June 05, 2019
MEGHNA + PANKAJ // Santa Barbara Wedding Photography by Lauren & Abby Ross
Pankaj and I first met in graduate school, by way of introduction from a mutual friend. Over the course of several months, our friendship blossomed. He asked me to go on a date with him several times; I was initially skeptical, but eventually conceded.
I still remember staying up all night after our first date, talking about our families, our shared love of travel, and our life’s ambitions. It was as if we had known each other in a previous lifetime. We knew right away that we wanted to marry each other, but, of course, the actual proposal came years later. Ultimately, I found myself marrying my best friend and the man of my dreams.
What was your wedding style/theme/colors & how did it represent the two of you:
Our goal was to create a magical, memorable, elegant experience for our family and friends, that was a true reflection of ourselves, our love, and our gratitude. The entire process really was a labor of love. Pankaj and I are both very detail-oriented people, so we poured our time and energy into making the wedding weekend an experience that everyone would remember forever.
We brought on board Beth Helmstetter and Madeline Hunter, of Beth Helmstetter Events, to bring our ambitious vision to life. Beth’s creativity inspires me and she has such vast experience with luxury destination events; we knew that she was the one right away. Even now, several months after our wedding, we still receive countless compliments on how beautiful and meticulously planned the wedding was. The credit for that goes to her – she and her team are extraordinary.
All events were held at the Ritz Carlton Bacara Resort & Spa in Santa Barbara, California. We wanted every event to be distinctly different from the others in terms of mood, décor, and color palette. The resort has such a striking beauty of its own, so it was important for us to keep the décor elegant yet simple, to enhance the natural beauty of the surroundings without competing with it.
We were fortunate to be able to take over the resort for the weekend, so that all guests could be hosted on property to create a unified experience. The staff was amazing and took great care of our guests, which meant a lot to us.
The wedding was held over an extended weekend in September 2018. The events were as follows:
Intimate mehendi gathering on Wednesday AM. The wedding festivities started with a small mehendi gathering on Wednesday afternoon. This was an informal event for family before the rest of the guests started to arrive. It was held in a private villa overlooking the ocean. The goal was to have my mehendi ready by Thursday night, so I could move around and enjoy the Welcome Party the following night.
Vaishali Gordhan, of Henna by Vaish, was my mehendi artist. She has a wonderful energy and she did a beautiful job of bring my creative vision to life. We used fleur-de-lis motifs to symbolize the city of Paris, where Pankaj and I got engaged, and wave patterns to symbolize Santa Barbara. In the end, Vaish captured our love story beautifully through her art.
I wore a crimson colored silk slip-dress and an off the shoulder blush cashmere cropped sweater. I paired it with mother’s vintage pearl and diamond necklace and earrings. The hair and makeup were natural.
Welcome dinner and Mehendi Party on Thursday PM:
The Welcome Dinner was on Thursday night. It was a fun, summery, bohemian inspired event that was held in a private, enclosed lawn space on the resort for our closest family and friends.
The space was decorated with suspended, hanging lights and hundreds of candles and lanterns. We had one long dinner table, which was draped with block print textiles and mismatched china. Centerpieces featured florals with feathers in dusty tones, periwinkle, and pale blush interspersed with gold lanterns and wooden bowls of heaping nuts and fruit. A separate lounge area with polished ivory furniture paired with mismatched block printed pillows and Persian rugs was created for guests who wished to get their mehendi done.
Dinner featured a farm-to-table family style menu, incorporating seasonal produce local to the region. Guests especially loved that Ronobir Lahiri played renditions of modern songs on his sitar, filling the air with beautiful and mystical sounds.
Pankaj wore a draped, mousepeach colored jersey kurta, with silk churidar style pants. He paired it with a mousepeach and silver brocade vest. All were from Shantanu & Nikhil. Accessories included an Omega watch, which was an engagement gift to him from my parents, and Grecian-style sandals by Joy.
I wore a custom JADE by Monica and Karishma organza wrap blouse with a matching netted ivory and nude lehenga skirt. I paired it with champagne wedges and a Whiting & Davis silver clutch. Jewelry included Tiffany & Co gold leaf, pearl, and white diamond earrings and necklace. I paired this with my grandmother’s vintage gold and pearl bangles.
Wedding Ceremony on Saturday AM:
The wedding ceremony was on Saturday morning, on a lawn overlooking the ocean.
The celebrations commenced with a baraat procession around the resort property, which led into the wedding ceremony. Upon arrival to the ceremony, guests were greeted with rose water lemonade.
The Hindu ceremony took place under an 18 foot mandap made of a light mango wood. Overgrown blooms in shades of deep red, fuchsia, aubergine, blush pink, and cream were wrapped around the mandap, giving the appearance that they had been there for years. The stage was covered in layered rugs in the same color palette. The ceremony was adapted to include our personal vows and ended with a kiss. Following this, guests enjoyed brunch overlooking the ocean.
Pankaj wore an ivory sherwani from Sabyasachi, paired with a matching ivory raw silk kurta and churidar pants. In keeping with the tradition of his family, he wore an ivory silk safa tied in a traditional Rajasthani style. He paired it with ivory suede loafers from Joy, a vintage emerald kalgi brooch, and an emerald necklace. He looked so handsome!
Originally, for my wedding day, I wanted to be a non-traditional Indian bride and wear a muted palette. However, as the setting of the ceremony was finalized, we realized that a more vibrant color would be more striking with the blue sky and ocean as our backdrop. I ultimately decided to wear a red and gold lehenga from one of my favorite designers, Sabyasachi. It was traditionally inspired, but with a modern feel – a perfect representation of who I am as a person. The blouse had a sweetheart neckline and the chiffon dupattas had playful gold polka-dots. The all-over golden embroidery featured an intricate paisley pattern. I paired it with gold wedges.
My mom and I made a special trip to Hyderabad, the city in India where she was raised, to pick out my wedding jewelry. I ultimately decided on a set from Kishandas & Co, a heritage jeweler in Hyderabad. I wore a maang tikka headpiece, earrings, collar choker/necklace, and bangles featuring raw, uncut diamonds, emeralds, and pearls in yellow gold. It was exquisite and complemented the lehenga perfectly. The whole experience of picking it out with my Mom was a memory I will treasure forever.
Bridesmaids wore couture saris designed by me, in collaboration with Megha Rao of holiCHIC. Groomsmen wore bespoke raw silk kurta-churidar sets arranged by Mallika Oberoi, an upcoming Mumbai-based designer. She was incredibly resourceful for our wedding outfit preparations!
Reception on Saturday PM:
The reception was held later that evening. This was a formal affair with women in summery gowns and men in summer suits. We wanted it to feel like an intimate dinner party with 250 of our closest friends and family –it was romantic and elegant.
Cocktail hour was held at sunset, on a bluff overlooking the ocean. Grey tarnished bars were donned with saturated blooms repurposed from the ceremony. Guests were greeted with custom cocktails and treated to sounds from Ybarra, a local Spanish guitarist.
Guests were then escored to the Bacara ballroom, which was draped with a soft grey velvet. Half of the tables were light wood, and the other half were linened with a luxurious textured linen in shades of cream. We used a combination of cream velvet, rose velvet, and X backed wooded chairs. The tabletop featured gold leaf china with gold flatware and classic glassware. Centerpieces featured blooms in shades of lavender, blush, and aubergine. Blush and grey taper candles were placed in gold holders, with tealights in rose colored glass votives.
We especially loved the chandelier with overgrown green foliage and twinkle lights, and the custom leaf-printed gobo projection over the dance floor. The rest of the room was filled with potted plants and trees, in keeping with my vision of bringing the outdoors in.
One of the most special memories was our first dance, which was to “La Vie en Rose.” Anthony Ybarra, a local Spanish guitarist, was kind enough to play this for us. Pankaj and I had spent countless hours with our choreographer, practicing every turn and twirl. But, in that moment, nothing else mattered – it was just the two of us, husband and wife for the first time.
This was followed by sentimental toasts from our parents, our siblings, and our closest friends. Shortly thereafter, guests jumped on the dance floor and didn’t stop partying until 2 am! The afterparty consisted of guests wrapped in blankets, under the stars, enjoying late-night snacks. It will be a night to be remembered for years to come!
Pankaj worked closely with the Executive Chef at Bacara to develop a custom-plated Indian-inspired menu using local ingredients. Our triple-berry wedding cake was brought in from Sweet Lady Jane, one of our favorite LA bakeries.
Pankaj wore a made-to-measure tuxedo from Tom Ford and woven leather shoes from Lanvin. He paired it with his Omega watch, and his David Yurman black diamond wedding band.
I wanted to wear a soft pastel shade to complete the romantic feel of the event, and a modern silhouette that would contrast with my previous looks. In the end, I wore a custom blush version of the Sunset Gown by Naeem Khan. It was so special to be able to visit his atelier in New York and work with the team on this special dress. It featured a deep cowl neck at the back, and intricate crystal beading that shimmered under the candlelight. I paired it with a custom a yellow diamond bracelet, cocktail ring, and earrings. Shoes were from the French designer Jonak, and sourced from their store just steps away from where we got engaged in Paris. Clutch was from Inge Christopher.
For us, the most special parts were:
-Milni: This is the Sanskrit word for “meeting” and is an opportunity for the family of the bride and groom to welcome each other. Our mothers, fathers, aunts, uncles, and elders greeted each other, exchanging smiles and garlands of roses. It was really special to see their willingness to embrace one another.
-Vows: Somehow, in the all the last-minute preparations leading up to the weekend, I had forgotten to write my vows. I remember well staying up late to write them on the night before our wedding. Once I put the pen to paper, though, the thoughts flowed freely. It was very special to be able to share these promises to one another, in front of our friends and family.
What about your venue made it “the” place:
Pankaj and I had always fancied a destination wedding. We really wanted to create something special and memorable for our guests, who would be flying in from all over the world. We explored several destinations, but ultimately kept coming back to Santa Barbara. We have a long-standing tradition of visiting every year: it’s stunning and picturesque, but also feels familiar and intimate. It’s one of our favorite places, and we wanted our family and friends to fall in love with it just as we did many years ago.
What flowers were used in your bouquet:
The bouquet featured blooms in shades of fuchsia, raspberry, burgundy, nude, and pale blush. Holly, our florist, affixed lockets containing photos of each of my late grandparents on their wedding days at the base of the bouquet. This was a really special way to include them in the festivities.
What from your wedding was DIY:
One of the most fun aspects of wedding planning was preparing for the Sangeet dances. We had a joint dance for Pankaj and I, a bridesmaid dance, a groomsmen dance, and then one huge group dance.
We hired a local choreographer, Ana Perales of Get Amped Entertainment, to help us create Western choreography to several of our favorite Bollywood songs. Most of our bridal party didn’t have dance backgrounds, so we were really humbled by everyone’s willingness to participate. It was endearing to see how focused and eager they were to master the moves! The whole process brought us much closer together as friends.
Most memorable moment from the day:
One of my favorite memories was our first look, which took place on a private bluff overlooking the ocean. The clouds were clearing, and the sun was breaking through; there was something so beautiful about it. At the time, it felt like some sort of blessing.
In that moment, there was a rush of emotions. I’ll never forget the look in Pankaj’s eyes – we couldn’t hold back our tears of love and joy. We had both been dreaming about the day for so long.
Now, in hindsight, we never could have anticipated how that moment would change our level of commitment to one another and solidify us as a team, ready to take on the adventures of life ahead, hand in hand.
Another really special moment was the Father Daughter/ Mother Son Dance during the Reception.
Pankaj and I wanted to recognize the special role our parents have played in our lives. Without them, we wouldn’t be who we are today. In an effort to acknowledge them for that, we did a Father-Daughter/ Mother-Son Dance.
While the dance itself was space, the preparation for it was arguable more memorable. We took two joint dance classes at the Arthur Murray Dance Studio in Santa Barbara during the week leading up to the wedding. There were lots of smiles and laughter (and crushed toes)!
How long it took you to plan & the biggest hurdle you overcame:
We planned our wedding over the course of a year and a half. Pankaj and I are both physicians, and our unpredictable work schedules would have made it hard to plan any quicker. For us, it was just the right amount of time to be thoughtful about our decisions and mindful of the guest experience.
The biggest hurdle was learning to reconcile our differences of opinion. In the end, we compromised and our weekend really was the best reflection of both of us. We are both very proud of what we accompanied. I am in tears every time I look thought our photos and watch our highlight film!
I believe that planning a wedding represents the first of many challenges in life, and it’s important to remember that things won’t always go as planned. That’s OK. Focus on what is most important: the commitment to love each other unconditionally and to prioritize each other above all else. Stay positive and forward-thinking. Having all of your loved ones in the same place to celebrate one of the most special moments in your life is priceless.
Other advise would be to put yourself in the shoes of the guests. They have come long and far to celebrate this day with you. How can you make the experience enjoyable and seamless for them?
When planning your bridal looks, start as soon as you can. It takes a lot of time to produce, ship, and alter these garments. And, on top of that, you need accessories for multiple outfits. Decide early and order well in advance!
Meet in person with key professionals that will be with you throughout the weekend. You want to make sure that you are surrounded by the right kind of positive energy during that time. When it came to assembling the rest of our team (photography, videography, makeup artist, priest), we were very discerning. I had a particular vision of how I wanted things to look and be captured, so I spent a lot of time researching, meeting with, and selecting the right people to make it happen. They all did a wonderful job.