By: Joanne Serrieh
Never in my life would I have ever thought of crashing a wedding until I received an assignment titled “being the other.” For this assignment, I was required to attend some kind of event where I would be the only one who’s “the other.” I had to make sure I stood out wherever I decide to go. I remember how excited I was when I received this assignment and I knew I would enjoy it. Most other students planned on attending some kind of religious service at a church, mosque, temple, etc. but I wanted something different, something unique.
For a while I was totally lost not knowing what I should do. I did not want to attend a religious event because that’s too typical and might have been a little boring. I knew I wanted to do something different so I decided to crash a wedding reception. Not just any wedding, but a Punjabi wedding where unless you are dressed in traditional Indian attire you will stand out and attract everyone’s attention.
I found out about this wedding through a friend and got all the details for the time and place then decided to show up. I wore a simple black cocktail dress with heels, did my hair and makeup and headed over to the banquet hall. The reception was set to start at 6 p.m. at the White Lotus Banquet Hall right behind India Oven restaurant in Citrus Heights. I showed up at 7 p.m. thinking I’m late only to realize the parking lot was still empty. I was expecting to see a full lot since I heard there would be about 400 people attending but there were only 20 cars or so parked even though I arrived an hour late. I was not too surprised because I am used to people showing up really late to Arab and Middle Eastern events that I usually attend. I sat in my car for about half an hour. I was nervous because I had no idea what to expect. Will I feel awkward? Will they realize I’m not invited? Will I find people willing to discuss their culture and traditions with a wedding crasher? I took a deep breath, built up the courage and walked in.
The Punjabi music was blasting and could be heard all the way to the outside of the building. Walking down the hall that leads to the main entrance I caught a glimpse of all the lighting and decorations through a window on my right. Beautiful bright colors lit up the room. Other people were walking in at the same time. Men were dressed in suits and some, mostly the older men, wore the traditional turban. The women were all in different colored Indian outfits which I later learned are called shalwaar kameez. There were family members standing by the main door greeting guests, I smiled, nodded and said hello as I walked in. For a second I felt like everything around me stopped moving and I was the only one standing in place just blown away with all of the colors and elaborate decorations. Then I walked across the dance floor to some empty tables and grabbed a seat. Of course there were people looking and probably wondering who I was and why I was even there but that was the point of the assignment. Not many people will admit this but that kind of attention is nice sometimes.
Hors d’oeuvre were served buffet style and I was curious to see what was offered. I walked to the back corner where I found samosas, chicken tika masala, tandoori bread, yogurt sauce, chutney, and different salads. All of this could have been considered a meal but these were only the appetizers. I was not hungry at that point so I just grabbed a drink and went back to my table.
It was almost 8 p.m. and the bride and groom had not yet arrived. The DJ booth was right next to my table. The DJ did a great job of keeping the guests entertained with all the mixes and tracks he played. No one was on the dance floor yet and I don’t know how people were able to sit through all of those songs and not feel the urge to rush to the dance floor.
As we were all awaiting the arrival of the bride and groom I asked a younger guest sitting at the adjacent table a few questions about the traditions of an Indian Punjabi wedding. In about five minutes Bhupinder Badwal thoroughly explained to me everything that takes place leading up to the wedding reception. Wedding celebrations typically last three days in the Indian culture. The first party is the henna night. The next day, the day before the wedding, the groom has a party at his house with a DJ. The bride also has a party at her house where different kinds of oils, provided by the bride’s family, are rubbed onto her as part of the traditions. These are like going away parties but everything is supposed to be simple. The groom grows out his beard because it is a tradition to have a beard for the wedding ceremony and the bride does not wear any makeup. Rajeev Basra, another guest, added to the information that Badwal gave me. He said, “The night before the wedding, it’s a tradition for the families of the bride and groom to get a bowl filled with candles and lights that they put on their heads and walk around the streets to tell people ‘Hey, we have a wedding.’”
The actual ceremony takes place at a temple located in the same city where the bride’s family lives and they are the ones who pay for it. Inside the temple, men and women are separated and the couple sits upfront. The couple makes four laps around the priest, each lap signifies something in the marriage but unfortunately Badwal did not know what this signifies. The bride’s brothers stand around the priest, bride and groom while the couple is holding a material that holds them together. As the bride is walking around the priest the brothers surrounding them signifies them giving her away. They sit down and do a prayer after the first lap then go for another lap to a total of four laps. After the fourth lap the couple is considered officially married. “In the Indian culture the girl leaves her family behind after the ceremony and goes with her husband and the husband’s parents because now she provides for them,” said Badwal. Following traditions, the first meal that the bride and groom have right after the ceremony is provided by the bride’s parents and it is an all vegetarian meal.
Following the wedding ceremony everyone goes back to the bride’s house. “That’s super emotional, her parents are crying, she’s giving hugs to her family, her suitcases are ready and she says her final goodbyes,” said Badwal.
If the bride and groom are from different cities, the reception takes place the second day because it would be really hard to get all of the guests to the other city. For this wedding, both families are from Sacramento so the reception took place on the same night as the ceremony. Unlike the ceremony, the reception guests are always from the groom’s side with only the close side of the bride’s family present. The couple clean up for the reception, the groom shaves his beard they get really dressed up.
At the reception the bride arrived with her husband while her family waited at the banquet hall just like all of the other guests. The couple walked down a decorated isle draped on both sides with colored material that led to the dance floor where the wedding cake was. They cut the cake, took some photos then had the first dance. Following the first dance there was another slow dance where other couples joined. “Till midnight everyone will just be dancing and drinking the night away,” said Badwal.
The DJ made an announcement that there will be a surprise performance by two Punjabi singers, Mickey Singh and Sandhu. I am not familiar with Punjabi music but judging from the guests’ reactions, especially the young ladies, these two musicians are popular in the Punjabi community. I ran up to the dance floor to record videos and take photos of Mickey and Sandhu performing with the guests dancing and singing along on the dance floor. At one point I felt like I was at a concert instead of a wedding. These guys were very entertaining and great performers but I felt like this took away attention from the bride and groom. The couple was on the dance floor dancing but the guests all had their attention focused on the singers. The dance floor was packed and everyone seemed like they were enjoying every second of their time. I know I was already having a great time and the night was just getting started. Mickey and Sandhu performed for a while then they posed for photos with the guests then left. Even though I didn’t know who these guys were I couldn’t pass up an opportunity to take a picture with them of course.
I am not the kind of person who enjoys being a wall flower at weddings or any kind of party. I was running around taking pictures and videos on the dance floor so I had to at least attempt to dance to Punjabi music. Did I know what I was doing on the dance floor? No. Did I enjoy at least trying to dance? I sure did. I observed for a few minutes and some people tried showing me steps but all I could do was try my best and just laugh with everyone else.
Overall, I learned a lot about a culture that I was completely unfamiliar through this experience. Weddings are a great place to go if one needs a crash course on cultures and traditions especially since people at weddings are usually in a joyful mood willing to speak to anyone to share their culture and traditions. I never thought crashing a wedding would be this fun and I’m thinking of making this my new hobby. Crash random weddings then blog about them. One thing that I’ll keep in mind for the next wedding is to try to learn some traditional dance moves beforehand.
Joanne Serrieh is a KSSU.com Radio Presenter
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