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Ruminations on the Exhilarating Big Fat Indian Wedding

indian bride and groom holding hands and circling the fire as part of the wedding rituals

If there were no constraints, budget or otherwise, what kind of wedding would you choose to have (should you choose to have one)? An elaborate affair with all the frills, a small intimate one, or an elopement with just the two of you?

If you’re already married, what kind of a wedding did you have? Was it the kind you wanted? What would you want to change about it?

In either case, does your partner share your views?

There is, of course, no right or wrong way to celebrate. Some like the extra attention, while others prefer to minimise the fuss and find the whole concept of a wedding to be a waste of resources. 

I find myself on the fence about this debate. While I prefer simplicity and ease, there is something to be said about making a grand entrance.

The Big Fat Indian Wedding

It is the wedding season here in India, and social media is filled with pictures of people getting married or attending a wedding. Weddings of all sizes from different cultures are being celebrated in intimate or large gatherings. Small gatherings don’t necessarily mean budget-friendly though.

I recently attended one such wedding. Although the number of guests was limited to just family and close friends, everything else about it was grand and over the top. They pulled out all the stops for this destination wedding—a palace stay, elaborate outfits for the bridal party, themed decor for every event, and even an elephant!

As someone who barely has the patience to attend one fancy event a year, I had to muster the enthusiasm for two parties every day, for three days. People got dressed up for breakfast!

As I stood on the sides waiting for when it would be acceptable to leave the party and go to bed, I couldn’t help but think about my wedding especially since our wedding anniversary was just a few days away.

Both my husband and I had wanted a small, no-frills wedding. I had wanted to be comfortable and actually enjoy my wedding day. I had been to a few weddings where the couple is made to sit in one place while everyone else enjoys the party. I did not want to be a showpiece on the stage.

Since I was the first of my generation on both sides of the family to get married, my parents wanted to have a few traditional ceremonies and invite our extended families, many of whom would be meeting for the first time. My husband’s parents also had a long list of people they wanted to invite. The wedding was to take place in their city because most of our relatives would have needed to travel wherever it took place.

The guest list from my side was just the extended family (we could’ve done with reducing this too, to be honest). And since the guest list from my husband’s side was much longer, consisting of relatives, friends and colleagues, they invited everyone only for the main wedding ceremony. This way, we wouldn’t have to meet most of them since we’d be busy with the ceremony. They could attend, meet the parents, eat, and leave. The other events were just for relatives and close friends.

Shopping for a Wedding

I am not a shopper but my husband is. Over the years, we have both shifted to the online method of shopping and it has saved many tears for both of us. 

For our wedding shopping, my husband was out of the country for the few months before the wedding, so he got just a few days to complete his. Whatever he and his family wanted to get for me we shopped for them together, that way I could choose what I wanted. Practical to the bone!

I had about six months to do my shopping. My mom was unleashed, and so was my dad to our utter surprise. By chance, because of my dad’s work, we got to shop in different cities and I got plenty of rest between shopping sprees. 

My mom insisted on filling my trousseau with tons of traditional clothes—some of which I am yet to wear after 14 years. She was more excited about it than I was, so I let her take the lead, interjecting only to reject some of the excessivenesses.

The clothes I wore for my wedding were comfortable and budget-friendly. When I look at some of the weddings now, I feel even the guests attending those events are more heavily dressed than I was as a bride.

Wedding guest in lehenga with sports shoes
Comfort above all else

Hindu Wedding Ceremonies

Over a long weekend, we celebrated five ceremonies and my sister’s birthday in between. We had a Haldi ceremony, a Mehendi function, the wedding, a reception, and ending with a Satyanarayan puja at my in-laws’ home.

We had rented out a few rooms in a serviced apartment building, so some of the decor was done by my sisters just to make the place seem more festive. For everything else, we had hired an organiser, which saved us a lot of coordinating hassles.

For the Haldi ceremony, the custom is to wear something borrowed and yellow. I got a simple cotton one from my aunt. It was a casual and fun day because everyone was meeting each other after a long time.

The next evening was the Mehendi function. The intricate work of a good henna artist applying henna on the hands and feet of the bride can take hours, but last barely a week. I asked for a smaller and simpler design because I knew I couldn’t sit still for so long. We had some live music alongside with everyone mingling and dancing. It was an enjoyable evening. My husband wasn’t allowed to attend because of some rule-bound relatives who forbade it, but the rest of his family came over.

bride in yellow sari with bridal henna on her hands and feet
Mehendi done

The wedding was on a Sunday morning. I am not a morning person, but I had managed to get a good night’s sleep. 

The ceremony was a little longer than I would’ve liked, but there were entertainment breaks in between. The wedding vows included in the priest’s narrative was outdated and therefore hilarious. We also had small games like finding the ring in a pot of water or blowing confetti at each other. 

hindu wedding ceremony
Laughing all the way!

My sari was simple, adorned by the dupatta from the lehenga I would wear for my reception. I did agree to sit on the throne on the stage for an hour so guests could take pictures with us.

I changed my sari for my bidaai (send-off), to leave for my husband’s house. Not a single person cried during my sendoff…not even my grandmother, who’s known to cry at the drop of a hat! Hmpf!

Bride's send off with laughter
Not a single tear was shed!

The wedding reception in the evening was a relaxed event of meeting everyone and enjoying some dancing and drinks, and of course cake.

bride and groom in pink for the wedding reception
A relaxed wedding reception party

The final function was the Satyanarayan puja at my in-laws’ house. Although we were supposed to have been fasting till after the puja, we smuggled some food into our room while we got dressed so our stomachs weren’t grumbling during the long ceremony.

bride and groom performing a puja
Satyanarayan Puja

That was about it. I slept like a log after lunch.

Although my wedding and the one I attended recently would both be counted as an intimate gathering, the difference between them was stark. The bride’s outfit for each ceremony was so heavy she could hardly move around freely. The groom did get to mingle and participate a lot more than her. It was a tiring weekend as a guest, so I can’t imagine what a whirlwind it must’ve been for her. I hope she enjoyed it though. The pictures sure look awesome.

Wedding Celebrations Big or Small

If you wish to and have the means to afford an extravagant party, then by all means, go ahead. Have a blast. Some would point out that a few of these elaborate wedding parties could feed the hungry population of the entire country for a month. Well, so could a lot of other events if they chose to divert their funds accordingly. Who are we to say how someone should use their wealth?

Unfortunately, the pressure on a lot of families to provide for that extravagance lays heavy. India is a country where you need to invite the whole village and their grandfathers to the party so that no one gets offended. An average ‘small’ wedding gathering would be of 500 guests. (The financial burden of weddingsAlJazeera)

It is usually the parents of the girl who save up their whole lives just to pay for the whole affair, including gifts they give not only to the bride and groom but to their families and guests. No wonder so many couples feel dejected at the birth of a daughter. They invest for their son’s education and their daughter’s wedding. All they can see in the future are expenses that will move to another home. 

In the age of social media, the world pays attention only if you stand out from the rest. Go big or stay irrelevant. Repeating outfits is a crime, and bridal outfits weigh a tonne. Many save up for a wedding instead of a marriage. They dream of the wedding party but lose focus on what comes after the din has calmed down.

bride and groom's hands holding a conch shell as part of the hindu wedding rituals

Pre-wedding videos and photoshoots with more fabulous outfits, adding on events on top of the regular wedding ceremonies, themed weddings, and expensive party favours—the list of expenses are endless.

Where am I going with this? Just reminding you to prioritise what you expect from your wedding. Do you want good pictures, or do you want to participate and enjoy the whole event? How many events can you make it through and still have fun? Is someone going to go into debt to pay off the wedding? And hey, how about incorporating some environment-friendly sustainable ideas for your party?

I’m glad I’m not the only one thinking along these lines. Many parents my age are not saving up for weddings but focussing on education and experiences. Some millennials and prefer to finance their own weddings instead of putting the financial burden on their parents. (No To Big Fat Weddings – Indian Express)

Have you attended any memorable weddings? What’s the strangest thing you’ve seen at one? What’s the most romantic wedding you witnessed? Let me know in the comments below.

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