Tradition gets a modern twist in this colorful, exuberant wedding ceremony.
Photographed by Jenny Reese Photography | Charleston | 9.30.17
Growing up in Charleston, Nesha Sanghavi knew her friends mostly had the same vision for their eventual wedding days.
Each of them would wear a long white dress with a long white veil. She would stand face to face with a man, identity to be determined, wearing a black tuxedo.
To Nesha, it all just seemed so—monochrome. “I always knew I wanted to have an Indian wedding. I always wanted the Indian outfits that are so detailed and ornate. That’s what I grew up dreaming about,” she says.
Fast-forward a few decades. Nesha was living in Chicago but running a successful West Virginia–based business, a company she had built from nothing. She was in love with a man she’d met completely by chance, a man who loved her so deeply in return that he had crossed an ocean to make a life with her. They weren’t married, weren’t even engaged, but it didn’t seem to matter. They were already family. Life was as perfect as she could hope. “I didn’t even think I wanted to get married,” Nesha says.
Then, thanks to a single well-timed question from the man she loved, her mind instantly changed. Suddenly, Nesha would get the chance to make her girlhood dreams come true.
A Chance Meeting
After graduating from West Virginia University, Nesha moved to New York City to work in finance. Then one night in October 2009, she bumped into a German guy named Sebastian Bloss. As fellow strangers in a strange land, “we started exploring the city together. We just kind of started dating and hanging out,” she says.
Their time together would be short, however. Sebastian had already taken a job back in Germany. Three months after they met, he was on a plane back across the Atlantic.
Nesha followed him. As fate would have it, Sebastian hailed from the hometown of athletic wear companies Puma and Adidas. And although she was working in finance, Nesha’s dream was to start a wholesale clothing brand that made fashionable collegiate apparel for women. She got an internship in Puma’s global merchandising section and spent several months at the company.
But she knew Germany wasn’t where she needed to be. She would eventually need to come back to West Virginia. “I wanted to create my own company, and I decided that’s where my heart was,” she says.
Nesha and Sebastian remained an item and for two years carried on a long-distance relationship. “It was terrible. We would only see each other every couple of months.”
During the same period, Nesha’s company began to take off. Now it was Sebastian’s turn to follow her. Realizing she would not return to Germany anytime soon, he started looking for a job in the United States. He found a position in Chicago, and she moved there with him.
They settled into life together. Then, in May 2016, Sebastian casually mentioned that his company was having a mid-week picnic at a park in the city. He asked her to come along. “I wasn’t interested in that at all,” Nesha says. “I told him, ‘It’s a Wednesday and I’m working. I can’t go frolic around at a picnic in the afternoon.’”
Sebastian persisted, Nesha relented, and they got in the car to head to the oddly timed picnic. But on the way, he unexpectedly pulled into another park on Chicago’s lakefront. He said he wanted to take a photo of the Chicago skyline. Nesha thought nothing of it. “He’s always taking nonsense pictures.” They got out of the car and started to walk along the lake, but Nesha didn’t take much interest in Sebastian’s photography. “I’m just looking at my phone and checking my emails. Then I turn around and he’s down on one knee, saying all the things. It was a complete surprise. I had no indication it would happen at all,” she says. “He’s like, ‘Duh—there’s no picnic.’”
The surprises didn’t end there. Sebastian had already arranged a celebratory trip to New York City. It was the first time they had returned to the Big Apple together since leaving in 2011. They had dinner at the restaurant where they had had their first date and spent the weekend exploring the city, just as they had when they were first in love.
Say Yes to the Dress(es)
Nesha and Sebastian set a date quickly, since they knew his family would have to travel from Germany and her family from England, India, and all over the United States. There was never any doubt where the festivities would be held. “My whole immediate family is in Charleston,” Nesha says.
Thanks to recommendations from already-married friends, Nesha found Partyland / Sajawat State, an Iselin, New Jersey, wedding planner specializing in Indian traditions, to bring her ornate visions for the wedding ceremony to life. All the decorations were custom-made, including the mandap, an elaborate altar where the wedding ceremony is performed, and striking floral arrangements of white and red roses to reflect the traditional colors of an Indian wedding.
She also had to buy several outfits: one for a small ceremony that would take place at her parents’ house as well as one for each of the four main events during her wedding celebration.
Nesha, who traveled to India twice a year for her company, knew she wanted to design her own dresses, combining elements of traditional style with her own personal taste. So she found a designer in India, made some sketches, and picked out fabrics for each of the outfits. She also had custom dresses created for her mother and sister according to their measurements and individual styles.
The Big Day(s)
Indian weddings are multi-day affairs, and Nesha and Sebastian’s nuptials followed this tradition.
The festivities began on September 28, 2017, with a Thursday night barbecue dinner at J.Q. Dickinson Salt-Works in Malden. Although this night is traditionally the mehndi party, when brides and other women in the wedding party get their henna tattoos, Nesha and Sebastian used it as an opportunity to welcome their out-of-town guests to West Virginia. “I really wanted to show them where I come from,” she says. She did not miss the opportunity to mix in her Indian roots, however. Nesha had friends set up henna tattoo stations at the barbecue.
On Friday, the bride’s and groom’s families gathered at Nesha’s family’s house for a special closed ceremony. The priest performs a prayer asking Lord Ganesha, the “Remover of Obstacles” and “Lord of New Beginnings,” to make the wedding festivities go smoothly and without any issue and to bless the marriage. Traditionally, the ceremony is performed twice, once at the bride’s home and once’s at the groom’s. But Germany is a long way to go, so Nesha and her family invited Sebastian’s family and friends to take part in this ceremony with them.
Also on Friday, the families came together for the traditional garba party at the Charleston Marriott’s pavilion. “It’s a really fun night that’s supposed to kick off the whole wedding weekend—a night of fun dinner and dancing and music,” Nesha says. Her sister, Neha, performed a dance. And, to her surprise, so did Sebastian—joining with her male cousins for a Bollywood-style number.
For this event, Nesha wore a colorful outfit featuring a skirt made with fabric covered in tiny mirrors—she figures it must have weighed 30 pounds—and a top made from raw silk. The menu for the night, catered by the Cleveland, Ohio, Indian restaurant Saffron Patch, offered gourmet twists on the cuisine of food stalls you’d find in city markets in India. “I wanted it to be something new and different people hadn’t seen before,” Nesha says.
Saturday, the day of the actual wedding ceremony, began with a baraat—the traditional street dance party and processional where the groom goes to meet the bride’s family. “His side of the family and his friends shut down the street, and there’s a live drummer and music, and they’re dancing through the street to where the bride’s family is.”
Nesha and Sebastian got the Charleston Police Department to shut down the streets surrounding the Charleston Marriott for their baraat. A DJ and an Indian drummer provided the beats. “They’re getting everybody hyped up, they’re playing super-loud music, it’s really infectious energy. It was a huge, huge dance party. Traditionally, it’s the groom’s side only, but because Sebastian’s not Indian, we had everybody go down.”
When the party moved inside the hotel, Sebastian met Nesha’s parents outside the ballroom where the wedding ceremony would take place. The decorator erected a symbolic doorway, taking the place of the family home, where a priest performed a blessing ritual. The wedding party then proceeded to the mandap. Sebastian’s parents sat on one side, Nesha’s sat on the other, and the priest performed blessing rituals on both parties. “It’s really supposed to symbolize the joining of two families,” Nesha says.
Nesha, you will note, still had not joined the festivities. The bride is traditionally transported to the altar in a palanquin, a covered litter carried on the shoulders of her four brothers. This covering is removed only when bride and groom are face-to-face on the mandap. Nesha opted for a modern twist of this tradition. Instead of a palanquin, she was hidden from view by a white sheet borne by her male cousins, since she does not have any brothers. They dropped the sheet as she began walking down the aisle.
She wore a floor-length skirt covered in gold embroidery, a midriff-baring top to match, a queen’s store of bangles and rings and earrings and necklaces, and a beautiful bindi on her forehead. For the ceremony, Sebastian wore a traditional Indian suit and turban.
A customary Indian ceremony lasts five hours, but Sebastian and Nesha had theirs condensed to about 45 minutes. The priest performed the ceremony in both Sanskrit and English and, to help guests keep up, the couple had placed informative programs—written in both German and English—on the seats.
Once Nesha’s parents gave her away, the couple observed the mangal phera, where they walked hand-in-hand around a small fire. They performed the granthi bandhanam, which literally translates to “tying of the sacred knot.” Then they took the saptapadi, or “seven steps,” which is like an Indian version of the “‘til death us do part” vow. Nesha and Sebastian had to recite some words in Sanskrit—a challenge, since neither of them speaks the language. “I guess our marriage is legit,” Nesha jokes.
One Final Surprise
With the ceremony over, guests returned to the Marriott’s pavillion to enjoy lunch and, after a short break, a cocktail hour before the reception. Sebastian and Nesha, meanwhile, had their photos taken together before she made her final wardrobe change: donning an intricate, hand-embroidered skirt and separate top. Sebastian changed into a classic black tuxedo he’d had custom made by a tailor in Chicago.
When they arrived back at the Marriott, guests were ready to party. The DJ and drummer from the baraat were on hand to provide music. “The moment Sebastian and I stepped foot onto the dance floor, it lit up,” Nesha says. She’s being literal. Unbeknown to guests, the couple had ordered an LED dance floor. It looked like a regular black floor—until someone switched it on when the bride and groom stepped on it. “That was something that really got the party started.”
Guests also enjoyed a menu featuring a huge array of Indian foods from many different regions of the country as well as cooks serving made-to-order shrimp, lobster, and other seafood. Nesha’s father and sister gave speeches, as did Sebastian’s brother Stephan. Then Sebastian told Nesha he was going to make a speech.
She found it odd, for multiple reasons. For one thing, grooms don’t usually make speeches at weddings. And, for another, she’s usually the spokesperson for the couple. He took the microphone and began in English, thanking all of Nesha’s family and friends. He then switched to German, thanking his family for coming so far to celebrate his wedding. Then he surprised everyone by slipping into Gujarati, Nesha’s family’s native language. “He did a whole 10-minute speech without note cards. Everybody was so blown away. He did a full speech in Gujarati saying, ‘I love your family, thank you for treating me like a son.’”
It turns out, Sebastian had been taking language lessons for months in preparation for this moment. “He had the entire room laughing and crying,” Nesha says. “It really told what kind of person he is.”
The couple spent their honeymoon on safari in South Africa and on a beach in the Seychelles. They then returned to life in Chicago, where Nesha continues to run her business, UG Apparel, and Sebastian is director of finance for a major health care company.
Now, more than a year after their wedding weekend, the couple has a gorgeous album of photos from their wedding weekend. But even better than that, Nesha has a whole collection of amazing memories.
She’s one of the last people in her family to get married, so her wedding served as one of the last big family get-togethers of her generation. “It wasn’t so much about the wedding, it was everybody getting together,” she says. “I remember looking around a lot and seeing how happy everyone was. I remember looking around and seeing all the love and happiness.”
That’s not the kind of thing little girls dream about when they imagine their weddings. But it’s the kind of thing that lasts far longer than any wedding—even a big, loud, love-filled Indian wedding.
Jenny Reese Photography
Custom made in India
Custom made in India
Groom’s & Groomsmen’sAttire
Custom made in India;
Hall Madden, Chicago, IL
Partyland – Sajawat, Iselin, NJ
Partyland – Sajawat, Iselin, NJ
Saffron Patch, Cleveland, OH
A Piece of Cake, Charleston
DJ Raj Entertainment, Clifton, NJ
J.Q. Dickinson Salt-Works, Malden
Charleston Marriott Town Center, Charleston