When you and your future spouse come from different cultural backgrounds, incorporating your individual Indian and American cultural marriage traditions into your wedding can create a connective thread that links and bonds you and both of your families together, while creating your own unique story. Fusing important traditions of each of your cultures into your wedding events can enhance and enrich an already beautiful event.
The Bollywood/Hollywood Connection
It is no surprise that when Priyanka Chopra and Nick Jonas got married, it caused quite a stir. While every culture has had its own traditions when families intermingle, Hollywood and Bollywood have had a huge influence on the wedding traditions of America and India; from the iconic weddings of stars like Grace Kelly and Prince Rainier in 1956 to the more recent 2000 marriage of Hrithik Roshan and his childhood friend Sussanne Khan, daughter of actor Sanjay Khan, as well as the mirrored recent rom-coms Mere Yaar Ki Shaadi Hai (It’s My Friend’s Wedding) starring Uday Chopra, and Julia Roberts in My Best Friend’s Wedding. Chopra and Jonas followed that Bollywood/Hollywood glamorous wedding tradition by intertwining the best of each culture’s wedding customs. For example, Jonas posted pics of the personalized scooters he gave his groomsmen, with a nod to the American custom of giving male participants in the wedding party a token gift, while Chopra posted about the fun both the families had at their traditional Sangeet on Instagram. The following are the most common and loved traditions in Indian American wedding traditions to consider when planning your multicultural wedding events.
Indian Wedding Traditions
While there are so many traditional Indian wedding traditions it would be hard to count them all there are some that are consistent whether it’s an elaborate affair or a small, intimate ceremony. Whether large or small, Indian wedding ceremonies are known for being colorful, bright, jaw-droppingly beautiful, and without fail, fun! Just like Indian culture.
Traditional Indian, Hindu wedding ceremonies, no matter how condensed, usually last for a few hours, with the bride, groom, and even their families performing rituals in which they all make vows joining not just the blissful couple, but also their families. Unlike Western wedding traditions, the atmosphere is less structured and informal, and a bit more familial and chaotic. It’s common for the wedding guests to either watch the rituals if they wish, but perfectly acceptable to sample goodies and mingle socially while the family members are at the altar. Photo courtesy of A.S. Nagpal PhotographyLike everything else in India, wedding rituals differ based on regional tradition. You can choose to go with the indigenous traditions from your family’s region or opt for more generic traditions popularized by Bollywood films since these are now familiar mainstays in all Indian communities now. Here are the most popular three Indian traditions to consider meshing with your future spouse’s American traditions: The Sangeet, the Mehendi, and the Jaimala ceremony.
There’s nothing quite like the Sangeet in Western wedding culture, so it’s probably something that will be memorable for your blended wedding. A huge party a few days before the actual wedding, the Sangeet is a great way to kick-off to the wedding festivities. Typically open to anyone who wants to attend, because relationships are important in Indian culture, anyone from the neighborhood, town, or village would be welcome even if they weren’t planning to attend the wedding. American family members of the couple may prefer to send invitations in order to properly plan for the festivities. Whether open to all, or invitation-only, the Sangeet is fun for all; friends and family put on performances, traditional folk songs are played, and is the time when the bride’s family welcomes the groom’s family. Photo courtesy of A.S. Nagpal Photography Photo courtesy of Studio KSD
Also known as henna, Mehendi is crucial for an Indian bride. This ritual typically occurs after Sangeet, but at least a day before the actual wedding. Mehendi is a ritual where intricate traditional designs are drawn in henna on the front and back of the bride’s hands up to her elbows as well as decorated on her feet. It needs to be done at least one day before the wedding, because it takes hours to draw the designs and let it dry, but not too many days before, because the Mehendi needs to be sharp, dark and vibrant on the day of celebration. This would be a great time to call friends, family, and your bridal party to get together – and, don’t leave the groom out! It is a traditional aspect of getting married for him; it’s considered good luck for grooms to have a Mehendi party as well, though theirs tend not to be as extensive or detailed.
A beautiful traditional ceremony, the Jaimala involves the bride and groom placing a heavy flower garland on each other in front of only close family and friends after the reception to symbolize their deep respect and commitment, while traditionally the groom’s friends pretend to keep their friend a bachelor by teasing the bride to prevent her from adorning her betrothed with the flowered garland. While there is no ring exchange in a traditional Indian wedding, and most people leave after the reception before the Jaimala, it is common in Western/Indian blended wedding ceremonies to exchange rings first, then have the Jaimala ceremony, followed by a big reception that friends, family, and acquaintances attend. Photo courtesy of A.S. Nagpal Photography
American Wedding Traditions
Historical Western wedding traditions, unless involving very wealthy families, tended to be very austere and short, often only involving the exchanging of vows. The popularity of current modern Westen wedding traditions owes a lot to Hollywood and its exportation of the American culture as well as the importation of European royalty culture. When attending a traditional wedding in America, you can expect to see a few common customs that might not have started in the U.S., but nevertheless, are practiced across various cultures and religions throughout the country. The most common wedding traditions you’ll see if attending or participating in an American wedding are as follows:
Typically celebrated as the last day of being single before being wed, it usually consisted of a private party at home for women to socialize and play games, while the groom and his friends went out for a night on the town. For a while brides also took their friends out for one last bit of fun as a single. This type of celebrating has fallen a bit out of favor in the last decade or two, due to the obvious difficulties drinking and excesses the night before the wedding caused. It is more common now for brides and grooms to do a social activity with their friends than to “party”, and some couples even spend the evening together with all of their friends. In blended Indian/American weddings, this would be a great time to have the bride and her friends and the groom and his friends celebrate with a Mehendi ritual. Photo courtesy of A.S. Nagpal Photography
Something Old, Something New, Something Borrowed, Something Blue
It is common for the bride to be given tokens from her friends and family to wear during the wedding ceremony. Sometimes a bride will wear a dress worn by her grandmother or mother, and friends of the bride will give her a new item. She may borrow a family heirloom piece of jewelry, and wear a blue garter, Historically, this has been a tradition promising good luck. Borrowing a cherished piece of jewelry from her future in-laws would be a great way of blending two cultures. Photo courtesy of Studio KSD
The Father’s Bride Walking Her Down the Aisle
While not as common now as it has been in the past, probably due to brides being older when first getting married, or as in the case of a remarriage, this is probably still one of the most common Western traditions you will see at an American wedding, no matter how big or small. If the bride’s father is passed, often a male family member or male family friend will serve as a stand-in. When planning a multicultural wedding, walking down the aisle to the altar is, even among Indian wedding ceremonies, the most common Western tradition adopted.
Tossing the Bridal Bouquet
It is common for American brides to have two bridal bouquets made; one for the ceremony and to give away, and the other to save as a keepsake. Traditionally, after the wedding ceremony, the single women gather and the bride tosses her bouquet behind her. According to folklore, whoever catches the flowers is next in line to be married.
East Meets West: The Blended Wedding
When blending Indian and Western wedding traditions, it is important to do what resonates with you as a couple. It can be daunting trying to please both sides of your families, so to avoid the headache of hours trying to fulfill every Indian and American wedding tradition, you’ll save yourself a lot of grief by choosing which ceremonies and rituals are the most important to each partner and their families and limit it to just a few from each culture. The last thing you want for your happy day is to have it be a tug of war between cultures, so be firm and set a tone of cultural joy and respect for each of your cultural traditions from the start.