American Vs. Indian Traditions at Weddings
I recently had the pleasure of attending a friend's wedding. She and her husband are some of my favorite people, and I couldn't wait to see what they had planned. My friend, though she lives here, is of Indian descent and so had chosen blend traditional-to-her-culture elements along with traditions from American weddings. While there are some similar elements from both American and Indian weddings, a lot of things are different.
First and foremost, what I noticed immediately was the way the bride, groom, and wedding party dressed. Here in the States, most women wear white or ivory gowns. That's not typically the case for what women in India wear. If you haven't been to a traditional Indian wedding, and you get invited to one, be sure to go—you'll love seeing all the difference just as much as I did.
Perhaps the most notable physical difference I noticed was that my friend had henna tattoos done on her hands and feet for the ceremony. She explained that it's called Mehndi, and that she got it done a day before the ceremony. The intricate designs looked so pretty with her dress, or sari as she said it was called, and she told me that there's a game many Indian couples play—the groom's initials were hidden in her Mehndi designs, and on the wedding night, the game was that he had to find his initials. A little cheeky, I suppose, but not all that more racy than the American tradition of the groom getting his new wife's garter from underneath her dress.
Most weddings I've been to have been reasonably sized. The sizes have ranged from probably 50 guests to 150 guests, but Indian weddings are typically much bigger, I'm told. Sometimes as many as 1,000 guests will attend a wedding. She said that the caterer they had gone with had recently done a wedding for 850 guests. I don't even want to think about how much a wedding like that would cost, do you? The large guest list makes for a very interesting party, though—it was all a lot of fun. Plus, who couldn't have a good time being in the company of so many people wearing boldly-colored, sparkling saris? Everyone looked so pretty.
As I said before, my friend's dress was much different than anything I'd ever seen. I've watched those reality shows about women picking out poofy white dresses with strapless necklines, lace, and beading, and the general idea is that white means a bride is pure. If you didn't know it was tradition, you might mistake a tradition Indian bridal sari—which is usually red—as something it's not. It's clearly not meant to symbolize impurity or anything negative, in fact she said it symbolizes happiness and good luck for the couple getting married. Also, unlike American wedding dresses which are altered and adjusted and pulled and tightened to fit the woman wearing them like a glove, saris are held in place by pins and pins alone. I asked my friend if she was worried about a "wardrobe malfunction," but she assured me that things are held in place quite securely. She also explained that wedding saris can be just as expensive as wedding dresses, despite seemingly being simpler. Saris, she said, are usually made with more intricate fabric and expensive fabrics. Hers was made of silk and was covered in gold embroidery, presumably done by hand. It was gorgeous, and sort of made me wish that Americans were more embracing of different colors for weddings.
Aside from Indian bridal wear being different from what I'm used to seeing, the type of food served was also more unique. Traditionally, in India, the wedding menu is taken care of by the bride's family. Sometimes, the groom's family has to approve what will be served, but with my friend's wedding it was a collaboration between the two families. Similarly to American weddings, there are appetizers before the main meal, but the main course was different—instead of one plate given to each guest, there are multiple dishes served, usually determined by which region the couple is from. These can include vegetarian and non-vegetarian dishes, and the main course is considered the most elaborate part of the meal. My friend had a traditional American wedding cake, but she told me there are different desserts in more rigidly traditional weddings.
Although my friend's marriage was not pre-arranged, she explained to me that there are some things that arranged-marriage couples do at wedding ceremonies to make the bride more comfortable with her new family. For example, in a post-ceremony ritual, the bride throws three handfuls of rice and coins over her shoulder, towards her parental home, which is said to ensure that wealth and prosperity remains in her home forever. Another ritual is for the newlyweds to play games, like sitting back to back with a pillow between them, and answering yes-or-no questions. Since they can't see one another, it is a fun(ny) way for them to get to know everyone a bit better, and it lightens the mood, making the bride more comfortable in her new husband's home.
I found the entire experience to be incredibly enjoyable, even though I wasn't familiar with some of the elements. If you ever have the chance to attend an Indian wedding, you must go!