Utter the word wedding and images of radiant couple, well-dressed guests, a stunning venue and sumptuous array of epicurean delights come to mind.
Utter the word India and images of sari-clad women, ancient temples, and spicy cuisine come to mind.
Now combine those two words and you will get a fusion of colourful revelry, elaborate ceremony, and stunning photography.
This is exactly what Little Wed Hen’s Mina witnessed when she recently attended a wedding ceremony in India. The days-long celebration was tiring but the intricate wedding details and symbols, the upbeat wedding music, and the extensive choices of food during the reception were enough to have her in awe of the typical Indian wedding.
It’s no wonder that foreigners are taking an interest in exchanging their vows in India. The involved rituals and vibrant celebrations are just some of the myriad factors that lure couples to hold their weddings in the land of the Taj Mahal.
Our last destination weddings feature looked at Tuscany, a highly sought-after wedding destination for Australian couples. Today our series continues with a spotlight on Candice Pereira, creative head of the India-based wedding planning company Marry Me. Candice was kind enough to give our readers a walk-through of what’s involved in planning a wedding in India.
The signature Indian ceremony
If you’re after a low-key wedding, Vegas may be a better choice than India: bursting with vibrant and elaborate rituals, Indian wedding celebrations normally take three to eight days to conclude.
But for many couples, the idea of a culturally rich and involved wedding–and one with a typically expansive guest list–is part of the appeal of a wedding in India.
“Many foreign clients choose to get married here in India as a way of getting back to their roots or simply because of their love of Indian culture,” says Candice. “Many clients also come to India to do their pre-wedding photography, or to shop for their wedding wardrobe.”
And indeed, many couples, regardless of their backgrounds, embrace the local culture by incorporating various traditional elements into their nuptials. Many couples incorporate the exchanging of varmalas, floral garlands, during the wedding ceremony, says Candice, while others love the baraat.
“The baraat is the procession of the groom–often on a horse–and his family to the wedding venue, accompanied by musicians and dancers,” adds Candice.
And Bollywood looms large as well: “Many couples choose to have a Bollywood-themed party for their pre-wedding dinner or even their wedding reception. For those who really want to go all out, we’ve even arranged for Bollywood choreographers to get on board!”
From royal palaces to exotic backwaters
Aside from the rich and elaborate marriage rituals, India’s major draw is its striking landscape. With its vibrant colours and ancient structures, the subcontinent dappeals to couples who want an aesthetically rich venue as backdrop for their wedding ceremony.
“For a destination wedding in India, couples mainly look at Rajasthan and Goa,” says Candice. Rajasthan, in Northern India, has many palaces and forts, and is perfect for an elaborate, regal wedding. Goa, in Southern India, on the other hand, is perfect for a fun beach wedding.”
Kerala and Hyderabad, both in lush Southern India, are quickly gaining popularity as well, and other destinations may have personal appeal to a couple. “Couples who have their roots in India sometimes choose to hold their wedding in their home town, or a town where many of their family members are located,” notes Candice.
Glamorous sari, royal sherwani
The ceremony is unique, the venue exotic. So far, so good. In fact, it seems that the only element missing from that authentic Indian destination wedding is the couple’s wardrobe. Do foreign clients eschew their traditional wedding gowns and suits in favor of a sari or lehenga for women and a sherwani for men?
“Yes!” affirms Candice. “Some brides go all out and pick traditional red-and-gold Indian wear.” In other cases, Candice suggests that couples fuse western and Indian traditions when putting together their wedding wardrobe. “Perhaps an Indian lehenga in white or off-white with Indian embroidery, for example,” says Candice.
As choosing selecting that perfect wedding wardrobe is invariably challenging–and even more so when the sumptuous variety of textiles available in India taken into account–Candice offers personal shopping services to clients who may be a little daunted by the process.
“This is another area where we provide our services to simplify the process for the bride to be and assist her with every step–from designer selection and fittings to styling,” says Candice.
The sights, the sounds, the spices and floral aromas: India is a country that is a treat for all the senses. But there’s one more thing to complete that destination wedding: Indian cuisine. With its nuanced flavours and aromatic notes, surely it’s impossible to pass up.
So do foreign clients opt for Indian food during reception? We asked Candice what’s on the menu at a typical wedding.
“India is made up of many states and each of them has a different and unique cuisine. A traditional Indian wedding menu is likely to be influenced by which area the couple originates. Whether it’s Gujarati food, Punjabi food or Maharashtrian food, the list is never ending.”
Foreigners usually avail themselves of the famous Indian banquets, but often on a scaled-down basis. “They often prefer a slightly more mainstream take on Indian cuisine–dishes that most guests can identify with–and nothing too spicy!”
Candice also points out that the astonishing extent and duration of many Indian weddings means that variety is the spice of life. “We need to ensure that we don’t repeat cuisines, so we’ll generally suggest a variety of Indian and non-Indian cuisines to keep every menu different.”
Many clients also opt for vast buffets that may include everything from north Indian food, Italian food, Japanese food, Mumbai street food and more, says Candice.
The nitty gritty
As in any wedding preparation, the planning side of things is one of the harsh realities couples have to face. And it’s doubly hard for those who plan to have a wedding outside their country. There are legalities to process, wedding vendors to source, seasonal differences to consider, and language barriers to overcome.
Candice admits that when it comes to a wedding in India, the paperwork involved is almost as elaborate as the wedding ceremony.
“Getting married in India is not the easiest. A non-Indian needs to reside in India for a number of days prior the ceremony so that they can apply to the local registry office for permission to get married in India. There is also a waiting period once the applications, with the accompanying relevant documentation, have been submitted. Couples need to provide documentation such as valid passport copies, residence proof in India, birth certificates, and photographs. And depending on their nationality, many couples may need to provide another special document from their respective consulates to prove their single status.”
But Candice begs couples not to let a little bit of paperwork deter them from getting married in India. “A professional wedding planner can handle the legal aspects of your wedding for you,” she says.
A wedding planner can also be invaluable in helping to bridge language and cultural barriers when it comes to dealing with vendors.
“There can be language, cultural and communication differences and hence misinterpretations. I would definitely suggest that foreigners getting married in India work with a wedding planner. A wedding planner can help you ensure that you’re not paying more than you should, and that the vendor you have hired is executing as per your sensibilities and that you get the dream wedding that you envision. A professional wedding planner should understand your vision and can translate that to create your dream day.”
When it comes to planning when to hold an Indian wedding, Candice recommends the months between November to February as the best time in terms of weather. “That being said, it is also peak wedding season so availability of venues and vendors should be done in advance! If you wish to get married during the monsoons, you may have to consider an indoor venue or have a backup plan, which is something we insist on for our clients!”
The final word in Indian weddings
Candice, who has handled the most intimate of weddings–“just the bride and groom in a private ceremony”– to those in excess of 4,000 guests–“yes, Indian weddings are usually quite large!”–remains completely enamoured of India as a wedding destination.
“India is a beautiful place to get married! Plan in advance, incorporate some Indian elements if you wish and enjoy the day!”