From Sri Lanka to Wilmington, With Love

Planning a cross-cultural wedding has its share of laughs and beauty.

During the reception, the couple danced an American waltz to “You Light Up My Life.” It was Bjoern’s first waltz in front of a large crowd.From her homeland of Sri Lanka and his of Germany, to meeting at the University of Delaware, to a separation after dating, then a reunion in Chicago, the road to marriage for Narmada Gunawardena and Bjoern Rosner was a long one.

And that made their ceremony a trans-world planning event.
“We liked to joke by saying that the project was run and managed from Delaware,” says Narmada, “with coordination satellite-sites in Chicago, Philadelphia, New York City, Germany and Sri Lanka.”

When they first met at the university, she noticed him right away. She had never seen anyone so blond and fair. He noticed her, too, and took advantage of having to stand in a long line at school registration. “It gave ample opportunity for small talk,” he says.

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During the ceremony, the couple dropped the rings, which were quickly retrieved by three attendees.  He asked her to ride on his motorcycle. She was afraid, but didn’t let on. On one of their first dates, they went to Longwood Gardens with friends. “I remember Bjoern taking a lot of pictures of me,” Narmada says.

They liked each other, so they dated, but it didn’t last. They lost touch—and they almost lost contact. Years later, after Bjoern had moved to Chicago, they arranged a weekend for her to visit from Wilmington and see the city.

“Seeing her standing there on the doorstep, when I opened the door—that’s when I knew what I wanted,” he says.

Narmada said seeing him on that trip reminded her how cute he was—and thoughtful. When he served her tea in a “Car Talk” mug, something clicked.

“I love listening to ‘Car Talk,’” she says. “I thought, ‘We have so much in common.’”

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It wasn’t long until a wedding was planned. The couple loved the gardens at the Brantwyn Mansion in Wilmington, so they chose to celebrate their big day there.

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Narmada wore a traditional seven-piece necklace set.They watched the weather forecast closely. A 60 percent chance of rain meant they had to marry indoors.

“It poured cats and dogs during the time that we were supposed to have the ceremony,” Narmada says. “And it stopped right after the ceremony was over.”

Paying homage to Narmada’s roots, she and Bjoern fused Sri Lankan Buddhist and American wedding traditions. They didn’t include much of the German culture in the wedding—his family had decided to throw them a party in their home of Bayreuth, Germany, two weeks later.

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Planning a Sri Lankan Buddhist ceremony in the United States meant coordinating with her parents and others around the globe. They found a Buddhist officiant from Staten Island, New York, through a Buddhist temple in New Jersey. Then they built a platform called a poruwa, which her father designed and Bjoern engineered.

Her mother sewed nearly a thousand Swarovski crystals onto Narmada’s sari“It was built so sturdily, I had no fear that we would fall through,” Narmada says. “Thank goodness for German engineering.”

Narmada also had to find appropriate jewelry, since it’s traditional to wear a seven-piece necklace set from where her father was born in Kandy, Sri Lanka. Friends of her parents and a friend from Narmada’s childhood helped with that.

Narmada searched Delaware, New York and other places before finding the sari she wanted in Philadelphia. After seeing Swarovski crystals on ballroom dresses, Narmada decided to have about a thousand of them sewn onto her sari. Her mother did the honors—and she made the blouse for Narmada’s maid of honor. Of course, it only took the groom about two hours to pick his suit.

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The cake carried the flowery theme. Arrangements of orchids and other flowers were beautiful. The setting was imbued with violet and green throughout. And the DJ incorporated traditional Sri Lankan wedding music and drum beats into the ceremony.

The couple did some things on their own, like choosing the wedding invitations and decorating them with bows. “There is no question that Narmada had all the ideas that made our wedding special,” Bjoern says.

Narmada recalls seeing Bjoern for the first time as they were about to marry. “He was sweating,” she says. “Later, I found out that the air conditioning was not working.”

After the Sri Lankan ceremony, they performed the parts of a traditional American wedding. A judge read vows. They kissed. They shared a cake and dance.

The ceremony was performed in three languages and both families participated. The couple stood on a poruwa designed by the bride’s father and built by the groom.Bjoern says his wife and her raiment were beautiful, but that’s not what he remembers most. “Best of all was the expression on her face,” he says, “very happy and very excited.”

The ceremony was performed in three languages—Sinhalese, Pali and Sanskrit—and both families needed to participate. Hers could participate easily, but Bjoern’s German family needed instruction about the poruwa and more. Rehearsal took two hours, which made Narmada nervous about how long the wedding would take. But it all worked out.

Narmada stayed composed during the ceremony—until she saw her parents and brother crying. She tried to control her tears, but with no luck.

They quickly changed to laughter when the judge mispronounced her name. The proud groom made sure everyone knew how to say it after that. And when the couple dropped their rings, three people helped them find them.

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Arrangements were made of orchids and other flowers. After the formalities, it was time to celebrate. The couple was introduced as Mr. and Mrs. Rosner, then danced an American waltz to “You Light Up My Life.” Narmada had danced on the ballroom team at the University of Delaware. Bjoern is not a dancer, so “it was one of the nicest things he did for me at the wedding,” she says. “I know it took courage to dance in front of a large crowd for the first time.”

Having been warned by experienced couples and friends that they probably wouldn’t get to eat during the reception, Bjoern carried his bride off the floor after the dance so they could enjoy a meal together.

During dinner, they showed a montage of photos from their youths, their first round of dating, and the round that led to marriage. During the reception, they toasted Narmada’s parents’ 42nd wedding anniversary, which was that very day.

Bjoern is glad that the wedding was unique to the two of them, thanks to their cultural backgrounds. And he’s happy that they’re married.

“We have expanded our families, and we are a family,” he says. “This is a great new focus in life that I missed in the past.”

She agrees.

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