The Incredible Spectacle of an Indian Wedding (in America) – Celebrating the Marriage of Divya Dileep to Gautham Ratnakar (Part 2)!

Adventures with Friends, Festivals, Global Culture

Even if you have not attended (or been in!) a traditional Indian wedding, chances are high you have at least heard what a marathon they can be.  While I’ve recently learned that ‘Indian wedding’ remains itself a somewhat generic phrase, as there is a huge variety even within that loose category, one element is almost certainly universal – it does NOT happen on one day! And when the bride and/or groom have established roots beyond the Indian homeland, the wedding is likely to also span countries, not just days.

This was indeed the case for our awesome friends, Divya and Gautham, who recently celebrated their nuptials in Chennai and Kozhikode, Kerala. Indian weddings are not about subtlety. Or minimalism. Over-the-top may start to hint at their true nature! So no surprise that the festivities continued a couple weeks later in the USA, where Divya and Gautham now live.

In my toast to Divya and Gautham, I teased Divya that she has a flair for the dramatic (reveal). This was no exception. When I asked her in India if I should know anything about the USA event, she simply stated ‘it will just be a regular American-style reception’.


Well, it seemed to be – at first glance. The reception was held on the chilly, rainy evening of Sunday, 29 December 2013, at the Palace at Somerset Park – an expansive banquet hall. I arrived early, as I did in India, so I could observe some of Divya’s pre-reception preparation (a treat in and of itself!).

Divya, putting final touches on her elaborately gorgeous, custom-designed wedding reception sari

Divya, putting the final touches on her elaborately gorgeous, custom-designed wedding reception sari

Silly me, I thought she would be wearing a ‘regular’ dress. Not even close. While her multiple sartorial confections in India were gorgeous and vibrantly woven in crimson and golden hues, her custom-designed bridal lengha for the American event was also a stunner – rich black velvet encrusted liberally with gold and crystals, and lined with imperial purple silk. The skirt alone weighed somewhere in the range of 20 pounds (for me, this would be cause alone for a fashion disaster!).




As in India, the outfit was complete only following the donning of an elaborate set of gold jewels, with colorful bangles snaking up her arms. As usual, Divya was a sight to behold!


I snuck a couple more shots of Div with her elegant grandmother, Meena (wouldn’t you?). Then they were off!


Divya and her beautiful grandmother, Meena


Div and G indulged in a couple cocktails (hey – they finally had a chance to relax a bit and look forward to a ‘regular’ party!). G contributed to Div’s final jewelry preparations, and they chatted with a few close family members and friends. Then the lovely couple immersed themselves in an official photo session and prepared behind-the-scenes for their grand entrance.



I weaved my way to the cocktail and ‘hors d’oeuvres’ (more like endless banquet of bites!) room, mingled with a few old and new acquaintances, and somewhat nervously paced with my champagne as I rehearsed my toast in my head. You know, fairly standard reception stuff.

Following cocktail hour, Mark and I made our way to the ‘Madiba’ table, named after a favorite restaurant of Div and G’s (and of course, inspired by the late, lauded South African President Nelson Mandela) that boasts first-date honors. More bubbly was poured, and family and friends eagerly awaited the couple’s arrival.


Divya’s family beams in anticipation of the lovely couple’s entrance

And arrive, they did. Down a spiral staircase, of course. And then they took to the dance floor. You would have been none the wiser to Divya’s leaden-weight sari, as she elegantly spun into a swing dance, partnered of course with the light-on-his-feet, I’ve-got-moves-you-never-knew Gautham! Soon joined by a few other couples (sadly, yours truly’s knees can’t quite manage the swing!), Div and G brought everyone to their feet! Thus began an incredible ‘hybrid’ Indian-American event, borrowing and showcasing cultural influences from both countries.


Div and G surprise guests with a special entrance swing dance!


Guests took their seats after participating in an introductory dance, then the parade of toasts began. Close friends and family (Rajani, Avinash and Arjun, Omar and Candace, and me) delivered speeches (and in one case, a performance – stay tuned on that) to honor Div and G. And to give them a healthy dose of fun-filled grief! A huge reason I love Div and G so much is they both have such a great sense of humor. And a couple of us took full advantage on that public stage! What better place to make them squirm a bit (in the most loved way possible, of course)! There were a few common themes – such as poking fun at G for ‘accidentally’ moving literally across the street from Div in Brooklyn, before he knew where she lived! And their adorable we’re-not-dating-but-we’re-actually-kind-of-dating-but-not-really courtship.

As for my toast, well – I just told the truth. Div is a beautiful, stylish, smart and savvy woman. She is also one of the most talented creative spirits I’ve had the pleasure of knowing. And most importantly to me, she truly understands what friendship is all about. She’s been there for me through highs and lows, and I can’t underscore enough how great it’s been to know that she always has my back. It’s all too uncommon to find a real friend like her. Div brings laughter, honesty, trueness, and great energy to my life, and I love her for it. Oh, and she’s also just a hell of a lot of fun to be around!


Of course, I ragged on her a bit, as well – believe me, she would think something was wrong with me if I didn’t! I teased her about (among a few other things) keeping G a secret up until she was almost ready to marry him! But all that matters is that Div and G found each other. Even when I met G, I knew he was the one for her. They complement each other beautifully. I see them as true equals, and I think that kind of discovery is rare – indeed, a gift. And I’m pretty sure they know it, judging by the way they gaze upon each other! Far from trite, their affection for each other is genuine.


It warms my heart to know they have found each other. And I know their families and other friends are also thrilled for them. I had the great opportunity to get to know especially Divya’s immediate family a bit over the last month or so – and her beautiful mother Lalita, her proud father Dileep, and her charming younger brother Adit, are lovely, gracious, generous, funny, and welcoming beyond belief – and most importantly, loving and supportive of Divya and Gautham. Their joy and pride was beyond palpable.


This happiness was matched only by the escalating celebration that unfolded before us. Now, I don’t want to call Div a liar – ’cause she isn’t. She did promise lots of eating (amazing Indian cuisine!), boozing, and dancing. And there was PLENTY of all of the above.


Tim dominates the dance floor…






What’s Mark going to do while his wife frantically photographs? Dance, of course!



Tim continues to dominate and is crowned ‘best dancer’ of the evening!



Chipmunk dance? Kangaroos?









Follow-up bubbly toasts at the bar…before they devolved into straight-up shots later in the evening









But the rest just wasn’t quite that…simple or regular , as she had previously described. No, nothing just ‘typical’ about this reception!

There was also a high-tech photo booth – complete with a table of ridiculous props (beer googles included!), a green screen, a flat-panel display, and instant prints.


Hamming it up at the high-tech photo booth

Some of the classier results…

Photo booth 1

Photo booth 2

Photo booth 3

Photo booth 4

Photo booth D&G

And remember I mentioned another performance? Well, in place of a traditional ‘Western’ toast, a few family and friends actually prepared a skit, reenacting with grand humor the courtship of Div and G! Pre-recorded dialogue accompanied spontaneous acting and dancing, to hilarious effect!



Then Div’s brother, Adit, and a few friends, entertained us all with a raucous dance that intersected somewhere between traditional Indian music and Bollywood club (and maybe a little bit of gangsta rap?)!


Adit and friends rock out with a fusion dance!





But that’s not all, folks! After a special thank you by Div and G to all the guests, we were invited to the cake-cutting ritual outside on the terrace. The rain had blissfully cleared, and a perfectly clear sky soon revealed…we had first-row ‘seats’ to FIREWORKS! Not some sweet little demonstration either – nope, not for Div and G! This was a full-on display lasting minutes – which at every turn, seemed to get more and more spectacular. So much fun!



Unsurprisingly, Div was the creative director for all of these glorious wedding events, and she ensured that everything was executed in a manner that respected (and blended) traditions, celebrated her new bond with G, and not only upheld but exceeded all expectations of the colorful spectacle that defines an Indian wedding. Well done, Div – well done indeed. I am in awe.

Div and G – thank you so much for including us in your stunning celebrations. They were such an unforgettable experience!

And congratulations to you both. We wish you an amazing life-adventure together!



[Special thanks again to Divya, Gautham, their families, and their friends – for being more-than-willing participants and gorgeous ‘subject matter’ for my photographic exploration of this spectacle!]

For more details on Divya and Gautham, and their wedding events, please see their lovely wedding website and my previous post on their wedding celebrations in India!


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Globetrotter based in Hong Kong, travel and street photographer, Getty Images contributor, award-winning blogger of - seeking true beauty in travel and life!

14 thoughts on “The Incredible Spectacle of an Indian Wedding (in America) – Celebrating the Marriage of Divya Dileep to Gautham Ratnakar (Part 2)!”

  1. I would love to go to one they look so beautiful. I did bartend a indian surprise party once. They had a belly dancer and everything and tried to teach me how to dance to the music. Was one of the best events I worked at!


    • Thank you very much! It was a joy to photograph and write about. All stunning – the couple, the ‘wardrobe’, the settings, etc. Such a wonderful, enlightening, fun experience!


  2. AMK27 says:

    Lovely photographs! One correction: the bride is not wearing a sari, but rather, a lengha.


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