SAMMY & VARUN: part ii of iii
Let’s go back in time to taste some magic—some Sammy and Varun magic—shall we?
It was a Tuesday morning in October of 2016, and we’d just wrapped shooting one unfairly beautiful engagement session in the middle of a perfect Washington D.C. sunrise. As we walked back towards our cars, I asked S+V about their plans for the upcoming holidays since their wedding was in April and I likely wouldn’t get to see them over the winter months. Sammy shared their plans for Halloween. Plans for Thanksgiving. Plans for their wedding in India. Plans for Christma—
“I’m sorry. Did you just say you’re having an Indian wedding… in INDIA?!”
How, in all of the excited sharing of plans, had I missed this wild detail? Varun excitedly shared with me how he promised his family—many of whom still live in New Delhi—that he would celebrate his marriage with them halfway across the world with a three-day celebration. Sammy exclaimed that it would be her first time visiting India and that she had no idea what she was in for, but she was ready for a wild ride.
Jokingly and with a hefty dose of side-eye, I asked what I figured what the most important question. “So, do you guys have a, uh, photographer booked yet for this Indian wedding?”
Sammy looked at me hesitantly. “Well, actually, we’ve been wanting to ask you but just figured you wouldn’t.”
I stopped in my tracks. “No way. If you are joking then this is the cruelest trick that anyone has ever played!”
But Sammy and Varun weren’t joking. And two months later I was in the air, en route to New Delhi to photograph my very first destination wedding. IN INDIA.
India is an assault on all five senses. The smells might hit you first, and the range is broad: one second the savory scent of street food (that you’re too wise to indulge in) makes your mouth water helplessly and the very next you’ll catch a heavy wif of the less pleasant smells that tend to exist around immense poverty. Your ears are constantly occupied with the honking of endless traffic mixed with Baliwood music and birdsong at sunset. Meanwhile, the brightest, most beautiful colors you’ve ever seen swirl together in a palette of fabrics, gem stones, shoes, vegetables, mosaics, paintings and tapestries. Your eyeballs are filled to the brim while your hands are distracted by the impossible smoothness of centuries-old marble work. AND THE FOOD. Every bite of every meal is flavorful and delicious, though once in awhile a little too much green chili may or may not leave you with tears in your eyes. India is a places that is, in a word or two, absolutely overwhelming. In two more words: uniquely beautiful.
And these descriptors can be applied to almost any aspect of Indian culture, including marriages. The wedding festivities began with the informal but intimate pooja ceremony, where Sammy and Varun were surrounded in their family’s home and prayed over. My dear friend (and second shooter for the adventure) Amy and I walked through the door and immediately felt as though we’d been adopted by this sweet, eccentric family. To be welcomed so warmly into such a sacred space was an unrivaled experience.
Indian weddings are remarkable in the way that each piece of the celebration is both sacred and entirely participatory. On the second day, Sammy and Varun experienced the haldi, a ceremony where the bride and groom are painted in Tumeric paste by their families until they are entirely covered in the yellow hue. Each family member steps forward and prays a blessing over the couple as they dab their face, hands, and feet with golden dots. As I shot away, I was brought to tears more than once. I laughed from my belly more than once. Imagine an American wedding ceremony, but instead of the rules and etiquette that prevent you from interacting with this pair of humans who you love, you were encouraged, even expected, to step forward in front of this couple’s tribe and speak your hope and love for them out loud. It was like nothing I’d ever experienced.
And so was the party. The day before the official ceremony, Indian weddings have a sort of party-before-the-party, the sangeet. Between the kaleidoscope of colorful saris, the scent of indian spices, flashing lights on a jam-packed dance floor and marigolds covering every inch of the room, S+V’s sangeet was a literal feast for the eyes and soul. Your girl may have even taken a few turns on the dance floor, twisting some light bulbs!
Finally, on the third day and after so much preparation and celebration, came the official Hindi marriage ceremony, which somehow managed to pack in even more joy, music, color, and celebration than the first two days combined. As is tradition, Varun made his way to Sammy in the barat, a sort of parade where the groom rides to the bride before her parents receive his. The barat is a party in and of itself. Loud drums, dancing, and cheering surrounded Varun—who looked like an Indian prince riding in a horse-drawn carriage. The groom arrives to the bride’s home (or in this case a lovely New Delhi venue), where the ceremony begins, another beautiful and sacred but interactive moment. Sammy and Varun walked around a fire seven times, the Saptapadi, to represent the seven promises they make to each other, as their family literally showered them with love in the form of flower petals. It was the perfect culmination of a heart-full weekend celebrating the two bright souls of Sammy and Varun coming together.
I don’t know the proper words to thank Sammy and Varun, who I now consider dear friends, for giving me the opportunity to travel half way around the world to document their love story. It’s a gift I don’t deserve and one for which I will be forever grateful. Because of this phenomenal pair, I got to explore a piece of the globe I didn’t dream of seeing for years and years. I left India with a spinning head and a full heart, so excited that this wasn’t even close to the final chapter of S+V’s love story.
I have already written too much, and ahead I have too many images to share with you, but how on earth am I supposed to be concise when sharing about such an extraordinary adventure and such a radiant celebration? I don’t think I am supposed to. So, let me just say…
Introducing (for the first time): Mr. and Mrs. Pande
Endless gratitude to you, Sammy and Varun, for the experience of a lifetime. And special, infinite thanks to the incomparable Amy Gray, my talented friend and right hand woman throughout the entire trip. Without her, this trip would have been nearly impossible and infinitely less fun.