I was so excited when I received a particular email, the subject line mentioned Sikh Priest. I didn’t know what to expect, well to be honest, I expected hate mail because I don’t think many Sikh priests condone interfaith Sikh weddings. But instead I received a lovely email from Dr Freedom and Leela who connected with me on a personal level. They are a multicultural couple, themselves, who offer their services for Interfaith Sikh weddings.
So as a way to get to know them, I asked them a few questions.
How did you two meet and how did you come an Interfaith Sikh Wedding Priest?
Freedom was born Sarbjit Singh Neel in Mombasa Kenya and migrated to Vancouver Canada. He was brought up in staunch Sikh family and was baptized in Anandpur Sahib in his teens. He grew up in a family reciting prayers and singing Kirtan. In a sense he was a perfect “Good Sikh”, wearing a turban, sword and a ”khanda” on his turban. He had all the wrappings, but was empty and hollow in his soul of the meaning of all of this outward garb. After a 10 year marriage with a tradition Sikh lady (his high school sweetheart), Dr. Sarbjit Neel, left his marriage wanted to explore a deeper meaning of life and Sikh Spirituality.
He left his Doctors practice and lived in a shrine in Makindu Kenya and received some rude awareness of his personal journey. He began singing and touring Kirtan around the world in Sikh Gurudwaras, only to see that this new “spiritual’ world was even more filled with hypocrisy. He met his new lady Leela ( a white Canadian) in Vancouver 1994 who was raised Catholic and trained as a Classical Soprano. It was at this time Sarbjit changed his name to Freedom and few years later Barbara became Leela (the play of life). Both of us had music, travel and a spiritual quest in common.
We started singing music at Shrines, temples, concerts and Yoga centers world-wide. Our deepest joy became singing and leading weddings as this was celebration of jot and togetherness not a prayer or ‘want’ ceremony. Over the years this quest changed as temples became more rigid and were not too cool to see a brown and white lady onstage “preaching” and leading ceremonies. We branched out and made ourselves available to those seeking this experience. The Sikh scriptures encourage a shrine in any location and home and in a sense don’t make the Gurudwara the end all (it is only the economics and control on masses that dictate this.)
What are your views on multicultural / interracial / fusion weddings?
Marriage be it within the culture, Faith or Multi-culture is a daunting task as there is no schooling or prep for it. It is an experiment that has changing results. The ceremony is the sailing into the ocean of rough seas and tranquil waters.
We have seen done and experienced arranged marriages, love second, interfaith marriages and if there is no honesty or transparency in the marriage the results are always the same. Pretending that you child is dating someone from another cutter and wishing it away is not the solution. Resolve the solution. The scriptures say; “we are all born from the same light and all are equal” when are we going to walk our talk?
What is the best part of your job?
It is more then a job, it is a connection and closeness we create with the would be couple. Many of the brides and grooms are looking for someone who understands their situation that is non-conformist, they are already treading with tribulations with family and relatives so we are that one light showing the an interfaith marriage can be a success.
Can you tell us about the unpleasant situations you’ve had to deal with and how you overcame them?
Still deal with individuals who are keeper of the faith and the holy word. The know it alls. These individuals are having a difficult and dysfunctional marriage and family life at home and with relatives so they redirect their energies to be over protective and create a mess for loving and fun event. We seem to have worked out a strategy that works out at almost all of our wedding ceremonies. the ceremony is harmonious and full of spiritual involvement, out goes the me ego and my culture it become we and us.
What advice do you have for those scared to have an interfaith Sikh wedding (or any Interfaith wedding)?
If you are afraid now you will always have fear later either with your mother in law, your job, your husband, your finances etc.. Get over it, it is a one time life, go for it.
Tips for planning a Sikh Fusion Wedding?
- Have family members from each side read a blessing or prayer from their religious tradition
- Provide translations of any rituals performed in other languages
- Personalize religious traditions to reflect your blended family
- Create your own blessing or prayer reflecting your blended union and read it to your guests
- Illustrate each family’s support
- Step on toes: respect each family’s strong ties to their own religious traditions and tactfully and carefully explain how rituals from both heritages will be included
- Forget your guests: describe the different religious rituals in your program and provide translations
- Try to satisfy everyone: remember, the wedding ceremony is ultimately a reflection of you and your spouse. Be gentle but firm when saying “no” to your families’ requests
- Try to do too much: you can’t replicate the entire wedding ceremonies for each tradition; your guests will be bored and your wedding ceremony will lose some of its intensity. Careful editing of the ceremony elements is key to a good ceremony
DON’T - Give up! If you and your spouse truly want an interfaith wedding, don’t throw in the towel and elope because the challenge of multiple traditions and family pressures become overwhelming. You can have it both ways and start your own traditions on the first day of your new life together.
DO - Get help if you need it, we are here for you!
With a focus on personalizing each ceremony to reflect the needs, beliefs and values of the couple or family, We can help you create an interfaith wedding that is meaningful, memorable and perfectly you.
Come witness a Sikh Wedding personally or visit it on youtube
“Ceremonies with SOUL! Freedom and Leela offer spiritual Sikh celebrations that you will fully comprehend. This is NOT a ‘routine cookie-cutter, predictable ceremony’, you will definitely remember the Anand Karaj Ceremony fondly and cherish it for the rest of your life as it will have personal meaning .”
I hope that Dr Freedom and Leela have given you hope on planning your own Sikh fusion wedding. It certainly has for me! Seeing as Gurdwaras in the UK do not allow interfaith Sikh weddings, having your ceremony outside of the Gurdwara may be the ideal situation.
Find out more on their website globalchants.com or visit their blog sikhweddingpriest.blogspot.ca