Christian weddings in India's biggest city
Our next Bombay Bride used to work in Dubai, celebrated her nuptials in Cochin, Kerala and now resides in Minneapolis, USA. But to me, she is a Bombay Bride through and through as I know her from my time at St. Xavier’s, Mumbai, where we were classmates for a better part of our college years.
Dear readers, please raise your glasses in a hearty toast to the dazzling Sonam Eapen who married Vivek Cherian in July 2012. Read on to witness their glamorous wedding celebrations unfold below.
Sonam and Vivek are originally from Kerala, and belong to the Marthomite Syrian Christian+ and the Orthodox Syrian Christian communities each. The present head of the Indian Orthodox Church, H.H. Baselius Mar Thoma Paulose II solemnised their nuptials at the beautiful St. Mary’s Orthodox Church in Cochin, Kerala.
There are certain nuptial rituals that are unique to the Syrian Christian communities of South India and Sonam was kind enough to explain the ones she and Vivek had to follow.
Unlike couples from other Christian communities, a couple belonging to the Syrian Christian community do not exchange their wedding rings. An age-old custom that is still given great importance, the officiating minister receives the ring and as a representative of the church, blesses it and places it on the bride and groom’s finger in the presence of the congregation.
The minister then joins the right hands of the bride and groom and as they hold hands, they listen to a reading from the gospels. This part of the ceremony announces them as husband and wife.
Another part of the nuptial ceremony is called the crowning, where the couple is crowned as the king and queen of a new Christian home. The minister elevates a golden chain with a pendant cross as a crown over the head of the groom three times followed by a chant. This is repeated for the bride in a similar fashion. This golden chain is considered a family heirloom, as it is passed on from one generation to the next, similar to a king’s crown.
During the nuptials, the Minister places the manthrakodi – the traditional wedding saree gifted by the groom symbolising his commitment to care for and protect his wife – upon the bride’s head. This is the moment she becomes a member of her husband’s family. In acknowledgement of this transition, an older woman from the groom’s family assumes her place as Matron of Honour as a welcoming gesture. A Syrian Christian bride changes into the manthrakodi after the nuptials for the remaining ceremonies and treasures it fot the rest of her life, wearing it for the last time when she’s laid to her final rest at her burial.
The tying of the minnu is another ceremony held in great importance by the Syrian Christian community. Symbolised by a gold pendant in the shape of a banyan tree leaf and holding twelve beads representing the twelve fruits/gifts of the Holy Spirit, the minnu represents eternal life and unity – just like a banyan tree that spreads over a wide area and provides shelter and comfort to others. The minnu stands for a long and happy married life, a safe and comfortable place to nurture children, and a family that cares for the needs of the community.
The night before the wedding, the minnu is spun from seven threads taken from the manthrakodi. On the wedding day, the groom ties it around the bride’s neck after it is blessed by the minister. By doing so, the couple declare that they are bound together for life. After seven days of marriage, the thread is removed and the minnu is put on a gold chain. A married Orthodox Christian woman always wears her minnu as a sign of her married status.
There were many customs and traditions that Sonam and Vivek had to follow and the way they styled their entire wedding, including the merry celebrations, speak of a deep respect for the old and a graceful acceptance of the new. In addition, their wedding preparations spanned multiple countries and cities. Our bride, like the extraordinary woman that she is, managed everything with aplomb.
Sonam adjusted schedules with Vivek and his mates, most of whom were in the US, three of her bridesmaids and family, who live in Dubai, the rest of the bridesmaids and guests from Mumbai, and relatives in Cochin, while dividing her own wedding shopping time between Mumbai and Dubai.
Someone honour Sonam with a medal already!
It is not hard to understand why our enthusiastic bride opted for a readymade gown from a bridal boutique closer to her home in Dubai; although, like any other bride, Sonam also surfed the internet for bridal gown inspiration. She wisely put a stop to it when it was evident that it would be foolhardy to fall in love with an unattainable gown.
Another reason Sonam gave custom-made gowns a miss was her skepticism at the possibility of finding any tailor who’d do justice to the idea she had in mind.
Dubai is known for its exquisite Lebanese wedding gown stores. I used to often pass through the street lined with gown shops with mannequins dressed in splendid gowns and would imagine trying them out. Needless to say, I was sure I would pick my gown from one of these stores.
Sonam found her perfect gown and also the right seamstress to perform the alterations required. The Phillipino seamstress at the bridal boutique skilfully attached sleeves that could be detached with ease, to the finalised gown. She even created the veil to go with the gown.
Like the Roman Catholic Church in Mumbai, the Orthodox Syrian Christian Church too has a conservative stance on bridal dresses. If the bride chooses to wear a strapless gown, she has to ensure that she is stepping into church with her shoulders modestly covered. In such situations, detachable sleeves, lace boleros or clever, adjustable bodices are the favoured option. In addition to the above rule, the Syrian Christian Church also requires women to cover their heads in church, which resulted in Sonam and her mother preparing birdcage veils for the bridesmaids to wear at the church ceremony.
For her accessories, Sonam opted for a bouquet of fresh roses peppered with glittering sequins that her decorator created for her. The white, netted shoes she picked up from Metro, Mumbai had to be discarded (they were too short) in favour of the high-heeled, stone-embellished pumps that she found in Dubai.
As the gown was covered with rich embroidery and lace-work, Sonam decided to go without gloves and a purse. Even her Swarovski necklace set, procured after a tough search, was elegantly understated and subtly offset the grandeur of her gown.
Jewellery hunting was the toughest part of putting together the wedding outfit. I think I drove everyone I knew up the wall in the quest to find the perfect gown ornaments! I drove the length and breadth of Dubai to five Swarovski stores to find the last available set of the design I had laid my eyes on.
Way before they embarked on planning their wedding, this adventurous couple sent out fun, personalised e-invites to a few chosen friends, asking them to be part of their bridal entourage.
Sonam tells us that the concept of bridesmaids and groomsmen is unheard of within the Syrian Christian community in Kerala and a bridal troupe with different clothes for different parts of the wedding day, even more unusual. Vivek’s groomsmen wore Western suits for the nuptials and then changed into the traditional mundu+ and orange-coloured shirts in raw silk for the afternoon reception. Sonam’s bridesmaids wore Grecian gowns in the morning and coordinated orange sarees for the afternoon reception.
The entire bridal entourage did rapid wardrobe changes like supermodels. What a sight they made! A 15-person strong bridal entourage with express wardrobe changes must have surely seemed like an unexpected circus show to our guests. Ah well… We had a ball.
With so much attention demanded by her own ensemble, it is somewhat of a miracle that all of Sonam’s six bridesmaids, two junior bridesmaids and one flower girl turned out looking as spectacular as she did on the wedding day! No wait, it’s actually our bride knowing exactly what she wanted and organising her wedding like a pro.
Once the theme colours for the wedding were decided, Sonam trusted her bridesmaids to decide the style they preferred with the condition that they settle on a design with sleeves.
Looking at these beautiful women in their Grecian-styled gowns, I must mention, this is one group of bridesmaids that are as stylish and gorgeous as the bride. Sonam accomplished the vibrant, Grecian gown look by combining shimmer Georgette she found in the cloth shops at Bandra, Mumbai and the belt to go with them from Bhuleshwar.
For the traditional coordinated sarees that the bridesmaids wore for the afternoon reception, our bride chose NVY Studio, a boutique in Chennai that comes highly recommended and specialises in customised sarees.
Sonam’s efforts at organising the perfect wedding already seem remarkable at this point, and one has to marvel at how her three bridesmaids from Dubai and three bridesmaids from Mumbai managed to get everything sorted with the tailor for their gowns, who was a woman from Thane called Jean. A tailor from Dubai took care of the knee-length dresses in raw silk for her junior bridesmaids.
On the count of three, shout out loud with me, SONAM, YOU ARE INDEED WONDER BRIDE!
As with all weddings, the groom and his groomsmen had it too easy. Vivek wore a bespoke tuxedo stitched for him within a week at Kachin’s in Dubai. His groomsmen wore their own suits but got their ties and pocket scarves tailor-made at Kachin’s. Sonam and Vivek had them wearing orange socks that they dyed at home.
Sonam admits, what with dividing her time and attention between three different countries, she could have done with a wedding planner. Throughout the wedding Sonam and Vivek had three main functions to grace – the nuptials at the church in the morning, the reception at noon, and the cocktail party in the evening. And this was just the main day. As with all Indian Christian weddings there were a score of pre and post-wedding formalities and customs that had Sonam and Vivek declaring:
Weddings can be a stressful affair. Rest assured, I’m never going to get married again!
Bombay Brides asked Sonam and Vivek if they could recommend our readers any bridal vendors and they promptly presented us with five names to consider:
Photographer, Arjun Kartha – They say, “Arjun stole hearts at the wedding as much as his pictures brought immense joy to us. He moved around like a shadow, capturing the tiniest of details and needless to say, he was the most sought after guy by enthusiastic aunties who hoped he’d make them look like supermodels in the pictures.
Wedding photographs are what remain after a beautiful day that goes by so quickly. Ours makes us smile each time we look at them reminding us of all the fun we had and the photographer whom we now call our friend.“
Cake artist, Rosemary Jose – They say, “She is the most sought after cake-maker in Cochin. Ours was a 5-tier cake with decorative motifs and a dense creeper of pink and orange flowers descending from the foot of the cake topper (purchased from the selection available on Amazon).”
Saree designer, Nivya Babu of NVY Studio – They say, “She was extremely helpful with the designs and with our numerous demands.”
Musician, Violinist Balabhaskar & Troupe – They say, “Thanks to a dear friend, we had them entertaining guests at the afternoon reception. He was absolutely brilliant. Hindi and Malayalam classics floated in the air, creating a magical atmosphere. Ah… It was lovely.”
Sonam also recommends Jean, the tailor from Thane, who managed to make all her bridesmaids and flower girls look so fabulous and even provided us with a number to reach her: +919819865553.
Unlike a Mumbai wedding, Sonam tells us, a lot of constraints enter the picture for a wedding celebrated in comparatively conservative Kerala and a lot of things didn’t go according to plan. But a look at the warm, smiling faces dotting all the photos, makes it very hard to believe her.
Sonam and Vivek also included some memorable elements in their wedding celebrations – personal touches that worked their magic on the special day and added to all the smiles.
Like the wedding cars for the bride and groom, each decorated with a gentleman’s hat and a lady’s feathered hat, among other floral arrangements.
Sonam and Vivek also had a flash mob that more than 20 guests scattered all over the globe practised for and pulled off at the cocktail party in the evening. Vidhya, Vivek’s sister and Roshni, Sonam’s sister choreographed the entire dance – a fusion of English, Hindi and Malayalam songs, shot a video and sent it to close friends of the bride and groom in India, Dubai, Italy, Turkey and America. These loving friends then practiced the dance steps on their own and came together for a joint practice for the first time for a couple of hours before the wedding day.
At the Bollywood-themed cocktail party, these friends, including the bridal entourage came on to the dance floor in twos and threes to synchronised steps. Sonam and Vivek, with true Bollywood chutzpah, joined them at the very last, to the delight of all the guests present.
This fun couple also included a photo booth at their wedding which was a smash hit. Using customised backdrops and props, guests were handed instant photographs of themselves in photo frames as return gifts.
And then there were little touches that added to such a special and well-planned day. Guests for the evening’s cocktail party were sent invites resembling glamorous Bollywood Movie Premiere tickets. Sonam and Vivek even had charming girls handing out flower garlands to guests entering the venue.
A cluster of emerald-green wine bottles with candles at the bottom and anthuriums stretching out of its neck formed the center piece for each table at the cocktail party.
Traditional accents were added to the overall decor of the cocktail party, like bandhini+ tie-backs and runners in the wedding’s theme colours, and charpoys+ dotting the seating area.
From start to end, I cannot think of any other Indian Christian wedding I’ve seen that made such brilliant use of both Eastern and Western elements. Sonam and Vivek brought together both worlds as well as their friends and family from all over the world in an unforgettably tasteful melange of sights, sounds and celebrations – a highly commendable accomplishment.
After sharing so many beautiful stories about her wedding day, Sonam also has some advice for readers of Bombay Brides, and especially for brides-to-be.
Remember, you are the bride. With all the wedding planning to do, a bucket list of follow ups, it is easy to lose your wits. At least a month prior to the wedding, fall in love with yourself, pamper yourself silly, gift yourself that sexy Bohemian dress you had your eyes on, eat another scoop of ice cream with your girlfriends, give calorie-counting a break.
Ever notice the warm, tingly feeling you get when you talk to a bride-to-be? This is the time when people get that around you. Enjoy it.
Remember to have fun. Yes, it’s only your wedding and you want to make it dream-like. But don’t let delayed decorator’s schedules, chipped nails, bridal outfit nightmares, bridesmaid tantrums and people’s opinions kill the joy of the countdown to your big day. When you walk down that aisle and lock your eyes with the man you are going to spend the rest of your life with, the last thing you are going to notice is that the flowers on the pews are not the right shade of pink.
Delegate. You are not superwoman.
“No one noticed even a flower out-of-place & compliments on a beautiful wedding was all we got.”
And I couldn’t agree more. It was such a pleasure working on this post (even though putting everything together took more than a month!) and an even greater pleasure to present the beautiful and ever-resourceful Sonam as a Bombay Bride. Thank you Sonam and Vivek for sharing your gorgeous wedding stories and photos with us and many warm wishes from us for your happily ever after!
Please note: Words marked with the + symbol are explained on the Glossary page. I have used photographs clicked by the official photographer for the wedding, Arjun Kartha and photographs clicked by a close friend of the couple, Royson Jacob as both have managed to capture such beautiful aspects of the wedding. Each are tagged alongside photos they have clicked.