How is an Indian Wedding in India Different than an Indian Wedding in the US?

India weddings are known all over the world. I often come across people who say they’ve never been to one but would LOVE to, given the chance.

Indian weddings are celebrated very differently in the US compared to India. That makes sense. In a new environment you adapt and change. In this article I’m going to share some of the ways those differences manifest. And my hope is that this will be particularly useful for folks who are from India, now living in the United States and planning their Indian wedding here.

Note: I think it’s important to note that this article mostly applies for non-hotel weddings in India. In other words, weddings at hotels in India are more similar to US Indian weddings, but still there are some differences.

{Indian Wedding Season Is Not a Thing}

Indian Wedding Season? First, in the USA there’s not really an Indian wedding season. Indian weddings are happening pretty much every weekend throughout the year. In India there’s a definite wedding season which ranges from October thru December and mid-April to May. Much of this is driven by religious beliefs as well as weather. Getting married during monsoon season = not fun.

Similarly getting married in a snowy place such as Chicago or Boston in the winter could present challenges for a baraat as well as having an outdoor ceremony. But ability to get around is much easier and the roads are much better.

That said, there are certainly times of year that are more popular – much of that is based on optimal weather. In California, summer is immensely popular. In Arizona the Fall – October and November are the months to escape extreme heat and the cold. On the East Coast the spring is popular.

Garden lined with palm trees facing a lighthouse, setup with white garden chairs theater style and a mandap for an Indian wedding ceremony
Indian wedding in Southern California. Photo: Lin & Jirsa

{The Muhurat and Long Weekends}

Muhurat and Indian Wedding Weekends. Secondly, according to Hindu and Jain beliefs many people seek out auspicious dates for their wedding. In India it’s totally normal to have a wedding on a Monday or Tuesday and people will show up! In the US?…not so much. Weddings are on the weekends; Saturday being the most in-demand day.

Indians living in the US care about the muhurat and still seek the auspicious dates from their pandit but the big celebration is on a weekend.

Long Weekends are Popular for Indian Weddings. Speaking of muhurats, another big differentiator is that many families plan an Indian wedding around the long weekends in the US – President’s Day, Memorial Day, July 4th, Labor Day, Thanksgiving. Indian weddings are big celebrations and long weekends enable couples to extend the celebration as more people can come as they don’t have to take time off from work.

Indian-wedding-venue-day-shutterstock_73046542
There’s no “wedding season” for Indian weddings in the USA. They’re happening throughout the year.

{The Phere are During the Day and Everyone Goes}

Everyone Attends the Phere at Indian Weddings in the USA. In India, often the phere are in the middle of the night, per the muhurat. As a result sometimes, it’s pretty common that only the couple and their immediate families are in attendance. In the US, that’s not the case. The phere are in the morning or afternoon and all of the guests are invited and most of them attend.

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The venue setup for the phere ceremony. As you can see there’s a chair for every guest.         Photo: Lin & Jirsa

Ceremony Length. Hindu ceremonies can last anywhere from 1-3+ hours. In the US, most ceremonies are between 1-2 (maybe 2.5) hours. Why? Several reasons. As mentioned above, most guests attend the phere and it’s difficult to get everyone to sit that long. Additionally, many couples customize and amend the traditional ceremony. The ceremony was created centuries ago and many of the wordings and thoughts many not be applicable in modern society. Here are a few examples:

At my wedding we completely got rid of the sentences around the bride taking responsibility of the family’s livestock. Additionally my husband and I wrote our own vows.

Indian bride and groom saying prayers together during their Hindu wedding ceremony
Photo: Greycard Photography

At another wedding, when it came time for kanyadaan, the Mother-of-the-Bride said to the Pandit, I’m not giving away anything. My daughter is my daughter and she always will be. But I am gaining another son today.”


At another wedding the bride had a baraat of her own, that was in unison with the  groom’s baraat.

So, as you can see how Indian weddings in the US, are customized and amended for each couple and their family.

{Venue Restrictions at Indian Weddings}

Time crunch. The other reason that Indian wedding ceremonies are shorter in the US, is that you’re on a time crunch. Venues charge based on a set number of hours to use their space. If you go over the limit, you pay extra fees. Read our article on how venue fees work for an Indian wedding.

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Photo: Lin & Jirsa

Strict Head Count. In India many weddings are an open invitation for everyone in the household. Recently my cousin’s brother-in-law got married. And everyone in our family, that lives in that household was invited – that’s like 25 people! In the USA that’s just not feasible…for a few reasons:

  • it’s cost prohibitive
  • Indian weddings in the US have adopted some aspects of Western weddings meaning a sit down, formal reception.

{Incorporating Western Weddings Traditions
into Indian Weddings}

Formal Wedding Receptions. Wedding receptions in US Indian weddings are completely different than India Indian weddings. In India, the wedding “reception” typically takes place before the actual ceremony, since often the ceremony is in the middle of the night. Additionally the reception largely centers around food. I somtimes refer to it as “aao, khao, jhao” which in Hindi means: come, eat, leave. There’s no grand entrances, no program and no dancing. All of that, presumably, took place at the sangeet, the night before. So the reception flows like this:

  • guests arrive
  • guests congratulate the family/couple + hand off their gift envelope
  • mingle, eat, and leave.

So the “reception” is like what US South Asians would refer to as a big cocktail hour. Meanwhile the couple is up on the stage, sitting in those decorative chairs and posing for photos and touching the feet (getting blessings) of every older person that comes up to congratulate them.

In the US, the wedding reception is a formal event.

  • Guests are assigned seats at their respective tables
  • There’s a strict guest count
  • There’s a program where guests are expected to be quiet and pay attention
  • The bars and food are served at a particular interval/time – not open all night

Implications of Assigned Tables. Let’s look at the first bullet point: Guests are Assigned Tables. Before the wedding that means that you have to know who is attending your wedding, well in advance before the event. So that means: setting up a mechanism for guests to RSVP. It also means following up with people who forget to RSVP. Then, once you’ve acquired all of the RSVPs the couple and their families spend hours arranging guests into groups to assign each to a table. Then you have to create a way to distribute that information to the guests, so that they know which table they are assigned to. You also need table numbers visibly displayed on each table, at the reception so that the guests know where to sit.

Rakhee-Amrish-gift-exchange-Indian-wedding-venue-photography-Greycard-Hindu-outdoor-dresses-bride-groom-vineyard-South-Asian-wedding-animal-escort-cards
Photo: Greycard Photography

So, at first glance assigning tables for your reception sounds simple enough, but when you think through from concept to completion, this is a lot of work. So why do people do it? Because it makes the even more fun and formal. Typically you’ll assign people by groups based on how you know them. For example your undergrad friends, your grad school friends, your parents’ temple friends, your parents’ bridge club friends, etc.

Strict Guest Count. Indian weddings in the US have a strict guest count. What that means is about a week before the wedding, you have to give your venue(s) a final guest count. And if you go above that, you will pay additional fees. Because Indian weddings in the US are more formal, the venue has to ensure that there is a seat for every guest at all times. And they need to know how many guests you’re having to setup the venue with tables, chairs, china for dining, silverware, and glassware accordingly.

Pay Attention During the Program. Whether it’s a sangeet or a wedding reception, at Indian weddings in the US, during the program – performances and speeches, all guests are sitting and watching. It’s not a mish-mash of guests mingling and eating during that time. To help with this, food and drinks are served separately, before or after the program.

The same applies for the ceremony (phere) as well. Guests respectfully sit and pay attention during the wedding ceremony whereas in India it’s perfectly normal for guests to chat away, eat and mingle.

This also means that things generally run on time. If the invitation says the baraat will stat at 10am then in most cases it will start at 10am +/- 15 minutes.

Here’s an example from an Indian wedding in Orange County, California. (cinematography by Robles Video Productions). You can see that everything takes place during the day, all of the guests are in attendance at the ceremony, guests are sitting and watching during the reception program.

Bridesmaids and Groomsmen at Indian Weddings. This is not a concept in India, but it is a big thing in Western weddings and it’s something that brides and grooms have fully engaged in for Indian weddings in the USA. The bridesmaids and groomsmen are comprised of each of your besties. And collectively they’re referred to as the wedding party.

In addition to having them wear identical kurtas for the groomsmen and identical saris, salwars etc. for the bridesmaids at the phere and/or reception, the couple will also schedule a special photoshoot with the wedding party with props etc.

Who pays for this? It varies. Every couple is different. In Western weddings each bridesmaid and groomsmen typically pays for the honor. In Indian weddings it varies. Most couples pay for everything but again it varies person-to-person.

India wedding bridal party. The bride wearing her pink lehenga and the bridesmaids wearing blue saris.
Photo: Global Photography
The bridesmaids at an Indian wedding wearing matching blue and gold lehengas
Photo: Wedding Documentary Photo + Cinema
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Photo: Greycard Photography
Ashmi-Suraj-Indian-wedding-venue-baraat-Hindu-Jain-San-Diego-reception-wedding-party-bridesmaids-groomsmen
Photo: Gloria Gonzalez Fotografia

{Venues in the US Don’t Cater Indian Food}

One of the BIGGEST differences between Indian weddings in he US vs. India is that venues don’t cater Indian food. They don’t know how to make it and there’s not enough demand for them to invest to learn how – even in the areas with the biggest South Asian populations such as New York, San Francisco, and Houston.

So how does this work? You get the food catered by an Indian restaurant and the caterer and your venue work together. Some venues only allow you to choose from one of their pre-approved caterers, others require caterers to go through an approval process. Why? Because of safety issues around food safety, safe working environment, and worker safety. The venues have to designate an area for outside caterers to setup a tandoor and what is referred to as a satellite kitchen because at most venues the catering company is NOT allowed to use the venue’s kitchen.

shutterstock_375288685-Indian-wedding-food-outside-catering

Noise/Sounds Restrictions. I recently went to India and there was a wedding blasting music until midnight…in a residential area. That wouldn’t be feasible in the US as the venue won’t allow it and/or there would be noise complaints and the police will shut down the event.

{Conclusion}

Indian weddings in the US are privy to a lot more rules and regulations from the venue as well as other vendors. Additionally, Indian weddings have adopted some aspects of Western weddings which is mostly manifests from the formality of how everything is done.

This guide is meant as an intro to help anyone who’s never attended an Indian wedding in the US and is planning their wedding here. My hope is to help you understand how Indian weddings are structured here as it’s very different than most non-hotel Indian weddings in India.

 

Cover image: Randery Imagery

 

 

 

 

 

 

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