One Wedding Two Worlds

written by Mary Brown Malouf

Salt Laker Sarah Lappe marries Tejas Sonavane in his hometown of Mumbai, India, then continues the party back home in Utah.

Words can’t describe it. In memory, it’s a colorful blur. You have to be there or see the pictures to understand the vivid colors, joyful crowds, glittering traditions and rambunctious music of an Indian wedding.

When Sarah Lappe, outreach coordinator at the U’s Sustainability Research Center, and Tejas Sonavane, an engineer at VIA Motors in Orem, started planning their wedding, the first big question was, where? Sarah grew up in Salt Lake City; Tejas’ home town is Mumbai, India. Sarah is Jewish; Tejas is Hindu. It didn’t take long for the couple to pick a place.

“Mumbai!” says Sarah, who studied Hindu before going to India. “We had been to his brother’s wedding in India so I knew what it was like,” she explains. “We wanted to honor his family’s tradition.”

Planning from Overseas? Let it Go

The decision meant turning over a lot of wedding and celebration decision-making to Tejas’ family in Mumbai. Sarah usually is more comfortable taking charge: She had scheduled her own proposal, suggesting Tejas propose during a visit from her brother. Tejas  surprised her by going down on one knee in the snow a day earlier. But she was perfectly happy to let her new family plan the wedding week. “I had met his family and they’re amazing,” she says. Plus, with email, Instagram and Facebook, wedding options were easily shared. “Tejas’ mother visited venues, took pictures and sent videos to us for approval,” Sarah explains.

How to Pick a Date? Think Beyond the Calendar

The first thing to determine was a date. “My family visited a Hindu astrologer to choose an auspicious date and time,” says Tejas. “Taking into account all our birth information, the astrologer offered us a choice of several.” Fortunately, one of the dates was in January, a beautiful time of year in the usually hot, muggy coastal city of Mumbai.

Choosing a Venue? Location is Everything

Another consideration was traffic. Mumbai is the largest city in India and the 9th largest urban area in the world. Streets and highways are clogged day and night with automobiles, motorcycles, bicycles and buses, not to mention auto-rickshaws and camel or horse-drawn carts on occasion. “We needed everything to be central for local people because traffic is so congested,” says Tejas. By everything, Tejas is talking about a half-dozen separate celebrations that go into the traditional multi-day Hindu wedding ceremony.

What to Wear? Color, of Course

The guests, who arrived from all over the world, were housed in two hotels, the Hotel Kohinoor Continental, and the Taj Mahal Palace. And first on all the Americans’ agenda was buying traditional Indian clothes for the wedding ceremonies. Tejas and Sarah arranged one shopping day for the men to buy kurtas or more formal sherwani and the women to buy their saris in time to have them fitted, and another day for the women to purchase jewelry. An Indian wedding is a fashion show—all the “aunties,” revered matrons­—and other relatives wear gorgeous new outfits. From the engagement party at the M.I.G. Cricket Club on the first night, through the end of her wedding day, Sarah wore five wedding outfits. “None of them,” she says, “were white.”

All the “aunties” and other relatives wear gorgeous new outfits.

From Mumbai to the Mountains: The Salt Lake Wedding

For family and friends unable to make the long trip to Mumbai, Sarah and Tejas celebrated a second wedding at Gallivan Hall in Salt Lake City.

With the help of Salt Lake friend and food maven Lydia Martinez, the couple created a multicultural occasion that combined Jewish and Hindu traditions. Saffron Valley prepared a buffet of lamb biryani and tikka masala and the bar served beer, lassi and the classic Indian gin and tonic. Instead of a wedding cake, Cupcakes by Kasthuri made cupcakes with an Indian flavor, using spices like cardamom, saffron and mango.

“We wanted to be sure we were balancing both family traditions,” says Lydia. So family friend Lou Borgenicht wrote and performed the service that included signing a katuba and the groom’s traditional smashing of the glass. Tejas wore a Western suit, but Sarah wore her red wedding sari and “all my Indian wedding gold.” Many of the guests who had bought saris for the Indian wedding wore them to the Salt Lake affair.

Indians love dancing and the party danced all night, closing the dance floor and fortifying themselves with a late-night pizza delivery.

Two artists worked on Sarah, whose arms and feet were elaborately decorated with henna paste, which must be left on until it dries. The darker the henna, tradition says, the stronger the marriage.

Sarah and Tejas and many of the guests were rubbed with turmeric paste in a beautification ritual. (Everyone was advised to wear yellow clothes.)

Wedding guests thronged around the groom, cheering and dancing in the Mumbai street as passengers on grid-locked buses cheered from the windows.

Lit up like a Bollywood set, the rooftop of the Courtyard Mumbai hotel was carpeted in bright green grass with dinner tables in front of the mandap, a colorful canopy set on four pillars, representing the four parents of the couple.

Author Mary Brown Malouf and Glen Warchol

See more inside the 2017 issue.

Photographs by Jed Pearson for Andrew Paul Photography

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