Indian Weddings in USA vs. India

Indian weddings in USA vs. India describes what makes Indian weddings in the US different than those in India. They’re very different. Indian weddings in the US have evolved to incorporate Western culture that the diaspora has embraced.

In this article I’m going to share some of the ways Indian weddings differ in the USA and India. Please use this guide to understand norms, to help you think through and plan your wedding.

Important Distinction: It’s important to note that this article applies to non-hotel weddings in India. In other words, weddings at hotels in India are more similar to US Indian weddings and follow many of the same policies and schedules.

{Indian Wedding Season Is Not a Thing}

Indian Wedding Season? First, in the USA there’s not really an Indian wedding season in the same way it’s thought of in India. Indian weddings are happening almost every weekend throughout the year in the United States. Part of the reason is that, unlike in India, where weddings are held on weekdays; Indian weddings in the US, are for the vast majority, on the weekend. Only on weekends means far fewer days available in a year. Therefore no Indian wedding season.

In India there is a definite wedding season which ranges from October thru December and mid-April to May. Much of this is driven by religious beliefs in muhurats 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 an outdoor ceremony. So there are fewer weddings in winter months in such locations.

That said, there are certainly times of year that are more popular – much of that is based on optimal weather. In California, spring and summer are 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 Photography

{The Muhurat and Long Weekends}

Muhurat and Indian Wedding Weekends. Secondly, according to Hindu, Jain, and Sikh beliefs many people seek out auspicious dates for their wedding. As mentioned above, 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 value the muhurat and still seek auspicious dates and times from their pandit. For instance some couples have a court marriage on the muhurat and have the big celebration on a weekend.

Long Weekends are Popular for Indian Weddings. Speaking of muhurats, another big differentiator between Indian weddings in India vs. USA, is that many families plan an Indian wedding around the long weekends in the US. Such as President’s Day, Memorial Day, July 4th, Labor Day, and Thanksgiving. Long weekends are very popular because they enable couples to extend the celebration because more guests can attend without taking 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.

{Anatomy of an Indian Wedding in the US}

Most Indian weddings in the US have a sangeet, ceremony (phere) and reception. Since most Indian weddings are on the weekend, in terms of the schedule, it usually breaks down to:

Sangeet = Friday night
Ceremony (phere) = Saturday morning or afternoon
Reception = Saturday night

These are the big events that take place at a venue(s). Venues in the US cannot cater Indian cuisine. Thus venues have created what’s called, an outside catering, option. In this, they allow you to hire a caterer who will prepare all of the food and bring it to the venue. They’re allowed to setup a satellite kitchen at the venue to prepare naan. The venue provides all of the drinks, tables, chairs, linens and other amenities.

There are two options for the schedule of the wedding day (Saturday).

Time Gap = when the baraat starts around 10am-ish. The phere and ceremony are finished by 12pm or 12:30pm after which lunch is served. Lunch finishes around 2pm. Guests leave the venue and return in the evening around 6pm for cocktail hour. The formal reception is from 7pm-midnight and includes a sit-down dinner and it’s expected that every guest has a seat at a specific table. At most Indian wedding receptions, guests are assigned to specific tables.

At the reception, dinner is served after the program during which the bar is closed, no food is served and all guests are seated. After dinner, the dance floor opens. After dinner, many Uncles and Aunty’s leave.

{The Ceremony is During the Day and
Everyone Attends}

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, you’ll only see the couple and their immediate families in attendance at the phere. 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.

Phere in the US. Another big difference between Indian weddings in India and the US is that at the phere time, all guests sit and watch.

Indian wedding Hyatt Regency Huntington Beach
Photo: Lin & Jirsa Photography

Venue Policy. This is also because venues have operating windows of time. Most venues offer events from 10am-1am. And they sell their space in blocks of time for ceremonies and receptions.

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The venue setup for the phere ceremony. There’s a chair for every guest. Photo: Lin & Jirsa Photography

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 they have to schedule per the venue’s policies.

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

{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.

Strict Head Count. In India many weddings are an open invitation for everyone living in a household. You could have 25 people living in a single household. In the US such open invitations are not feasible because it’s expected that every guest will have a chair at the phere (ceremony) and a chair at a specific table at the reception, as you see pictured below.

36-Indian-wedding-venue-south-asian-hindu-mandap-lehenga-baraat-reception-1
Photo: Lin & Jirsa Photography

{Incorporating Western Weddings Traditions
into Indian Weddings}

Formal Wedding Receptions. Wedding receptions in the US are different than Indian weddings in India. Many weddings in India don’t have a reception. In India, the wedding “reception” typically takes place before the actual ceremony and is more like a sangeet.

Implications of 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.

Robles Video Productions

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
Neena-Chintan-Indian-wedding-venue-Hotel-Irvine-wedding-ceremony-baraat-bridal-party-sari-bridesmaids
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 USA vs. India is a detailed guide that walks people through the differences between Indian weddings in the US vs. India. 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.

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