The groom rode into Saturday’s wedding ceremony atop a white horse, and about three hours later — after much singing, dancing, symbolism and ceremony — he and his new wife floated into the Salt Lake City sky in a hot air balloon.
It was the colorful culmination of Hindu matrimonial rites for bride Avni Patel, of Salt Lake City, and groom Abhishek Dhingra, of Houston. It was a fairy tale event, lasting three days and involving hundreds of people from all over the globe.
"We’ve never seen something like this on a such a grand scale in Salt Lake City," said Namrata Handlon, who was one of about 500 guests who attended the wedding ceremony at the Grand America Hotel. "I’ve lived here for 13 years and this is the biggest one I’ve seen."
An evening reception, with nearly 800 people, was planned for Saturday night.
Dinesh Patel, a wealthy venture capitalist, philanthropist and pioneer in Utah’s biotechnology industries, and his wife Kalpana spared no expense when it came to their daughter’s wedding. With the help of an Atlanta-based wedding planner, the event took nearly 15 months to research and plan, including a five-week trip to India.
Guests, like Resham Shah, were pleased that the ceremonies blended two of India’s distinct provinces into one cohesive ceremony. The Patel family comes from Gujarat, a province in western India, while the groom’s parents, Ashok and Vijay Dhingra of Houston, are Punjabi, from the north.
"I grew up in India and to see the exact same traditions carried on here is exciting to witness," said Shah. "They have really gone the extra mile."
Shah’s husband, Saurabh — and Dinesh Patel’s nephew — also was thrilled by the magnitude of the event.
"It’s a monumental wedding," he said. "It really shows my uncle’s love for his daughter and his culture."
The ceremony was exceptionally festive. Women — including the bride — wore bright colored saris with intricate bead work and embroidery, while the men donned tunics and sarongs.
The event began about 10 a.m. at the Main Street entrance of Grand America where family and friends gathered to watch the groom, wearing traditional dress, climb atop a white horse that had been draped with a beaded and embroidered tapestry. The family decided against an elephant, which is what grooms ride in India.
With drums beating — and the help of Salt Lake City police who blocked traffic — the wedding procession traveled south along Main Street, then turned and headed east along 600 South. Once the group reached the side entrance of the hotel, they were greeted by the bride’s family who welcomed and blessed the groom into their family.
The meeting was followed by more drumming, dancing and the chanting of the groom’s name "Abhishek! Abhishek! Abhishek!" as he stepped on a clay vessel, crushing it into pieces. The act symbolized his strength and determination to overcome all obstacles he may have in married life.
The group then moved into the center courtyard where a Mandap — or altar — had been created. It was covered with a white canopy and decorated with pink and orange flowers, to signify beauty and joy.
The ceremony, which lasted about 90 minutes, was filled with symbolism, from the exchange of flower garlands, which shows the couple’s willingness to accept each other as life partners, to circling a small fire, designed to bring warmth to the couple’s life.
The ceremony was complete after the couple recited the "saptapadi" or seven vows, which include living with honor and respect, sharing both joy and sorrow, remembering their parents and elders and being charitable.
Shilpi Culmer, a friend of the Patels, made an apt description of the day’s events.
"It’s all about color and vibrancy, food and drink, making merry and blessing the bride and groom," she said. "It’s just a golden day that brings together east and west."
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