Weddings August 12, 2008

Their Own Private India – Idaho Style

They are not said to be husband and wife who merely sit together. Rather they alone are called husband and wife, who have one soul in two bodies.
—Guru Amar Das

 After a series of prayers led by his mother, Gurmeet Singh was left alone to survey the colorful garb spread before him. Each item he would put on for the upcoming Anand Karaj had meaning. Each task he would undertake preceding the “blissful union” with Dev Mukh Kaur Khalsa would be deliberate.

There was the uchkin, a cream-colored robe with a gold embroidered collar, and a red silk scarf representing the blessing of Dev’s father. A gold-plumed red turban, looped with pearls, rested beside the sword, this a gift from his father, who had accepted it from his father’s grandfather, who was gifted with the bejeweled weapon by an Indian king.

After taking it all in, he slipped on the robe and tied the turban in anticipation of the ceremony, which would be in keeping with the ancient tradition of the Sikh religion.

Out of sight of his room at the Inn at Ellsworth Estate—but just across the way at Hailey’s rodeo grounds—Gurmeet’s pajama-clad sisters carefully dressed a quarter horse named Dudley, draping him in lavish tinsel, fringe, and velvet. Soon, the horse would be presented to Gurmeet to ride forth into marriage.

Dev and her mother, sisters, and friends were in another room at the inn, making their own preparations for the morning ceremony. As part of the tradition, Dev had elaborate henna designs applied to her hands and feet. She would soon adorn herself in a red silk brocade lehnga a variation on the traditional sari.

Indians consider a wedding the most important occasion in a family. Details are required in the planning that are so minute that it takes more than the best of wedding planners. Instead, mothers and grandmothers, uncles and nephews are called upon, as many of the traditions are oral.

As the time drew near, Gurmeet was not nervous. He knew he had listened well in the months before, as his relatives schooled him in the rites to be followed to complete this chapter in his decade-long relationship with Dev.

Apparently, though, someone had left out one important detail.

“I was getting ready to walk out the door and I was like, ‘where are my flipping shoes?’” Gurmeet recounted recently, the memory obviously still agitating him. “Then somebody asked me, ‘how much would you pay for them?’”

It was then that he realized that Dev’s mischievous sisters had swiped the fancy slippers, as tradition dictated. So—with a fistful of cash—he went to them to barter for their return.

Dev and Gurmeet met over a torn pair of pants while attending a boarding school in Dehra Dun, India, when he was 17 and she was 16. For weeks, Gurmeet had been awakened before dawn by the glint from a sword being used in the practice of a martial art known as Gutka on a rooftop adjacent to his dorm room.

He cursed the stranger, vowing to find out who was behind the nuisance.

When he noticed the freckle-faced brunette with a clean slice up the back of her pant leg and a matching cut in her skin, he was intrigued.

Inquiries were made, and Dev innocently identified herself as the solitary tormenter from the roof. >>>


Born in New Delhi, Gurmeet moved to the U.S. at age five, and lived in New Mexico until he returned to India for high school. Dev, born in Tucson to American Sikh parents, left New Mexico for India at age seven with her three sisters to learn the culture and the language.

The couple joke now that despite their roots, their formative years have made Dev more Indian than Gurmeet.

Once they returned to college stateside, the couple experimented with dating others, “but I always asked myself what more could I want in a relationship?” Gurmeet says. “I was dumbfounded for an answer.”

Dev agrees. “Seeing other relationships that didn’t work, we realized how lucky we were.”

A vacation in a backcountry yurt north of Ketchum under a New Year’s full moon convinced the pair to settle here. Gurmeet took a job with Marketron and Dev freelanced her photography while working for The Community School and The Wood River Journal. After a decade of courtship, they decided it was time to marry and build a family.

It was difficult to decide how to incorporate their diverse backgrounds into their wedding. The pair’s union had added familial significance as they would be the first among their respective siblings to marry.

“We weren’t sure about having such an elaborate Indian wedding,” Gurmeet says, “but then my mother started to explain why an Indian wedding would be so special.”

“The wedding is not about the two of you,” said Kulwant Kaur Singh.

“It is a union of our families.”

The pair were convinced, and gradually became excited by the uniqueness of the impending ceremony.

“This would be a normal sight in New Mexico,” Dev says. “But we thought an Indian wedding in Idaho would be a kick.”

As she had over the years, Dev’s mom, Hans Mukh Kaur Khalsa, kept the couple grounded and focused while helping Gurmeet’s mom round up the countless symbolic items needed for the marriage, and outlining the roles each family member would play.

Now it was time for the curtain to rise, and after retrieving his shoes, Gurmeet was ready. He met his relatives in Roberta McKercher Park to mount his horse. As is the custom, the youngest male relative—in this case five-year-old Rehan Singh—rode along, bringing all the enthusiasm of youth.

Cars slowed and cell phones were thrust out of windows to snap pictures of the unusual parade through Hailey.

At the inn’s gate, Gurmeet again had to get around Dev’s sisters, who danced teasingly on the opposite side of the fence, asking what he had brought for them in exchange for their approval. He wooed them with jewelry and they slowly opened the gate.

Guests removed their shoes and covered their heads in silk scarves as they entered the inn, where an elaborate series of prayers, movements, and exchanges would take place. As part of the ceremony, Dev’s father would place one end of a shawl on Gurmeet’s shoulder and the other in Dev’s hand to signify his blessing.

In a nod to their American culture, the couple shared vows later in the day, officiated by longtime friend and minister, Carolyn Precourt.
While spirited, sitar-tinged Indian music wafted across the lawn at the morning ceremony, and guests enjoyed the vegetarian lunch prepared by an Indian chef, the afternoon entertainment was spun by local fave, Eboni Iz Jammin’ and featured a dinner of savory items prepared by caterer Lauren Carr. Hailey’s Tara Bella created the floral design, with bowls of gerbera daisies on the tables, and arches and pathways lined with flowers.

Sitting in their Woodside home six months later, the pair mused that they had accomplished everything they had hoped.

“Both events defined us,” Dev says.

“We wanted to pay respect to our shared culture,” adds Gurmeet. “If Dev hadn’t been sent to India to learn about her Sikh heritage, I never would have met her.”

Jennifer Liebrum and her clan were honored to be guests at this lively and love-filled celebration of two people they adore.

This article appears in the Issue of Sun Valley Magazine.