Insider’s Guide To Traditional Indian Weddings In America

The fall wedding season is here and a few new traditions may be throwing off some attendees who are used to traditional American weddings.

Simi K RaoOne of them is “first look,” or the “reveal,” which isn’t a totally new concept but has become popular in recent years. It’s the moment where the bride and groom see each other for the first time in a private location, rather than the traditional waiting for the big moment.

“If you look on Pinterest you’ll see all kinds of cute and new ceremonial ideas; as an Indian-American, I’m pleased to see that traditional Indian weddings are being appreciated,” says Simi K. Rao, who emigrated from India in her early 20s.

She works as a physician and lives with her family in the states. Rao has written novels about bicultural backgrounds and matrimony, including “The Accidental Wife” and “Milan”.

“Indian weddings are big, colorful and beautiful, so it’s not surprising that pictures on social media sights have made a positive impression,” she says. “If you ever attend a traditional Indian wedding, you may be interested to know some background on them.”

Rao reviews some things to keep in mind.

• The journey of love amid two different cultures. Mentally and emotionally, Indian-Americans may feel pulled in two different directions when it comes to love and marriage. Some are expected to follow Indian tradition, which may include an arranged marriage, as well as other differences.

“Though I have written about arranged marriages in my books and they are an Indian tradition, not all Indian marriages are arranged,” she says. “Particularly outside India, marriages are rarely arranged. Many are cross-cultural but are held following Indian tradition and ceremony.”

• A few tidbits about Indian wedding ceremonies. If you know anything about Bollywood movies, you get a sense of what a traditional Indian ceremony may be like. If you’re wondering whether or not to wear that bright dress or suit, then err on the side of bright. Eye-catching jewelry fits right in, too. In fact, a dress of jewel-toned colors is a great idea. And, when people say traditional Indian weddings are long, believe them. Usually, the ceremonial duration is three days.

• Some more semi-recognizable elements. People familiar with Jewish ceremonies will be familiar with huppahs. Indian weddings have a similar item called a mandap, which is what the priest, groom, bride and bride’s parents sit beneath. As with western ceremonies, Indian weddings are festive, “and I mean very festive – animated,” Rao says.

Occasionally featured is the bhangra, a frenzied Punjab folk dance, which includes moves that are fairly easy to learn. And, the food is not all spicy and vegetarian. It may depend upon which region of India the family comes from. And, if you bring a present, couples usually request no boxed gifts. Many simply ship gifts to the couple’s home, or offer money.

• What about a bride or groom from another culture? Of course, not all Indian weddings in America are arranged, and many are blended with western traditions. Often, the cross-cultural tradition features amazing and touching results. For example, a popular Youtube video shows a Canadian groom playing and singing “Tum Hi Ho” for his Indian bride. The Sikh and Christian couple’s ceremony shows a beautiful harmony from two different traditions.

Simi K. Rao was born in India and has been living in the United States for several years, working as a physician. “The Accidental Wife” is her second novel. The inspiration for her books, and other projects, comes from her own experience with cross-cultural traditions, lifestyles and familial relationships, as well as stories and anecdotes collected from friends, family and acquaintances. Rao enjoys exploring the dynamics of contemporary American culture blended with Indian customs and heritage to reflect the challenges and opportunities many Indian-American women face in real life. She lives in Denver with her family.

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