Weddings of the Year

A peek inside the celebrations of four local couples

(page 1 of 4)

Days to Remember

An Indian celebration for high school sweethearts included a henna ceremony, a cleansing ritual and tying the knot in front of 400 guests 

THE COUPLE: Divya Malkani, 25, and Vardahn Chaudhry, 26, both grew up in Bethesda and graduated from Walt Whitman High School. Divya is a graphic designer at Gartner, an information technology research and advisory company in Arlington. Vardahn is a D.C.-based consultant for Accenture. They live in Georgetown.

HOW THEY MET: The two knew of each other and had lots of mutual friends while attending Pyle Middle School and Whitman, but it wasn’t until 2009, at the end of Vardahn’s senior year and Divya’s junior year, that they hung out a few times. He asked Divya to the prom, and she said yes.

THE FIRST DATE: With their upcoming prom date still a few weeks away, the high schoolers started spending more time together. Their first date was an outing to Starbucks on Wisconsin Avenue in downtown Bethesda. They were on their lunch break and wound up chatting for more than three hours, missing class. 

THE PROPOSAL: Six years after they started dating, Vardahn proposed to Divya in New York City, where she was living. He was splitting time between D.C. and New York, and decided to propose on an August weekend. After brunch at a restaurant and boating in Central Park, they went to Riverside Park, one of Divya’s favorite places, and sat down to relax. Lingering nearby was Vardahn’s friend whom he’d enlisted to take photos. Vardahn realized that he wanted to start the proposal while he and Divya were standing, so he made up an excuse to leave and as soon as they stood he dropped to one knee. “I looked around to see what was going on and I saw this photographer there and was like ‘Wait, this is really happening?’ ” says Divya, who got over her shock and said yes. They went to Divya’s apartment, where friends had gathered with Champagne, and later celebrated with relatives at a restaurant.

THE WEDDING: Divya and Vardahn were married on Sept. 4, 2016, in front of 400 guests at the Hyatt Regency Reston in Virginia. The celebration included seven events that started 10 days before their ceremony and reception.

THE KICKOFF: The first wedding event was on a Friday night at a Sikh temple in Potomac, where their families often attend the weekly religious service and communal dinner. As a way to contribute to the community there, Divya and Vardahn served food from D.C.’s Indique to about 30 of their close family and friends as well as about 90 others at the temple. They scooped the Indian fare onto everybody’s plates, and also cleaned up. “It was a really nice feel-good event,” Vardahn says. 

The next night, Vardahn’s parents hosted a cocktail party at their house in Potomac, and the following night they hosted a religious service. “The tradition is to have an event like this at the home to kick off the week and have everything go smoothly,” Vardahn says. Exchanging gifts was part of the event. “My family gave Vardahn a few gifts and then his family gave me a few gifts,” Divya says. “My parents are builders in real estate and so they gave Vardahn a brick to symbolize the first brick of our first house.”

PRETTY DESIGNS: Four days later was a henna ceremony at Divya’s parents’ house in Georgetown. That morning, a henna artist spent about four hours applying ink in intricate designs on Divya’s legs and the front and back of her hands. (The day after, Divya scraped away the excess ink and was left with the dark red stains that would stay on for about two weeks.) Before the event, Divya painted a mural of an Indian wedding scene on a wall of her parents’ garage as part of the décor. She also made a “wishing tree,” where guests could write wishes for the couple and attach them to the tree with ribbons. Divya enlisted a cousin and aunt to painstakingly bake and decorate dozens of cookies to look like henna-covered hands. About 100 guests (both male and female) arrived in the afternoon, and many of the women also got henna. The party included singing, dancing and guests playing the Indian drum called the dhol.

SPECIAL EVENTS: Two nights before the wedding, about 300 guests joined the couple at Foxchase Manor in Manassas, Virginia, for a celebration called a sangeet. “It’s essentially another reception,” Divya says. The night of singing and dancing included food from the four areas of India where their families are from or spent time. “My family does not dance, but they decided they’d do a family dance, but that’s all they really told me,” says Divya, who was surprised when they pulled off a 60-person choreographed number. Divya and her sister also performed a dance together. The night before their wedding, Divyaand Vardahn each went to a haldi ceremony, where a turmeric paste was put on them in a cleansing ritual. Divya’s event was at her parents’ house, and Vardahn’s was at his parents’ house. “At mine, my cousins and brothers and sisters were going for my ears, my hair,” Vardahn says. “They were trying to make it as difficult as possible for me to get it out.”

THE ENTRANCE: On the wedding day, the Hyatt Regency Reston closed the street in front of the hotel. “It’s quite traditional in Indian weddings for the groom to be escorted by the groom’s party into the wedding venue,” Vardahn says. Carrying a fake sword, Vardahn rode a horse a block and a half to the hotel entrance, with guests from his side joining him for the 30-minute music-filled procession. Divya and her bridesmaids watched from a hotel balcony.

THE CEREMONY: Divya designed a program explaining 12 of the components of their hourlong marriage ceremony, which was held in a hotel ballroom. One part is an exchange of floral garlands. “The idea is whoever puts it on first is going to wear the pants in the relationship,” Vardahn says. “You sort of defend yourself. Divya was really aggressive. She got it on but in doing so the headdress that I was wearing fell in the process. We had a lot of laughs.”

THE RECEPTION: With décor that featured pink, magenta and gold, and lots of candles, the reception included hours of dancing, and food from Indique. For most of the year they were wedding-planning, the couple was living in London so they let their parents make many of the decisions. They chose a basic white cake, then had two of Divya’s aunts add pink flowers.

THE GOWN: Divya wore an Indian outfit for the wedding that was a gift from Vardahn’s parents, then changed into another for the reception. Both were purchased in India.

THE HONEYMOON:  More than a year after their wedding, the couple took a 16-day trip to Indonesia.

VENDORS: Henna ceremony: Catering, Rani Jai Singh and Supriya Deval; henna artist/hair, Mala Amin; photography, SKB Photography. Sangeet: Décor, Dharma Events; DJ, Ravi Prasad (Dynasty Entertainment); catering, Passage to India; hair/makeup, Mala Amin; photography/videography, Studio Nine Photography. Wedding: Cake, Amphora Bakery; catering, Indique; décor/flowers, Dharma Events; DJ, Ravi Prasad (Dynasty Entertainment); hair/makeup, Salon SBS; photography/videography, Studio Nine Photography. 

 ­—Kathleen Seiler Neary

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