Immerse yourself into the longest Indian wedding I have covered—six days—and being a destination wedding in India itself, it was filled with ceremonies and rituals, some of which I have not seen before. Get a spicy taste of Indian weddings only seen in India!
As a foreword, the entire 23-day trip, also encompassing earlier visit to Abu Dhabi, shooting another celebrity wedding the following week, and an 800-mile road trip in Rajasthan, was very studiously documented in my trip journal on the adventure-centric PolarSteps platform. Lots of travel notes and observations related to this wedding can be found there and many of you had followed my steps already. Although I will base this blog on those same notes, only photos taken professionally will be included here. If you are new to the story and something is unclear or feels missing, just jump to that journal’s link (days 3-10) for more details and stories. Also, with this being the longest wedding I covered, I am splitting the story to present the images in groups for an easier to consume format.
This was my 4th destination wedding in India, first being in 2012 of Meera and Arjun in Bangalore. When telling my friends about planning that first trip, one of my clients wanted me to meet her father who lived there with her sister Sush. I came with my then-fiance and we ended up living in their house for several days. Sush, along with her family, was an incredible hostess. To cut the story short, I returned to Bangalore to shoot her wedding now. 🙂 I was met at the airport by her father and brought to their home where the long multi-day wedding process starts with family blessings and puja (worship) in a close circle of relatives.
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Day 2. Mehendi, a gathering of close family and friends, mostly women, to have their hands painted. Henna party! I particularly loved creating the Sisterly Love and a Tree of Friendship hand compositions. Note how Sush’s father had their house decorated for the wedding time. Such hanging lights are pretty common for weddings and you can tell someone is getting married in the house, similar to displaying the white balloons in the US.
Day 3. The day promised to be long and started early. Those coconuts will be given to all guests, with the number of invited hitting 1,500. At some point while waiting for the couple, I went to the kitchen and witnessed that hectic and steamy environment usually left unexposed (check out the travel journal). This is true of any kitchen in the world but Indian has its own flavor. Today was devoted to numerous pre-wedding ceremonies and rituals. Both religious and not, they took about 4 hours and are mostly conducted by the family members similar to the blessings of the 1st day at home but by a larger group. There were several conducted by the archakas (priests). Of special emotional moments of this destination wedding in India to me was the prayer by their parents (see them sit between archakas). Each set of rituals was done separately for bride and groom. They also arrived separately, accompanied by the festive folk music.
Unlike a US reception, this is literally a reception with its long reception line. It is a solid custom for all guests to personally approach the couple, wish them well, and… take a photo! Imagine some 1,500 guests doing it? 🙂 Thankfully, they do it in groups (by family, for example) and this was a responsibility of the local photographers also hired by the clients. They set up their own stage in front of the main one, set up lighting, cameras, and did the routine for about 4 straight hours. Non-stop portraits… This was all about the reception at a destination wedding in India! No speeches, no dancing, no alcohol. There was food, of course. That kitchen did produce a lot of it! The tables were set up separately from the reception hall in a basement. Long tables, leaf plates, assembly line style serving. Separately, a mocktail station, fruit station, and ice cream.
So because of that reception logistics, there was no time for any creative portraits of the couple, just some quick standard ones at the very end. The guys then took a break to eat (haven’t eaten standing for that reception line, obviously) and after midnight, we still decided to do something creative and neat. Went back to their hotel Vivanta by Taj where I found lots of opportunities but alas, after such a day our lovely bride could not last long… 🙂 She would also need to get up at 6 AM and have the 4th day of wedding celebration, now an actual marriage ceremony. We wrapped up by 2 AM.
Day 4. The day had a rough start. My tuk-tuk driver, after looking at my phone for the name and address of the venue, still took me to a wrong place. He had to ask around and then take another half an hour to get where I needed. I was late. It was the day of the actual wedding ceremony, conducted by the priests. The Hindu ceremony, a rite known as Samskara ritual that is thousands of years, is broken into several parts including pooja and Sanskrit blessings. Groom’s arrival (Baraat) was given a greater significance and noise although this wasn’t as large scale as other Baraats I’ve seen. An important aspect of the ceremony is to light a sacred fire, created from “ghee” (clarified butter) and woolen wicks, to evoke the Fire God Agni to bear witness to the ceremony ceremony. It then proceeded to tying the knot, an actual knot around their wrists. In many Hindu ceremonies, I’ve seen the couple making 7 circles around the fire, each circle accompanied by a chanted blessing and vows. This time they did it along a line, stepping on pads cut in the shape of a footprint. The ceremony and formal photography (again taken over by the local photographers) were over by 3 PM. I wanted to take the couple for my own shoot but Sush, starting to show signs of fever, had to cancel that part, regretfully. Exhaustion must have piled up, worsened by my photo shoot until 2 AM the night before. They are also flying the same night to Pune, groom’s hometown, for the local reception. I flew there the following day.
Day 5. This fabulous destination wedding in India rolled on! I was greeted at the airport by the groom’s father and brother. They took me to their home for the night but I would spend the following 2 nights at a hotel where the Sunday reception going to take place. My couple wasn’t there yet as they went to a very special family’s temple some 250 miles away. Groom’s ancestors have gone to that temple for generations for any important blessings or advices. Look how groom’s family is welcoming their new daughter! These are actually the remaining pieces, a bit messed up now. This incredibly meticulous floor decor was done with special colored powder last night, when the couple flew from Bangalore right after the wedding. Peacock seen in drawings and ornaments is the national symbol of India. It took more than 2 hours for the artist to draw. She used rangoli, a chemically derived powder. Because it is not safe for the body, this is not the same nontoxic powder used during world-famous Holi festival when people through it at each other on the streets.
So I was in the north then, where they speak Marathi, a completely different language from Sush’s Kannada language of Bangalore. To understand each other, Hindi is usually used in the streets, or English. Food is different, and so are rituals. Although the idea of pooja is the same as seen in Bangalore, some steps are noticeably different, requiring Abhinav’s guidance to Sush. Plus, this was a special, post-wedding worship, and it was supposed to be from 10 PM to 6 AM. They cut it short to only 2 hours. I haven’t seen some elements in any of my previously documented Indian weddings, for example an additional altar with the conned stems seen here, and loud long-lasting chants by a different priest. Very long and loud… boosted by the ear-popping drums. It’s hard to believe that in that seemingly piled up mass of numerous little things everything is accounted for and awaits its turn to be moved, mixed, thrown, eaten, drunk, or burned… The setting was very intimate, of only 5-6 members of groom’s family so I turned out to be perceived as someone close and even got involved in a couple of little steps. 🙂 Uncle grabbed my camera and shot me in that action. Overall, an amazing eyewitness experience reserved for the selected (family members) and so unbelievably granted to me… At the end we all sat for the dinner.
Day 6. And then came the final day of the wedding. Instead of 4 I volunteered to cover 6 days with 2 additional smaller functions at their parents’ homes. Remembering our challenging experience with a proper photoshoot in Bangalore, we allotted a fair amount of time before the reception and went to a luxurious Conrad Pune hotel. The reception followed a similar flow with Bangalore: almost entire time the couple stood on the stage, meeting and accepting congratulations from the groom’s side. About 700 people attended. My coverage was long done but I could not leave even after almost all the guests were gone. I finally bid my farewell and went around hugging their family members who became so dear to me. Sadly, my fourth destination wedding in India came to a conclusion…