Joota Chori

The joota chori, or joota chupai, is the shoe-stealing ceremony common at Hindu weddings. When the groom enters the mandap, or wedding altar, he takes off his shoes because the wedding ceremony is a puja, or religious ritual. Hindus do not wear shoes during pujas.

When the groom takes off his shoes, the bride’s sisters, bridesmaids, cousins, nieces, or friends will steal the shoes for later. Usually, this just involves female members of the bridal party, but sometimes men will join in, too.

When the ceremony is over, the groom will arrive to find his shoes have been stolen. In order to get them back, he must pay the thieves a ransom. The bounty might be a small amount of cash, but in modern wedding ceremonies we’ve seen the dollar amount raise exponentially.

Grooms: be prepared. Pack some cash in that sherwani before you leave for the wedding — it’s why you have pockets on those outfits.

Antarpat

The antarpat is an opaque cloth, usually a dupatta or shawl, used as part of a Hindu wedding ceremony. Akin to the veil worn by a bride in a Western wedding ceremony, the antarpat is held between the bride and groom as the bride walks down the aisle, so neither the bride nor the groom can see each other during the processional.

As the bride approaches the groom, the people holding the antarpat will pivot so the bride and groom don’t catch a glimpse of one another. The bride and groom then stand on opposite sides of the antarpat as the priest begins the wedding, eagerly awaiting their first glimpse of one another on their wedding day. At the designated moment, the priest will ask for the antarpat to be lowered, and the bride and groom will see each other for the first time.

Who holds the antarpat? It depends. Most of the time we see male relatives of the bride and groom playing this role, probably because (1) it’s hard to hold the antarpat for the entire processional and (2) you need tall people to hold the antarpat at a level that blocks both the bride and groom from being able to see one another. If you have a brother or cousin you’d like to include in your wedding somehow, this is a nice way to honor them.

Like most things in Hindu weddings, this is an optional addition to the ceremony. It is more common in modern weddings as a way to inject some fun and drama into the occasion, especially as brides and grooms are less frequently covering their faces during the wedding ceremony and could therefore easily see one another without this handy screen.

Creative Approaches to the Joota Chori

Looking for a fun twist on the Indian shoe-stealing ceremony (joota chori or joota chupai) between the groom and his new sisters-in-law? Here are some creative approaches we’ve seen in practice:

  1. Steal the bride’s shoes, too! Barter — shoes for shoes — instead of demanding money.
  2. Give the groom Monopoly money to use as he barters.
  3. Ask the audience if they can chip in to help the cause.
  4. Donate proceeds from the ceremony to the couple’s honeymoon fund, or to their favorite charity.
  5. Groom: go barefoot! (Pay the sisters a token ransom anyway.)
  6. Offer up jewelry or thoughtful gifts to the sisters in lieu of cash.
  7. Host the negotiation as the groom enters the wedding reception . . . barefoot.
  8. Choreograph a dance for your bridal party to the classic song, Joote De De, Paise Le Lo, with the groom as part of the grand finale.
  9. Same-sex wedding? Everyone can get in on the shoe-stealing fun. Both brides, or both grooms, can wind up shoeless and engaged in a footwear negotiation.
  10. Why does the groom get to have all the fun? Steal the groomsmen’s shoes, too!
  11. When the groom makes his first pass at the return of his shoes, offer him child-sized shoes in exchange. As the dollar amount of his offer increases, so does the size of the shoes he can buy, until he offers a dollar amount satisfactory to the sisters, who will then give back his actual shoes.
  12. Like #11, but with women’s shoes instead of the groom’s shoes. Stilettos, anyone?

Have you seen other fun options for how to make the shoe stealing an event that all guests will enjoy?

What Kind of Mehndi Design Should I Choose?

Mehndi is a fun treat for special occasions, like Indian weddings and big Hindu holidays. Because we don’t get to wear it often, it can feel like a feast-or-famine situation, where you decide you want full-on henna on both hands, front and back, anytime you get the chance.

And you know what? We’re totally fine with that.

But because our opportunities to apply mehndi to our hands are limited, sometimes we want to explore our options. What, you didn’t know there were options? There are different types of mehndi patterns, sometimes called “Arabic,” “Moroccan,” or “traditional,” but the safest bet for finding inspiration for what kind of henna design you want for your hands is to hit the Google machine and find examples of cool designs you like. Most mehndi artists can work from inspiration to create something just for you, or try to copy a design exactly, if that’s what you want.

And, as we hinted to above, you can choose to get henna applied on only one hand or both, on only the front or only the back of your hand (or both), or even on another body part entirely. Usually only the bride has mehndi on her feet, so we’d suggest that you not upstage the bride on her big day by copying her. But we’ve seen people get mehendi on their bicep or their back, and that’s fine, too. Just remember to leave time for drying!

And if you get henna on both hands, front and back, remember that it’s going to be super hard to use your cell phone or eat or go to the bathroom for a few hours. Beauty is pain, y’all.

Your First Indian Wedding: How Long Are These Things, Anyway?

Q: I’ve heard that Indian weddings are really long. How long are we talking?

A: Indian weddings usually involve three days of festivities. Just like with most weddings, you may be invited to all events, or just one or two. If you are invited to all events, prepare to be amazed! Three days is a fun marathon of celebration.

Day one usually involves small celebrations by the groom’s family and the bride’s family, separately. The bride’s family will probably host a henna or mehndi party, which may be ladies-only.

Day two will include a wedding rehearsal and probably some sort of cocktail party or rehearsal dinner, which is usually referred to as a sangeet.

Day three is the wedding ceremony and reception. The wedding ceremony can be long — we’ve seen ceremonies as long as three hours before — but most modern ceremonies are much shorter. Expect to be there for 30 minutes to an hour. There are usually refreshments before, after, or even during the ceremony. Because of the length of the ceremony, people might get up and walk around, or even chat with one another during the ceremony. This is considered poor manners, but that doesn’t stop people from doing it. We once saw someone answer their cell phone during a wedding ceremony — don’t be that person.

Days one and two are usually weekdays, so request your vacation time now! Because of their length, many Indian couples prefer to schedule their wedding ceremonies for long weekends, so Memorial Day Weekend, Labor Day Weekend, and Thanksgiving Weekend are the most popular times for a wedding.

Shoe Stealing

A tradition unique to Hindu weddings is the stealing of the groom’s shoes. As the bride and groom ascend to the mandap, or wedding altar, they remove their shoes. This is because the wedding ceremony is religious, and Hindus do not wear shoes when conducting religious rituals.

At some point after the groom removes his shoes, the bride’s sisters (or bridesmaids, or cousins, or nieces, or friends — you get the idea) will steal the groom’s shoes and hide them away. In order to get his shoes back, the groom must pay a bounty to the bride’s sisters. The ransom may be a combination of cash, jewelry, and other gifts.

In most cases, the exchange involves negotiation, with each party holding out for the best deal they can get. This is a humorous interlude in the wedding, and a nice break from the seriousness of the ceremony itself after the couple has officially wed. We’ve seen cute adaptations where the groomsmen refuses to wear shoes to the ceremony at all, so the bride’s sisters steal a groomsman’s shoes instead; or where the groomsmen hide away the shoes before the sisters can steal them, only to be foiled in the end by a generous groom who gives the sisters a gift anyway. Approach the “joota chupai” ceremony with a light heart and be prepared to laugh. And if you can, get in on the fun!

What Not To Wear to an Indian Wedding

We’ve all heard that, when attending an American wedding, you should never wear white (or anything close to white) so as to avoid distracting from the bride’s dramatic color contrast with everyone else at the wedding.

Guess what? You probably shouldn’t wear white to an Indian wedding, either. There are practical reasons for this, chief among them: henna and turmeric, which are both a huge part of Indian weddings and which stain everything in sight a deep red or vibrant yellow. There are also traditional considerations to take into account. In most parts of India, Hindus view white as a color of mourning. Widows and widowers in India often wear only white for the rest of their lives, in honor of their deceased spouse. That’s not exactly the vibe you want to bring to an Indian wedding.

What else should you steer clear of? Anything too revealing, whether that means you’re rocking a miniskirt or a super low-cut top. The wedding ceremony occurs in the presence of the Almighty, and we’re guessing you wouldn’t usually show off your decolletage at church. Also, there are always modest, elderly Indian people there, most of whom seem to have traveled impossible distances just to be present for this wedding. Let’s try not to shock them by displaying your impressive thigh gap. Consider a pashmina if your dress is very low cut.

Lastly, remember that the bride will probably wear red to the wedding ceremony. If you have a choice between red and navy cocktail dresses for the weekend, reserve the red dress for the reception, and opt for navy for the ceremony. Just like in an American wedding, you should try not to detract from the bride on her big day by wearing red (or bright pink) during the ceremony. Brides will usually change for the reception, so you’re clear to wear red for that event.

Wedding Vows and the Indian Wedding

Indian wedding ceremonies are incredible. At their core, they are a collection of beautiful, long-held traditions and religious rituals intended to both sanctify the joining of two people in matrimony and to prepare and bless the couple for their future together. However, most modern Indian wedding ceremonies also find ways to showcase unique aspects of a couple’s tastes or relationship. With the right officiant, they can also combine and include elements of almost every faith tradition.

One part of Western/Christian weddings which have always intrigued us are the vows, particularly vows written by the couple. Now, Indian wedding ceremonies do have vows, in a way, but they are typically a standard set of Sanskrit chants that the couple is prompted by the officiant to say. Usually, the couples and their guests have little sense of what these “vows” actually mean. In most cases, the couple isn’t even sure if they are saying the right words!

We think it’s high time that Indian couples start including their own written vows, spoken in English (or any other language of choice), in their wedding ceremonies. After all the rituals and events and dancing, the whole point of a wedding is to commit two people to each other for life. Wouldn’t it be great if couples could make that commitment in their own words, and in a way that their family and friends and understand?

So we say, go for it! Work with your officiant to find an appropriate time and manner for exchanging your own vows. We think you and your guest will find it meaningful and memorable.

Now comes the hard part: writing the vows! Good luck!