As anyone who has attended or planned one knows, organizing a Hindu wedding ceremony can be pretty complicated. For members of the LGBTQ community, searching for an open minded officiant be even more stressful.
That’s where Sushma Dwivedi Jindal comes in. The mother of two recently launched the Purple Pundit Project with the hopes of officiating Hindu weddings for members of the South Asian American LGBTQ community.
We reached out to Jindal to chat about her wedding service, the intricacies of wedding planning and the headline-making story about the first wedding she officiated.
The Teal Mango: This is such an interesting idea. How did the Purple Pundit project get started?
Sushma Dwivedi Jindal: It started as a germ of an idea. I was getting married myself in 2013 and my husband has a trans sibling. And when we were going through the big fat Indian wedding process, one of the things that they mentioned was that it would probably be very difficult to find a Hindu pandit for themselves if they wanted to marry their partner. I am Canadian and very progressive and that really bugged me. So I took the first step and went on the interwebs and got ordained, that might have been in 2014. And then I didn’t do anything with it.
But after the election in 2016, we had had our first child and I was watching rights being stripped away and this conversation coming out that I thought was disgusting. So in a fit of what we’ll call ‘Mommy-inspired activistness’ I built a website in the middle of the night one night and registered a company which became the Purple Pundit project. I didn’t do a great job marketing it, which is ironic because that’s my day job.
But I reached out to affinity groups like SALGA in New York and one on the west coast and I asked them to add me to their databases as resources for when folks are looking for resources about LGBTQ weddings. I was happy to hear that they had databases but they lists are pretty small, I think it’s me and one other pundit. No one has reached out yet for wedding officiating services, but the intention is obviously to do exactly that. We’d customize the ceremony to incorporate cultural traditions that are important to a couple, sexual orientation completely notwithstanding and give them the experience they’ve been hoping for, however traditional or nontraditional that they want to be.
TTM: Tell us what was the process of learning the ceremonies like.
Jindal: I didn’t go to pundit school. When I was getting married myself I was attempting to try and spare myself from having a big four hour ceremony. So I did some research and discussed it with the pundit who ultimately married my husband and I in Montreal. And it kind of came down to four or five basic pujas. And those pujas would basically be your checklist of what would qualify as a wedding — and I am putting qualify in air quotes, which you can’t see — and so I basically learned those.
I will disclaim that having grown up in Montreal that English, French and Hindi came to me at the same time. And my family is from Uttar Pradesh and let’s call them fairly traditional and fairly religious. I’m not myself by any means, nor are we raising our children that way, but I had a descent familiarity with ‘ok, what kind of mantras would you need’ for example. And that’s how it came in handy.
TTM: A lot of immigrant kids may not even think to look for a service like yours because they feel like the community is too conservative for something like a traditional LGBTQ wedding to be an option. Do you think that’s true?
Jindal: Maybe. Anecdotally, I think that any feedback that I have received has been very encouraging and positive. I did a focus group also, in that I did some informal polling and had conversations to even see if this was a need. I thought it might be, but what do I know? I’m straight.
I wasn’t going to venture out and do something if it wasn’t helpful. The intention was to find something that was going to be helpful that I could be productive with. I did speak to friends and friends of friends and it seemed like the biggest barrier was acceptance. And where there was some hesitation with a family friend, once you are past that and you are choosing to have a South Asian wedding it is really hard to find someone to officiate unless they are a friend. And if you are going to go down the path of having a friend officiate, that oftentimes comes with the loss of the cultural aspects. Because which of us second generation immigrants really has a deep seeded understanding of things like ‘what do I do for a puja?’
TTM: How did you come up with the name Purple Pundit?
Jindal: In my focus group I was asking around, and in the pride rainbow flag every color represents something different. So purple represents the spirit of being spirited. And I thought about it, and if you are a member of the LGBTQ community who is of South Asian descent, you are basically a spirited minority of a spirited minority. Plus, it sounded catchy!
TTM: While you were growing up in Canada, do you remember the South Asian community talking about LGBTQ issues?
Jindal: To be honest, I don’t. The conversation amongst my wave of second-generation immigrants, it was a big deal for someone to marry someone who wasn’t Indian, let alone someone of the same sex. Amongst my own circuit of family friends, I think there were one or two who came out very late in life. That’s unfortunate but I am happy that they were finally be able to do so.
TTM: Where would you like Purple Pundit to go as a service moving forward?
Jindal: In my dream scenario, I’ll perform weddings here in New York and wherever else they want to get married across the United States. And I would ideally grow with a couple as their family grows. The two other services I am hoping to provide are baby naming ceremonies and a housewarming. Because I think it is really hard to find a pundit to do anything for you if you are a member of the LGBTQ community and South Asian. Those were the three big milestone markers that I have identified so far as a new parent.
And ideally, I would also help other pandits get over it so that they could do it themselves. Love is love. We’re talking about a what, 10 thousand year old religion? It’s about time we got a little updated.
TTM: Let’s talk about your own wedding ceremony a few years ago. How did you manage to personalize your own ceremony? You mentioned you wanted something shorter and more modern. Is it easy to modernize these things?
Jindal: No. Honestly, it didn’t work. We went through and was like ‘great, it will come down to about 45 minutes, great!’ I got married in Montreal in July, so it was a super hot day. No one wants to sit in front of a fire for hours on a hot day, least of all myself. But it took an hour and 15 minutes regardless. I got a little bit of pushback because I think our pundit wanted to dictate what we should and should not include and we basically explained that our preference was speed over long, elaborate ceremonial circumstances. He agreed to keep it tight, but then didn’t.
TTM: That seems like it often happens. You hear about Hindu Americans who say things about how they feel like they have no control over one of the biggest days of their lives.
Jindal: Yeah, and I think that’s really terrible. It’s an important day in your life, you should have some control over how you want it to go. I don’t believe that any marriage is going to be less a marriage because you had four pujas instead of five. Or three pujas. It is an arbitrary breakdown of the things that would make it legit.
TTM: So you have officiated one wedding and you have another coming up. Were those Hindu and/or LGBTQ weddings?
Jindal: The one I did in the hospital was not a Hindu wedding. You may actually have seen a little press coverage about it. I was in the hospital with an epidural because I was going into labor with my son and a couple down the hall was looking for the hospital chaplain because they were trying to get their marriage officiated quickly before their child was born. And they were giving birth early so I pinch hit and did it.
TTM: Wow. So you literally had your epidural already?
Jindal: Yes, so I gave birth at Cornell Medical Center in New York and Cornell is a teaching hospital so the resident was inserting the needle and the supervising anesthesiologist was just making pleasant conversation and trying to distract me from how there was a giant needle going into my back. Then she happened to mention that there was a big kerfuffle going on and this was about 11:30 pm. They were looking for the hospital chaplain because the mom’s water broke and obviously they hadn’t been planning to be in the hospital that day. They had actually been planning to go to City Hall a couple of days later.
Because it was almost midnight, no one could find the chaplain. So I said, ‘I don’t know if this is weird or awesome, but I am ordained. If you don’t find the chaplain, I’d be happy to do it.’
TTM: I just looked it up. This is adorable, especially the pictures with the nurses.
Jindal: They got so into it. One of the nurses made a wreath of flowers for the bride’s hair, the bride’s name is Brianna. Somebody else wrote a poem, which became a reading. The only clincher was that I couldn’t walk because of the anesthesia, so they had to come to me. So we just used a little craftmatic hospital bed to elevate me like I was Jabba the Hutt or something. And that’s how I officiated.
For the wedding I’m doing in July, the groom is Indian and the bride is Korean. They were looking to contemporize an Indian wedding and I am in the process of customizing their ceremony. It will be tight at about 45 minutes and mostly in English at the couple and family’s request because the bride is Korean. And that’s what I am hopefully am going to be able to do.
TTM: It seems like you are also learning about different cultures and regions as you research and customize these ceremonies.
Jindal: Totally. Honestly, it just nice to do something uplifting. What more incredible day to be a part of someone’s life than their wedding day? I think these are pretty [expletive] times that we are living in right now and this felt like a way I could be of service.