I grew up thinking weddings are all one and the same: bride in a white wedding dress, having the ceremony in a church with the whole bridal entourage of choice, followed by a reception in a hotel. A generic, middle-class, Catholic Filipino wedding.
Earlier this year, I got invited to a good friend Kimmi’s wedding. It was one of my most unforgettable experiences–one, because I got to see my friend get married to the love of her life, and second, because it was the first Indian wedding I ever attended.
It was like a psychedelic wonderland for me–everything was so colorful, vibrant, and different. The festivities lasted for almost a week. I got to know Kimmi’s family and friends more during that whole week.
This blog post will help readers know more about what to expect in Indian weddings, in the case you get that invite!
What to Expect in Indian Weddings
The whole Hindu wedding affair started with a pre-wedding party. It’s different from the Indian engagement party–I learned that the engagement party has been done a few months before the wedding.
I don’t have any traditional sari or lengha, so I wore a simple white dress… a decision that I later regretted. I stood out like a pink elephant in the room. The rest of the guests wore bright clothing and striking jewelry.
I wanted to meet the groom that night and wondered why he didn’t make an appearance.I later found out that it was the bride’s party and the groom is having his own simultaneously that night at a different venue. The couple are not to meet until the wedding day–suspense is all part of the experience!
The second day was reserved for preparations, beginning with a mehndi ceremony. I, including the bride’s other female friends had our hennas done in intricate patterns for the hands and feet. We had good conversations and girly bonding.
And of course, there were plenty of glorious Indian food in the house. Non-stop gluttony that felt like preparing a pig for butchery! It was great to get to know Kimmi’s family, friends and relatives.
Kimmi gave me a half dozen options to wear on her wedding day. I chose the one with the safest colors, black and gold, being non-Indian and a bit of a color-phobe (oh, that’s too orange. hmmm, that’s hot pink.) She also gave me a bindi to match my outfit.
The next morning, the bride’s family and friends have an early start making their way to the Hindu temple. The bride’s side arrive first at the temple and wait for the groom’s, which is unusual for me as in Western weddings, it’s the bride who make the grand entrance!
The bride’s sisters and bridesmaids (and me) waited for the groom anxiously inside a warm room over Indian pastries and hot milk tea (yum!). Other guests waited in the larger reception area with more food and drink serve, while others chose to wait outside.
As I learned, Indian weddings are never on time, and expected so. This particular wedding was running at’Indian Standard Time’, two hours behind.
Finally at around 11, the groom made an appearance in the temple’s parking lot with his family. This kick-off is known as the baraat, often accompanied by booming music, luxury cars, and the groom’s side dancing and singing their way to the venue. The wedding has officially started!
Upon entering the temple, everyone was to take off their shoes and come in barefoot. We all sat on the floor, where men and women are segregated on different parts of the room–women on the left, men on the right.
Although admittedly I didn’t understand what was going on for most of the part, the ceremony had plenty of enchanting rituals. The priest chants prayers in their native tongue (Punjabi?).
During the ceremony, they distributed food around, it was a sticky kind of snack that I can only describe as tasting like masi. It is blessed food known as ‘karah prashad’ made of flour, sugar and ghee. I swear you’ll never go hungry in an Indian wedding.
And of course, it is always amazing to people-watch and see how fabulous everyone is.
The reception was held at a convention hall, enough to house their 1,000 guest list. Indian weddings are famous for their large guest lists. It is considered a huge insult if you don’t get an invite from family (even if she is like your third-degree cousin twice removed). That’s just how it is!
The Indian wedding reminded me that marriages aren’t just a union of two hearts; but a joining of two families. It’s not just about the bride and the groom–but it involves the mothers, the fathers, the siblings, the sibling’s spouses, the sibling’s spouses’ siblings–I could go on… Indian families are huge!
And of course I expected to see wild Bollywood-style dancing in the party! They did not disappoint–complete with men throwing bills on the floor. Now these folks know how to throw a good party.
Giving Away of the Bride
All the fun and festivities are halted as the party in the hall ends and we make our way back to the bride’s house.
This part of the wedding also has some few roleplaying antics from ancient traditions where the bride’s family hides the groom’s shoes, basically making his life harder to get to his new bride. When he finally succeeds (and of course he will!), he takes his prize bride (who is waiting for him in her room) and leave the house together to the groom’s house.
The bride’s side laments and cries over the ‘loss’ of their family member, and they all bid farewell and give their well wishes before she leaves her household and joins her new family.
Do’s and Don’ts
Now that was a long recap of a long wedding! Finally, here are some do’s and don’t’s to remember when attending an Indian wedding:
- Just as in any religious ceremony, wear decently. Avoid plunging necklines, bare shoulders and revealing skirts. You will be sitting on the floor cross-legged most times so make sure to wear something you will be comfortable with.
- You are free to choose to wear all colors in the spectrum, but generally avoid wearing black and white–which are reserved for mourning and funerals. Red should be avoided too. Red is generally reserved for the bride and you would not want to outshine her!
- Take off your shoes in temples, religious places, and sometimes, the family’s houses.
- Monetary gifts are common in Hindu weddings. Numbers ending in 1 are considered lucky, so you can give money in these lucky denominations; $101, $151 or $201… so on.
- Be careful before you take pictures of the ceremony. There are certain rituals wherein even the official wedding photographer is barred from taking photos.