Most people don’t know this, but my mother is Anglo-Indian (she was born in India after the British rule) so I’ve always felt a deep connection to my heritage.
It’s the complexity of India that makes it so magical; the vivid colours, tantalising aromas, unfamiliar sounds, and overwhelming chaos. It warms my heart.
It’s been my lifelong dream to go back to my roots and attend a Hindu wedding. Indian weddings are all about colourful rituals, grand feasting and traditional ceremonies that extend to week-long celebrations. There’s no better way to immerse yourself.
For years, I’ve asked my Indian friends living in Australia if I could get an invite to one of their relatives’ weddings in India. They looked at me like I must be joking, but I wasn’t kidding about crashing a Hindu wedding. I thought there must be an easier way…
I came across JoinMyWedding.com, an Aussie startup that lets travellers ‘buy a ticket’ to a Hindu wedding and take in the cultural experience. It celebrates the extraordinary weddings led by ordinary Indians. I was instantly sold.
So when I was planning my round-the-world trip, I made it my top bucket list item to attend a Hindu wedding. I checked JoinMyWedding.com frequently, and when I found Amarjeet + Surabhi’s wedding on the weekend of our arrival, I just knew we had to go!
And just like that, we were on the guest list of a big fat Hindu wedding in Delhi with +400 guests over two days, and to make it even more exciting, TV stations from across the globe were going to be there to cover every moment!
We had just one day to pound the streets of Delhi in search of our outfits, as we both wanted to dress up in traditional attire. With no time to spare, we headed straight to Rjouri Garden, the best place in Delhi for sarees and sherwanis.
As we’re traveling long-term, we decided it would be best to hire our outfits from Flyrobe – an online fashion rental service with +20 stores across India.
As the wedding was taking place over two days, we required two outfits. Tim chose two traditional kurta sets with a bandi, and I opted for a saree gown for the mehndi and a lehenga for the wedding. We really looked the part, and were excited to wear our stylish outfits!
DAY 1 – THE MEHNDI CELEBRATION
Indian wedding tradition calls for a mehndi ceremony to be held the night before the wedding as a way of wishing the bride good health and prosperity. We were invited along to the intimate gathering with the bride’s close family and friends.
Despite it being a small affair, it was a rather large garden soirée. We were immediately captivated by the jhula swing and mandaps draped in hundreds of beautiful pink and orange marigold flowers. Everything looked so exotic and lively.
Shortly after arriving, a lady came up to me and asked me to sit with her on the cushions laying on the ground. She instructed a young boy, a mehndi artist, to apply henna to my hands. This was the first time I had ever seen henna being applied.
I sat still for half an hour, watching closely as the artist squeezed the dark henna paste onto the inside of my hands in a quick swirling motion, admiring the beautiful and intricate pattern starting to take shape.
While the mehndi was taking place, a duo of drummers walked around the venue entertaining the male guests with their lively performance.
With the guests’ henna complete, the artist moved onto the bride, who had an even more intricate design applied to her hands and feet. There’s an old tradition where the groom has to find his name that’s hidden within the pattern on the bride’s palm.
This entire ritual has deep cultural significance, as it represents the bond of matrimony and is considered shangun (good luck). It’s commonly believed that the darker the colour of the bride’s mehndi, the more her husband will love her.
With my henna finally dry, we made our way into the banquet hall for dinner, a typical selection dal and rice, chapati, chana masala and paneer butter masala. We sat with our new friends, and the conversation turned to our deep love of Indian cuisine.
With the formalities out of the way and the bride’s mehndi now complete, it was time to hit the dance floor, and practice some of our Bollywood moves!
DAY 2 – THE WEDDING CEREMONY
It was an elaborate affair reflecting the ambiance of a bygone era. The garden reception was full of blush pink and gold tones, lavish centrepieces, with hanging parasols, satin drapes and floral mandaps adding a traditional touch.
We met Amarjeet on arrival and greeted him with a bouquet of flowers. He had an air of calmness, and he introduced us to some of his groom’s party.
While we were mingling, we enjoyed a delicious selection of typical Indian party food and fruity mocktails. At one point, we had a whole table of food lined up, as many of the older guests kept telling the waiters to bring us more food!
I turned around to find a group of young girls gathering behind me. They were dressed impeccably well in their glittering gowns and looked like real princesses. They stood shyly next to me, asking all sorts of questions about my life in Australia. They told me they’ve attended over 50 weddings, some with 5,000 guests (not a typo!).
We walked around the venue together, marvelling at the lavish food displays. It was like something out of a movie. Every single detail was thought of – from the tiki coconut heads to carved mugs, and tropical fruit hanging from the bar, while the dinner banquet was glistening in swan and horse sculptures.
The bride + groom
On returning from the bathroom, I bumped into Surabhi’s sister. She asked if I had seen Surabhi, and ushered me into a room where the bridal party was having their photos taken. Surabhi insisted that I join them, and have my photo taken with the bridesmaids. It was a moment I’ll never forget. I was welcomed with open arms.
Not long after, Surabhi made her grand entrance to the wedding. An entourage of family members held a small table over her head and escorted the bride to the main stage where the groom was waiting at the altar, wearing a white sherwani and pink safa.
Surabhi looked so regal in her traditional jade-green lehenga, enamoured in heavy gold embellishments. Her head was draped in jewels, and a pink veil and flowers covered her hair, while her arms were adorned in henna and bracelets.
Next thing the bride and groom were bombarded on stage by the groom’s and bridal party, who lifted them up above their heads in one quick motion, where the bride and groom had to try and throw a flower necklace over one another’s head.
The family and relatives started gathering around, lining up to have their photo taken with the bride and groom. Surabhi ushered us on to stage almost immediately, as if we were honourable guests. We felt so welcomed as if we were part of their family.
A lovely man named Aamir (whom we quickly befriended at the mehndi), walked with us around the buffet explaining the exotic dishes. We were amazed at the array of dishes – it was the largest selection of Indian food I’d ever seen with at least 40 dishes.
With so many options to choose from, we could not resist and had to sample one of everything! Our plates were loaded with vegetarian dishes; full of exotic flavours, vibrant colours, and velvety textures. We finally got to taste real authentic Indian food.
My favourite dish was the dahi bhalla, a heavenly little morsel, particularly loved by women for its sweet and tart flavour. It’s a deep-fried lentil ball soaked in a creamy yoghurt sauce, paired with a tangy chutney. My mouth is salivating at the thought.
With our appetites met, it was time to move on to the decadent desserts. A waiter brought around a generous serving of moong dal halwa (a pudding-like dessert), along with kulfi popsicles and a plate of jalebis. The flavours were delightful, and we could have kept eating the halwa all night long, but by this point, we were well and truly stuffed – so much so that we were still full the following day!
The bride and groom made their way to the mandap covered in beautiful marigold flowers, where they sat on the ground in front of a holy fire. In Hinduism, fire is regarded as a purifier and a sustainer of life.
We were told this ceremony does not usually take place in the presence of guests, and many guests commented that they have never seen this ceremony so we felt rather special being able to experience it first hand.
The priest started by reciting mantras from the Holy Scriptures. In a ritual called mangalfera, the priest poured ghee into the fire, before asking the bride and groom to stand up and walk around the fire four times (each a symbol of the four ashrams of life), praying and exchanging vows of duty, love, fidelity, and respect.
Many family members sat close, listening as the couple took their vows, blessing them with money and petals, and making offerings into the fire.
At the end of the ceremony, in a ritual called saptapadi, the bride and groom took seven vows, sealing the marriage forever. These vows are traditionally spoken in Sanskrit and are one of the most ancient aspects of the Hindu ceremony.
We were truly honoured to join Amarjeet + Surabhi for their incredible wedding. It was without a doubt the best cultural experience, and we will cherish it forever.
The whole event was an amazing, and unique experience. From all the traditional elements of the ceremony, down to the beautiful mehndi, the colourful outfits, genuine hospitality, and exotic food. We have never felt so welcome by complete strangers, and we went knowing no one but left with so many wonderful new friends.
If you’re the kind of traveler that seeks out genuine cultural experiences to broaden your horizons and give you a fresh perspective, then an Indian wedding should be at the top of your bucket list! Find out more or buy your ticket at JoinMyWedding.com
Our Hindu wedding experience was made possible in partnership with Join My Wedding. As always, all opinions are our own. All photography is the property of The Travel Status and must not be used, copied or manipulated without prior permission.