Last Saturday I found myself having one of the most surreal experiences of my life. I was standing on the corner of Taylor and Sacramento street in San Francisco as a part of a large wedding procession.
The groom was on a horse a few yards away from me. There were people manning two large speakers blaring Indian music. A man with a shoulder drum set was going hard on the side. The wedding party was a few paces out front, setting the tone with absolutely killer dance moves.
I moved along with the crowd, trying my best to keep the energy up. We moved from Huntington Park to the entrance of the Fairmont while tourists around us wondered if this was a daily occurrence. Once we reached the Fairmont everybody crowded around the wedding party as they erupted in dance together.
For the first time in my life, I was part of a Baraat. The Baraat is a north Indian custom meant to bring the groom to the wedding venue with as much pomp and fervor as humanly possible.
Indian weddings are interesting. Customs vary widely depending on the part of India you are from. However in the modern era these traditions are more blended together. The best parts of all these different cultures are stitched together to make a melting pot affair.
In this particular wedding the groom’s family was from the north of India, the bride’s family was Tamil Sri Lankan, and they both were raised Hindu in the Bay Area. The wedding contained different Hindu components from both the northern and southern parts of India.
It was split across three different days. The first day was the Mehndi night, where the women invited to the wedding got traditional temporary tattoos done on their hands. I didn’t attend this portion, but my partner went and got some beautiful artwork done on her hand.
The next day we went to the Sangeet. The word Sangeet translates to "sung together" from Sanskrit. It originated in the Punjab and Gujarat parts of India and has since been adopted as a common form of pre-celebration for the wedding to come.
My partner and the other bridesmaids had to learn and perform three separate dances for this event. I practiced with her for a month and joked that I could be a sub in case any of the bridesmaids got sick.
At the Sangeet, I wasn’t prepared for the amount of choreographed dances that happened. Not only did the wedding party do multiple dances, but both families got into the action. It was amazing seeing children dance alongside their parents and grandparents to songs that I hadn’t heard since my childhood.
These events were all a precursor to the actual wedding on Sunday. Since the Sangeet had an open bar, there was wisely a day’s break between both events. The Sunday started off with the aforementioned Barat. Afterwards, we witnessed a traditional South Indian wedding ceremony.
Well, not entirely traditional. Traditional south Indian ceremonies can take up to six hours. They instead condensed these lengthy rituals down into certain key components that ended up being around an hour.
After the ceremony, we had a cocktail hour and headed down for the reception. At the reception we were treated to speeches by the wedding party and another set of choreographed dances. I was actually a part of one this time, although you’ll never find a video of it.
This wedding was an incredible experience, and it was amazing to see different cultural traditions come together so seamlessly. The most heartwarming part was seeing young and old come together to celebrate such a joyous event in the lives of two people we cared deeply about.
Editor's Note: The "Notes on the Valley" blog is written by Monith Ilavarasan, who grew up in Pleasanton. After a career in tech, he took a sabbatical to be a community organizer. He has continued to work in tech and shares his thoughts on the people, places and events that make up and shape the Tri-Valley.