Shortly after last month’s debut of Netflix documentary series “The Big Day,” which follows several Indian couples as they plan their extravagant weddings, Sunil Ayyagari began receiving messages from family members.
“My cousins were like, ‘Have you seen the gay marriage episode? Said Ayyagari, a New Jersey-based marketing manager. Their curiosity was understandable, as Ayyagari married her husband, Stephen Shinsky, in May 2019 in a ceremony highlighting Indian traditions.
“The Big Day” features six weddings that represent the highest level in India’s $ 50 billion wedding industry. One of the most memorable couples on the show was former cruise ship captain Tyrone Braganza, from the southern Indian city of Goa, and German-born celebrity makeup artist Daniel Bauer. . Viewers watch Braganza and Bauer work to create wedding ceremonies that both recognize their relationship and honor the traditions of the Goan Catholic family of Braganza, Bauer’s German ancestry, and the South Indian culture of Bauer’s grandfather. , born in Chennai.
While same-sex marriage is still banned in India, Braganza and Bauer’s marriage received extensive coverage in Indian media, and several of Bauer’s famous clients attended the ceremony. The show also introduces audiences to Braganza’s mother and Bauer’s parents, both of whom were initially worried but eventually came to support the couple.
Outside of the show, even South Asian Americans with supportive parents say there is often anxieties when it comes to extended family. When medical student Pallavi Juneja, 27, addressed her parents as a teenager, they quickly embraced her identity. But “the problem that persisted for years was the extended family and how to tell the extended family and what they would think,” Juneja said.
When Juneja and her girlfriend, Whitney Rose Terry, started planning their wedding, Juneja’s parents sent a clear message.
“My dad took a trip to India and went to each family member’s house with a box of candy and personally invited them to our wedding,” she said. “He did this not only because it’s a personal and kind thing to do, but also because he wanted to be the one who would receive any discomfort or discomfort first.”
Juneja’s family turned out to be excited about the wedding and many had planned to travel to the United States to attend before the coronavirus pandemic caused the couple to hold a smaller ceremony in January. “They were very supportive and were very happy to meet Whitney Rose, even if it was only on FaceTime,” Juneja said.
Juneja’s story is in many ways typical, said Sapna Pandya, a Washington, DC-based pundit, the title given to Hindu religious scholars and priests who perform weddings and other spiritual rituals. When Pandya told her family that she wanted to marry her longtime partner, Sahar Shafqat, in 2010, her parents were initially reluctant to hold a public ceremony.
“They were just worried about it and asked, ‘Who’s going to come to your wedding? Why would you expose yourself so vulnerable? “Pandya said. Seeing the support the couple received allayed their fears.” They could see how many people were actually there to celebrate us, “Pandya said.
Over the past decade, Pandya has performed dozens of weddings for South Asian LGBTQ couples. When Pandya works with couples to plan their ceremonies, she draws on the lessons she learned from her grandfather, a Hindu priest.
“I went to weddings with him and watched. And I think when he passed away I just felt like I wanted to be able to carry on that legacy, ”she said. “He did it for his community, which was the Gujarati community here. I wanted to do it for my community, which is the queer community in South Asia.”
Pandya, whose wife was born in Pakistan, also knows how to adapt centuries-old South Asian wedding traditions in an assertive way.
“We wanted to make sure that we incorporated both Muslim and Hindu traditions. So we basically wrote our own ceremony,” she said. Their marriage included the brides doing the seven steps around a fire which is an essential part of many Hindu traditions. “We also made a nikah nama, which is the Muslim marriage contract,” Pandya said. “It’s basically a contract between two people who tell each other what you promise to each other.”
But in making these changes, many LGBTQ couples notice how narrow some rituals can be. “They’re inherently sexist, and because they’re inherently sexist, they’re also inherently sexist in a way,” Juneja said.
Juneja and her mother worked to think of ways to adjust the rituals to include both brides. For the traditional Punjabi Hindu Chunni ceremony, in which the bride receives a traditional shawl from her family, Juneja and Terry were draped in their shawls by their mothers.
“My mom used the one given to her by her mother-in-law, and she then gave it to my wife,” Juneja said. “And then the shawl that was given to him by his own mother was loaned to my wife’s family, and they gave it to me.
Fans of “The Big Day” say they hope its positive portrayal of gay marriage will lead to greater acceptance of LGBTQ people in South Asia and the South Asian diaspora.
“My whole family came to my big gay wedding,” Ayyagari said. “I think being able to see other people on TV or read about them helps normalize it and remove some of the stigma that we have in our culture.”