Gold jewels and henna tattoos create an exuberant Hindu celebration

On the morning of her September wedding, Ratna Desai, 32, heard a knock on her bedroom door. Her father, Suresh, yoga mats in hand, ushered Ratna to the living room for the special ritual he'd introduced to her when she was a girl in Bombay. As they did their Vinyasa poses, which focus on breath to strengthen the body and build energy, “Dad told me that everything was going to be perfect at my wedding. It calmed me down and set the tone for the day,” recalls Ratna.

Hours later, she and her fiancé, Louis Pugh, 35, stood under a mandap (wedding canopy) on the grounds of the 94-year-old Kohl Mansion, a grand English-style estate in Burlingame, California. There, the 170 guests witnessed a traditional Hindu service infused with original sentiments that were written by the bride and groom. “It was important to us that the ceremony come across as the celebration of a union of two individuals, rather than the bride being given to the husband,” explains Louis. As strains of classical Indian music filled the gardens, friends and family made their way into the mansion, where a buffet featured more than a dozen Indian specialties, including chicken tikka and potatoes with mint-coriander curry. For their first dance, the couple chose a decidedly Western tune—Sade's “Your Love is King.” “Just as my father promised,” says Ratna, summing up her wedding day, “it was perfect.” —Hillary Quinn

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A Sentimental Note: At midnight on her wedding eve, Ratna penned notes to her parents and future in-laws, which were delivered the following morning by her wedding planner, Amy Nichols. “I wanted to do something reflective with the quiet time,” says Ratna.
Crown Jewels: The bride's grandmother, who couldn't travel from India to California for the wedding, helped Ratna and her mom choose the gold ceremonial jewelry, including the mang-tikki that rests on a bride's hairline. “It was her way of participating,” says Ratna.
Free Throw: To mark the ceremony's end, the priest and guests showered the couple with rose petals, symbolizing blessings of happiness and prosperity.

Musicians played the sitar and tabla (drums).

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