If you have never been to an Indian wedding, pray that the heavens grant you a loving Indian friend.
Traditional Indian weddings celebrate marriage with a riot of color, ancient family traditions and joyous singing and dancing. The feasting and festivities can last for days.
When they fell in love, Monica and Neal chose a traditional Indian wedding for their ceremony. While these two elegant, accomplished attorneys are both American-born, each also has strong family roots in India.
The couple met online while they were living and working in Washington, DC. On their first date, they went for frozen yogurt at the popular treat shop Mr. Yogato. Enjoying each other’s company, the pair discovered they had much more in common than their heritage: They both have highly creative minds, love dogs and enjoy being adventurous home chefs.
Their attraction soon grew beyond friendship. They fell in love. Neal was entranced by the stunning brunette, and he knew he had found the love of his life. He planned his proposal quite skillfully. Monica had no idea what he had up his sleeve that evening, much less what he had hidden in his pocket: a custom-designed engagement ring.
“One random Friday in May, Neal suggested that we go into D.C. for dinner and swing by Mr. Yogato afterwards,” Monica said. They hadn’t been to Mr. Yogato’s since their first date, and Monica thought it would be fun. They took the Metro into the city, and spring had already made way for summer. It was pretty hot outside.
“I made fun of Neal for wearing a jacket on such a warm evening,” Monica said. They enjoyed a leisurely dinner at Churchkey on Logan Circle, a short walk from Mr. Yogato.
“On our first date, Neal and I were given the chance to win a discount on our frozen yogurt if we answered a trivia question correctly,” Monica said. The question was: Which three countries in the world have names starting with the letter “J”?
“We got it wrong!” Monica recalls, laughing. “Neal got Jordan, but neither of us could come up with Japan or Jamaica.” While they both obviously know geography, she chalked it up to a mutual case of first-date nerves.
Recalling that first-date private joke, Neal had called Mr. Yogato ahead of time and asked the store to write the exact same trivia question on the board that evening. Instead, however, the question posted on the board asked for four countries that have the letter “J” in their name.
“Neal directed my attention to the question, and I gleefully answered correctly! Djibouti was our fourth country,” Monica said. The couple enjoyed their desserts and a game of Connect Four, then went for a stroll to LaFayette Square down the street.
At first, Monica was puzzled by Neal’s obvious disappointment that the water fountains and the romantic lights were turned off in the park.
“I told him it was fine and that it was still a beautiful evening,” said Monica.
“By this point, I’d figured out something was up, but it was still so exciting when he started telling me how much he loved me and knelt down on one knee! He asked me to marry him, opened the ring box, and the ring fell out! Of course I said ‘Yes!'”
They scrambled to retrieve the ring, then asked a stranger to take a picture to document the moment. They ran to catch the Metro home to call their families.
While every wedding is unique, Monica found much to cherish about her marriage to Neal.
“I loved that we combined Marathi and Punjabi traditions in our ceremony, and that Neal’s mom, Manu Dongre, officiated the ceremony,” she said.
Monica’s parents hail from the Punjabi area of India. After they came to America, Monica and her older brother enjoyed a quintessential small-town upbringing in Greenville, SC. Described by her friends as the “pretty little girl in the third row,” she later competed on the high school speech team, enjoyed college life as a sorority girl and then earned her juris doctorate in law school.
As a young girl, she learned all the many intricate family customs followed in a traditional Indian wedding.
“I always dreamed of having all this,” she said with a huge smile, moments before she walked down the aisle. She was resplendent in her ornate gown and wedding jewels, her slender hands ornamented with henna tattoos. She included a few of her own American traditions as well, having a sorority sister bin her badge inside her sari before the wedding.
Neal was also eager to honor his heritage and please both families by wedding his bride in the traditional Indian way. While he grew up in America too, his family hails from Bombay and are Marathi. He created his own unique wedding tradition: he learned to play the ukulele so could serenade Monica with her favorite song the night before the wedding.
Marathi are traditionally known for celebrating joyous occasions by dancing and singing. And boy, do they dance!
The groomsmen danced down the street behind the groom as he was brought to the wedding in a horse-drawn carriage. They danced on their way down the aisle. If it’s a joyous moment for a Marathi, you will definitely see some dancing!
Monica and Neal brought it all together for three glorious days in Greenville for a celebration of life and happiness. The two were married in a ceremony at the Hyatt Regency surrounded by loved ones. While both incorporated many Indian wedding customs, they also honored their American lives now. (Their first dance as husband and wife was to “Wildflowers,” by Tom Petty.)
To Monica, the joy and family traditions were only part of what made the lovely, three-day wedding such a wonderful experience.
“It was incredible and humbling to have so many of our friends and family together in one room, celebrating our love and wishing us the best in our married life,” Monica said.
The couple recently took a “mini-moon” over the Memorial Day weekend.
“We’re hoping to take a longer, bigger trip somewhere else later this year,” said Monica, who looks forward to planning a future getaway with her husband.
Photography By Chuck Eaton and Erin Kranz for Chuck Eaton Photographers
Videographer: Drew Carlisle of Carlisle Videography
Bridal registry: Bed Bath & Beyond, Crate & Barrel, Pottery Barn
Cake: Couture Cakes of Greenville
Flowers: Elegant Designz
Gown: Custom – designed by the bride
Shoes: Kate Spade
Bridesmaids’ dresses: Utsav Fashion
Groom’s Wedding Outfit: Custom – designed by the groom
Groom’s Reception Suit: Brooks Brothers
Engagement ring: Custom – designed by the groom
Wedding rings: BRIDE: Custom – designed by the groom; GROOM: Boone & Sons (Washington, DC)
Clergy: Officiated by Neal’s mother, Manu Dongre
Ceremony location: Hyatt Regency Greenville
Caterers: Handi Indian Cuisine
Reception location: Hyatt Regency Greenville
Rehearsal dinner (SANGEET): Catered by Handi Indian Cuisine
Rental providers (tents, linens, tables, chairs, photo booth, etc.): Elegant Designz
Bachelor party location/activity: Austin, Texas – a week of concerts at South by Southwest
Bachelorette party location/activity: Charleston, South Carolina – a weekend on the beach
Transportation provider: Reedy River Rickshaw
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