Stepping into the vibrant tapestry of Indian culture, I embarked on a journey that not only reintroduced me to the enchanting customs of Punjab, but also marked a deeply personal milestone – my first cousin’s wedding. This wasn’t just any wedding; it was a celebration of love, family and tradition, woven intricately together in the fabric of my own history. Join me as I recount the unforgettable moments and cherished memories from my inaugural Indian wedding experience, a journey that left an indelible mark on my heart.

Located north of India’s capital city, New Delhi, Punjab stands in northwestern India. Punjab is the heart of India’s Sikh community as it is the birthplace of Sikhism and home to some of the religion’s holiest sites, including the Golden Temple in Amritsar. I am grateful to say I have now visited the Golden Temple twice – once in 2018 which marked my first visit to India and now. Punjab is an agricultural powerhouse and is known as the “Granary of India” due to its significant contribution to the nation’s agricultural output. The fertile soil and extensive irrigation systems support the cultivation of crops like wheat, rice and sugarcane. The state also is celebrated for its flavourful and hearty cuisine, featuring dishes such as sarson da saag (mustard greens) with makki di roti (cornbread), butter chicken and paneer tikka. Moreover, the lively and energetic dance known as Bhangra originated in Punjab and has gained international popularity. Punjabi music, characterized by its upbeat rhythms and catchy melodies, has also made a significant impact on the global music industry. While I was born and raised in Toronto after my parents immigrated here in the 1980s, I am deeply committed to exploring my roots and understanding my cultural heritage. As evidenced by this blog, I maintain a strong connection to Punjab, where I still have family residing.

After a brief 12-hour layover in London, England, during which we took in the sights of the city’s iconic landmarks, I arrived in New Delhi on February 10th accompanied by my siblings and their partners. While this wasn’t my first visit to India, it was for my siblings, and I was well aware of the journey that lay ahead of us. India’s vastness is undeniable, with its expansive states necessitating lengthy drives for practically every excursion. Our journey from New Delhi to Chandigarh, a six-hour car ride, was met with immense relief upon finally reaching our destination. Chandigarh holds a special place in my heart as it is where my father resides and serves as the capital of the northern Indian states of Punjab and Haryana. Without delving into intricate family connections, one of my father’s sisters resides in Chandigarh, Punjab, while another lives in Ambala, Haryana—a distance comparable to traveling from Toronto to Burlington. Our trip to India was primarily centered around the wedding of my first cousin, the son of my aunt in Ambala, Haryana. The ensuing weeks were filled with traversing between the two cities, visiting family, engaging in shopping excursions, and immersing ourselves in the rich cultural experiences India has to offer. I even visited Anita Dongre’s bridal shop, a famous Indian fashion designer, to catch up with the latest trends in South Asian bridal fashion. The initial week was dedicated to non-wedding-related activities, during which we explored landmarks like The Golden Temple, before transitioning into the celebratory festivities of the wedding in the second week.

As you may know, Indian weddings span a week and are a significant affair! It was fascinating to observe the contrasts between the celebration of Indian weddings in Toronto versus their native setting. The festivities commenced with a morning prayer followed by an evening Jaggo ceremony—a traditional Punjabi pre-wedding ritual marked by lively music, dancing, and the illuminating of a decorated vessel to herald and rejoice in the impending union. Bringing our family, including my cousin, together, we joyously danced from one house to another in the neighborhood, extending invitations to our neighbors to join in the celebration.

The second day commenced with a daytime Haldi event and an evening Sangeet celebration. During the Haldi event, turmeric paste is applied to the Bride and Groom’s skin to purify and enhance their appearance before the wedding, with family and friends joining in to sing, smear the paste, and bestow blessings for their future happiness. Given my affiliation with the Groom’s side, our Haldi event was distinct from that of the Bride’s. The Sangeet, filled with music, dance performances, and revelry, took place on the same evening, coinciding with the night prior to the wedding—a practice I wouldn’t recommend, as exhaustion tends to be inevitable for both hosts and guests. Despite the immense enjoyment of the Sangeet, a day break in between the Sangeet and wedding day would have been greatly appreciated. Coming from a professional wedding planner, take my tip! You will thank me later.

On the third day, we commemorated the wedding day, which presented numerous distinctions from how Sikh weddings are conducted in Toronto. Despite the familiar morning chaos at my cousin’s house as everyone scrambled to get ready, I gained insight into why some grooms might find themselves late for their own weddings! However, there should be no excuse! As we embarked on the small baraat procession to the venue, accompanied by drummers, music, and dancing, my cousin made a brief stop at his neighborhood Gurdwara for a swift prayer before we embarked on a two-hour journey to the wedding Gurdwara, situated where the Bride resides. Upon arrival, we knew we would be presented with the unique challenge of three concurrent weddings on a first-come, first-served basis. This is a stark contrast to the single-wedding protocol typically observed in Toronto’s Gurdwaras. Understanding the rationale behind this practice, I learned that the prevalence of multiple weddings stems from India’s concentrated wedding season, dense population, expedited ceremony duration, and post-ceremony rituals conducted at external venues, allowing Gurdwaras in Punjab to accommodate multiple ceremonies. If you’re planning on hosting your Sikh wedding in India, just make sure you leave your house on time and hopefully you don’t have to wait too long for your turn to tie the knot!

After the ceremony, we proceeded to a resort venue where we joyously danced our way in, followed by a brief prayer and the milni, a tradition where family members from both sides are introduced and greeted, symbolizing the union of families. Unlike the customary sequence in Toronto, where these rituals typically precede the wedding and are followed by breakfast, our experience was unique as they occurred post-ceremony, leading into a delightful breakfast spread. The buffet lines were many and the food was never ending! Subsequently, my cousin and his wife made a grand entrance, engaging in the sagan ritual where guests took photos with the newlyweds and offered small gifts, while the festive atmosphere continued with dancing and a delicious lunch, making for an unforgettable celebration filled with joyous moments on the dance floor.

The pinnacle of any Sikh wedding, the reception, always proves to be the most eventful. After a day of rest to recover from the previous festivities, I eagerly anticipated an evening brimming with food and dancing. And indeed, the venue, Sangeet Resort, was grandiose, accommodating over 1,000 guests without feeling overcrowded. Elaborate decorations adorned both the floor and the ceiling, with breathtaking installations unlike anything I’ve ever seen. The abundance of food and drinks, spanning 60 feet, ensured no guest went hungry or thirsty. Unlike typical receptions, there were no speeches or first dances; instead, the newlyweds made a grand entrance, cut the cake, and the dance floor ignited with energy. It was a night of non-stop dancing, unlike anything I’ve experienced before.

During my time in India celebrating my cousin’s wedding, each day brought new excitement and cultural richness. From the vibrant ceremonies to the grand reception filled with food and dancing, it was an unforgettable experience immersed in tradition and joyous celebration. And I am so happy to share my experience with you!