The Peoples' Institute for Re-thinking Education and Development

Reviving Conscious Connections at Weddings: Interview with Arti Bhandari and Parth Dave

Simple people, extra-ordinary lives interview by Sharmila Govande

 

आओ कोई ख्वाब बुने, एक सुन्दर कल के वास्ते,
आओ हाथ थाम ले, साथ चलने के वास्ते.
रास्ता होगा लम्बा, कभी कभी कठिनाइयां से भी भरा,
पर इसे सुन्दर बनाएगा, साथ तेरा मेरा
प्यार के धागे में बुना, इन कस्मों का ताना बाना,
सुख दुःख के हर पल में, देगा साथ हमारा
आओ देखे हम तुम, यह ख़ूबसूरत सा कारवां

 

Arti Bhandari and Parth Dave are a recently married young couple who not only thrive on their individuality, but also on their togetherness. They both were khojis in Swaraj University. While Arti loves experimenting new ideas and initiates novel ways of doing things, Parth is her backbone and supports her from behind the scenes. They both wanted their wedding to be meaningful and a space of deeper reflection, connection and co-creation. “It had to be a ceremony that brought out the essence of ‘us’ of our union and togetherness — a union of two individuals and our families and friends.” says Arti. Keeping this in mind Arti planned a very touching vow ceremony and gratitude circle for her own wedding. Here is my conversation with this young couple who are very much in love with life and each other.

Me (Sharmila) — Tell us something about yourselves and your growing up days.

Arti — I am a social person and I love to dance. I believe in the power of a healthy community where there is interdependence, acceptance and a space to express oneself. I started ‘Expressive Arts for Learning’ — an initiative that brings people together through different forms of art and expression such as storytelling, theatre of reflection, entrepreneurship etc. We also curate self transformational learning journeys for intergenerational individuals. Recently we conducted Swaraj Yatra along with Traveller’s University where the group traveled and met individuals and communities consciously trying to implement Swaraj in their lives. We have recently started another initiative called ‘Conscious Connections’ — which works toward becoming more conscious about one’s relationships with their loved ones. Our aim is to customize certain wedding rituals and make them more meaningful for the current generation.

I was born in Delhi, but have spent most of my growing up days in Nagpur. I come from a simple loving family and hence have had a wonderful childhood filled with love and care. There are many scholars and radical thinkers in my family. My grandparents were very strong pillars that held a very large family together. I was always an obedient girl, helped my classmates and teachers and did well in exams. Being a plump child, I had image issues while growing up. It was only after 10th grade that I engaged in mischievous activities like bunking class. After graduation I attended a two year self-designed learning program at Swaraj University. I am in Mumbai now.

Parth — I am a seating specialist. We make customized ‘seating options (e.g. chairs)’ for people with back pain and other health issues. We cater to various hospitals, corporates and also have individual customers. This business was started by my dad two decades ago. I describe myself as a ‘neutral’ person. Being neutral gives me a lot of freedom. It helps me accept things easily and I feel good about it. I am like the spirit of water; it flows wherever it is meant to. There is very less resistance to anything from my side. I am thus a passive receiving energy.

I was born and brought up in Thane, but we recently moved to Mumbai. I had a very mainstream childhood — with school, friends and a happy family. A major turning point came into my life during my college days. I was studying sociology and anthropology and I give credit to my professors who encouraged me to have a critical eye and my exploration into different ways of living and learning began. I traveled a lot during my last year of graduation and went to Swaraj University after graduation.

Me — Did you both meet at Swaraj University?

Parth — We actually met in the train. During my second year summer break, I applied for a workshop on ‘Rethinking Development’ held at Palampur. Since the venue was a remote place we were requested to travel in groups. Out of the 25 participants, seven of us, totally unknown to each other, got together and decided to tour Delhi and then travel to Palampur together. Arti was one of the participants. I remember when we were sharing about our future plans, I shared that I wanted to go to this different university in Udaipur. Arti was the only one in the group who got all excited and shared that she knew this place. I was surprised that she knew what I was talking about even when I hadn’t mentioned the name of Swaraj University.

Arti — It was love at first sight for him, but for me it happened gradually. We became very good friends during the ‘Rethinking Development’ workshop and then traveled a lot together. He was serious about making our relationship happen and I felt very close and attached to him. I realized that I had strong feelings for him and we started dating. Swaraj University helped us see life with more depth. We delved deeper into ourselves and our relationship with each other.

Me — We have heard that you planned a unique wedding. What was unique about it?

Parth — It was Arti’s idea. She loves initiating and experimenting with new things. I support her from backstage. When she came up with this idea, I thought, “How can we add our own unique flavor to our wedding?” Arti had attended many weddings in the past and found all the rituals very cumbersome. She felt most rituals were meaningless for our current generation. While we were at Swaraj, we were exposed to the culture of hosting circles and facilitation. We felt capable of doing something differently. We were also inspired by Nipun Mehta who founded this community called, “Moved by Love” which organizes retreats for inner transformation. Nipun and his partner had an interfaith wedding ceremony where they had also publicly shared vows. Another inspiration was Birju Pandya who also shared vows during his wedding ceremony. Sharing vows is not a new ritual. It is common amongst Buddhist culture.

Arti — When we decided to get married, we both delved into understanding why were we getting married? Why are we coming together? This process was very beautiful. We realised that our union was not for our physical needs, but had a larger intent. Like Parth just shared, I found the way weddings are conducted today to be very boring. I did not feel part of its rituals. I felt I was just a guest. There is not much care. I was thus very clear that I would make everyone feel special and valued during my wedding. Everyone would be involved in all the ceremonies and rituals. I wanted everyone to feel acknowledged. It was such a happy moment for us and I wanted everyone to be happy.

I had many ideas about what I wanted in my wedding, but I was also believed that weddings are not just a union of two individuals. It brings together two families. Thus the expectations and ideas of our family were important for us. We discussed this along with both sets of families (parents, siblings and all other members) and decided to have a small destination wedding in Hyderabad. We had very simple expectations — we wanted our guests to feel special and involved. We wanted to freely interact with all our guests and didn’t want to be pinned to wedding chairs. We all agreed on me curating my own vow ceremony and a gratitude circle. I also invited Kabir Café for Sufi music. I ensured that friends and family were involved in all arrangements. We involved friends in planning and facilitating the vow ceremony.

Me — Tell me more about the vow ceremony. How did you decide on your vows? Have you written them down somewhere?

Arti — Our vows are unique and about what matters the most to us. We wrote down our own vows after discussing about what was important for us. We read about ceremonies conducted by various communities and spoke to different people. We compiled certain vows that resonated with us and we added a few more elements that were important for us. We decided to frame our vows and put them up in our bedroom. A great reminder as to how we started our journey of togetherness and love.

We wanted certain elements to be part of our vow ceremony. These elements were silence, music, colour, friends and deep listening. Our friends helped design the entire set up. All our guests were welcomed by my friends and we started with a two minute silence. Two of our friends shared the context of the ceremony and invited us (bride and groom) to invoke the five elements of nature (earth, fire, water, wind and sky). There was the sound of the gong being played in between two vows and silence while we both dipped our hands in haldi (turmeric yellow) and kumkum (red) solution and imprinted our handprints on the frames. the guests showered their blessing in the form of our traditional akshata (rice mixed with haldi and kumkum). The ceremony ended with flute performance by a friend and a song sung by everyone, (Mai jindagi ka saath Nibhata chala Gaya)

When we thought in depth about our relationship, we felt that we wanted to evolve together and yet keep our individuality intact. We also felt that our commitments were not only for each other, but also for the world around us. Hence we didn’t want our vows to be limited to the physical, social and emotional needs, but to include our commitments to the larger world. Our vows, were core fundamentals of life and we wanted to bring out — how we in our togetherness could live by these fundamentals. Thus we carved vows such as , ‘Be an instrument in selfless service’, ‘ expand our family to include all living beings’. Our vows, ‘cultivate gratitude for the boundless gifts’, ‘remember the inner beauty of all beings’ were laid down to express our gratitude toward all experiences offered by life.

Me — I had never heard of a Gratitude circle in a wedding. Do share more about it?

Arti — We felt that unlike traditional weddings, where guests are given return gifts, we needed something more personal — something through which we expressed our gratitude and our love for everyone. The wedding for us would be incomplete without us sharing our deep gratitude towards each person who played a role in shaping us. Thus we created these personalised notes, laminated them and read them out to various sets of family, friends and everyone who helped us organize the wedding. Through these notes we expressed how their presence in our lives have made our life journey very meaningful. We not only reminisced fun moments but also recalled times when they trusted us and believed in us. All of them found this gesture very touching. It was a very emotional moment for all of us.

Me — How were your parents involved in the entire process?

Parth — We come from different communities. I am a Gujarati while Arti comes from Marwadi community from Rajasthan. However that didn’t make much of a difference. My parents did have their inhibitions. Arti used to visit often and her visits increased when my mother was ill. Arti stayed with us and took care of my mom. They both bonded well. Our parents felt that we should get married and make our relationship official. We weren’t averse to marriage, but hadn’t thought of marriage. We were both comfortable in each other’s company especially since we had spent close to six years in a relationship. But then we thought that if our parents were keen on it, we should get married.

Arti — Our parents were very supportive. They listened to our needs. We worked our ways to balance their needs and ours and we arrived at common page. They trusted us. They looked after arrangements of food, decor, invitations, photography, gifts that enhanced the entire wedding and supported us in planning our vow ceremony.

After the vow ceremony, both sets of parents came to the stage and shared that they were moved by the ceremony. This ceremony itself made the marriage complete and we actually didn’t need any other rituals. They acknowledged the sacred space we had created and shared that this ceremony was a reminder to the sacredness and commitment of a marriage. They both stated that each was gaining a son and a daughter and not a son-in-law or a daughter-in-law.

Me — How did the family, relatives and guests respond to your unique wedding ceremony?

Parth — We were nervous and scared of our family and relatives reaction. We were anxious about whether they would like it. Even while sharing our vows my thoughts wandered around what people must be thinking. After the ritual, all our guests came up and congratulated us. Some were highly emotional, some recalled and reflected on their wedding, some were very happy to be part of it. Our parents also were emotional and happy. They also shared that this is the essence of the wedding. This made me realize how powerful this was. It was a very beautiful moment for all.

Arti — It was wonderful to get such a lovely response from everyone. My aunt shared, “you have filled a need of many who wanted something special, bespoke and meaningful… I haven’t come across anything like this before and was completely moved by this experience.”

The two friends (Sonal Parekh and Karishma Manwani) who hosted the vow ceremony expressed this idea of taking this ahead and working towards making weddings meaningful and relevant and their idea gave life to Conscious Connections.

Me — what is ‘Conscious Connections’ all about?

Arti — When we decided to get married and were working on our vows, we delved deeper into the larger intention behind us coming together. This process was beautiful. I don’t think many people reflect and think about why they are getting married. I believe this is an important process that couples should engage in before getting married. Our age old traditions also hold great significance and symbolism. But, the way they are conducted today, most of us go through the entire ceremony without realizing its true essence. Conscious connections is all about making marriage ceremonies and wedding anniversaries more meaningful and relevant. We aim to bring in different and unique wedding processes that celebrate the coming together of two individuals. We help people delve deeper into their existing relationships in this world and find a conscious expression of the same. We bring in new rituals such as vow ceremony, blessing circle, gratitude circle, intention circle or even help revamp our age old rituals to make them more meaningful. To know more about the same one can send us an email at <consciousconnections22@gmail.com>

You can see some Glimpses of the Wedding Vows here.


Sharmila Govande, a mother of three, has been involved in the field of education and development for the past 23 years. She has joined the unschooling movement recently. She writes, facilitates and hosts workshops on learning and development and focuses her energies on unschooling herself and her children. She can be reached at sharmilagovande@gmail.com.

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