How to survive your first Indian Wedding
When invited to an Indian wedding, the number of days you attend wedding functions will differ based on your relationship with the families of the couple. Most weddings you attend, you will be invited to a wedding reception: an evening event where guests Ao, Kao, Jao (come, eat, leave). However, if you are fortunate enough to be part of a group closer to the families (as I was when I attended the wedding of my homestay neighbors’ daughter), you’ll have a lot more to look out for. The following tips, tricks, and warnings are based on my personal experiences preparing for Shaadi Season.
- You’ll probably start to hear about the wedding a month or so in advance. People will tell you that Indian weddings are very large functions, and they will take great pride in preparing you for the experience, sharing their own stories, and telling you how you should plan to dress. These are not mere suggestions: many Aunties will expect you to take their fashion advice to heart, and conflicting Auntie advice can lead to complications with follow through.
- Your friends/ cohort might also be invited. Be prepared to act as liaison, plans can shift fast or never be truly planned. Some nagging may be necessary to be sure your group has all the information they need.
- Once word gets out that a large group of foreigners is coming, someone will suggest you all perform a dance. Now that it has been suggested, you are all expected to perform a dance. If you have not already been taught a dance (shout-out to Jane for teaching us one at orientation), start preparing immediately.
- About a week before the wedding, a choreographer will be hired to help with dancing preparations for the couple, their families, and those close to their families (see: you).
- Drink copious amounts of chai because you will be at dance practice from 8pm-12am every night until the wedding. You may not actually practice all that much, in fact, you’ll hardly practice during that time at all. But not too worry! There will still be plenty to do! From eating and stitching saris to trying desperately to remember the names of extended family members and stumbling over broken Hindi as you talk with curious cousins, you’ll never be bored!
- The collective lack of sleep in your homestay family and neighborhood community combined with the stress of the wedding might set some people on edge. Practice patience and deep breaths. This too shall pass.
- A couple days before the wedding, start trying on clothes. Lots of clothes. The color won’t be quite right, one will be too short, the other too long, and absolutely nothing will please everyone. What you wear is a collective decision by the neighborhood Aunties and Didis (older sisters), and will likely be changed two or three times between the initial decision and the events themselves. Be flexible.
- Wedding week arrives! Events will be going on all day every day, but you might have to miss out on some of the day time events due to your service site. This is not a bad thing. Use that time to take a step back from the wedding and stay grounded.
- Three days before the big ceremony, spend hours making intricate mehendi (henna) designs with the bride. Bonus points if you wear green on this day to match with the Anties. Note: The smell of mehendi gives lots of people headaches, it’s alright to step outside for a bit if you need. No one will be offended.
- Two days before the big ceremony, do turmeric face masks with the bride (bonus points if you wear yellow to match with the Aunties). Today is also the final day to practice your dances. Formations will be shifted, skirts will be tripped over, and egos will be bruised and inflated as the pressure increases.
- One day before the big ceremony: Sangeet! Dance party time! You’ll stand by the stage for an hour or so after being told “you’re up next.” When it becomes clear you will not be dancing any time soon, go ahead and grab some food. If you are Sijbren, you will be in the middle of eating when your dance is finally called. You’ll meet many people, forget many names, and eat many sweets before the night is over.
- Ceremony day! The last hurrah! Take advantage of all the amazing food, click some silly pictures with your friends, and tell the bride she looks absolutely stunning (because she will look phenomenal).
- Take some time in the days following the wedding to catch up on sleep and service site work you may have fallen behind on. Or go to more weddings. Certain periods (such as the time surrounding November 20th) are considered auspicious times to tie the knot, which means you may be on call for a couple more functions over the next several days.
- Congratulations! You’ve survived your first Indian wedding! I hope your stomach is full and your dances were epic!