Indian Wedding in Sonoma: Raj and Danielle - Grier Cooper Photography

Indian Wedding in Sonoma: Raj and Danielle

I got my first taste of the magnificence of Indian weddings when I visited India in 2010, so I was ecstatic about photographing the Sangeet for Raj and Danielle’s Indian wedding in Sonoma. Family and friends were traveling from India and around the world to attend the event and enjoy a full weekend together in Sonoma.

What is a Sangeet?

Among the many pre-wedding events that occur prior to the Hindu, Punjabi, and Gujurati wedding ceremonies, the Sangeet is more or less, a big party thrown the night before the wedding day. Put more simply, it’s where the party begins. This one was held at held at the Doubletree Hotel in Sonoma. The word Sangeet translates to ‘sung together’ from Sanskrit. Unlike religious ceremonies or portions of the wedding ceremony, the premise of the Sangeet is not only to rejoice but to join the families so that they familiarize themselves with one another prior to the big wedding day.

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The evening was divided into a few different activities. First came the Sehra Bandi,  where the groom’s sisters tied an ornamental shield to his turban. Raj’s Sehra was ornately decorated with pearl garlands hanging down covering his face.

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The Baraat, The Groom’s Wedding Procession

Next came the Baraat, the groom’s wedding procession. Traditionally the Baraat begins at the groom’s house and ends at the wedding venue, accompanied by the all the relatives and friends from the groom’s side. The elaborately dressed, spruced up groom is the center of attention! While it is customary for the groom to travel to the wedding venue on a horse, Raj opted to not arrive on horseback. Instead he had a lot of fun being theatrical while he processed with his family on foot. When they arrived, Danielle’s family welcomed them.

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Varmala or Jaimala: Exchanging Garlands

Because this was an Indian/American fusion wedding, they broke tradition a bit here and there. This was true for the Varmala, where bride and groom exchange garlands to signify the start of their marriage rituals. ‘Jaimala’ directly translates to ‘victory garland’ as princes and kings returning home from battle were greeted with flower garlands.  Traditionally, bride and groom try to garland one another first, to establish who will be the dominant partner in the marriage. Sometimes the families will try to help by lifting bride and groom aloft so they are more difficult to garland.  Raj and Daniel’s family chose to extend the garlanding ritual; including members of both families. Parents, siblings, grandparents, uncles, aunts and cousins all exchanged garlands and made it into a game, trying to lift one another off the ground… in the end, the bride walked away with the upper hand.

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Danielle and Raj were still laughing about it as they walked into cocktail hour. The couple feasted on hors d’oeuvres and cocktails, while mingling with guests in a gorgeous environment created by Saba Decor. The Ajrawat family had created a website that explained the significance of the Sangeet, with advice on what to wear. Evidently their guests did their homework because everyone arrived in traditional dress; so many stunning outfits!

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Dinner and dancing

Once the group moved into the ballroom for a sumptuous buffet dinner, Raj’s sister and her family opened this portion of the evening by performing a dance together. This part of the evening usually includes dances performed by relatives and friends of the Bride and Groom. Next came a traditional dance for just the women only.

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Later they opened the dance floor to everyone, so the festivities could really begin. Raj and his father and brothers had a great time, alternating between having fun and trying to outdo one another on the dance floor.

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Indian weddings are arguably one of the most colorful and festive wedding celebrations. Raj and Danielle’s Sangeet was a visual feast; an auspicious beginning to an incredible wedding. Best wishes for a long, happy life together!

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