SALT LAKE CITY — Wedding guests stood at attention as bride Avni Patel made her way down the wedding aisle.
She was accompanied by an uncle and brothers, who held an embroidered red cloth over her head, shading her as she passed. Behind her, a replica of the Hindu god Ganesh made out of green, yellow and white button mum flowers sat atop a fountain in the garden of the Grand America Hotel in Salt Lake City.
"Their life journey starts here," said Hindu Pandit Satish Kumar, a priest at the Sri Ganesha Hindu Temple of Utah who officiated at the ceremonies Saturday afternoon.
A year and a half in the making, the expansive wedding may just be one of Utah's most elaborate and expensive wedding celebrations ever. But even as no expense was spared, its focus also centered on the spiritual. In the days leading up to the wedding ceremony, the families performed a series of Hindu rituals and celebrations, pulling traditions from the Punjab ancestry on the groom's side and Gujarat ancestry on the bride's.
"The energy that this brings together is just awesome. It's a tribute not only to the culture," but to the Patel's daughter as well, said wedding guest Saurabh Shah, nephew of Dinesh Patel, the father of the bride.
Salt Lake resident Dinesh Patel brought biotechnology and pharmaceuticals to the Rocky Mountain region as he built his fortune. He co-founded and led TheraTech, founded and led Ashni Naturaceuticals, co-founded Salus Therapeutics and holds 15 U.S. patents and foreign counterparts.
The lavish event was held in part to thank those in the community who have helped in the family's success, said wedding planner Nirjary Desai, owner of Atlanta-based KIS (cubed) Events. Although there was not an official price tag for the wedding, Dinesh Patel said traditional Indian weddings cost between $300,000 and $400,000.
"They really want to make sure that anyone and everyone that has had a hand in helping the family in their path along the way," feels their gratitude by participating in the events, Desai said.
Guests who attended the wedding said that while the ceremonies were typical for an Indian wedding, the decorations and attention to detail were not.
"You can tell, there's like different things and you know money has been spent," said second cousin Ami Patel, who flew in with about 60 other family members from Florida for the wedding.
An estimated 550 people attended the wedding ceremony and nearly 800 were expected at the reception.
On Saturday morning, the groom and his family danced their way to the west entrance of the Grand America Hotel, drums and music filling the air. Pockets of bystanders stopped to watch as groom Abhishek Dhingra mounted a horse covered with a gilded blanket.
Dhingra and about 100 members of his family made their way down Main Street before turning east on 600 South, taking up the east and north side of the roads that had been blocked off by Salt Lake City police.
They were greeted by the bride's family on the south entrance of the hotel. Dhingra and his family continued to clap and dance for almost a half hour, with shouts of "Abhishek! Abhishek!" filling the air at one point. The bride's family welcomed the groom and his family in a brief Milni ceremony, before guests made their way to the Grand America courtyard.
The wedding ceremony was filled with various rituals rich with symbolism, including a Puja to worship Lord Ganesh, who can remove obstacles and represents happiness and peace.
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