If you visit a Sikh temple you may be lucky enough to attend a wedding while you’re there.
Families who host Sikh weddings must be ready to feed more people than they actually invite because Sikh temples are open to the public and it is not uncommon for strangers to join the celebration.
This is just one of many customs that non-Sikhs may be unaware of.
Arvinder Grewal’s book, Weddings Around The World: Sikh Weddings, is a guidebook inspired by her own experiences with weddings growing up in Vancouver. She wrote the book for the Sikh-Canadian community when she realized that some customs were being lost.
“I intended it for the generation who have lost this information, who don’t have this information passed down to them,” said Grewal. But she added that the book is for anyone who is interested in Punjab culture or the Sikh religion. “I hope that it gives people an idea of the beauty of a Sikh wedding, the richness, the culture,” she said.
She noted a distinction must be made between Sikhism and Punjab. Sikhism is a religion, whereas Punjab is a region in northern India that extends into eastern Pakistan.
According to a 2011 Statistics Canada report, 11 per cent of Vancouverites self-identify as South Asian, 10 per cent speak Punjabi at home and 6.5 per cent follow the Sikh religion.
Grewal commented that the newer generations of Indo-Canadians may actually know more about Indian culture than she did as a kid because the community is much bigger than before.
“Growing up, there wasn’t a lot of Indian people here,” she said. But weddings always brought the family together and reminded everyone of the ties they shared. It was what inspired Grewal to write this book.
“The wedding is a standard thing in my life. Whether it’s my sister or niece getting married, there’s always a wedding. I know that it’s always going to be there. It’s something that brings a community together,” said Grewal.
Colourful Punjabi wedding festivities that stretch for an entire city block are a common sight in Vancouver. However, even though weddings are such iconic celebrations in Punjabi culture, most people don’t question the traditions, nor do they understand the meaning behind all of the customs.
“When I was doing my research and I asked people why they did certain rituals, they would say ‘we just do it.’ So I wanted to write down the meaning of some of these customs,” said Grewal.
Things can get even more confusing when people from different cultures marry each other.
The good news is “you can mix western influences with the pre and post marriage celebrations,” according to Grewal. But the ceremony itself is set and there are certain prayers that need to be recited.
The Sikh wedding ceremony itself only takes about 20 minutes, but the weeklong Punjabi-based wedding festivities can easily incorporate Western influences. For example, bridal showers and receptions are staples in most South Asian weddings now, according to Grewal.
Grewal wrote Weddings Around The World: Sikh Weddings while working full time as a clinical youth counsellor at B.C. Children’s Hospital. She also provides pre-marital counselling for South Asian couples.
Grewal was raised in Vancouver by parents who emigrated here from Punjab, India.
More similar themed books are in the works, according to Grewal. Currently she is researching Hindi and Greek weddings.