Perched atop a papier-mâché elephant on a hand-drawn cart, Ankur Raniwala added his own twist to a traditional wedding ritual.
It's common in North Indian culture for grooms to ride horses or elephants to fetch their soon-to-be brides. An animal lover, Raniwala built the elephant himself as a substitute for the real thing.
"The whole intention here is trying to keep to the tradition, but do it in a fun way that isn't harmful to any animals," said Raniwala, 31, formerly of Barrington.
Friends and family members dancing to the rhythmic beat of the dhol (traditional Indian drums) accompanied Raniwala in a procession known as the baraat to meet his bride, Veronica Garcia. The setting for the two-day fusion of Indian and Mexican cultures was Kemper Lakes Golf Club in Kildeer.
It's a microcosm of a national trend among multiethnic couples tying the knot in elaborate ways to celebrate a marriage of cultures.
The Raniwala-Garcia wedding included Hindu and Catholic rituals, piñatas and henna handpainting, and Mexican and Indian food.
"We kind of took parts of both cultures and put them together to create sort of the best of both worlds," Raniwala said.
The couple met while studying at the University of Chicago; they now live in suburban Los Angeles.
Garcia, 33, originally from the South Side of Chicago, said she and her husband have deep ties to their respective cultures and wanted to celebrate them.
"We see marriage as joining together, and what better way to do that than to celebrate the places that we come from and traditions that are familiar to us," she said.
Traditional American and Western culture wasn't forgotten, as the reception included an ice cream bar, cocktail hour, and live music performed by an English electropop band, Fenech-Soler, flown in from the United Kingdom.
Suburban hotels and wedding venues are tapping into the growing and lucrative Indian-American weddings market, which prompted Harper's Bazaar to launch a dedicated bridal magazine in 2014. There also are several Indian-American-owned banquet halls in the suburbs, such as Ashyana Banquets in Downers Grove, the Meadows Club in Rolling Meadows, and Waterford Banquet and Conference Center in Elmhurst.
Indian-American weddings, on average, cost $250,000 and typically have upward of 400 guests, according to Indian Wedding Magazine.
Though the family didn't want to disclose exactly how much the Raniwala-Garcia nuptials cost, they said it was just shy of six figures.
"This, all in, is probably the most extravagant wedding that I've had here," said Jessica Trzop, clubhouse manager and wedding planner at Kemper Lakes for 12 years.
Trzop said catering to the families' cultural needs has been a learning experience. She thinks Kemper could become a destination for more Indian-American weddings.
"It's where the wedding trend is going," Trzop said. "They are so tapped out of all of these places that they have been going to. ... They are looking for new venues to almost kind of show it off ... to be unique."
A golf course is an unusual choice for an Indian wedding, said Vanita Raniwala of Barrington, the groom's mother, who has been planning the wedding for nine months.
"It's not traditional at all, but that is what Ankur and Veronica wanted," she said. "I looked up all of the gardens in the extended Chicagoland area because my daughter-in-law-to-be wanted an outdoor place."
Pomp and ritual
Festivities for Indian weddings begin days in advance with a ceremony called the mehendi, a pre-wedding celebration involving games, music and dance, as well as hand-painted henna tattoos for the bride and other women in the wedding party.
Another ritual, known as the sangeet, took place Friday and brought together both families. It involved performances of practiced song and dance routines by family members as pre-wedding entertainment for the bride and groom.
A condensed version of Hindu marriage rituals and a traditional Christian ceremony, including exchanging of flower garlands and wedding rings, were held Saturday between two tall trees serving as the mandap -- an altar-like structure.
The groom's family put up a tented structure made with drapery to seat 215 guests on the patio for the ceremony. Guests also were supplied hand-held fans printed with explanations of both religious traditions.
During the festivities, the bride and groom changed into three costumes -- a traditional Indian lehenga and sari, and a white wedding gown for the bride, and a kurta pajama, sherwani and suit for the groom -- all in keeping with the fusion theme.
Mexican weddings also are steeped in customs and traditions, and some rituals were incorporated into the ceremony.
"In Mexican culture, there's traditionally a Catholic Mass and a lot of little rituals. ... Not as elaborate as Indian culture or as many days," Garcia said.
Music plays a huge part in both cultural traditions, so the wedding party danced to plenty of popular Hindi film songs, as well as salsa, cumbia and bachata tunes.
"To an outsider, the cultural and religious differences might be what gets most emphasized about our marriage," Garcia said after the ceremonies concluded. "We often succumb to the generalization of ethnicity and religion. Our experience is that both families shared similar values and embraced each other. It wasn't the differences. ... It was the mutuality of interest and respect that was felt in every aspect of our wedding."