May 24 -- A Hindu wedding unfolds like acts in a play--a slow, lavish procession of ritual events, one of which has a role in it for a very good-natured horse.

The barat is the tumultuous, slow parade of the groom and his family to the home of the bride-to-be. According to one description, "Drums, conches, flutes sound the air! It is the morning of the wedding and the hour of the prince as he prepares to journey to the bridal home, dressed in his very best--silks, brocades, muslins. His family blesses him with Tika--a long mark on his forehead--to signify the rays of the sun. Mounting his favored horse, the groom rides in a royal procession with his entourage."

These days, many Hindu bridegrooms lack favored horses, and even in India, the barat often is limited to a parade of dancing humans preceded by musicians, with the horse deleted. But when Wendy Hulsing of Dickinson, N.D., and Sanjaya Gupta of Chesterfield decided to marry, they wanted a two-ceremony wedding, Christian and Hindu, with all the trimmings, including a not-too-fiery steed for the prince-of-the-hour, who'd never ridden in his life.

"You know the Lone Ranger? He is my brother," the groom said before the event on Saturday as a way of assuring that he'd be a natural at riding.

Sanjaya, who met Wendy at St. Louis University School of Medicine, from which both just graduated, is the son of two doctors, a pediatrician and a cardiologist. Doctors Santosh and Jitendra Gupta settled here in 1969 and built a multilevel cedar house in the Chesterfield Lake subdivision. Their green lawn stretches down to the edge of the lake, beside which they erected a sacred canopy, all of flowers, for the Hindu wedding ceremony. Meanwhile, the Hulsings hired a wedding organizer to help them make their out-of-state arrangements for the Christian ceremony, an afternoon wedding at Ladue Chapel with a dinner reception afterward at the St. Louis Club in Clayton.

The Guptas tried to think of everything: saris for Wendy's sisters in case they wanted to wear them for the Hindu ceremony, a proper receptacle for the sacred fire over which the marriage ceremony would be conducted, gifts and garlands to be exchanged between the two merging families. Santosh Gupta flew to India twice to pick out her gift to her new daughter-in-law (a necklace of diamonds, pearls and sapphires set in gold) and to choose the wedding vestments.

The question of where to get a horse for the barat perplexed Jitendra Gupta until he remembered that he'd met a woman who owned horses at the dance studio where he took ballroom dancing lessons. He called her, Kristi Shaw of Eureka. Prudently, she asked just what was involved for the horse. He showed her a video of the wedding of a cousin in India. In it, a horse draped in tassels and silk carried the groom with musicians ahead and dancers encircling it. The horse displayed an unflappability that represented something of a cultural challenge for Shaw, who assured the Guptas that she had a horse up to the event.

As Santosh Gupta put it, "Kristi promised me a dead horse walking."

The morning of the rehearsal, Paula DiCampo, a chum of Kristi Shaw and the owner of a 12-year-old mare named Zoey, showed up at the Guptas'. Shaw had gone out of town to a horse show after having lit a fire of excitement in DiCampo to be part of a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

DiCampo led the mare down the emerald-green incline of the lawn to inspect the flowered altar at the lake. It had rained the night before, just enough to wet the surface of the dry ground. The horse skidded twice and left two bold, brown gashes in the green carpet. One of the gardeners put a hand over his heart as if he were having chest pains.

Lacking Indian musicians to lead the barat, the Guptas had rigged up a golf cart with Indian processional music, but technical difficulties prevented the horse from getting its first exposure to the novel sounds at the rehearsal. And the groom couldn't take a practice tour because DiCampo had forgotten to bring a saddle. But there was one good omen: Santosh Gupta hurried over to the horse with a rose-and-silver bolt of silk in which the animal was supposed to be draped for the procession. Without warning, she flung the material outward like a parasail, so that it floated above the horse and then settled over the animal's shoulders in a spill of color. Zoey did not move. She did not even blink.

"I think she'll be fine," DiCampo said brightly.

On the morning of the wedding, the wedding party and guests assembled at the far end of the lake to crown and bless the prince of the hour and get him on board the favored horse. She'd been shampooed until she sparkled. She wore a black western saddle and breastplate decorated with silver hearts. Her rose-and-gold sari was pinned over her shoulders, and her mane was braided with gold tassels.

DiCampo kept Zoey apart from the opening ceremonies. While Sanjaya Gupta's family members crowned him with a turban and marked him with the mark of the sun on his forehead, DiCampo injected Zoey's neck with one-half .cc of ace promazine--horse valium. Paula had brought a little stool to serve as a mounting block, and Zoey stood peacefully while Sanjaya Gupta mounted. Nor did Zoey seem bothered when the tuneless music with the didactic drumbeat started up from the golf cart, and the wedding party began to spin and clap and dance.

The trouble came when the parade started to move. The prince of the hour sat on his favored horse like a sandbag on a levee. The top half of his 6-foot-4-inch frame listed first to the left, then to the right like the mast of a sailboat in high seas. DiCampo felt the mare's muscles begin to bunch beneath her skin and coil like a spring. She told the groom to try to sit still in the saddle.

The mare began goose-stepping, denoting a submerged continent of feeling.

"When do the dancers dance around the horse?" a photographer asked.

"We'd better not dance around the horse," DiCampo suggested, editing the ceremony to fit the situation, keeping the mare anchored to the ground not by reins but by a line of wordless communication flowing between the two.

Technical difficulties haunted the music from the golf cart, and each time the music stopped, so did the procession. Zoey did not want to stop. Paula kept her circling and circling, moving father and farther from the barat. Pretty soon she and Sanjaya Gupta were so far from the crowd that you could have mistaken them for lovers trying to keep to themselves.

"It would be good if we could just go," said DiCampo, panting. The ace promazine was winding down before the barat.

"In India sometimes, a barat can last for four hours," Sanjaya Gupta told her.

Time is relative. This barat took only an hour, but even so DiCampo was aging prematurely by the time the procession headed down the Guptas' driveway, not because anything happened, but because she sensed what could happen.

When the dancing began at the house to celebrate the union of the two clans, the groom missed out after heading for distant parts of the subdivision.

"Horse is a little nervous," commented Jitendra Gupta, sensing it for the first time.

Finally the guests seated themselves in the wedding tent. It was time for the prince of the hour to come down the asphalt driveway, down the emerald hillside to the spot where his relatives waited to collect him from the horse and carry him to the altar so that his feet would never touch the ground.

Amazingly, the horse moved quietly down the hill and concentrated on the footing. The ground was softer because of another rain, and her hoofs went down as far as post holes. Slowly, the mare arrived at where the relatives waited and stood.

DiCampo, with beads of sweat, looked up at the groom and said only half-joking, "I got you this far. If these guys drop you, I'm not liable."

He grinned and settled into the arm chair they had made for him. They carried him toward the altar. Feeling the odd, ill-balanced weight off her back, the favored horse from Eureka took a snatch of grass. DiCampo showed the meaning of the phrase "weak with relief."

"And now," the priest said, "I will invite the bride to come forth."

And the prince of the hour turned to see his bride's radiant approach.

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