Seated on a horse bedecked with red zari, wearing a sherwani, chooridar and sporting a pink pagdi, Gautam Malhotra is accompanied by a baraat complete with a band churning out popular Bollywood tunes. A typical marriage scene that you would witness in any part of the Indian Sub-continent, the only difference is that this setting is in Tara Sheraton, Parsippany, New Jersey.
Getting married to his fiancée Monika Shah who was dressed in
an outfit by Khazana, a local boutique in New Jersey, Malhotra danced to the
beats of dholki outside the banquet hall. A few years ago, such a scene would be very uncommon in the USA, but the growing number of South Asian community has seen a
proliferation of typical ethnic weddings throughout the country.
On the two coasts where the concentration of this community is highest, the number of weddings, which can be called as adhering to South Asian customs can be as much as thousand a year. This includes Hindu, Muslim, Sikh and mixed or interracial marriages.
Choices Are Aplenty
For most South Asian wedding ceremonies, there is no longer a
need to get necessary items from the Sub-Continent. Most of them are available
with vendors in the US.
Many vendors like Jyoti Soni of Celebrations –a wedding
planner and organizer with a 3,000 sq. ft. showroom in Lake Hopatcong, New
Jersey– can arrange almost anything for a traditional ceremony that a client
might want for his or her wedding. "I stock everything – a lot of stuff for
mandaps and other items like hawan kunds, pagdis, and choodas
etc. Clients come to my shop for planning and can also choose from a large variety available in stock", Soni said. She claims that she can provide any special item.
A few years ago it was impossible to even think of these wedding items being available here, says Sanjeev Rastogi. Rastogi, who got married 18 years ago in New Jersey in a VFW hall says, "There was no concept of an Indian banquet hall or specialized decorators several years ago. It was not easy to arrange for simple traditional items needed for a Hindu marriage and most of the stuff was bought from India."
Rastogi’s white sherwani was brought from India. Friends contributed in a big way and were involved in everything, from the décor to the final ceremony. "Things have definitely come a long way", Rastogi said.
To cater to the growing need of South Asian wedding market, there has been a spurt of specialized wedding planners, banquet halls, caterers and vendors too. One such wedding planner, Smita Desai from Detroit Metro says, "I saw a potential in this area, I had helped to plan a couple of weddings few years ago, then as our number increased, I saw that this could be a financially viable career option too, hence I entered this field and now have been doing it for the past four years." Soni, since the inception of Celebrations, seven years ago, too has arranged thousands of weddings throughout the world.
These planners take care of all client needs – from designing and printing of invitation cards to the final step, which may include arranging for a limousine and if the client wishes, honeymoon destination planning.
Sometimes, they make the unusual possible. Soni said that one of her brides wanted an atypical touch for her lakeside wedding, "We arranged for her to come in a gondola and then enter the mandap, while everybody waited on the lakeside bank."
Sumit Arya, who has planned 800 weddings, says that most people want a simple ceremony for their weddings, lately though some are beginning to add light customized touches. Arya says, "I am encountering demands for elephants for grooms and
doli for brides, both are available at a cost."
Wanting something unusual, Bina and Yogesh Niwas of Bay Area planned their only daughter’s marriage aboard a ship. "My daughter, Rachna, wanted a unique wedding. She didn’t want a typical hotel wedding, which she called corporate marriage. The other option was a country club and then I came across this idea, of getting Rachna married on a ship and as soon as we saw this three tiered ship, we knew this was what we wanted," Niwas said.
"We were a little worried about the food, and thought of arranging the meals via an outdoor Indian caterer but the ship management provided most of the food. Their chicken kebabs were so delicious that almost everybody asked us for the caterers address", Niwas added.
Calling it a dream wedding, which occurred three years ago, Niwas said, it was a beautiful event; the ship was flanked by the Golden Bridge on one side and San Francisco on the other. Other things needed for the religious ceremony was arranged through third party vendors.
The general preference is for a traditional wedding ceremony followed by a fusion reception. The décor usually is in reds, maroons and gold for the ceremony and the reception to follow has an American touch, with the color schemes being in white, silver and other pastel shades.
A wedding planner though is not a popular concept among people of South Asian origin. Many prefer to plan their own wedding by arranging catering and hiring professionals for other services.
There are thousands of banquet halls, caterers and restaurants specializing in South Asian cuisine for weddings, spread all over the country. They usually provide cocktail food, fusion food, buffets as well as sit down several course meals. Outdoor catering too is available, even on typical and atypical American marriage arenas. Hence the ideas are aplenty and many people, like Niwas’s, prefer to visit individual vendors.
Ethnic bazaars like Jackson Heights in New York, Oak Tree Road in Iselin, New Jersey on the East Coast and University Avenue in Bay Area on the West Coast have become household names for many. These areas are well established as specialized shopping malls and showcase jewelry, outfits and a large variety of other things needed to perform traditional South Asian weddings.
People even prefer to shop in the US rather than go to the Sub-Continent for their wedding. "I compared prices for outfits for both myself and my fiancée and found them comparable," says Shalab, who ordered his marriage outfits from Gorgeous, a popular boutique for Indian designer clothes on Oak Tree Road. Shalab, who is getting married in the summer, said that not only was there a large variety available but also the designs were contemporary as well as the cloth suited to the local weather conditions better, which might not have been the case had he bought them in India. The traditional rani haar, considered an integral part of the conventional wedding ceremony, has given place to more modern styles. Today the bride may choose to wear whatever the current fashion demands.
Dolly Patel, a marriage costume consultant and owner of Khazana boutique on Oak Tree Road, says, "People from all over the US come here to do their wedding shopping." Many of her clients want a touch of contemporary with their conventional outfits, choices that may not be available where they live, says Patel. She also advises her clients in terms of jewelry and has found that many brides prefer 22 karat gold set in modern designs. Patel has a permanent staff of two and says that they do most of the required alterations and minor design changes in-house.
A Lucrative Market
Growing affluence of this society has attracted many conventional American wedding service providers, who are accommodating the special requirements of South Asian weddings.
Mark J Schumacher, who has been providing ponies for parties and other events since 1985 has expanded his offerings and has become a leading name in the tri–state area of New Jersey, New York and Connecticut to provide ponies for the baraat.
Schumacher, who has been providing ghodis for the past 10 years, gives a lot of choices to his clients including horses with the fancy decorations, a specially designed carriage and umbrellas. The handlers too wear decorative clothes to keep up to the spirit of wedding.
Ponies for weddings are now available in almost all major metros as more and more event pony providers are finding this business profitable.
A Question Of Expenditure
When it comes to making choices, selection of caterers and decorators for the wedding take most of the time. Both these choices are governed by quality and budget constraints. Caterers can cost anything from $12 per head to $200 per person, depending upon the quality and items that are selected for the party.
Monika Shah, who got married three years ago, outsourced the catering to Moghul caterers from New Jersey. "My main concern was quality rather than the price, we shopped around and Moghul matched my expectations and even though it was more than what we had planned for in our original budget, we hired them", said Shah.
Décor is an area where you can let your creative juices flow, says Soni, mandaps, flowers, pillars, chairs, tables, the whole wedding area could be transformed. The floral decoration alone can cost anywhere from $1,500 to $12,000 and can cost more if imported flowers are used. Other requirements like music, pundits, beauticians, mehndi, photographers, videographers, ghodi, invitations etc. have variable costs. The cost of a wedding for 400 people is generally estimated to be in the neighborhood of $50,000.
One Stop Shop
All in one packages are available too. As this market has
become more and more lucrative, many are offering a one-stop package deal. Soni,
along with her services as a planner also provides catering, decoration and
banquet facilities. "Selections are available, patrons can choose mine or any
other alternative that is available in the market", says Soni.
Moreover many hotels, caterers, decorators have their own
tie-ups and preferred vendors lists. Anuradha Jethi of Sajawat, a decorator from
Iselin, New Jersey says, "When a client zeroes down on us, we try to provide for
all their needs through our own network. We are like one big family, and suggest
to clients our own favorite caterers, parlor services and others."
More and more people are trying to provide full service like
Sajawat, which was offering only décor services few years ago but now has its
own floral shop and beauty parlor services. Using multiple services from one
source also nets a discount to prospective brides and grooms.
Bridal shows, which save time and energy, are also becoming
hugely popular worldwide. In North America, many businesses are arranging annual
shows and exhibitions where wedding specialty vendors offer many alternatives
under one roof. Sumit Arya organizes Dulhan Expo, as many as five times a year
all over US, "The idea is to provide all services and available choices under
one roof", says Arya.
So many choices and alternatives mean that you should start planning your
wedding a year in advance according to experts. Making it a memorable and a
smooth ceremony requires that your choices are clear whether using a
professional planner or planning it yourself.