Every Asian parent dreams their children will one day tie the knot. But for mother of the bride and parttime priest Chanda Vyas, the big day was extra special as she stepped in to perform the ceremony for her daughter and son-in-law along the sand banks of the River Ganges.
The grandmother from Leicester and first female Hindu priest in the UK, carried out out the religious rituals for her daughter Anjli and husband-to-be Prasheen Lodhia’s wedding in the foothills of the Himalyas.
Vyas, who works full-time with people with learning disabilities and carries out her priestly duties on the weekends, described the open air wedding as a spiritual experience where the guests were surrounded by the five elements.
The 62-year-old has overcome prejudice from the community to pursue her dream, and follows in the footsteps of her Brahmin father and grandfather who also took part in priestly duties.
She remains the only woman to carry out weddings, funerals and blessings for Hindus across the country, and will soon begin training a new batch of women to adopt the role.
“It was a beautiful ceremony. They wanted to get married where they met, that’s what made it so special for them and for us,” Vyas told EE.
“When she [Anjli] was born, I was feeding her and putting her to sleep – I never realised she would get married by the Ganges and I would do her ceremony. I had to play the role of her mum and the priest.
“I felt so happy. I was so touched that she asked me, she said: ‘It wouldn’t be the same without you’. “The most beautiful part of the service was when I watched when my husband walked our daughter down the aisle and greeted her at the mandap.
At that point I felt the most emotional as a mother and was overcome with joy and tears of happiness.” The young couple met in Rishikesh over four years ago when Anjli was carrying out a pilgrimage in the holy city, but the love story was brought to a standstill when the 28-year-old returned to Leicester four weeks later.
Not intent on leaving things there, Prasheen, who is from Toronto in Canada, travelled to Leicester a year later to see Anjli. It was only in Malaysia five months after their second meeting that the couple had their first date in the oldest jungle on earth.
After a relationship spanning the distance of Toronto to Leicester, Anjli, who works as a marketing manager at Vogue India, eventually joined her beau in Mumbai where the couple now live.
“To see my daughter dressed as a stunning bride and take this next step in her life and start a new journey with her husband was a very special and monumental moment for my husband and I,” Vyas said.
Despite initial reservations from her father, the priest finally received the blessings of her family to embark on the religious training and is now in high demand picking up bookings through recommendations from couples.
“I always had such a burning desire to be a priest, my father and grandfather were priests. Every time I wanted to become one, they said: ‘You can’t, because you’re a female’.
I said: ‘I’m going to start doing it, let the community decide’. I get so many bookings now through word of mouth. “I juggle working full-time with being a priest with love and passion, which carries me through the most challenging situations. And I have the full support of my family, something I could not do without.”