Do’s and Don’ts for an Indian Wedding
We have attended and conducted several Indian weddings over past 20 years. We have also planned and executed our own son's and daughter's weddings to American spouses. Following do’s and don’ts are based on our experience as well as feedback from folks who have arranged the ceremonies for their sons and daughters. Because of so many things to take care of, organizing this event can be stressful. We hope that following do’s and don’ts will help you organize a successful and enjoyable wedding.
1. Decide whether you want Traditional or Pragmatic wedding ceremony.
The wedding is a social, moral, religious and legal event. It can be traditional or pragmatic. The traditional ceremony is based on auspicious muhurt, horoscope matched and is detailed with many rituals, long, conservative and Indian informal style. Pragmatic ceremony is more practical, relatively short, adjusted to upbringing of current brides and grooms in the USA and customized to the specific family traditions. Do choose your priest consistent with how you want the ceremony to be conducted.
2. Focus more on the meaning of the rituals and less on the specific method as to how it is done.
The basic steps of the Vedic ceremony are same across India. The sequence, traditions, customs and timing may vary from state to state, region to region and even among different families from the same background. Do understand the rational behind the rituals. This will help not only the second generation Indians but also our American neighbors and friends
3. If possible, give personal invitations to local family and friends.
This may sound impractical in the age of emails, evite and Facebook but try to be as personal as possible, to invite your local friends and family members; especially those who are going to help with the wedding. Go to their home with personal invitations and request their blessings for the upcoming wedding. You will enjoy the experience ! Formal invitations and/or phone calls are much better than evites to a wedding. And, do formally invite your Pandit!
4. Plan the events jointly, especially bride, groom and their parents and resolve all issues amicably.
Because of different backgrounds (Religion, state of origin, age, financial capability, upbringing, faiths and beliefs, customs etc) there are bound to be differences among the involved parties on how to conduct various parts of the wedding. I have observed many differences of opinion between the parents and the bride and the groom because of generational, cultural and their roles in India vs those in the US. You can consult us on all aspects but we all need to be on the same page prior to planning the actual ceremony.
5. Plan the event well ahead of the actual marriage date.
Do contact your Pandit 6 to 9 months in advance of the proposed date. Most Pandits do the pre wedding and wedding rituals but also can help you in planning items like stage, Mandap, guest sitting, proper direction, Muhurtam, appropriate musical interludes, Venue logistics, time lines etc. Adhere to the planning appointments and all wedding schedules. Every body is busy! Plan the events well and stick to the schedules. If some plans change, have a strategy to communicate to all affected parties. Please give as much information about the wedding as soon as possible so that the Pandit can customize the program for you.
6. Try to be as pragmatic and practical as possible!
Wedding is a wonderful occasion to join, not only the bride and the groom, but families on both sides. There is a big cultural difference between weddings in India vs those in America. In America, in almost all the cases, the couple, especially the bride, drives the overall event. The couple wants a highly romantic event, primarily geared towards them and their friends with relatively less role for the parents and guests. But do consider the practical, economical or logistical aspects of the wedding for your parents and all the guests. If not , this may cause unnecessary stress during planning stage.
7. Delegate and delegate locally.
Do get your local friends and families involved in the planning and assign them specific responsibilities. Do assign somebody who understands the marriage program and the time line to help the Priest. Make sure that they take the total responsibility-time line, items required, intention etc. Do assign greeters to welcome the guests.
Make sure that the hosts have absolutely minimum tasks assigned on the wedding day!
8. Use e-mail / Skype / Face time in communicating with the Priest and other vendors.
I can send much more information via email. It is much easier to discuss the program, the logistics and the timelines with actual documents in front of you. Also, have all your guests’ email addresses for any last minute changes, reminders, latest weather forecast etc. Use Skype or Facetime to meet your Pandit, if it is not possible to meet in person.
9. Plan a wedding website.
Include most up to date information on the information about the couple, wedding party, parents, wedding program, time line, venue information etc. Keep it live with most frequently asked questions from your invited guests.Update regularly.
10. Do Consider having your entire wedding at one location, preferably at a full service, local, suburban hotel.
Ideally, the Sangeet, the ceremony, reception and guest lodging should all be all a full service, suburban, hotel. This makes an enjoyable and stress free wedding with more social interactions. It has many advantages like avoiding bad weather, flexible 24/7 venue availability, avoiding travel from location to location, ability to change costumes, adequate facilities, multiple options regarding food, ballrooms, large hotel staff with their own marriage coordinator etc. Many a time, the hosts have forgotten to bring required items to the wedding like towels, bowls, candles etc. and the hotel staff will gladly provide them. Yes, many couples do not like their wedding in Hotels as an option; as like " everybody does it, it is not unique etc" . Yes, as stated, there are reasons, why many couples choose it. It is the MOST practical venue for an INDIAN wedding.
11. Design the Mandap so the rituals are visible to all.
Your guests will enjoy the ceremony if they can see all the rituals. We recommend an “open” Mandap on a stage.
with side and front steps. Walking Ramps are ok as long as you have enough steps at at least five locations.
12. Inform all guests that this will be a solemn occasion. Do respect the sanctity of this important Sanskar.
Traditional Indian weddings can be noisy with guests paying little attention to the rituals except at the Muhurtam. Ours is a solemn and religious ceremony. Do ask them to come on time. Do remind guests to turn off their cell phone. Do ask guests to remain quiet and respectful. Do ask guests with children to sit towards the back so that they do not disturb the proceedings.
13. Plan for the logistics review (rehearsal) of the actual wedding steps.
Hindu weddings involve lots of specific steps and many people. A full review, preferably at the actual wedding location, a day before, with all the people listed in the ceremony, will make your actual marriage ceremony a great success. Make this request to your venue coordinator way ahead of time. Do not reduce time or cancel rehearsal at the last minute.
14. Bring all items per the lists provided by the Pandit.
Do understand the reason for each item requested and when it will be used in the ceremony. Assign a single coordinator and have all items at the mandap at least two hours before the ceremony. In spite of detailed items list, it is amazing how many hosts bring their own items and not bring the requested items! This causes unnecessary stress just before the ceremony.
15. Create a serene atmosphere for pooja and wedding ceremony.
Rituals are meaningful only if they are done with the belief in the Supreme Being and devotion to your deities. Prayers require a calm mind, serene atmosphere, clean set up and no disturbance or noise.
16. Work with the venue coordinator on Fire rules and regulations.
Homa is an integral part of authentic Hindu wedding. We light a small fire with appropriate precautions; nonetheless, get official permission and take additional precautions if needed, for the ceremony duration (~ 1 hr).
If not possible, there are alternatives like an enclosed candles, artificial fire etc.
17. Use discrete photography and video recording.
Guests love to take pictures and videos during the ceremony. However, in their enthusiasm to get good pictures, they disturb the solemnity and flow of the various rituals. So, please tell them to take pictures discretely. The photographer and the cameraman should not interfere with the proceedings and by no means enter the Mandap for close-ups!
18. Understand the limitations of outdoor and, or special wedding venues and plan accordingly.
Outdoor, Unique venues are romantic but are not as practical as indoor for a Hindu Ceremony. Note that I am strictly speaking about the ceremony itself; I have enjoyed many beautiful outdoor receptions! These venues tend to be geared to smaller weddings and short Christian ceremonies. There may be weather problems, limited facilities, unexpected interruptions and not-so- serene atmosphere for the wedding itself. The couple may be comfortable in the mandap but the guests may face the adverse weather like the sun! It is always difficult to light the candles and the fire; which is such an integral part of the ceremony.There are many logistics issues such as lack of changing rooms, sub optimum speaker sounds, lack of stage, travel to a remote location from hotel, etc. These venues may not be able to provide if you forget to bring few required items. I also prefer not to have Shri Ganesh idol in the outside weather. Do understand these exposures and have contingency plans.
19. Do hire a DJ who understands Hindu weddings.
DJ should work with the Pandit and the bride and the groom for appropriate music during various steps. He must give a clip on ( Lapel) or mouth wireless microphone to the Pandit; hand held or on the ear wireless microphones do not work as they interfere with many rituals that Pandit needs to do.
20. For Inter religion marriages, do two separate Religious Ceremonies, instead of a single fusion ceremony.
If the couples are from different religions and want both ceremonies to unite them, do them separately to get the best out of each ceremony. Please allocate sufficient time between the ceremonies. Light refreshments are fine in between the ceremonies but please do not serve liquor before the second wedding. See my views on Fusion wedding in FAQs.
21. Be considerate about your Guests !
Yes, it is your wedding and the bride and the groom should have maximum say in the planning the dates, venue, etc. However, please also look at your plans from the point of view of the guests such as their travel, comfort, accommodations, parking and convenience! Be considerate of others who are coming to bless and witness your marriage!
22. Have all guests attend the Ceremony!
It is very common among Indians to skip the ceremony due to one or other reason and attend only the reception!
This is rather improper from my point of view! The reason you invite guests is for them to bless the couple and witness the marriage ceremony ; not just to socialize!
1. Don’t think you have to spend a fortune on a wedding!
You can have a beautiful wedding in less than eight hours, with a nice Hindu ceremony followed by a reception in a nice community hall with your close family and friends. No need to stress out over extended and expensive weddings!
2. Don’t Procrastinate!
Putting things off until last minute will create a disorganized and chaotic wedding. Do not leave major items for the last week. Have a well defined schedule for each event to bring things together.
3. Don’t make last minute requests to the Pundit!
Many guests and family members will ask the Pandit to insert unplanned items during the ceremony ( e.g. singing songs, exchanging gifts, adding specific ritual etc). Bring your unique request no later than a day before the wedding at the logistics review to see if these can be accommodated.
4. Do not expect everything will go smoothly!
There will be some disappointments such as people may not RSVP on time and may not show up at the last minute. There may be last minute delays and expected help may not be delivered. Some programs may take unexpected turns even after thorough preparations! At the same time, these events will be compensated by many unexpected wonderful events – so, take things in stride and enjoy the function.
5. Do not underestimate actual logistics of the overall event!
There are several considerations of organizing a marriage that requires rational thinking of when, where, what and how to organize the event. Pay attention to space requirements, efficient people flow for reception or dinner, schedule and timings etc. Do not overcrowd!
6. Do not serve food during Grahashanti Pooja or the Wedding ceremony!
We love to treat our guests with all kinds of goodies when they come to our home and especially to attend the wedding festivities! However, please do not serve food during the pooja or the marriage ceremony out of respect to our deities and to preserve the sanctity of the ceremony. Yes, it is ok to serve snacks, water or soft drinks, tea/coffee before the pooja or before the ceremony but please make sure that they do not bring these items in the pooja or wedding hall. Further, please do not serve alcohol before the ceremony and any beef during the reception.
7. Do not arrange various functions at far away and / or multiple locations.
As stated earlier, ideally, if possible, arrange ALL the major functions, at the same Hotel where guests are staying! It will make all your logistics so much simpler! Yes, the hosts do arrange buses or shuttles from their hotel to other locations but I have had many experiences where people have arrived late due to traffic issues, getting lost or other headaches ! Further, do not underestimate how many times you will visit these venues ! Have them closer to your own home!
8. Avoid stress of an Outdoor or Out of town ( for Hosts) location for the ceremony, if possible !
Obviously, weather is the major issue; too cold, too windy, too hot, Sun directly into your eyes, rain etc. In addition, many outdoor venues do not have good facilities: toilets, electricity, stage, parking, rooms to change clothes, lack of last minute required items, etc. Managing a wedding is a major event; make it less stressful by doing it closer to your home.
9. Do not keep Guests or Pandit or anybody else waiting at various functions!
We have had many poojas, rehearsals, ceremonies and receptions delayed by considerable time as the bride and others were not ready per published , agreed times - because of mehendi, photo shoots, make up or hairdoes! Please plan your time and do not keep others waiting!
10. Do not serve Beef at an Indian wedding.
Yes. it was done at least on two occasions because either the bride or groom were non Indians. This may be offensive to many Indian guests attending the reception..
11.Do not sit young children in front rows!
Yes, I understand they are family ! I have five grand children! It is unfair to them to expect them to seat quiet for an hour! ! So, please sit with your young children a few rows back so that you have more freedom to move without disturbing others.
If you have any further questions or comments, please send me an email at pamaG43@gmail.com