Harmony in Honolulu

A weeklong Indian wedding celebration in Hawaii blended cultural traditions, featured bright colors and multiple parties, and starred a bride and groom who love to sing and dance.

Written by Sonia Thompson 

Photographed by Danny K Photography

When Prenya Rajendran began planning her April 18, 2014, wedding to Sameer Tapryal, she knew that music, singing and dancing would be an important part of their celebration. Sameer plays guitar and is in a band, and she plays piano and violin and is classically trained in traditional Indian dance. But most of all, the bride’s father, Arunachalam Rajendran, a professor of mechanical engineering at the University of Mississippi, was excited about his role: the father-daughter dance.

“My dad is the biggest dancer ever,” Prenya said, “whether it’s at home being silly or at another person’s wedding. He loves it.”

Although Prenya and her husband (who met as medical students on a study-abroad program in India) now live in Reno, Nev., she stayed with her parents in Oxford for five months before her wedding. It was during that time that she and her dad practiced their wedding dance moves.

“He’d come home from work, and he’d be like, ‘Let’s dance!’ ” she said, laughing. “It was great father-daughter bonding time for us.”

At her reception, held in the ballroom of the J.W. Marriott Ihilani Resort and Spa in Honolulu, Prenya and her dad showed off their fancy footwork with a slow ballroom dance to Billy Joel’s Lullabye before breaking out into the twist with choreography inspired by the movie Pulp Fiction.

Another favorite moment of that night was Prenya’s first dance with her husband.

“It was really special,” she said. “Sam wrote me a song that we danced to, and then we looked out at our reception and were just amazed seeing everyone.” 

That moment was the culmination of a weeklong celebration as well as a year of preparation with her mother, Pam Rajendran.

“Indian weddings are insane to plan,” Prenya said.

Like most traditional Indian weddings, Prenya and Sameer’s nuptials included five days of parties leading up to the wedding ceremony.

“It was for all our close friends and family to spend not just a day, but a week to be together,” Pam said.

The week kicked off on Monday with a welcome dinner, called Lakshmi Puja, held at Sameer’s parents’ house in Honolulu.

“We do our prayers and seek the blessing of god before we start anything,” Pam said. “So we had a big prayer celebration.”

Tuesday was the Mehndi celebration, also held at the groom’s parents’ house, where the bride’s hands and feet were adorned with henna. All the women in the family and Prenya’s bridesmaids and friends helped.

Wednesday marked the Sangeet celebration, held in the Luau Garden of the Hale Koa Hotel. Sangeet means music, and the festivities included hours of singing and dancing and a dinner afterward.

“It’s a celebration for the forthcoming wedding,” Pam said. “There’s bright colors and everyone gets dressed up in their best clothes.” 

Thursday was the Haldi ceremony, held at a private park, where family members help the bride prepare for the wedding with ceremonial bridal baths and flowered jewelry.

The wedding was held Friday. The outdoor ceremony for 280 guests took place on the palatial Lagoon Lawn of the Ihilani Resort. Palm trees and luscious greenery surround the romantic red mandap, or tent, which was wrapped in red and white roses. The bride wore a traditional red sari, an Indian custom that is intended to bring good luck and prosperity to the couple. 

“We left 38 years ago from India, but I still wanted to keep our traditions going to pass on to our children,” Pam said. “It truly blended Western and Eastern cultures.”

The celebration also blended many Indian traditions. The Rajendran family is Tamil and from southern India. Sameer’s family is Punjabi and from northern India. Each Indian state has it’s own unique language, food, fashion and customs.

“Our families have very different traditions,” Pam said. “We wanted to combine them for this wedding. The groom came in on a horse, which is an important part of the Punjabi tradition, but there was also an exchanging of garlands between the families, which is important to Tamil tradition.”

The clothing Prenya and Sameer wore also represented a blending of their cultures.

“My mom, dad and I went to India for 10 days to shop before the wedding,” Prenya said. “India is such a big country. We had to travel the whole country to get the clothes I wanted from south India, and then we flew to north India to get clothes for Sam to wear.”    

After the wedding ceremony, it was time to party. Prenya changed out of her red wedding sari and into a two-piece, silver beaded and blush-pink dress for the reception.

“It was the most elaborate dress, all custom-made in India,” she said.

It was the perfect complement to the resort’s ballroom, which was decorated with tall sprays of roses and tropical flowers and glowing chandeliers. Professionals danced the hula for guests, and other performers showcased contemporary Cirque du Soleil-inspired moves, honoring the bride’s love of music and dance. A woman wearing a feathered headdress and a gown that balanced dozens of individual cupcakes was a highlight.

Prenya hired Oxford-based photographer Danny Klimetz to capture her big day.

“On the wedding day, we started about  6 a.m. and finished about 12:30 p.m., so it was a lot of work,” Klimetz said. “It was over the top, crazy and fun.”

When the reception finally ended, the Rajendrans had one more event to host the next day. They invited guests to a casual picnic on Waikiki Beach to wind down the week’s festivities.

“The next day we wanted to be casual. That way we could just be together and have fun on the beach,” Pam said. “It was relaxed. We had picnic food, and we all wore white. We got to enjoy the families that flew from all around the world. We got to really enjoy the company.”

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