up sitting.
2. Sari, we’ve never done this before …
You’ll have to find the Indian community in your region to secure a sparkling Sari to wear to the wedding reception – and if you live in the Vancouver Mainland, your obvious choice is Surrey. So one Sunday two friends and I piled into the car and ventured out of Kits and towards the unknown Surrey, in search of Saris …
We had been told that the place to Sari shop was aptly named “Lovely Cloth House” and getting there required a full tank of gas and some intense google mapping. But get there we did and the House didn’t disappoint; it was practically made of cloth and was home to hundreds of Sari’s.
It didn’t take long for my Sari to find me and I decided on a beautiful bolt of teal fabric that stretched on for miles, decorated by little silver sparkles that shone like stars. A bold and bedazzled appliqué of magenta, gold and purple flowers graced the end of the hemline, where a long stretch of sparkles convinced me that this Sari was mine.
But even though my Sari was stunning, I still had no idea what to do with it, and beyond the exhaustion of being the only white people in a Sari shop for two hours, I left the Lovely Cloth House with an empty wallet. I also left with a bunch of bolts of pretty fabric and after google mapping once again, we pulled up in front of a small bungalow somewhere in Surrey.
Amarjit the tailor welcomed us into her home on a quiet Sunday afternoon, offering us the two spaces on her basement couch. Her napping grandson Jason quietly snoozed in the corner, while her mother (the fourth generation under her roof) sat merrily nodding in the middle. Her daughter Preet, worked as our translator and for forty minutes my friends and I showed off fabric, were pinned and tucked and welcomed into the world of this kind family.
Sari Shopping turned out to be an entire day and a great adventure, but there were so many things that I didn’t do and learnt later. So here are some of the things that I wish I knew.
1. If you’re going to try on Sari’s, bring the shoes that you’ll be wearing
2. You’ll need to buy a bolt of basic fabric the same colour as your Sari, to fashion a petticoat skirt for underneath
3. On the day that you go to wear your Sari, you’ll need to be near someone who knows how to tie it
4. YouTube does not show great videos of how to tie it
5. High heels are a must, so that you don’t trip over your Sari
6. Sari jokes are a must, sari not sari
3. The Henna Party (Mehndi)
Getting Henna drawn on your hands is an awe-inspiring process that involves an age old technique and a swirl of imagination.
Getting Henna out of your clothes however involves a not so awe-inspiring technique and can be easily avoided.
Here are a few things that I quickly learnt at the Mehndi party, which I should have known before hand .. get it.
1. Don’t eat and fill up on the first thing you see (this rule will be helpful for the rest of the week)
2. Bring cash for your Henna hands – each hand was 5-10$
3. Henna takes about 2 hours to dry, so plan your time accordingly
4. A home made solution of sugar/water paste applied to your henna hands – will make them dry faster
5. Be mindful of what your wearing and leave your white jeans at home
6. That my hands are essential and that I could never live without them
4. The Vatna Paste and Sanjeet Party
I know that Vatna is the proper name for it but to the untrained eye, it was the Paste Party. For this is the party that I blindly walked into at the bride’s mother’s house with the knowledge of only “bring five dollars” and found my beautiful friend coated in paste and with a lap full of crisp Canadian bills.
I found out a few minutes later that the bride was covered in Vatna, a scented paste consisting of barley flour, turmeric and mustard oil thats traditionally used for cleansing. And though it wasn’t what I expected either, the Paste party was an interesting experience and fun celebration; for after my friend received all of her visitors and took photos with family, we spilled out into the street, sang songs and danced with a big stick. It was awesome.
5. The Sikh Ceremony
The Sikh Wedding Ceremony is a colourful cultural celebration unlike anything you’ve ever experienced and it was my honour to be a part of my friends wedding. Arriving at the ceremony with full hearts and full on Indian Suits, one of the best parts of the ceremony was being absorbed into another culture. The other was watching two beautiful friends get married.
But just like the Henna party, there are some “helpful hints” for the Sikh Ceremony:
1. When in the temple or receiving food, both men and women must keep their heads covered
2. When seated in the ceremony hall, men will sit on the right side and women on the left.
3. When seated in the ceremony hall, it’s disrespectful to point your feat forward or turn your back to the front of the room
4. It’s customary to wear an Indian pant suit and head scarf, your fancy Sari is for the reception
5. It’s customary to bring small bills to gift to the temple and to the married couple. Bring two different tokens for two different donations.
6. After the bride is escorted around the circle ceremoniously four times, the couple is officially married. They’ll exchange rings, but in a quieter way that were used to.
Truth be told, you don’t really need a guide to survive a Sikh wedding. I just had a lot of fun writing this piece.
Because Punjabi people are some of the nicest folks you’ll ever meet, keen to welcome you into their traditions with sparkling eyes and encouraging smiles. So even though I didn’t know any of the things that I’ve just told you and asked curious questions along the way, I felt comfortable trying because of their kindness and generosity.
On second thought, maybe they survived me.