Inside the first Indian wedding held at Baps Mandir

Dubai resident Harsh Kanjani and his bride took a leap of faith and pushed their nuptials back by months to get married at temple

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When Harsh Kanjani first visited the Baps Hindu Mandir in October, the temple was little more than a construction site. Originally due to marry in November, he and his bride-to-be decided to push their wedding back by several months.

Picking a date to tie the knot at a venue under construction was a leap of faith, but it worked out in the end. Harsh and Kanchan Kanjani (nee Raisinghani) became the first couple to marry in the temple on March 2.

“We were apprehensive at first, as the mandir was only meant to open to the public on March 1, but it all worked out beautifully and for the best,” says Harsh.

Kanchan, who was born and raised in Chennai, explains that while the couple's outfits – a light pink sherwani for him and a red-on-red lehenga for her – were ready in time, the Abu Dhabi venue itself was up in the air.

Eventually, though, the couple became the first to marry in the mandir. They will also be the only couple ever allowed to exchange garlands (the all-important varmala ceremony in Hindu weddings) on top of the temple’s flight of stairs.

Harsh explains: “While the organising committee at the temple initially agreed to this, the main swami declared it could not be done, it was not permitted. However, as they had already promised us, they followed through.”

It was no easy feat, either. “We were told to place our feet carefully on the small stage built right at the top, so we would not lose our balance or topple the platform, while our family and friends had to stand at the base of the stairs,” says Kanchan.

Harsh adds: “But the vibes were so positive, I could not stop smiling the whole time – and not just because it was my wedding day!”

Temple run

The Kanjanis, both 31, originally planned to get married in India. “We travelled everywhere from Mumbai and Chennai to Jaipur – and even went to Sri Lanka – but could not find a hotel we were happy with,” recalls Harsh, who is part of his family’s steel business.

“Then my mum happened to randomly WhatsApp the number listed on the temple’s website. Three days later, she got a response: ‘We would be very happy for your son's to be the first wedding here. Please come meet us.’

“That day itself I left work early and took my parents to the temple’s office site. Kanchan and I both felt it was a big risk to wait until March in case of delays to the inauguration and opening, but my parents were convinced it was the right choice,” says Harsh. “Full credit to them for making this happen.”

D-Day delights

The two-day wedding festivities kicked off on March 2, with a henna and haldi ceremony in the day and a musical evening, or sangeet, at night at Grand Hyatt Abu Dhabi.

On D-Day, the couple – and hundreds of guests – ate lunch at the temple followed by the wedding procession or baraat. Typically, it is the groom’s family that takes the baarat to the bride’s home, complete with music, drummers and dancing.

However, the Kanjanis decided to do it differently, with Kanchan joining Harsh in the flower-bedecked baraat car, and both sides of the family danced their way from the entrance to the main complex of the temple.

The varmala ceremony on the stairwell followed, after which the groom was directed to the sprawling banquet hall that is part of the temple complex. “The hall can accommodate more than 2,000 people, so it looked almost empty even though we had 750 guests,” says Kanchan.

Harsh waited for his bride to join him in the mandap, a section where the couple and their immediate family sit down for a prayer ceremony to take their wedding vows and their pheras around a small fire. Kanchan entered the arena under a sheet-like canopy of flowers held up over her head by four male members of her family before taking her place beside him.

Indian classical singer Ankit Batra was enlisted to provide musical entertainment, and he even translated the vows and religious hymns recited by the pandit into English. “My brief for the pheras was simple: make it quick and interesting for everyone,” says Harsh, reflecting the shifting mentality among young Indian couples who opt for shorter, more relatable wedding ceremonies.

Surreal surprise

By the time the pheras ended, it was 6.30pm and temple complex was aglow with soft fairy lights, which Kanchan says offers some of its best views.

Instead of heading back to the hotel for the evening’s festivities, however, the wedding party was told a special surprise had been organised for them by the temple’s head swami.

It was surreal, recall the couple. “The temple has an amphitheatre on one end, and after we were married, all our guests were led here for a pre-arranged 10-minute aarti, where the temple staff themselves blessed us,” says Kanchan.

Harsh adds: “Electric diyas were organised for family and friends, and two big diyas were handed to Kanchan and me. The whole arena was lit up and we prayed as one. It was truly special.”

The unexpected ceremony brought to mind the couple’s first surreal encounter at the temple. It was when they were checking out the incomplete site, and were invited to lay bricks that would be part of the actual facade.

“A special puja has been held for every single brick that makes up the temple,” explains Kanchan. “And the fact that we were given this opportunity, as well as being able to marry there as well … it's only just sinking in how lucky we are.”

Updated: March 08, 2024, 11:14 AM