Indian weddings are chaotic by nature. They are larger (in terms of number of guests), longer (usually 3 days or more), and more complicated (endless traditions & rituals) when compared to a typical western wedding. All these factors contribute towards creating an unavoidable situation of clutter and chaos. Of course, I definitely don’t mean to paint all Indian weddings with the same brush – we have a vast number of religions in the country, each with their own style of ceremonies, many of which are rather simple. In this context, I am talking primarily about Hindu weddings and in particular, South Indian Hindu weddings.
Over the past 6 years in my career as a wedding photographer, I have shot around 200 weddings, with roughly 75% of them being Telugu weddings. Given my experience, I have managed to acquire an excellent grasp of the sequence of events in a typical South Indian Hindu wedding. Wedding photographers have the unique opportunity of having an “All Area Access” pass to the wedding events and thus, a rather intimate view of the ongoings over the multiple days of ceremonies. We are able to foresee when things might go wrong and where to potentially step in and fix a situation.
So here we go! 5 tips that I have complied from my years of experience so that new couples can learn from the mistakes of old couples.
5. Have a mini rehearsal of the ceremony
Rehearsals are common place in all western weddings and are usually conducted a day or two before the actual ceremony. They give all the main members of the family a chance to understand the sequence of events, where each person should be located during the various times of the ceremony and serve as a place to clear any last minute doubts. The main purpose of this exercise is to make sure everyone knows their duties and responsibilities so that they can come to the stage and contribute only when required. It should not take very long to do but I can assure you that it will greatly smoothen the experience on the wedding day.
4. Spend time with the priest and elders of both families
The priest is the director of ceremonies at the wedding. His word is gold. Therefore, it is super important to coordinate with him to understand the nature of each ritual and how long it’ll take to get done. He should also be able to give you an accurate list of all the materials required on the wedding day so that there will be no last minute rushing around for the odd glass of milk or coconut. There are many many little things that are needed to complete the entire course of rituals of an Indian wedding and having designated boxes of things will help to ensure that you don’t miss anything out and that everything is handy.
Elders of both families will also be able to contribute their own perspectives to the ceremony because often, there may be a particular ritual that happens only in one side of the family. Giving everyone an open platform will remove ambiguity on the wedding day and give a clear picture of list of rituals from both sides of families that need to be completed. This activity is doubly important when the couple come from different backgrounds since this there may be conflicting versions of the same ritual and it helps to have everyone on the same page beforehand itself. Otherwise you will end up with quarreling or upset family members of your wedding day.
3. Make a detailed schedule of rituals and share it
If you have completed the above meeting with the priest and family members, then you should have a reasonably accurate picture of the list of things to be done on the wedding day. Summarize the whole thing into a detailed schedule with timings (leave a little room for delays) and distribute it to everyone. You gain 2 things by doing this – first being that your family members know what do and when to do, and second, your friends will be able to follow the ceremony and understand the meaning of each ritual rather than staring mindlessly at the stage, waiting for lunch to start.
Make sure you are realistic with this schedule – consult with the make up artist to know how long they’ll take to complete the bridal makeup, check for traffic in that area at a similar time of day, and it is vital that you give sufficient time for blessings (if you have 2,000 guests at the wedding, then it’s going to take at least 1 – 1.5 hours for everyone to bless you).
2. Schedule time for couple portraits and family portraits
For me, even 5 minutes with the couple is sufficient time to get some kickass portraits of them. But you need to consider this and add it to the wedding schedule. Ideally before the ceremony (because you will look disheveled at the end of all the rituals) and 30 minutes is a good amount of time to get great couple photos in different locations (stage/mandap/outdoors/etc). If you are not comfortable with the idea of posing, consider giving at least a few minutes to the photographer to create some quality photographs that you can frame at home.
In addition, making time for family portraits is paramount. You NEED to find time for them regardless of how many hours your wedding is going to go on for. These are the photos that your parents, grandparents, your kids and grandkids will look at in 10, 20, 30 years to see how each person looked many years ago. Designate a person in each side of the family to coordinate and round up everyone for group photos. I guarantee that the photographs will be cherished for generations.
1. Hire a single photography/videography team
How many times have you attended weddings only to be greeted by the backside of photographers and videographers crowding around the stage? More often than not, there are multiple teams of photographers and videographers mostly doing the same thing but hired by different people – the bride, the groom, the bride’s uncle, the groom’s father, etc. I personally feel that it is a complete waste of resources to have many people duplicate virtually the same activity. Not only will you save money by hiring a single team, you will also give a much better view to all the guests who have traveled far and wide to attend your wedding. And as a side benefit, you can be sure that the photographers will not get in each other’s way, because with multiple teams, there will be constant jostle for space by the opposing photographers/videographers.
BONUS – Ban cellphone cameras on stage
There have been only 2 weddings that I have photographed when the family decided to completely ban cellphone cameras on stage. And both were an amazing experience for everyone involved. I remember the groom’s father announcing this on the mic to everyone and it made a huge difference. All the guests followed his request and the few that did not were given odd stares by everyone else so they decided to put their phones away too. It definitely made our jobs easier as photographers, not having to fight the multiple phones that are constantly thrust between our cameras and the couple. And it also made the couple feel more at ease, not having to constantly fake smile for every aunty and uncle who want to take a photo. It is a simple gesture that can make a world of difference.
These are only my recommendations but if you are only be able to implement at least a couple of them, I am certain it will make a big improvement to your experience of getting married in India.
Photos by Kishor, Suri & Karthik.