Inside Utharaa Zacharias and Palaash Chaudhary’s wedding near the Kochi backwaters
Matching your individual personalities with your sensibilities as a couple is hard enough when planning a wedding. Utharaa Zacharias and Palaash Chaudhary, San Francisco-based furniture designers and co-founders of collaborative design studio soft-geometry, also had the added challenge of seamlessly blending their diverse cultures – the bride is a Malayali Christian from Kochi, Kerala while that the groom is a North Indian Jaat from Ghaziabad, Uttar Pradesh. North met South in a touching celebration of their love as they tied the knot in the bride’s hometown earlier this year.
The two met at NIFT Delhi about a decade ago and quickly became windows to each other into their contrasting backgrounds and cultures. “Each day was a mesh of our differences in how we create, work, live, travel and eat,” says Chaudhary. “We’ve never been a couple this whole time, just ‘best friends and business partners’ much to the chagrin of our family and friends,” he adds. Chaudhary, however, bent the knee last May when the two were on their way to their alma mater Savannah College of Art and Design in California, where they now live. In Forsyth Park, with a reference to Gandalf and a garnet ring, they finally said yes to a life of togetherness.
The couple also decided to return home after being isolated in the United States for two years due to the pandemic. Their plan to stay and work remotely from India for a few months soon evolved into deciding to get married as well at the end of their trip. “We thought of the trip as a relaxed engagement vacation. And then suddenly, we were planning to get married in five months! Zacharias says of their January wedding.
The creative duo instinctively knew they wanted the wedding to feel like home in a familiar, warm and idyllic location. Zacharias’ hometown of Kochi was a location they unanimously agreed on and decided to plan the three-day celebration of 80 guests themselves. They even designed the invitation together. “It was neutral with a single motif of the glass engagement ring and ended with a poem Ut wrote for me,” Chaudhary explains. They worked with Kerawa Events for the decor, keeping it minimal to enhance each venue.
It all started with a Christian wedding (“I cried ugly as Ut walked down the aisle,” the groom reveals) followed by a reception at the heritage Brunton Boatyard Hotel in Fort Kochi – where the wedding party arrived via a 20 minute boat, the quickest way to get there. What followed was a night of heartwarming toasts and dancing under the trees to live music from Jeremiah de Rozario and Leon & Sylvester Gaulbert.
The haldi and mehendi were scheduled for the next day, initially to be hosted at the bride’s mother’s house by the water in the town of Vaikom. Floods a week before the wedding made this impossible, but the couple with a small group of friends made a trip to this house in the morning anyway. “Amma told stories about the house over the coconut water and then we all went around the lake on little snake boats,” Zacharias recalls. Then it was time for a messy haldi in his childhood home. A quick shower and a change later, the mehendi was in full swing, with a tussle between the two sides. “That I would be pulling a string all my life, wearing a silk kurta-sharara, was not something I had envisioned. But it was worth it because we won! laughs the bride. As for the henna design, she decided to go with her own scribble design – much to the surprise of the mehendi artists – which took less than five minutes to complete! And then it was Zacharias’ turn to be surprised when her husband and his team sang a perfectly rehearsed sangeet performance for her and the guests. “Pretty soon it was a rager in my quiet neighborhood of Mallu, lit up with Punjabi music and a frenzy of dancing. Someone reminded us that we needed to sleep as the baraat was early the next morning. didn’t listen,” she smiles.
The Hindu wedding ceremony took place at another CGH Earth heritage property – 300-year-old Chittoor Kottaram, which was once the royal residence of the former ruling family of Cochin. The jasmine-lined mandap sat in the water in a courtyard that opened out to the backwaters. The pandit switched between Sanskrit, Hindi and Malayalam as he explained the meaning of each wish. A 12-member Shinkari Melam, a traditional Kerala orchestra, also performed at the ceremony.
Zacharias found her white wedding dress, from Parisian label Paolo Corona, on Instagram. A delay at customs meant the bespoke outfit reached her just days before the wedding, with not much time for alterations. “Our disregard for the custom that the groom does not see the bride in her dress before the wedding saved us. Three days before the wedding, we were in a tailor’s shop in Kochi, while Palaash explained the changes made to masterji until it’s perfect! said the bride. She wore it with a daisy-embellished veil from British company Ann-Marie Faulkner. Chaudhary’s costume featured a shirt, made by her brother, embroidered with daisies to match this veil. The couple wore matching loungewear sets from linen brand Saphed Home for the haldi, outfits they still use today. The bride wore a green kurta-sharara set from Raw Mango for the mehendi, and the groom chose a coordinating embroidered set from Three. The couple envisioned Hindu marriage as a gathering of silk weaves – the Benarasi of the North meeting the Kanchipuram and the silk mundus of the South. “We wanted to showcase the rich and beautifully understated craft traditions in our outfits and those of our families,” says Zacharias. So she wore a Benarasi lehenga made with WeaverStory fabric, made by Alka Hari in Kochi. Chaudhary wore a silk kurta from Anam, Benarasi odhani from WeaverStory and a silk mundu from Seematti. Aatira Zacharias, the bride’s older sister, did makeup for all the events while Sini Manoj did the couple’s hair. The jewelry was a mix of heirloom treasures, new purchases of fine jewelry and fashion accessories.
The entire celebration was infused with an ode to each other’s cultures while honoring who they truly are. “There were no awkward greetings, playing the role of bride and groom, or pressure to be wiser or respectable than us! We could just be ourselves. There has never been a bride’s side or a groom’s side. It was like everyone just got to know each other and danced for three days,” Chaudhary concludes.