Manisha Agrawal first saw her husband Houston Riley at the Fish House in 2002. Houston was playing keyboards with a band and Manisha said to her friends, “I am going to marry him one day!” A few days later, they were introduced and really hit it off. Since they were both in graduate programs at different universities in different states, they were only able to see each other in Pensacola during the holiday breaks for the next few years. In 2006, they both moved back to Pensacola and officially started dating.
The couple got engaged on New Year’s Day in 2015. Houston popped the question in front of his mother and father during dinner. “It was such a joyous occasion as this was a complete surprise,” says Manisha.
Manisha and Houston were married on March 19, 2016 at the Pensacola Country Club. The couple had an Indian themed wedding and incorporated many traditional Indian rituals, Manisha explains below:
Haldi: First, we had the bride purification ceremony, which is called Haldi. In this ceremony, family members and friends apply several ingredients on the bride’s body. The paste is put on five places: the feet, knees, arms, hands, face. The paste serves as a cleanser for the body and soul and signifies the bride’s preparation and welcoming into adult married life.
Mehndi/ Sangeet: Before the wedding day, an Indian bride takes part in a Mehndi ceremony, where the bride and her female family members and friends gather to apply henna. It’s said that the deeper the color, the stronger the bond between husband and wife, and the better you will get along with your mother-in-law, so brides often let the henna dry for up to eight hours. The names of both the bride and the groom are “hidden” in the artwork, and the groom is meant to find the names. Northern Indian couples, are treated to a Sangeet the same night. Guests come together in a less formal setting for a talent show of sorts. Their friends and families perform choreographed dances, skits, and songs for the couple.
The Ceremony: Hindu weddings are supposed to take place outside, on the earth, under a canopy known as a Mandap. Each of the four pillars of the bridal canopy represents one of the four parents.
Jayamala—the exchange of the garlands: The bride and groom exchange garlands around each others’ necks. This symbolizes the first gesture of accepting each other. The part is similar to the exchanging of the rings in American wedding culture.
Gatha Bandhan—the tying of the knot: The bride’s sister ties a knot with a piece of cloth from the bride’s outfit to a sash draped from the groom’s shoulder. This symbolizes our everlasting bond of love and gesture of the unification of the hearts.
Phera—the walk around the sacred fire: The bride and groom take seven steps around the fire together, with each step representing a marital vow. Each step represents a promise the couple must make while promising to be committed to each other and to take care of one another.
Shoe ritual: During the ceremony under the Mandap, the groom is supposed to take his shoes off. Then the bride’s friends attempt to take them, while the groom’s family strives to prevent them from doing so! If the bride’s friends succeed, they ask for money from the groom in return for his shoes.
Bollywood dancing: Many times, the bride dances for the groom. I gathered a group of my girlfriends together and we danced to Major Lazer, “Lean On” during the reception.
Manisha says she cherished every moment of her wedding, especially since each part had such powerful symbolism and meaning behind it. “I enjoyed bringing my culture to Pensacola and fusing the western and eastern traditions together,” she said.
Manisha’s lehenga choli wedding gown was handmade in India (and all 30 pounds of it was carried back in a lap on an airplane!), and her aunts from India came to Pensacola to dress her in the traditional, ceremonial bridal attire.
Manisha and Houston’s advice for newlywed couples is also based in her Indian Heritage and culture. “Our advice is that marriage is a journey of give and take and open communication. Also, it is important to put yourself in the other person’s shoes especially when there are disagreements,” she says.