After a Self-Uniting Service, This Couple Held a Hindu Wedding Ceremony and Socially Distanced Dinner
Physicians Elizabeth and Neil met at a work conference in October 2016. Three years later, the couple planned a trip to India, where Neil's parents are from. Elizabeth was sure that he would want to take their relationship to the next level before introducing her to his extended family while in India—but with their hectic work schedules, she wasn't sure when a proposal would happen. Their engagement was the last thing on her mind when Neil received an invite for a work event on October 1, 2019. "The invitation, which I had received in the mail like I did for all other events, was hanging in our apartment by our calendar to remind us," Elizabeth says, who assumed that a professional gathering was the last place Neil would pop the question. So, they booked a hotel and checked in as usual.
After Elizabeth had gotten ready for the evening, Neil led her to the balcony—where, lo and behold, he got down on one knee. The couple then went to the rooftop bar to celebrate, where Neil surprised Elizabeth by inviting both of their immediate families to join them. He revealed that there never was a work event to begin with. "I definitely fell for it," Elizabeth says. "It was perfect—fake work event, a private proposal, and celebrating with our family!"
The couple quickly began planning their Indian-American wedding for nearly 300 guests—but when the COVID-19 pandemic began, Elizabeth and Neil understood, as physicians, that their initial plans would be unsafe for guests, especially their elderly relatives. They quickly cancelled their larger nuptials, and it wasn't until June that their new plan began to come together. "We had always talked about eloping, so making that pivot from a huge wedding to just us was not hard," the bride says. The couple spent a month planning a small celebration for nine guests on July 18, 2020. They got their marriage license and performed a self-uniting ceremony at the Intercontinental Hotel, followed by a Hindu ceremony at the ISKCON temple, and a reception at La Vie in Washington, D.C.
For their Hindu ceremony, Elizabeth wore a red saree with gold-and-silver detailing; she purchased the traditional ensemble during the pair's trip to India in 2019, with the help of her future groom's mother, aunt, and cousin. Neil donned an ivory sherwani with a subtle gold print and a gold button closure in the front. He accessories with tan loafers (which he removed before the ceremony, per custom) and a red scarf with gold embroidery that was later tied to the bride's veil to symbolize their bond.
Elizabeth paired her saree with gold bangles and drop earrings. The bracelets stood out against the henna on her hands and feet. "I had Neil and our dog's name (Jameson—Jamo for short) hidden in the henna design," Elizabeth explains.
She wore a red dupatta, or veil, plus a gold mangala sutra necklace, a piece symbolic of her newly married status.
Little Wedding Party
The couple didn't have a formal wedding party—and instead, dressed their nieces and nephew in traditional ensembles they brought back from India. Though Elizabeth wishes she could have had bridesmaids, she was grateful to have her sister near her. "My sister was socially distanced, but around while I was getting ready. However, my mom was not—she stayed in her room," Elizabeth says. "We also decided not to have anyone other than myself get hair and makeup in order to limit exposure. I did miss that 'getting ready' time—but this seemed safest."
The Hindu Ceremony
Elizabeth and Neil wrote their own vows for their private self-uniting service at the Intercontinental Hotel in Washington, D.C., the venue where they originally planned to host their big wedding. They also hosted a Hindu ceremony at the ISKCON temple with just a few guests. "The priest was extremely welcoming and accommodated our quick timeline," Neil says.
The mandap altar featured an open fire and offerings of spices, fruits, and sweets.
Red and Gold
Neil and Elizabeth chose red-and-gold fabrics and décor details for the ceremony, which matched their own wedding attire.
A Blended Service
The couple's priest was also "respectful of Elizabeth's family's Catholic background," adds Neil.
A Second Look
Elizabeth had originally planned on wearing her saree for the entire wedding, as her dream Amsale wedding dress was still in the works in New York City. On a whim, however, she decided to email the head of retail, on the off chance that her dress was ready. Just five days before the wedding, Elizabeth got word that the gown would be finished and mailed to her just in time. With only two days to get the dress altered, Elizabeth reached out to her wedding planner, Elizabeth Gopal of East Made Co., who managed to make it happen. "I loved that the dress has one shoulder like a saree—the best of both worlds, almost," the bride says. To complete her second look, Elizabeth wore silver Manolo Blahnik heels and earrings borrowed from her sister. "I was panicked about my accessories and she gave me those earrings as my 'something borrowed' and 'something old,'" she says.
For the dinner reception, Neil changed into a custom three-piece suit from Brimble and Clark. He paired the suit with black Christian Louboutin shoes and a Louis Vuitton belt. A driver's watch—a wedding gift from Elizabeth—finished his look.
The bride held a colorful bouquet—which spoke to the hues used throughout the couple's Hindu ceremony—by Sophie Felts Floral Design as the duo posed for portraits.
The Cocktail Hour
Guests were offered Champagne upon arrival to the reception site, La Vie. Elizabeth also put together a slideshow of pictures to display during the cocktail hour. "The pictures, especially the ones from our trips together, ended up being great conversation topics!" she says.
When choosing a new venue for their smaller reception, Elizabeth immediately thought of the chandelier room at La Vie, where she had attended a private event once before. Not only did the décor match the vibe they wanted to create, but the space is also located across the street from their original venue, where the couple and their out-of-town guests were staying.
Socially Distanced Seating
Despite their small guest list, Elizabeth and Neil wanted to take precautions against COVID-19 wherever possible. This involved setting up four separate tables; one for each family, with plenty of distance in between. Instead of passed appetizers, each station had a tray of h'ors d'oeuvres, including goat cheese gougeres, tuna tartare, and chicken pot pie fritters (a nod to Elizbeth's Kentucky roots). A three-course meal followed, starting with a seafood tower, a choice of Greek or watermelon salad, and then a main of Maryland crab risotto, truffle gnocchi, branzino, or steak frites. The kids noshed on chicken tenders and truffle mac and cheese.
Neil took a moment to pose with his mother, who wore an emerald green saree to the event.
Tables were topped with velvet linens with a damask print on them. "This texture is always fun and lush for guests to touch and feel when sitting down for dinner," Elizabeth, their planner, says. The couple's florist created garden-style centerpieces that brought color into the neutral space.
The bride fell in love with gold peony plates from Select Event Group, which were paired with gold flatware with square handles.
The First Dance
Elizabeth and Neil shared their first dance to "I'd Be Waiting" by Nathaniel Rateliff and The Night Sweats. "When this song comes on, Neil always asks me to dance," Elizabeth says. "I have so many memories of us dancing to this song in my old apartment, so this song felt like the right one." Elizabeth then shared a dance with her dad (Neil and his mom did, too), but with a pre-curated playlist, they left those song selections up to chance.
For dessert, the couple served a two-tiered funfetti cake with vanilla buttercream icing from Buttercream Bakeshop. The confection featured a large saffron peony with gold accents (a nod to the dishware).
Elizabeth and Neil have some tried-and-true advice for couples currently deciding whether or not to shift gears to a micro-wedding. "Remember what the day is really all about—and don't risk your health or the health of your friends and family for your wedding day," they say. "You need to do what makes the most sense for you and your fiancé."
Photography, Bonnie Sen
Self-Uniting Ceremony Venue, Intercontinental Hotel at the Wharf
Ceremony Venue, ISKCON of DC
Reception Venue and Catering, La Vie
Wedding Planning and Event Design, Elizabeth Gopal with East Made Co.
Flowers, Sophie Felts Floral Design
Bride's Gown, Amsale
Mehendi, Henna by Shazia
Bride's Shoes, Manolo Blahnik
Hair and Makeup, Tamar C Makeup
Groom's Attire, Brimble & Clark
Groom's Shoes, Christian Louboutin
Groom's Accessories, Louis Vuitton
Ceremony Mandap, Galaxy Event Solutions
Rentals, Select Event Group
Cake, Buttercream Bakeshop
Linens, BBJ Linen