When Megan Sinnen, daughter of Robert and Mary Sinnen of Grafton, and Gurpal “Gary” Dhaliwal, son of Darshan and Debra Dhaliwal of Mequon, decided to get married in both Sikh and Catholic ceremonies on Saturday, July 6, they knew it would be a long day, and hundreds of guests from around the world would come.
But even they didn’t expect more than 1,500 guests and the festivities to continue past 5 a.m. Sunday.
“We followed the last shuttle out (which took guests to and from his parents’ Mequon home along the Milwaukee River and hotels) at 5 a.m., and there were still 300 to 400 people there,” Gary said.
Gary’s mother is Catholic, and he and his siblings were raised in both faiths. When he realized how much it meant to his relatives in India, Gary decided to follow many Sikh customs, including not cutting his hair.
“My Indian grandparents are so proud that their American grandsons follow Sikh traditions,” he said.
His sister, who was married last summer, also had two ceremonies, but her Catholic ceremony was held the Saturday after the Sikh wedding.
“The issues they ran into was not many people could stay a week for both ceremonies, and they don’t know when there anniversary is,” Gary said, so he and Megan decided to do it all in one day.
Megan wore three gowns during the day — a jewel-encrusted fuchsia sari with a veil for the Sikh ceremony in the morning, a long white gown for the 5:30 p.m. Catholic ceremony at St. Joseph’s Church in Grafton and a sparkling green-and-red sari for the reception. She and her bridesmaids had henna designs on their hands and arms.
The bridesmaids wore bright blue and silver saris for the Sikh ceremony and pink knee-length gowns at the church. The mothers also wore saris and dresses for the two ceremonies.
The groom wore a long-sleeved, calf-length white coat, white pants, fuchsia scarf and turban and white pointed shoes and carried a ceremonial sword for the Sikh ceremony. He wore a grey tuxedo for the church ceremony.
The groomsmen and fathers wore blue turbans, blue-striped ties, white shirts and pants from their tuxedos for the Sikh ceremony, then donned the jackets for the church ceremony. A friend from Scotland wore a kilt with bright blue accents the entire day.
All the festivities, except the church ceremony, were held at the Dhaliwal home, where four tents were erected — one for the Sikh ceremony, one for dancing and one each for serving Indian and American cuisine — and the trees were festooned with lights.
Those who entered the tent for the Sikh ceremony covered their heads and sat on the ground on white silk cloths. Guests could also stand or sit outside the tent and still see the ceremony.
Most of the men had their heads wrapped in turbans prior to the ceremony and took home the 7-foot-long scarves that formed the headpiece. Many female guests wore brightly-colored saris.
“I didn’t recognize some of our friends in their turbans and saris,” Megan said. “It was a sea of color with all the beautiful saris.”
The Sikh ceremony, called Anan Karaj, which means blissful union, was recited and sung in Punjabi by the priest and Sikh musicians.
The Sikh holy book was placed under a canopy and covered with silk fabric that Megan brought into the tent.
Megan’s father placed one end of Gary’s scarf in her hand to signify she was leaving his care and going to her husband.
The Lavan hymns of Guru Ram Das, which describes the love between a husband and wife in four stanzas, was recited by the priest and sung as the couple, attached by the scarf, walked around the holy book four times. Megan was escorted from one corner to the next by her brother and three uncles to signify their support.
The last time around, the couple was showered with flower petals.
During the ceremony, the groom’s mother fed seven spoonfuls of sweets to her new daughter-in-law to welcome her into the family.
“It tasted like pure sugar,” Megan said. “That’s all the food I ate all day. I was too busy to eat.”
The Sikh traditions started with a blessing of the Dhaliwal home. Six priests, who stayed at the home, took turns reading the holy book around the clock for three days. Relatives and friends from India arrived two to three weeks prior to the wedding.
The couple has no idea how many guests attended, but figure it was at least 1,500 and perhaps as many as 2,000 people.
About 2,500 wedding invitations, which were made in India and resembled thick books, were sent.
“There are no rsvps for Indian weddings,” Gary said. “You have to figure on having as many people as the number of invitations sent.”
Indian food was served around the clock — starting with breakfast to which all guests were invited, lunch after the ceremony, an array of appetizers, then entrees served as late as 11:30 p.m. Originally planning for 400 meals, the caterer kept making food to meet the demand.
A second caterer, who provided American food, served more than 400 meals in less than two hours and left before 9:30 p.m. because he ran out of food.
“I think the American caterer sold out so quickly because there were such long lines for the Indian food,” Gary said. “People would get the American food and eat it while they waited in line for the Indian food.”
Fortunately, a friend told Gary on Friday he wanted to prepare rotisserie food for the wedding. He arrived with 150 chickens and three 50-pound goats that he started cooking on spits in the morning.
“I looked out the window and thought, ‘I don’t remember agreeing to that,’” Megan said.
“It’s a good thing he came,” Gary said. “There wasn’t a speck of food left.”
A typical Indian wedding lasts three days, Gary said, but the couple tried to condense theirs to two — a rehearsal and dinner for 300 people on Friday evening and the full day of activities Saturday.
On Sunday morning, Gary’s parents found 300 to 400 people at their home and ordered more food from the caterer.
The newlyweds holed up in their Grafton home, telling people they were going to Door County for a honeymoon.
The couple met three years ago at a Green Bay Packers game. Megan played in a volleyball league with Gary’s brother Jesse, who introduced her to “his little brother.” Gary is a head taller than his older brother. He and his friends had rented a bus for the game and were partying.
“When I first met him, I thought he was the biggest jerk on the planet,” Megan said. “Our paths crossed again a month later, and he was so different.”
But she was more interested in setting him up with her girlfriend, who was too shy to call him.
“So I got his phone number and e-mail, and we would talk back and forth while I arranged gatherings where they could be together,” Megan said. “As a nurse, I was working weird hours and he was often driving at odd hours, so we e-mailed and talked a lot.”
Gary works for his family’s business, Bulk Petroleum Corp. in Mequon.
Her mother noticed the attraction between the two before the couple did.
“I always wanted to be a traveling nurse and I was all set to go with three friends to California for a year,” Megan said. “I hadn’t dated anyone for several years, and I was into being single. Four months before I left, we started dating. He never made me feel guilty or bad about leaving.”
Instead, every four to five weeks, Gary flew to California, planning three-day outings around her nursing schedule. They drove up and down the coast and went to the Grand Canyon and Las Vegas.
“You get to know each other when you go on long car rides,” Megan said.
In fall 2012, Gary invited Megan and her parents to visit India and meet his relatives. Gary proposed to Megan in front of the Taj Mahal. Her family and all their friends knew his plans.
While Megan sat on a bench, Gary got down on his knee and proposed.
“I was so surprised. I started crying,” she said. “I’m sure not many Indian men get down on their knee to propose, and people were probably wondering what was happening.”
The couple, her parents and bridesmaids returned to India to order invitations and their wedding outfits, which were all custom made.
Megan wore armfuls of gold bracelets and bangles on her wedding day.
“The tradition is she doesn’t have to do any housework as long as she wears the bracelets, which traditionally is about 30 days,” Megan said.
“That didn’t happen.”