Working an Indian Wedding
I have always loved weddings. The joy I get from attending someone’s special day is unlike any other. It’s always such a happy time.
While visiting India I have attended a handful of weddings... While walking down the streets in certain cities throughout the North I was pulled in by fellow family members of the newlyweds to enjoy the party. I was brought up on stage to dance at a few of them and asked to take photos with the happy couples and fellow attendees. I had so much fun being a guest at these weddings and was in awe at the monstrosity of the event, but what I didn’t realize was it was nothing in comparison to what goes on at royal weddings in India. This past week I was asked to help manage the floral work at a wedding in Jodhpur and boy, was it an experience!
First thing you need to know is Indian weddings go on for multiple days. This one lasted seven days total including travel days because it was a destination wedding. We flew to Jodhpur, also known as the Blue City in Rajasthan, and we visited the venues prior to the events. The functions would be held between four different venues in two different cities. We were expecting 500 guests at minimum for each function in Jodhpur and 1300 guests at the reception in Delhi. Most of the materials for set up were delivered by the truck loads from Delhi which included flowers, backboard ornamental pieces (jaalis), drapes, loads of fabric, couches, chairs and structures, pillow cushions, and all other props.
The family chartered a couple planes to get some of the guests to and from while the rest of us flew the only three other airlines that landed in the small airport of Jodphur. My driver for the week, Deepak, picked me up from the airport and the madness began.
The wedding planner and her counterpart, bless their hearts were in control of everything from coordination of travel, hotels, transportation, design, set up, execution, production, food coordination, florals, performing artists and everything else. We each had folders with detailed spreadsheets, floor maps, time schedules and mood boards that we intended to bring to life. We had a team of twelve people who were the heads of certain events and two girls who were shadows for both the bride and groom’s mother. In order to create a week of unbelievable memories there was a total of 150 labor and production guys with eight heads overseeing, a floral team of 150 people including seven managing heads, 100 people working in hospitality including drivers and transport for all workers, 75 audio and visual workers, and 45 individuals that made up the core teams and site managers. This just shows how much staff is necessary to put on an event like this.
The first function was called Sufi Nights, also known as the welcome dinner. It was held at Hari Mahel Resort. The set up started the day before and went through the whole night until guests started arriving at 7pm. Everything from head to toe was to be constructed and remodeled to make a banquet hall look like a grand ballroom. They started with the installation of the jaalis on each arch way, while installing raised seated lounges and a performance stage. They built the bar and DJ console and once the structures were built, furniture started to take it’s correct place. Every single inch of this ballroom was planned out and decorated. All hands on deck...
And boy did it all come together. The entry pagoda was covered in curtains of tuberose, huge tuberose balloon stands with a table covered in vases full of flowers and candles. Two staircases led you down to the landing area where there were lounges, colorful coffee tables, a pond full of lotuses and jasmine and a hookah lounge. The main arch way was covered in hanging marigolds and tuberose. There was a floral arrangement, candle and lantern on every table and not one area was left naked. There was a main room with lounges and dinner seating, a stage and a bar. There was another massive room with buffet tables and dinner seating, a tea room and a room that acted as a transition room for anyone entering via the lift.
There was strings of tuberose hanging from every curtain, there was lose jasmine on each table, there were floral arrangements and candles on every table or console while everything was backlit creating an amber luxurious mood for the whole event. There was an amazing live band on the first night and everyone enjoyed dancing the night away while grabbing bites to eat in between. I’ve never seen so much work go into one event in my whole life and I knew it was just the beginning.
The next day was Mehendi, the day of Tumeric and a celebration of colors. This event was held at the pool area of Umaid Bhawan Palace. This palace is still home to the King who resides in the West wing. As soon as the Sufi Nights set up was complete, the labor team, floral team, production team and everyone else moved to Mehendi to begin work which would continue through the night. At Mehendi it’s tradition to put henna designs on all the women’s hands so we had to create areas to do so. An important ritual in Indian culture is for the bride to get henna all up her arms and legs.
There were five tent/lounges that needed to be constructed, a bar, an eating/buffet tent, shop tents and much much more. Mehendi was one of my favorite days because of all the colors. The finished product was incredible, but getting there was quite stressful. When we showed up to site at 6AM there was so much to be completed and it didn’t seem we were anywhere close. The floral team had really let us down with their installations. The main chandelier was looking horrible and the entrance pathway had not been started. We had all hands on deck again in this crazy buildup to Mehendi. We had a table center crisis when what was promised wasn’t delivered, but with the planner’s expertise it was solved and looking better than we planned.
There were bamboo stands and rangoli (lose flower petals in designs on the ground) that led the way into the event from the side of the palace. The bamboo was orange and yellow with big purple balls of Sweet William at the top. The walkways to the pool were pinned with single orange marigolds and draped in colorful curtains and backlit to give it a beautiful ambience. The pool was surrounded by a huge colorful structure where orange marigold balls hung down on each corner. The trees were wrapped in marigolds, the tables were stuffed with marigolds, the props were all covered in strings of orange flowers. Each coffee table had three arrangements on them and on each dining table sat a beautiful elephant flower arrangement.
The guests started to arrive, the band started to play and the party began! It was an amazing party. The bride and grooms entry was complete with a floral umbrella, a drum circle and lots and lots of dancing. I was amazed at the details of the Mehendi function. It was incredible to see the finished product. Kissing the hands and then touching the feet is a sign of respect and thanks you will see at a lot of Indian events. After about two hours into the function the family performances began, but I had to jet to the next venue for the night’s festivities.
Sangeet was the night function after Mehendi. Sangeet was held in the Merengarh Fort in Jodhpur and it consisted of dinner and many performances. The bride dances for the groom and groom dances for the bride, they each dance with their respective families and then everyone dances together. It’s tradition in every Indian wedding.
This was probably one of the hardest functions to control because it was open to the public during the day who didn’t leave the premises until 5:30pm, there wasn’t any proper place to store the flowers and it was damn hot. I myself hadn’t been apart of the setup until about five hours prior to the event because of Sufi Nights and Mehendi. When we arrived at first the main structures were done, but the flowers were dying and because there was still public coming in and out it was impossible to get things done without people trying to sneak in or touch the flowers and structures we were putting up. It was very frustrating.
The mood for Sangeet was luxury meets royalty. There was a lot of flashy golds and silvers, velvets and mirrors. There were coffee tables and more elevated lounges. There was a beautiful dinner seating area lit by blue stars that dangled from the structure put up for the event. There was a massive stage, hookah lounges, kids areas and buffet tables that surrounded the entire event. It was incredible to see how the place changed when the natural light dimmed and it was lit by all of the installations. The fort was a massive area to cover. We had lit candles in every nook and cranny. We had a huge sign with the bride and groom’s name lit up on the side of the fort and scrolls hanging down to welcome guests. We had bands playing around every corner and women performing traditional dance as you walked up to the main concert area. There were camels, flowers and anything else you could want to welcome you!
There was too much going on this night... Unfortunately there were a few mishaps because our main production man fell and broke his leg two hours before the guests started arriving, but we managed. There was a saxophonist who played an amazing set as the guests started to arrive, followed by an MC who handled the entire evening with grace. There were family performances and beautiful cool fire shows lit off the corner of the stage for effect. The bride danced for the groom and then they danced together. The night was magical and the food was incredible. There was another live band, but unfortunately she was quite pompous and wasn’t listening to what the crowd wanted to hear which caused a bit of tension. I had to leave to get back to the palace to start prep for the main wedding event the next day, but at the end of the day Sangeet was entertaining and one big party!
The next morning was a very early morning after a very late night. Haldi would be happening separately for both the bride and groom. The wedding day was full of traditional rituals and many of them. The shadow of the groom’s mother mentioned close to a hundred rituals were performed throughout the weekend. Super intense if you ask me... The haldi was a celebration for the family members and guests to shower the groom and bride with a turmeric paste, traditionally done to cleanse their skin and bless them for their wedding night, followed by a lunch.
This day was absolute madness, I spent hours trying to get rectangular rose structures hung in the main dinner area for the night. The main problem I had while working was no one was listening to me. I would tell people to work faster or harder and they would all just stare at me with their jaw on the floor. That’s the problem with being a Caucasian ginger in India.
The Baraat procession began the wedding festivities. The baraat is the procession when the groom leaves to go get married and reaches his bride. The Lancers Lawn at the palace was decorated with scrolls hanging and strings of tuberose. It was a beautiful area to begin the incredible night. The baraat was assembled here where the groom was pulled by a horse drawn carriage.
The standing scrolls lined the walk ways, elephants, camels, Marshall men and a massive marching band sprinkled in between. The baraat is a celebration so along with the extravagant look there is always a loud band as the family dances away with friends ahead of the groom in his carriage. I wasn’t able to see this procession because I was in the back setting up the main wedding ceremony area, but I heard it was insane!
All of the guests were led into the main area of the palace where they were waited on with appetizers. There were flower malaas (necklaces) passed out to the men in both families. This part is called the ‘milni’ where the male members from both families exchange greetings with these flower necklaces. This wedding had necklaces made from cardamom! After the male greetings all the women and children received flower necklaces and then the actual wedding procession began.
The bride and groom entered the Jaimala dome where they were met by the King. They exchanged their flower necklaces, were blessed and then were led down to the main ceremonial area in the Baradari lawn. The actual wedding ceremony took two hours. Two priests chanting shlokas from the vedas, and then moving on to making the couple take their ‘pheras’, 7 circles around the fire with their 7 vows. This was followed by a brilliant firework show and dinner on the Palace’s massive lawn. The night continued on with a live band and even an after party that lasted until 5AM. I’ve never seen such a magical production in person. The mood boards I worked off of came to life and I felt like a princess, I can’t begin to imagine how the bride felt!!!
The reception was held the day following the travel day at the Taj Palace Hotel in Delhi. It was a magical party with amazing floral arrangements, a fabulous live band, delicious food and a big dance party! This was the only time I saw a correlation between Indian weddings and Western weddings as there was a cake cutting ceremony and a champagne toast for the beautiful couple.
The only way I can describe Indian weddings, and this wedding in particular is extra. Extra everything. This was my first multimillion dollar wedding and I wouldn’t be surprised if it was my last, but holy cow was it an experience. To put on a production like this you need lots of patience and even more gust and energy. You must be detail oriented and head strong. There was an absurd amount of people necessary to make these events happen and I’ve never been more impressed with the outcome of any event!
I hope one day you’ll get to attend an Indian Wedding yourself because boy are they one of a kind!
P.S. Indian attire is extremely comfortable! I loved rocking all the beautiful outfits at each event.