When Priya Dixit and Sharad Patel befriended one another in medical school, they never dreamed their friendship would lead to the traditional Hindu wedding celebration each had long imagined.
Priya and Sharad met in 1995 when they began classes at Ross University in Dominica, a Caribbean island.
Priya, 28, was born in India. Her family moved to Baltimore when she was 3. She grew up in Perry Hall and Bel Air, returning to India for three years during middle school to live with relatives and attend school there.
Sharad's family is from a different region of India. His parents moved to upstate New York before he was born.
Priya and Sharad, 27, were introduced by a mutual acquaintance and became close friends. The bond they shared, while always platonic, was unlike any they had known, the couple says.
"Until Sharad, I never had a friend that I could talk to about so many different things," says Priya. "He made me laugh more than anybody else."
After two years in Dominica, Priya and Sharad returned to the United States to complete their studies.
Priya worked at hospitals in the Baltimore-Washington area and for a time was assigned to Union Memorial Hospital. Sharad worked at hospitals in New York. They kept in touch and visited each other every few months.
In early 1999, Sharad realized his love for Priya went beyond friendship. Though they often joked about marrying if neither had found a partner by the time each turned 30, Sharad knew for him the statement was no longer a joke. Priya was having the same thoughts.
"I know in my heart now I could never [have married] anybody else because of the relationship I had with Sharad," she says.
The couple began dating, nervous that the outcome wouldn't be as positive as they had hoped.
Priya and Sharad say their parents and siblings had suggested -- although never in an overbearing way -- that they look at one another with an eye toward marriage. Their shared backgrounds, similar philosophies about life, same career interests (both are now family-practice residents at hospitals in New Jersey) and strong family bonds all pointed to future happiness, their parents said.
Sharad and Priya got engaged on the Saturday before Valentine's Day earlier this year. The months since have been a whirlwind of wedding plans and religious celebrations.
Sharad's parents held a traditional Hindu engagement ceremony at a temple near their New York home this spring, welcoming Priya and her family into theirs.
Last month, Priya's aunt and uncle were host to a sangeet, a celebration of Priya and all she has meant to her family. It was an emotional evening for Priya, who is the only daughter in her family for two generations. Her aunts and uncles prepared favorite Indian foods, her siblings and cousins entertained and her mother's closest friends sang traditional marriage songs.
"It was the nicest thing anyone has ever done for me," Priya says.
On Sept. 3, Sharad, accompanied by his parents and extended family, left New York to come to Baltimore for the wedding. Dressed in traditional Indian attire, Sharad was led into Martin's East on a white horse, bedecked with flowers. The mood was jubilant as Sharad's relatives danced and sang in a procession around him.
Priya's mother welcomed Sharad with a religious ceremony. Priya's family and friends showered the groom and his family with flower petals.
After the guests were seated, Priya's brother and her maid of honor escorted the bride down the aisle. There were many blessings said and customs observed. In Hindi tradition, Priya and Sharad walked seven circles around a sacred flame to mark the vows they made to one another.
Most meaningful to the couple was the sindoor daan. Sharad took a pinch of red powder and gently dropped it into the part in Priya's hair. The powder symbolizes blood and the act of applying it signifies the giving of life.
"It is the most special, precious part of the ceremony," Priya says. "It is our way of saying, 'I do.' "