She was both mother and father to her daughter Sandhya. There was no question who would perform the Kanyadaan.
The picture is of a young bride, as the groom ties the auspicious mangalsutra around her neck.
It is a typical wedding picture, until you look closer, and see that the bride is sitting on her mother’s lap, in what is traditionally known as the practice of Kanyadaan.
The ritual holds particular significance in Hindu weddings, where it is the father who presents the bride to the groom, entrusting his daughter to him to cherish and care for, for the rest of their lives. When the father is not present, the honour goes to an uncle or any other male relative.
So when Raji Sharma, a single mother, stepped up to give away her daughter, Sandhya, many people were intrigued, and amazed that a woman had broken all conventions to perform the Kanyadaan!
“When Sandhya wanted to have a Hindu Brahmin wedding, the one thing I was worried about was Kanyadaan. In my daughter’s case, I wanted to take on the father’s role, but I didn’t know if my family would support my decision, or if I could even find a priest who would do it,” recalls Raji.
However, when she told the family about her desire to play a part in the auspicious ritual, they welcomed the idea with open arms and an open mind.
“They told me that as I have been both her mother and her father throughout her life, there was no question that I should be one who performs the Kanyadaan,” she says.
The family then set about finding a priest who would agree to such an unconventional wedding! Their search brought them to Raghavan, the priest who conducted the ceremony, and he had no qualms about it.
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And thus, it was Raji who proudly gave her daughter away, a moment which was clicked flawlessly, by wedding photographer, Varun Suresh. On his blog, he remembers that the wedding was unlike any other he had attended.
“This wedding definitely got the better of me. The sheer extent of happiness that was shared and celebrated was humbling. I can easily say, even if this wedding lasted another week I would have shot through every second of it without breaking Facebook with my complaints,” he writes.
Raji’s journey hasn’t been easy. Hailing from a family settled in Chennai, she relocated to Sydney, Australia, after her marriage. Seventeen years and two kids later, she went through a divorce and had to rebuild her life again.
“I was at risk of losing my job, and I was going through a tough period in my life. I used to tell myself to think of and be inspired by the other Indians who had just landed in Australia and were trying to build new lives. With my amazing kids for support, I was able to get through it,” she recounts.
Raji is someone who believes that everything happens for a reason in life and every challenge teaches new skills. She says being the youngest sibling in her family, and relocating to different cities throughout her childhood gave her two admirable qualities: resilience and acceptance.
Today, she is a hardworking single mother, who has a great job at VMWare, and two wonderful kids, Sandhya and Mahesh, her pride and joy. She is also a passionate cook, and teaches cooking on the weekends!
When people see that photograph, they don’t see a woman going against tradition. They see the pure, unadulterated joy of a family.
They see a mother whose heart is filled with pride and love for her daughter—and that is really what makes a mere ritual, something of meaning and beauty.