What it’s like to attend a big fat Indian wedding

I’ve been dying to write this piece for quite some time now because I never would have thought I’d have the honour and pleasure of attending an Indian wedding, especially in India. It was certainly not on my bucket list of things to do (even though it’s on so many other people’s bucket lists), but I got the opportunity and couldn’t resist ~ I thought: “you can’t get a more authentic experience than this!” (and on top of that I was there to support a friend I hold so dear to my heart).

In the short three days that I attended the wedding, I had many firsts – my first time wearing a saree, getting henna done, Bollywood dancing, trying local cuisines from all different regions of India and more.

So what does a big fat Indian wedding look like?

Picture lots of colours, decorations, food, drums and trumpets playing, people dancing and many events over course of three days. It’s an extravagant event where things are happening everywhere…all the time. Surbhi told me that her wedding would have about 1000 guests and cost about AUD$100,000 (Wow!)

It’s quite the task to try to sum the wedding up into a short blog but I’ll try my best 😊

Before I came to India, I had no idea I had to actually prepare for the wedding as a guest because I’m used to just rocking up with an outfit and envelope of money to give to the bride and groom. The bride Surbhi warned me that I needed to buy a few different colour outfits for each event and there were about 2 events each day.

The colour scheme went something like this:

  • Day 1 – something yellow or green for the pre-wedding celebrations
  • Day 2 – a traditional Indian suit for the wedding ceremony and saree for dinner
  • Day 3 – a gown or traditional item of clothing for the dance party during the day and a cocktail dress for the cocktail party at night

 

Day 1 – pre-Holi celebrations day and henna night

I arrived late so I missed out on the pre-Holi celebrations because my train arrived at Bhopal in the afternoon. Surbhi’s brother picked me up and checked me into a hotel which was right across the road from the wedding venue. The hotel was very nice, clean and had comfortable beds and I even got greeted with a complimentary water and a rose (Surbhi’s family covered the cost of the wedding and accommodation of the non-local guests. I think they booked out a whole floor or two for their guests which didn’t live in Bhopal).

I thought I’d have a room of my own but I was sharing a room with someone I’d never met before – Surbhi bunked me together with her friend Tanya from Delhi (but we’d already been in touch via Facebook).

Thankfully we got along really well and became close during the time we spent together. Tanya really stuck with me and made me feel comfortable and helped me dress appropriately for the wedding. Without her, I would have been crazily unprepared, underdressed and confused. She gracefully attended to all my needs, questions and explained so many things to me. You could even go as far as calling her my tour guide for an Indian wedding.

Not long after I checked in, my room mate for the next few days and Sanghmitra (another one of Surbhi’s friends) came to hang with me and plan our outfits. I quickly learnt that choosing your outfit and getting ready is almost an event within itself – it requires a lot of effort, patience and time.

They asked me:

“What do you plan on wearing?”

I went through my luggage and showed them a blue Indian dress I bought at Sarojini Nagar Markets in Delhi and my cocktail dress and said:

“I don’t really have anything else”.

They paused for a minute with a puzzled look on their faces…

Tanya: “Do you have anything green?”

Me: “No.”

Tanya: “What else have you got?”

I grabbed a few other items I bought from the markets

Tanya: “…just wear the dress with this red skirt you bought with this scarf. It’s got green on it so it should be fine.”

She hands me one of her scarves.

*phew*

Tanya: “Do you have any jewelry.”

I paused “…no, I don’t wear jewelry.”

Tanya: “You can borrow ours. I think a bindi will look good too.”

Tanya and Sanghmitra make a call to Surbhi to explain my clothing situation

Tanya and Sanghmitra pull out their bags of jewelery ~ it was like they had an endless supply. They went through each item one by one to see which one would suit my outfit the most.

While the girls were slowly choosing jewelry, their outfits…and doing their makeup, a package arrived for me ~ one of the hotel staff brought me a saree with jewelry in a package and another pink dress. We put it aside and continue getting ready.

Tanya pulls out a packet of bindis and puts one on my forehead.

We were ready!           

After getting ready

We went to the wedding venue at around dinner time – there were some dedicated drivers waiting out the front of the hotel to take us across the road (the traffic passing by was quite busy).

We had to walk for quite a long time past all these different areas until we reached the place where the event was happening. There were food, decorations and people everywhere – the main event was for all girls to get Henna tattoos on their arms.

The venue

And the endless supply of food 

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Me trying some of the delicious local food

And of course…some dancing and relaxing 🙂

So lots of this event mainly included everyone waiting around and chatting to each other while all the ladies were queuing up to get henna done. I wasn’t going to do it but I thought – why not?

I’m so glad I did because it was an experience within itself and it was oh so soothing 😊 I also learnt a little bit ~ that henna is made from dirt and water and is good for your skin.

But of course – the main focus was the bride – Surbhi – she had to get henna done on both her legs and arms.

They say that the darker the henna and the longer it lasts, the more that the groom’s mum will love the bride so it’s very important it is done properly.

As for everyone else, I’m not really sure why everyone else needs to get henna done.

Of course, Surbhi had the best henna – I absolutely loved the patterns on her arms and legs. But beauty never comes without pain ~ Surbhi had sit still for about 4-5 hours to get the henna done. I don’t think I could do the same.

The beautiful bride getting henna done

And the guests getting theirs done too from many artists (who were also wedding guests too!)

My first experience!

After all the female guests got their henna done, a small group of us went into a vacant room and started practising a Bollywood dance routine with a choreographer (my first ever Bollywood dance class). We danced for about 3 hours until 1 in the morning.

Learning our dance choreography

Day 2 – wedding ceremony and formal reception

This was the day where I got to wear a saree for the first time.

For those who don’t know what a saree is – it’s the traditional colourful dresses formed from draping a long piece of delicate patterned material over your body.

It looks easy to put on but it’s far from easy. I needed a professional to drape my saree for me (and it took about 15-20 minutes)

Me getting a saree draped for the first time 

After we got dressed, draped and jeweled we headed to the wedding venue again – as soon as I stepped out of the hotel, I saw a band, a white horse and these colourful umbrellas out the front. This was set up for the groom to sit on the white horse and slowly parade around with his family and guests while his guests danced around him.

They were certainly dancing when I arrived at the entrance of the venue.

Before entering the venue – at the entrance

Right before the groom found the bride – very festive!

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There were even these cool guys playing right outside the ceremony area on flute-like instruments

The function was in a different area this time. It was where we practised our dance routine – except it was completely decorated and there was seating area. There was a stage, seats everywhere and a ceremonial area with a red rug, something akin to a bonfire and a white frame around the area with flowers surrounding it.

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The ceremony area

There was a huge breakfast buffet just outside the ceremony area, another band playing these flute-like instruments and the bride was already waiting inside the ceremony area for her groom.

Breakfast – too much food to choose from again

The groom’s party eventually arrived. There were drums and trumpets playing and people dancing everywhere while others ate.

Eventually, the groom was united with the bride. They slowly walked over to a stage and had a ring ceremony where they exchanged rings and the groom put a reef of flowers around the bride’s neck.

The ring ceremony

Now in the western culture – it’s the exchange of rings and vows which seals the marriage. But that’s not the case in an Indian wedding – this was just the start of the ceremony. It was the second part which had the most significance.

The second significant ceremony

The bride and groom walked over to the second ceremonial area where the fire was – they exchanged vows and walked around the fire seven times.  It sounds simple but it actually took quite some time. It felt like we were watching them do this – there was a specific art that went with how the vows were said, what was poured and placed into the fire etc before the bride and groom went around the fire and marked red colours on each other.

The real ceremony

Once the ceremony was done, the groom ‘lost’ his shoes – well actually, Surbhi’s sisters took them and held them hostage to barter a price in return for his shoes. This is apparently a typical game they play after the ceremony ends.

 

The shoe game

As soon as the groom got his shoes the bride and groom went away for a bit. The ceremony was over and we could relax…until the reception event.

Part 2 – reception

The same deal happened again – we carefully picked out our outfits, did our makeup, selected jewelry and talked. I can’t remember how long this took us but it definitely was at least 3 hours (we had time to spare).

When we got to the wedding venue – we had to walk to a different area because the event was held in a different area (again). It was set up in such a glamorous way ~ the entrance hall alone had hundreds of flowers hanging from the ceiling with a red carpet on the floor. Once we went through the hall, we ended up in a huge open area with decorations, a mocktail bar, chairs, different entertainment stands and a huge stage in the centre where the bride and groom stood. I felt sorry for the bride and groom because they had to stand in the same spot for 5 hours while everyone waited in line to take a picture with them and give a wedding gift while everyone else got to eat and enjoy themselves. Every 5 minutes, someone would come up to us to offer us food or a non-alcoholic drink. The finger food was absolutely delicious but the choices seemed a little bit limited (I ate the same thing 6 times).

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One of the lovely guests going in line to take a picture with the bride and groom

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The crazy line to take a picture with the bride and groom

And the extravagant decorations

There was a fire blower, people who could balance a lot of pots of fire and dance while balancing the pots of fire and dancers.

This was before I knew there was a second area which was separate but connected by a smaller pathway where all the real food was. Once I discovered the area, I couldn’t help but be taken away by just how grand everything was. There were food stands and hundreds of people from corner to corner. There were literally people as far as the eye could see.

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So much food….so many people!

And a cool mocktail bar with people bringing you drinks all the time

After our group was done with professional photos and eating, we checked out all the different performers in the venue, we danced and sat and talked and danced.

Eventually, one by one the guests started leaving but the group I was with waited around for the bride and groom to finish taking pictures and for all the guests to leave because they were invited to have small intimate supper with the bride and groom after all the guests had left.

I tried to hold out and wait as well but I was too weak and just got too tired in the end so I went to bed and missed out on probably the only opportunity to properly talk with the bride ☹ (sorry Surbhi!!)

Day 3 – Dance ceremony and cocktail party

On the third and last day – everything felt far more relaxed. We had breakfast again in the same spot and then went into the same area where the bride and groom said their vows but this time, it was for a dance ceremony!

 

Breakfast

Slowly, one by one, different groups of people came up to do a dance performance for everyone but mostly for the bride and groom.

 

Eventually….it was my groups turn to dance! (sh*t! The nerves were definitely kicking in by this point ~ I had to do this choreography I barely knew in front of hundreds of people that I barely knew :/). We got up – most of us couldn’t really remember the dances we had to do – but we pulled through and made it look somewhat ok lol!

To see our final performance (sorry I don’t have the original): https://www.facebook.com/surbhi.sacklecha/videos/10213617362162230/?t=5

Even the bride and groom did a few dances for everyone 😊

Once the performances finished, it was time for the bride and groom to formally leave and for more duties with their immediate family. It looked more like a permanent farewell ~ – the bride and groom started saying their goodbyes to their family and the tears started rolling, especially from the fathers.

 

The very last event – the informal reception, the cocktail party.

Throughout the whole wedding, there was no alcohol…until this point. We had lots of beers and cocktails available to drink and the whole hotel rooftop to ourselves! All the people at this event were the younger, cooler kids (including me of course 😉). We drank and danced and drank… and then celebrated my birthday!

Surbhi, Tanya and Sanghmitra tried to secretly organise a birthday cake for me and brought it out just after midnight (after the hotel staff accidentally gave the cake to someone else – lol!).

After I blew out the candles, Surbhi grabbed some of the cake with her hand and hand-fed me and many of the guests.

 

Fun fact – In Indian culture – if it’s your birthday, you’re supposed to hand feed every person your cake after blowing out the candles.

It was a really nice way to end the celebrations – and an event I’ll never forget.

If you ever get the opportunity to go to an Indian wedding in India – please do me a favour and just go!

Thanks for having the interest and taking the time to read this 🙂 I hope you enjoyed!

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