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South Asian Weddings offer Occasions for Color and Bling

Carrie Mabery gets a henna tattoo on her hand as one of the extras provided by Hana April Chughtai to demonstrate some of the components of a South Asian wedding.

When preparing your budget for an Indian or Pakistani wedding, don’t forget to pencil in $10,000 for the elephant. And build in lots of flexibility in the food schedule, since the groom’s baraat or processional, often atop said elephant, can take 15 minutes or it can take an hour.  

There are lots of do’s and don’ts for Indian weddings, but the first one is to refer to the genre as South Asian weddings, since that area of the world is made up of several countries, in addition to India and Pakistan, all with different mores and customs, Hana April Chughtai told members of the National Association of Catering Executives at its meeting at Symphony Hall in October.

Chughtai has several businesses in the creative planning side of South Asian weddings, including Mani Mela, where she handles everything from onsite hair and make-up to the floral designs to the wedding management. 

In keeping with the elaborate nature of South Asian weddings, Chughtai installed a wedding stage complete with couch and floral bouquets, sequined tablecloths and a tent in the lobby where guests could experience henna art drawn on their hands or in one case, feet. DJ Singh, owner of India Palace Grill in Roseville, catered the sit-down dinner. 

Elephants can be a floral decoration or the vehicle on which the groom arrives with his friends and family to the wedding ceremony.

This is a luxury market, she said, and while the younger generation is doing more inter-faith marriages with some blending of cultures, most wedding ceremonies will be traditional, which aren’t just one day, but several. Guest counts easily will be 300 to 400. 

In order to streamline her presentation, Chughtai concentrated on Indian and Pakistani weddings, since those will be the ones event planners in the Twin Cities market will encounter most often. While somewhat similar, there are important differences. For instance, Indian weddings follow Hindu traditions, while Pakistani weddings will be Muslim. Chughtai acknowledged that she was speaking in generalities, so as to give practical guidelines. 

Expect a full bar of top-shelf liquor for a Hindu wedding, she said, and no alcohol at all at a Muslim wedding, instead sub fresh juice for fancy nonalcoholic offerings. Because of the uncertain timing of events, buffets are the best option for the food at the wedding ceremonies. 

If you are catering, have “tons of appetizers” for an Indian wedding, but no beef, stick to mostly vegetarian offerings. Fusion food is a good option, she said. For the Pakistani event, meat must be halal, and no pork. And plan for more food than the guest count, Chughtai said, since the guest list will grow the day of the ceremony for a Pakistani wedding.  

Hana April Chughtai delivered her presentation in front of what is a typical stage set up for the bride and groom. 

And just like the groom’s elaborate processional can be much longer than planned, an Indian wedding ceremony can vary from 20 minutes to two hours, and as the caterer, you may be asked to provide food and drink for the two-hour version, she said.

For Pakistani weddings, the ceremony traditionally happens at a mosque or the bride’s home, she said There will be no kiss at the ceremony, she said, adding, “and no one clinks a glass at the reception (encouraging the couple to kiss). That’s a no-no.”

It’s not uncommon for the parents who are paying for the wedding festivities to negotiate on prices—and expect to bring in their own food. If the venue allows this, let them know it may involve a fee. 

“The parents are paying and they’re used to negotiating, so they’ll want a deal,” she said. “Explain what you offer and say you don’t have the ability to reduce (hard costs),” but then show them other ways that you are saving them money, such as reusing items, such as chairs or floral arrangements at the different ceremonies. “Show value in other ways,” she suggests. “They love to feel like they got a little more.”

Since so much is based on tradition, take advantage of the robust South Asian vendor community to help you with the props for the stage, a mobile DJ (in case the groom wants traveling music while he makes his grand entrance), a drummer and the myriad other things required for the often three-day event. 

And no somber colors are needed. No white wedding dresses or tablecloths. Think vivid colors, dancing, music and staging. 

So where do you find an elephant for a four-hour gig? Chughtai found hers at an Oklahoma circus. 

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