Monday, April 12, 2010

A Survival Guide To Your First Indian Wedding

I was a groomsman in one of the most extravagant weddings I've ever been to this weekend. There was a horse, swords, two big dance parties, and a guest list exceeding 300 of the couple's closest friends and family. If you haven't guessed by now, this wasn't the traditional Christian wedding, instead it was a traditional Indian wedding.

As a white guy, I wasn't sure what I was getting myself into. The bride and groom (an Indian girl and a white guy) did their best describing what the different events were and what to expect, but there still details that slipped through the cracks which I had to figure out the hard way. So, in an attempt to pass on the knowledge I picked up, allow me to present a survival guide to your first Indian Wedding.

What to Expect

The thing to remember when attending one of these ceremonies is that it's more for the families than it is for the bride and groom. Traditionally the wedding is about the integration of these two different families, so all of the events therein are designed to get both sides talking, mingling, and otherwise joining together. This is also why the events take place over the course of a few days, as just one or two days with your new in-laws just isn't enough to really bond everyone together.

The ceremony has remained the same for some 5000 years, but has seen some things rearranged in the past few years as the whole pre-arranged partner has fallen by the wayside. Currently, the ceremony can be divided into four significant events: The Mehndi, The Grah Shanti, The Garba, and the Wedding.

The Mehndi (Min-dee)

The Mehndi is largely for the women, but has become the hallmark for kicking off the proceeding events. The whole thing starts with a March of the Colors, which is basically a walk loudly proclaiming that the bride is ready for marriage and the wedding is imminent. You basically make a big ruckus, which will be a reoccurring theme for the whole ceremony.

After the march, it's time to tat up the bride with Henna, this brown ink-like stuff that gives you a wicked cool tattoo for up to three weeks. While the bride is getting herself all kinds of intricate designs, the other women are encouraged to get designs on their hands as well.

Traditionally it's a way for the women to bond, fawn, and be all girl-y before the wedding. But what about the men? From what I figure, traditionally the men would have other things to do, so they weren't a part of the event at all. However, as time rolls on, the event has evolved to be a semi-casual event for everyone to coome enjoy. The men generally just hang out with each other while the women tat each other, but at least they're in the same location.

In the end, it's a good chance to get to know the people that you'll be seeing a lot of for the next few days. For me, it was the biggest culture shock, but as long as you have an open mind and an appetite, you'll be fine. Just don't forget to take your shoes off.

The Grah Shanti

Welcome to the religious precursor to the wedding itself. In a relatively short ceremony, the bride is blessed and covered with a yellow paste to purify her for marriage. From what I gather, this is every woman's chance to rub yellow paste on the bride if they'd like.

As a quick side note about these weddings, it's very pro-participation. Most of the events boast big group events that encourage you to join in and have fun, so don't be afraid to get in there and do it. It might feel a bit strange at first, but it's all part of the fun.

Anyway, the paste is later washed off, leaving the bride a glorious shine. I think that traditionally the groom gets the same process, but because our groom was white it would make him look more sickly than glorious, so we skipped that part.

Finally the bride and groom get small 'forget-me-not' bracelets, intended to remind them that in a few days (or the next day in our case) they would be getting married to each other. I guess that's one way to make sure the groom doesn't oversleep and/or run off.

The Garba (Grr-ba)

This event is more of a regional thing (Gujarati, specifically) than an all encompassing Hindi thing, so you might not get to experience this crazy dance party.

Traditionally this was the reception to the actual wedding, but as the years have gone by, it has been moved to before the ceremony while a more western reception has taken it's place after the wedding.

When it comes down to it, this is all about dancing and making a ruckus (see, I told you!) while celebrating the new (or almost new) couple. It begins with a big circle dance where everyone who can dances and skips around in one joyous group.

Can't find the rhythm? Can't figure out the steps? Worried that you might fall over and make a fool of yourself? Don't even worry about it. As long as you're trying, that's all that matters. Find a gap in the circle and get those legs moving because it's more about the celebration than it is the moves.

It doesn't end there though, the big circle dance is only part of the whole thing. Next, sticks are busted out and the circles break into two (an inner and outer ring). Everyone has the same basic pattern to banging the sticks with a partner in the other, concentrically moving ring. It's like a big game of patty cake, but with sticks and your partner keeps changing. It's crazy amounts of fun, and don't be afraid to toss in a few flairs to the standard pattern to really have a good time with it.

Finally, there is what's called a 'Drunken Dance' where the circles are no longer in play and everyone just pretends to dance drunkenly.

Another quick aside here, be prepared to do all this dancing sober, these weddings are normally dry. I won't lie to you, this combined with the lack of meat, was a little rough for me to get used to, but once you fall into the excitement of everything your inhibitions just drift away just like with booze... it just takes longer.

The Wedding

Finally, after a couple days or partying, it's time for the main event and it starts with another big ruckus. This time it's a parade for the groom, where his side of the aisle dances, plays music, and generally celebrates how awesome this guy is as he rides to the temple atop an elephant or (in case an elephant isn't available) a horse.

Originally this was one of the first things to happen, as it was the first time the groom would meet with the family. So the purpose of the big parade is to prove to the other family how infinitely cool this guy is. Really you're just a big hype crew there to get the other family excited about this guy they're giving their daughter to.

As you get to the door, the other family welcomes you, joining in the dancing and generally trying to show the groom how awesome they are and why he should be excited to be there to marry their daughter. They welcome the groom in with happiness and humor, and escort him with his immediate family to the alter for the ceremony to begin.

Here things are pretty standard, all things considered. The bride and groom sit in chairs, flanked by their parents, and go through a ritual of blessing, cleansing, and bonding until ultimately being declared husband and wife. The words might be different from a Christian or Jewish wedding, but the intention is exactly the same.

That's pretty much all there is to it. After the wedding, there's normally a western-style reception that celebrates the union with more dances and good times.


It's very easy to get intimidated by a wedding like this, especially if you're not used to the culture, but if you look past the colors and the language, you'll see that it's all to celebrate the impending union. Yes it's a bit of a culture shock, but the trick is to let go of your inhibitions and stop worrying about doing things wrong and just go for it. You might not be able to understand all the words that are being said, or own the ornate saris, or have the great dancing ability as some of the others, but as long as you're trying it doesn't matter.

In general, when at an Indian Wedding just remember these three simple things:

1- Take your shoes off
2- Wear loose, bright clothing. It's hard to dance and celebrate in a black suit.
3- Make a ruckus. Remember you're there to celebrate this love and show how awesome
your side of the wedding party is, so don't be afraid to go big with your support.

I suggest you all go out and experience one of these, because it's totally awesome.

That's all I got, I'll go back to comics next time...I promise.


  1. Hi,

    Nice post.Thanks For sharing Good information.

    Hindu weddings DC

  2. thanks! I am attending my first indian wedding in just over a week! This was quite helpful!