In an outdoor affair that concluded as the sun was setting behind the mountains on the Hawaiian island of Oahu, U.S. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard wed cinematographer Abraham Williams Thursday in a Vedic ceremony that the bride deemed “literally just perfect.”
“It was a deeply spiritual, traditional ceremony that held great meaning for Abraham and I,” Gabbard, the only Hindu member of Congress, tells PEOPLE the morning after the wedding. “It brought all the important elements of our life together.”
“It really was a Hawaiian-style Hindu wedding, from the palm trees to birds of paradise flowers, to the birds chirping in the background,” she also says while en route to a yoga session with friends who had flown in for the wedding.
The bride, 33, chose a Lacha-style dress – traditional wedding wear in India – although the way she acquired the gown, which featured a royal blue silk jacket atop a gold full skirt, was anything but typical.
It arrived in the mail less than 48 hours before the wedding.
“I had initially picked out a dress, but I just knew it wasn’t going to cut it,” says Gabbard, an Iraq war veteran. “I ended up grabbing a couple of close friends of mine a week before the wedding and finding the dress I chose online.”
The dress finally arrived around 5 p.m. Tuesday, and she recruited a seamstress friend who assisted with “final nips and tucks.”
“I admit I was clicking refresh on the shipping tracking number quite a bit,” she says. “But when it did arrive, I was amazed at how well it fit out of the box.”
In addition to wedding dress stress, Gabbard says she and Williams were a bit worried about the weather, which initially called for a 50 percent chance of rain. But the skies were clear for their big day, and warm ocean breezes greeted the nearly 300 guests, including congressional colleagues Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy and Massachusetts Rep. Joe Kennedy.
A Brahmin priest officiated the ceremony, and followed the traditional Vedic format going back thousands of years, with a nod to the couple’s beloved Hawaiian home.
Gabbard’s father walked her down the aisle to meet Williams, 26, while her mother tied a flower lei around the couple’s right hands, which were symbolically stacked on top of one another.
Later, Gabbard said the priest built a fire and asked God to be present in the blaze. The couple then put grains and bananas into the fire as an offering, and at another point they walked around the fire seven times while reciting prayers.
Although much of the ceremony was in Sanskrit, the couple exchanged vows they wrote themselves in English – a part of the ceremony Gabbard said she found especially meaningful.
“I was moved to tears when he said his vows to me,” she said, adding that she didn’t know in advance what he was going to say. “That was very, very special.”
The ceremony concluded with a lively yoga kirtan, with the guests encircling the newly married couple while dancing and reciting special chants as music played.
“It was really wonderful to be with everyone while they were dancing and clapping and singing,” she says.
After the ceremony, the guests dined on a Indian-style meal cooked up by her sister’s husband and other relatives. Dishes included paneer tikka masala, samosas, mango and tomato chutney and saffron rice. The wedding cake? A rose cardamom cheesecake adorned with henna-style decorations.
Guests also passed along well-wishes to the couple on a blue surfboard designed by a friend.
With Gabbard juggling a full slate of congressional responsibilities, and headed back to Washington D.C. to be in the Capitol Building by Monday, she says there’s no time for a honeymoon right away – but they’re working on it.
For now, they’re content with a wedding they deemed nothing short of magical.
“It was far beyond what I dreamed of,” she says, “Literally, it was perfect.”