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From India with love — splashy Hindu wedding comes to Utah

Published June 21, 2014 11:59 am

Utah philanthropist Dinesh Patel throws an elaborate marriage bash for his daughter.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2014, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Holladay • They ruled out elephants.

But Dinesh and Kalpana Patel spared few other details in a deeply traditional three-day Indian wedding ceremony given for their only daughter, Avni, and her future husband, Abhishek Dhingra.

The series of private events, held at the Patels' spacious home in Holladay and culminating Saturday in front of hundreds of guests at Salt Lake City's Grand America Hotel, amount to one of the most elaborate renditions of authentic Indian matrimonial rites ever witnessed in Utah.

Family members and friends watched beautifully staged scenes, each with its primordial meanings, in a string of rituals one might see in rural villages anywhere across India. Holy men sprinkled water carried to Utah from the sacred Ganges River, among scores of sanctified objects brought from the mother country.

Nearly 800 guests are invited to the formal reception, in the hotel's ballroom. The groom's party will ride through closed city streets to Saturday's ceremonies on horses — instead of the customary elephants.

"It has made me very happy," said Hindu pandit Satish Kumar, leader at Sri Ganesha Temple in South Jordan and officiant at the ceremonies. "Today, the world is becoming very modern, modern, modern, and yet they are devoting much attention to these rituals. For me, they are compromising nothing."

Starting early Thursday, the couple's nuptials brought a dazzling burst of millennia-old customs, stunning colors, holy substances, delicious foods, music, dancing and Hindu ritual to a U.S. state otherwise known as the global capital for Mormon marriages.

"We wanted to make it something that everyone will enjoy," said father of the bride Dinesh Patel. The wealthy venture capitalist and philanthropist, considered a pioneer in Utah's biotechnology industries, seemed to move through the weekend's events with a gratified, subdued air.

As to the wedding's cost, Patel joked, "We probably won't worry about that. Daughters get what they want."

Media access to the wedding was tightly controlled, but Patel said in an interview that it was a joyful expression of the merging of two people and their extended clans. The succession of carefully researched and executed rites, he said, also offered a cultural showcase reflecting the Indian community's growing numbers in Utah.

"We have made our presence felt," said Patel, who was born in Zambia to Indian parents and came to the U.S. in 1985. "That's part of having a big ceremony.''

Avni Patel, reared in Utah, met Dhingra, who is from Houston, while visiting mutual friends in Austin, Texas. He proposed in Las Vegas in 2013 after a treasure hunt with clues across the city.

He works in finance for Wells Fargo. She is in social-media marketing.

"Being first generation in the U.S., our parents tried to make sure we stayed in tune with our cultures," Dhingra said. "Even though we didn't grow up in India, we understand what is important and our cultural heritage."

Atlanta-based wedding planner Nirjary Desai said the weekend events took nearly 15 months to research and plan, including a five-week trip to India. Between arrangements, designers, decor, catering, DJs and the rest, a staff of up to 100 people is working to ensure all goes well. The focus on authentic customs has been unwavering.

"Design and food are a major part of south Asian weddings," Desai said.

As with so much in India, virtually every step in tying the Patel-Dhingra knot has involved a mix of things. Ceremonies blended modernity with the ancient and stirred together several of India's distinct provincial cultures, while also joining two young people quite obviously in love.

The Patel family traces its ancestry to Gujarat, a province in western India. The groom's parents, Ashok and Vijay Dhingra of Houston, are Punjabi, from India's north. Kumar, meanwhile, is from the religious enclave of Tirupati, in southern India.

"We are going to take the best of the three cultures," Patel said.

The Patels' east-bench home brimmed with family Thursday, with hundreds flying in from around the U.S., Canada and India.

Women wore striking and elegant saris of every hue, beaded with glittering mirrors, embroidered or in brocade. Men donned impeccable tunics and sarongs, often with vibrant scarflike dhotis wrapped around their necks or shoulders. Children played everywhere.

Female relatives lovingly anointed the bride's legs and hands with a sacred turmeric paste, brought from an ancestral temple in India, leaving her skin orange and shimmering. The Haldi ceremony has elements of blessing, tribute and purification for the bride, meant to boost her chances for happiness and prosperity in wedlock.

Ceremonies moved outside and as Wasatch peaks loomed above, the pandit invoked mother gods and splashed river water on the crowd. He called out prayers and family members sang back in unison. That gave way to a noisy procession and then a garba, a spiritual circle dance. Musicians trumpeted the shehnai and beat stuttering rhythms out of barrel-shaped, double-ended drums known as dhols.

Later, in a kind of star-aligning ceremony called Griha Shanti, any astrological conflicts in the bride and groom's backgrounds were smoothed away, with an appeal to the nine planets.

They also planned a second garba for Friday evening as part of a Sangeet, an Indian wedding staple marked by music and dance, with cultural tinges drawn from a fourth Indian province, Rajasthan, on Gujarat's eastern boundary.

Saturday's revelry starts with the horse procession, followed by a Milni ceremony, where men from the bride's side welcome men from the groom's side. The Punjabi wedding rite is especially close to the groom's heart.

"It adds a joyous feel that helps bring the families together,'' said Dhingra, whose parents are prominent in Houston's business community.

Yet for all its exotic nuances, the groom said the wedding centers on elemental themes common to all cultures.

"In the end," he said, "you're just promising yourself to one another for the rest of your lives. In that aspect, it's absolutely the same."

The couple will honeymoon in Singapore, Indonesia and Malaysia.

tsemerad@sltrib.com

Twitter: @Tony_Semerad