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.
While Avni Patel approached the Mandap, or altar, Dhingra stood behind a curtain so that he would not see the bride until she was in front of him. Once the curtain was dropped, the two put garlands around the other's neck, a symbol of a lifelong partnership, with Dhingra leaning away just as his bride to be attempted to place his garland.
The new couple
The bride's parents gave their daughter's hand to Dhingra in the Kanya Daan ceremony and members of the wedding party tied the bride's and groom's wedding garments together to represent their unity as a couple.
The couple walked around a fire, or Havan, four times, each turn symbolizing a new covenant or Phera. The priest invited Agni, the God of Fire, as an eternal witness of the marriage. Covenants included dharma — morality and self-righteousness ; artha — to provide prosperity, happiness and wealth; kaama — to love the other and create a happy family; and moksha — live a pure, compassionate and kind life. Upon completion of these covenants, Patel and Dhingra were officially married.
After this they took seven steps, with each step symbolizing a distinct vow: Honor and respect, be happy and love life, share in life's good and bad times, remember parents and elders, be charitable, live peaceful and lengthy lives and maintain a friendship through sacrifice and love.
"When they are married they are not two. They look two but they are together. The two souls united together," Kumar said in an interview before the ceremony.
Upon completing the marriage rituals, the couple and the wedding party made their way to the south side of the Grand America, where a hot air ballon awaited as their getaway vehicle.
Guests milled in and out of the wedding ceremony, which is typical for an Indian wedding Desai said. Families often treat the event as a large family reunion.
Desai flew in from Atlanta and brought in materials from around the world and vendors from around the country. Desai said she had never planned a wedding that was so rich in details, from the sandalwood, silk and satin on the 750 wedding invitations to unique decor and colors for each event. A symbol of hearts joined together in a circle, chosen by Patel and Dhingra, was seen throughout the event. The symbol represented the world, appropriate because of the global backgrounds of the bride and groom, Desai said.
Thursday morning, the Patels hosted a Puja at their home where prayers were offered to the Hindu god Ganesh asking for success. About 50 family members dressed in tunics and women in traditional dress sat on cushions and pillows. Patel and a handful of others, including her parents, encircled a statue of Ganesh. Kumar recited the ritual and the Patels tossed loose flower petals toward the statue. The officiant led the family outside where a live band greeted the wedding party. Other rituals in the Puja, such as the Mandap Mahurat and Grah Shanti, help remove obstacles, repel ignorance and ensure success.
Wedding guests were then cleansed with water Kumar brought from the Ganges river. During the Pithi, guests spread tumeric paste on Patel as a symbol of purity and prosperity.
Lunch that day was served in banana leaves, an Indian tradition.
That evening roughly 200 people gathered for the Mehndi night. With a view of the Salt Lake Valley to the west, Patel sat as Desai painted henna designs and placed jewels on her palms and hands. The Henna was mixed with eucalyptis and clove oil, which is designed to soothe the bride. Guests lined up for henna drawings by other artists or to sample from a guacamole bar and fill their plates with Mexican food.
Friday evening the bride and groom participated in a Sangeet and Garba night, filled with song and dance at the Grand America Hotel, an event the groom was looking forward to.
"That's where everything is going to come alive," Dhingra said.
A wedding reception Saturday evening was to serve as a grand finale, and incorporated the tiniest details, from custom foil napkins, sweets and macaroons. The crystal chandelier was customized to match the couple's symbol, which was also seen on the ballroom dance floor.
"She pretty much told me she wanted a real cool wedding," Dinesh Patel said. Which is what she got.
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