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Saturday, Feb. 4, 2006

Part 1: Two weddings, one marriage

Globe and Mail
Tuesday, Jun. 6, 2003


At the Akali Singh Sikh temple, wedding No. 2 begins well before noon. It is bad luck, by Sikh custom, to have a wedding after 12 p.m.

Maricar sits with her bridesmaids in a side room, while outside by the front door, the male members of her family formally greet the male members of Par's and begin the marriage rite. She is dressed as a traditional Sikh bride: Her elegant red and gold lengha swirls around her feet, a veil covers her hair and long gold bracelets dangle from her wrists nearly to her ankles. Around her neck, she wears a golden gift from her mother-in-law.

Upstairs in the temple, the families are divided by gender, men seated on the floor to the right and women to the left. All heads are covered. Like Father Polanco, the president of the temple explains the service at length in English. The prayers are chanted in formal Punjabi. Maricar and Par have distributed their own leaflet, advising the women to wear pants and warning that people may wander around during the wedding.

The most important part of the ceremony, the equivalent of the vows they spoke yesterday, happens when Par leads Maricar clockwise around the Guru Granth Sahib, the Sikh holy book. She has chosen four male cousins, who clasp her shoulders one after another when she passes; as the leaflet explains, this represents that they will be present should she need a brother for support.

Four times, the couple circles the altar, pausing each time for a reading of the Lavaan, the text on the love between husband and wife. At the end of the ceremony, Maricar and Par remain seated on the floor, while relatives line up behind them and drop money on their laps. They all proceed to a vegetarian lunch, the second reception.

In the eyes of both sides of the family, they are now officially husband and wife.
Directing guests to their dinner tables at the third reception that evening, Sarah and Daljit Dhillon speak wistfully about the easy way with which Par's parents — their honorary aunt and uncle — have accepted his marriage.

It will be some time, the two women say, before it comes so easily in their own family. Their father has presented them with a list of family names, whose sons would be unacceptable; not only does he expect his daughters to marry Sikhs, he expects them to marry Sikhs within their own farmer caste.

There have been arguments about this: When Sarah, 21, was caught dating a Sikh man from another caste, her mother hinted that perhaps she should move out. Now, Sarah has "a lot of 'birthday parties' " with her girlfriends, and dates him quietly. "I don't see him as a caste," she says. "I see him as Canadian."

"I'm going to raise my kids the Canadian way," Daljit vows. "They'll be allowed to date. They'll be allowed to wear makeup. And they'll be allowed to choose."

They place their hope, at least in part, in Par and Maricar, whose care in giving their two cultures equal place is symbolized even in the Indian and Filipino dancers they arranged to perform at the party.

The newlyweds talk confidently about teaching their kids both sides of their roots, to be baptized Roman Catholic but know the traditions of Sikh culture, and to learn from their grandparents both Punjabi and Tagalog. Their mothers and fathers, in the end, are united in their common goal — the oldest tradition of all — to soon see new grandchildren.

"They have their ways," Par's sister Tej says of her mother and father. "But I give them so much credit for the way they have handled it. It's not their ideal world, but they have accepted it."

After that, what is left to do but dance?

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