Have you ever dreamed of going to an Indian wedding? Here’s how.
If there is one country that knows how to put on a wedding, it’s India. Extravagance, colourful, and loud are some of the ways you might describe an Indian marriage. Or money. Oh yes, the money that goes into hosting, entertaining, and feeding the 1000 plus guests makes the average British wedding seem unromantic, disappointing, and simply cheap.
We attended our first wedding whilst volunteering for an NGO in Orissa. The father of the soon-to-be-bride was introduced to us 5 minutes before a ‘Golden Envelope’ was handed to us in exchange for our attendance. NOTE – weddings are usually paid for by both sets of parents hence it is the parents who have the honour of inviting guests, not the marrying couple!
Such an invitation somewhat reveals the disposition of an Indian wedding… everyone is welcome.
Well, obviously not everybody but as a nation Indians are renowned for their hospitablity when it comes to guests and visitors. And being foreign, exotically pale, and thus fitting the bill, we were made to feel very welcomed.
Red carpets, live streaming of the new husband and wife, buffets (that’s if they can be anymore plural), flying drones, camera crews, frequent firework displays, and money manifesting in ways that you could never think possible. This is an Indian wedding.
But it was not our last.
We found ourselves at the seaside town of Puri along the Bay of Bengal for one week. This was our last chance to see an ocean before heading into landlocked Central Asia for 6 months.
For sun, sea and weddings – visit Puri.
Travelling the world can be expensive and in order to reduce our spending and thus prove to ourselves that we can be frugal travellers, we challenged ourselves – could we attend an Indian wedding every night for 5 days?
Our lack of money and the disappointing evening entertainment in Puri motivated us to be adventurous and creative. Our knowledge of Indian customs and weddings, in addition to the fact that weddings are usually attended by several hundred people, meant that we had a good chance of making an appearance at 5 weddings, eating incredible food, and hopefully not offending anyone.
For anyone wanting to experience risk, hospitality, generosity, and real culture, attending an Indian wedding is a must.
This is how to do it.
Wedding #1 – The Alibi
Our first time crashing a wedding. We scouted out potential wedding venues earlier in the day to give ourselves plenty of options. In case of inquisitive questions by family members we created an alibi – a cousin of the bride (whom we conveniently forgot his name) had invited us earlier whilst at the beach. We were only asked this question at three weddings by family members wishing to welcome us and practice their limited English. NOTE – you can spot a wedding by its colourful entrance way often with a very corny picture of the couple displayed.
We donned our finest evening wear from our backpacks which happened to be gifted Indian kurtas. However, we were often very overdressed at most weddings since many guests simply wear clean, casual clothes. Our attempt to blend in had the opposite effect. Dress code: smart casual.
We parked our motorcycle outside the hotel and entered our first wedding. We were welcomed with open arms by all attendees and never once asked who invited us. The initial shock of crashing our first wedding was quickly replaced by surprise, photographs and a tasty Indian buffet. Our plan had worked.
Wedding #2 – Rolling a double
If you saw a wedding with horses and carts, arena staging and a giant oyster shell with two beautiful brides hidden inside, you would think you were dreaming. This was our second wedding.
We arrived at 8:30pm as one should when attending a wedding in India. The venue was very embellished with colourful lights and a central stage arena. Musicians and catering staff stood by at their stations. But there was no guests to be seen.
Being foreign and again wearing our kurtas we had not gone unnoticed. A family member quickly ushered us indoors. Indoors – a confined space, lack of exit points, and concentrated attention. We wanted to avoid such places.
Where were we going?
To the biggest, most extravagant marriage we will ever attend. Ever. It was a double wedding of two brothers hosted by a very wealthy family with money on money on money. All the male guests had their heads wrapped in luxurious cloth (pagdi) which we were no exception to. We were introduced to everyone as we looked on in shock at the scale of the wedding we had crashed. NOTE – if you feel overwhelmed and conscious that everyone knows you are an intruder, ignore such feels and play the role of an excited guest.
An hour of mocktails and delicious canapés later, the party moved outside for what can only be described as a carnival. Indian grooms are traditionally lead through the streets in a procession of dance music and bright lamps as part of their passage into married life. It was 10pm and we danced our way through the streets on our empty stomachs.
The procession finally returned to the hotel where a crowd had amassed around the arena. We awaited for further instructions unsure as to what was next and wondering when dinner would be served. It was now 10:30pm.
The grooms made their way to the staging area and took up their position on the cat walk. A cat walk leading to a gigantic oyster shell surrounded by stage lights and rigging.
Then it started. Fireworks, amplified music and the meeting of four nervous souls. The only way to describe what we were apart of is to imagine a condensed Take That concert fused with the plot of Aladdin. It was unbelievable.
The brides levitated out from their mechanical oyster shell to make their way towards their new husbands. The regal couples were now surrounded by eager guests taking photographs and spluttering confetti canons while a topsy-turvy camera crew set about waiting to capture the finale… a fountain of fireworks falling around the newly weds signifying their union in the most overtly and excessive display of love.
We were still in shock. We headed over to the reception area where the buffet was of similar exuberance to the stadium concert. There were curries, breads, fruits and pizzas available at each buffet stand. We sampled as many of the delights as we could but at 11:30pm our appetite was asleep. Another successful wedding. NOTE – weddings will often eat later so do snack before arriving.
Wedding #3 – In and out
Indian weddings are very fluid events with lots of people coming and going. You can stay for as long as you wish but often a meet and greet followed by some food suffices even the most seasoned wedding crasher.
Our third wedding was a brief affair with the best food of the five weddings. This was solely due to a tasty number of meats and fish dishes being on offer, something which we had yet to experience. Tandoori style prawns and fish, mutton curries, and ice cream – we were in heaven. Moreover, the venue may have been hosting a televised concert going by the standard of the professional dancers and singers on stage. We had landed on our feet once again.
There must have been over 2000 guests in attendance so we attracted little attention and enjoyed the food and entertainment post-photo shoot with the bride and groom. NOTE – be sure to introduce yourself to the bride and groom and have your photo taken. Not only is it polite but it makes you look like a legitimate guest.
The wedding was so big that it did not feel like a wedding. Most of the guests were not dressed for any sort of occasion and seemed only interested in taking full advantage of the buffet. We were completely overdressed this time and our British manners rendered us useless when it came to being served at the buffet stations.
After taking in the dancing, singing and magic tricks, we decided to exit what could be mistaken for the audition stages of X-Factor and thus concluded our third successful wedding.
Wedding #4 – Connisseurs
The nerves and fears were now gone. We were wedding crashing like seasoned pros and we knew exactly what we were looking for: good food, good entertainment, and a rudy good wedding.
This wedding was another stadium concert but this time performed by the more mellow Cher – theatrical, cheesy and very glamerous. The bride and groom were to experience their first rendezvous over the hotel pool on a makeshift platform. They both arrived in stunning fashion escorted by dancing warriors and princesses. The wedding was accompanied by a dramatic sound track with intermittent and well timed fireworks and reached its climax when man and wife met over the hotel pool on an elevating platform.
We were welcomed by all in attendance and had the pleasure of meeting many of the families on both the bride and groom side, none of whom asked us who invited us.
The atmosphere during the evening was very relaxed and subdued which was a welcomed change of pace from the previous three adrenaline fuel weddings. The food was delightful and we congratulated the happy couple before taking our leave for the evening.
Wedding #5 – A Thread Party
It had all the characteristics of an Indian wedding – bright lights, a stage, a drone and film crew, hundreds of people, and an incredible buffet. But it was not.
It was in fact a ‘thread party‘ for a teenage boy who was celebrating his second, intellectual birth into Hinduism. It was news to us when we eventually wished the young boy and his father happy birthday.
This did not phase us. We were quietly disappointed however to conclude our week of wedding crashing at a child’s birthday party.
But we were quickly consoled by chicken kebabs, ghee rice and two rounds of buffet-ing, in addition to live music and the convenience of the locality of the venue to our apartment.
AND thus we concluded our five days of wedding (and thread party) crashing in Puri, Orissa. In hindsight, you could simply be honest and admit you just turned up for the celebration and still receive a warm reception, but we did not want to risk it. So the next time you find yourself in India and looking for a truly unique, cultural experience, pluck up the courage and crash a wedding.