When Stars Align

In the midst of a global pandemic, one couple finds a new way to celebrate their wedding day | Photography by J&N Studios

When the COVID-19 outbreak disrupted their plans for a large wedding, Ajay Gokhale and Keerthana Sankar decided to strip their celebration down to the essentials, gathering a small group of immediate family for an intimate backyard affair.

AJAY GOKHALE AND KEERTHANA SANKAR were preparing for a large, 500-guest wedding on May 31, 2020 — until COVID-19 spread across the country and forced the couple to change course.

Would they maintain their original date and modify the celebration, or postpone entirely? “That’s the million dollar question that we were going back and forth about for the last few months,” Keerthana says. “It wasn’t an easy decision. The way we went about it was literally making a pros and cons list.”

“What we realized is when you take the celebration out of it and focus on the religious ceremony, we still had all the core components,” Ajay adds. “We had everything we needed to move ahead with the most important part of getting married, which is that core wedding ceremony with your core family.”

The couple chose to keep their initial wedding date and celebrate with immediate family in the backyard of Keerthana’s family home in Auburn Hills.

They also wanted to maintain their original date due to its spiritual significance within their Hindu faith. “In our religion and culture, we look at a lot of different things, like the stars aligning on that day,” Keerthana says. “So to find a new date where we have to do all of that work definitely would have been hard. It was good that we could stick to that.”

Even with their decision made, they were uncertain of what that day would look like. They were unsure how many guests could be present, so they connected with each of their initial vendors to let them know that they would be on standby.

Then, 10 days before their ceremony, Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer permitted gatherings of 10 or fewer. The timing could not have been more perfect — with the couple and their family, including the priest, they planned to have exactly 10 guests.

Their vendors not only came through at the last minute, but they also made special accommodations so guests from around the world could witness their big day.

“We put a lot of emphasis on booking vendors that we genuinely got along with and had a lot of trust in,” Ajay says. “That was critical to us in being able to organize this whole thing in the matter of a week.”

It was this flexibility among the couple’s vendors that allowed them to successfully orchestrate the celebration. For example, their 500 guests from around the world witnessed the ceremony directly from their homes through a livestream set up by their videographer.

“There were hundreds of friends and family watching this ceremony from end to end,” Ajay says. “I was feeling all this support from all around the world. It made me feel really whole.”

With this livestream, their guests witnessed every detail of the nearly three-hour ceremony, from the ritual of Varmala (exchanging of garlands) to the moments Ajay and Keerthana spent with their priest underneath the Mandap, a covered structure with pillars that serves as an altar for Indian weddings, specifically for Hindu and Jain ceremonies.

“The ceremony is so intricate in Hindu tradition,” Keerthana says. “There are so many things we do that have very symbolic meanings, and the priest could help us through that in a way that wasn’t rushed because the ceremony was small.”

Although a larger celebration is in the works for the couple at a later date, they are still basking in the memories from their intimate, elegant wedding.

“It was such a beautiful morning — the sun was shining, the weather was perfect,” Ajay says. “My family on one side, Keerthana’s family on the other side. It was a really special moment. It will stick in my head for a very long time.”

DÉCOR/FLOWERS: Marigold Wedding Planners
PHOTO: J&N Studios
VIDEO: Fourfour Pictures
WEDDING BANDS: Scout Mandolin