The Grooms Celebrated Their Wedding With Oceanside Hindu Ceremonies in Tulum

July 01, 2022 10:31 AM

Los Angeles-based couple Neil Chawla and Hemang Saraiya first met over a “friendly hike” back in 2019 after matching online via Bumble BFF. “But we soon found various commonalities that led us to realize that this was more than a platonic bond,” says Neil, who is a primary care physician in Hollywood. From traveling and veganism to their shared drive to live a greener life, they discovered many similar inclinations along the way. The pandemic only made their bond stronger. “As the world became an unnerving and unfamiliar place, it was increasingly clear how familiar we were to one another, and what really mattered to us,” adds Hemang, a freelance event planner and photographer. So, he went down on one knee in October 2020 at a pizzeria that is special to the duo.

Neil also proposed, in Griffith Park following a trek over the Hollywood sign. When it came to the wedding planning, Hemang naturally took the lead. After attending many extravagant Bollywood-inspired weddings, the couple wanted to host an antithesis to it with “a truly one-of-its-kind, intimate gathering by the beach where there were no ballrooms or ‘South Asian’ wedding packages!” says Hemang. Tulum checked every box on their list. So, while Hemang handled all the details for their destination wedding, he leaned on Shaadi Destinations and Cristina Meilán of Unique Stories Weddings for on-site production and logistics.

The three-day celebration was spread across multiple venues in the beach town. The common factor? Each spot afforded them a clean, minimalist and timeless aesthetic that was central to their wedding moodboard. Guests received a leather and woven fabric bracelet as their entry wristband to all events, purchased from a local shop in Tulum. A mehendi mixer at their boutique villa, Nest, kicked off the festivities. Guests were treated to a custom margarita bar, Indian delicacies from local eatery Tika Tulum, and mehendi by Loto Mehndi. But the first “main event,” according to the couple, was the next morning—a Vinyasa yoga session by Yoga Dicha. This was followed by the pithi (haldi) ceremony on the beach, after which the grooms jumped into the ocean.

The evening was reserved for their take on a traditional sangeet, hosted poolside at a nearby property, Radhoo Tulum. The highlight? Kerri Colby, of RuPaul’s Drag Race fame, as the host. “Kerri is a friend, and this was her first time donning Indian outfits and hosting a sangeet. She quickly became a crowd favorite after opening with a Beyoncé-Bollywood fusion number,” says Neil. “Kerri also involved guests in a classic catwalk walk-off challenge and closed the evening program with a Whitney Houston classic that made everyone emotional. Her presence not only created a unique experience, but also created awareness of all facets of our LGBTQIA+community,” adds Hemang.

The wedding day started with dueling baraats on opposite sides of the property, with dhol drummers (Drums in Paradise) and music from Ohm Mexico. “Guests paraded their way through the jungle environs to the beachfront area, where both our baraats collided in a frenzy of cheers and competition,” recalls Neil. They then walked down the aisle towards their rainbow mandap (with flowers by Zuniga Designs and Pentaflor Flowers) with their respective mothers, where priestess Hersh Khetarpal from Chicago performed a modernized Hindu ceremony.

“She is a trailblazer who performed her daughter’s same-sex wedding over 10 years ago when it was only allowed in Massachusetts,” says Hemang of their choice. The reception that evening started with cocktails and a performance by musician Miguel Hiroshi on the rooftop of the restaurant Nü Tulum. The guests then made their way downstairs to the main verandah for a night of revelry. “The intimate energy of the first half of the reception flipped 180 degrees when the water drums performers from Drums in Paradise performed on the dance floor,” reminisces Neil.

The grooms’ multi-day wardrobe was carefully curated. They wore coordinated ivory linen kurta sets with embroidered bandis from Project Bandi for the mehendi night. For the yoga session the next morning, they kept it cool in kimono jackets and shorts from Thai brand Wai Wear. For the sangeet, Neil chose a Bohame tie-dye bandi over a pleated Anju Agarwal kurta set. Hemang went with a vintage white chikankari kurta with an embroidered bandi by Anju Agarwal and corduroy leggings.

The couple turned to Pranay Baidya to customize their off-white achkans, worn with silk-linen pants, for the wedding day. They wanted to pair this with their mothers’ wedding saris as shawls, so Pranay took inspiration from these heirlooms to create complementing embroideries on the achkans. For the reception, Hemang chose an asymmetrical black kurta from Bohame that he wore with a sequined vest from his high school glee club. Neil complemented his husband in a tuxedo with a sequined jacket. The environmentally conscious couple’s gold wedding bands were from Toronto-based Fair Trade Jewelry Co., made using 50% certified recycled gold and 50% artisanal, fair-mined gold. Mexico-based Brazilian makeup artist Alex Corbanezi was in charge of hair and makeup for all the events.

Not only did the duo want to indulge their guests with a unique take on an Indian destination wedding, but they also wanted to work with wedding makers they had a personal connection with. For instance, Neil’s sister Symrin, of Studio Ru, designed their invitations, taking inspiration from the Mayan sun and mixing it with vintage Bollywood and Mexican elements. The welcome bags were by Neil’s aunt’s company, Bags Go Green—filled with snacks from California, Tulum and Hawaii (where the grooms are now relocating), and tea bags from Herbal Republic.

The food was a mix of Indian and Mexican favorites, including mezcal cocktails and a rainbow cake with toppers fashioned after their dogs. “But what was most memorable was when our friends and family came to the mandap after the ceremony and told us how much our vows spoke to them,” says Neil. Hemang adds: “All our guests said the weekend helped them in their own relationships with each other, which was so heartwarming for us to hear.”


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