Vintage Pakistani-Sri Lankan Garden Wedding

Saniya & Shankar

Snapshot

From high school sweethearts to a romance that lasted a decade. Saniya and Shankar’s romantic rustic wedding in Melbourne was a heartfelt tribute to their personal history, their cultural heritage and their love for music. The three-day wedding kicked off with a colourful Moroccan themed Mehendi where family and friends brought their love story to life with an epic Bollywood musical. The trip down memory lane continued at the Wedding Ceremony as Saniya and Shankar exchanged their vows at Melbourne’s iconic Royal Botanical Gardens – the very place their love came to blossom 10 years earlier and where Shankar eventually proposed. The rituals celebrated their diverse cultural heritage into one ceremony; a symbol of their commitment to their journey together as one. The Reception followed at the rustic Abbotsford Convent. Adorned in creative vintage DIY details, the evening was raucous with music, dancing, and jubilation as the celebrations spilled into the courtyard under the stars. Each element, from decor to outfit choice is an inspirational wave of refreshingly understated elegance made by their very own hands.

About The Couple

How we met

We knew of each other, but met properly on a bus, on the way to the city, many many moons ago! It was the summer holidays before I started year 12 and he started university. He sat next to me (like a total weirdo, as there were plenty of other seats available) and we began chatting away. He was very open and genuine, and wore his heart on his sleeve, while I was pretty shy. The bus became our first date, and second, and the thirty-fourth. Thank goodness eventually, we started hanging out at the bus stop instead! ​

How we are as a couple

We’re actually quite similar, which makes things easy at times but also brings some challenges. We are very much best friends –  we have awesome fun together, value each other’s opinions very highly, challenge each other, help each other when we need to, and I guess most importantly, we adore each other.

What marriage means to us

This quote by Khalil Gibran gives a summary…

“Love one another, but make not a bond of love:
Let it rather be a moving sea between the shores of your souls.
Fill each other’s cup but drink not from one cup.
Give one another of your bread but eat not from the same loaf
Sing and dance together and be joyous, but let each one of you be alone,
Even as the strings of a lute are alone though they quiver with the same music.
Give your hearts, but not into each other’s keeping.
For only the hand of Life can contain your hearts.
And stand together yet not too near together:
For the pillars of the temple stand apart,
And the oak tree and the cypress grow not in each other’s shadow.”

How he proposed

That’s a bit of a story! Remember how we met on the bus? Well, it happened on a random Saturday morning. I thought I was dropping my sister to the bus stop (hence I wore an old cardigan and didn’t wash my hair), but it was me that got dropped at the bus stop! Shankar had hired a bus that said “For Sani”, and I was literally forced to enter it on my own by my sister. There was a string quartet awaiting me, playing ‘What a Wonderful World’ just to really draw out the tears.

I got on, begged my sister to come, but of course she wouldn’t. A few stops later, at Shankar’s usual bus stop, there he stood, but it was the 18 year old version with the same hoody he was wearing on that very first day we met. We hung out on the bus while I panicked that I hadn’t yet had my morning coffee or any breakfast. Shankar may have been reconsidering his decision to marry me at this point.

We stopped at the Royal Botanic Gardens Melbourne, a favourite spot we used to hang out at back in the day. Shankar had organised a picnic to be waiting for us, and most importantly coffee and breakfast from one of my favourite brunch places. We both love beaches so next, we headed to a lovely secluded beach near Terindah Estate. While we were hanging out, he proposed to me with a song on his guitar. I said ‘yes’ of course. Afterwards, we walked back to the winery at Terindah Estate. At the restaurant Shankar and my family were there to celebrate with us. It was a perfect day.

The Details

Wedding Planning

DURATION: We got married just over 8 months after we got engaged – so it wasn’t very long at all for what we needed to do.

OUR APPROACH: Shankar and I come from different religious and cultural backgrounds – Shankar’s family is Hindu and Sri Lankan, and my family is Muslim and Pakistani. As you can imagine, there wasn’t really a precedent to guide us. Rather than ignoring these potentially conflicting ideals and backgrounds, we wanted to incorporate and celebrate all that was important to us during our wedding celebrations. Rather than separate the two sides in different ceremonies, we wanted them to be united into one.

The wedding planning process compelled us to deepen our understanding of our cultures and religious backgrounds, as well as traditions. As you can imagine, all of this would be important to our marriage, not just our wedding. Shankar and I had many conversations on how to go about things, and we also sat down with both of our parents early on.

The other challenge we faced were numbers! I have almost 100 relatives when counting my first cousins, including their parents and kids alone. My parents wanted to invite literally hundreds of people, but we didn’t want a big wedding. So we had to decide what was important to us and what we could compromise on. We thought rather than drag out the planning process, let’s get it done efficiently. It was a massive team effort, with both of our siblings, cousins and parents helping out to make it happen.

MY ADVICE: Realising that whilst you will have expectations of what you want your wedding to be, it might be that your parents, your partner’s parents, and your partner do also have expectations, and compromise will be inevitable. I think it’s important to start by listening to what everyone thinks is important, what vision they have, and reserve decisions and judgement initially. Keep the big picture in mind.

In the end, my Mum (who originally wanted a 600 person wedding and everything to be done the traditional Pakistani way), was so happy with the outcome. It just took a while for her to get her head around something that was so different to what she expected.

Wedding Shopping

BRIDAL SHOPPING: About five months before the wedding, I went to Pakistan for two weeks of wedding shopping. I had bookmarked outfits I liked from the internet, had an idea of colors, and printed off some examples so I could show tailors. I had vaguely designed some of my outfits, with rough sketches, but kept an open mind in case I found something different I loved. I ended up designing three out of four of my outfits, based on inspiration I saw in shops and the internet. This was always going to be a risk, as there is little quality control in Pakistan and they are notoriously unreliable in terms of timing.

One of the outfits was a disaster, and I only received it four weeks before my wedding. I also made a silly decision to not have a different outfit for my Reception that followed immediately after the Wedding Ceremony. I then changed my mind about a month before the wedding. So I was frantically searching the world for outfits, and luckily found two out of four of my outfits three weeks before the wedding. Full credit to Saima from My Wardrobe in Brunswick!

PHOTOGRAPHY & CINEMATOGRAPHY: After searching online, we really liked the natural and candid style of Julia Archibald. Julia was passionate about her job and really excited about the cultural aspects of the wedding, which drew us in. For cinematography, we opted to go with Purple Ribbon Weddings. They had filmed weddings at our reception venue before and were recommended by the venue.

INVITATIONS: Our wedding invitations were designed by the amazing Bree at Santiago Sunbird.

Wedding Events

Our wedding was held in summer over three days in mid-December:

  1. ​Mehendi, Friday PM, Manningham Function Centre, 250 guests.
  2. Wedding Ceremony, Saturday AM/PM, Royal Botanical Gardens Melbourne(Nymphaea Lake), 200 guests.
  3. Wedding Reception, Saturday PM, Abbotsford Convent, 200 guests.
  4. Post-Wedding Dinner, following Friday PM, The International of Brighton, 450 guests.

Mehendi - Overview

VENUE: Manningham Function Centre, 250 guests. Picking the Mehendi venue was probably the trickiest part for me. I was looking for a community hall to keep within our budget, and it had to be able to hold up to 300 people. We literally looked everywhere. I was keen on Fitzroy Town Hall but the parking in the area was limited. St Kilda Town Hall was beautiful too, but inconvenient for most of our family who live in the east.

We went with Manningham Function Centre as it was most convenient, nice, spacious and has a great view. I knew our siblings and cousins would be the ones setting up the place, and wanted it to be close to home. Also, Manningham Function Centre did set-up and pack-up themselves, unlike most other venues we spoke with. This was important as our wedding was the next day and we didn’t want to burden our families with extra responsibilities.

FOOD & DRINKS: All catering was provided by Tandoori JunctionThe menu was Indian/Pakistani street-food inspired. We also had a paan (Pakistani refreshment) stall for our guests.

HIGHLIGHTS: I wanted the Mehendi to be as traditional as possible, to really celebrate my Pakistani heritage. The Mehendi in Pakistani culture is the equivalent of a typical Indian Sangeet with lots of song and dance performances. We had cushions and rugs for seating around the dance floor, a paan stall, and a dinner menu with a Pakistani street food theme. All our family and friends wore traditional clothes with the boys on both sides of our families wearing colors per our color theme.  DJ Kicks provided music for the night.

The highlight was having our family and friends depict Shankar and my story through a Bollywood musical, narrated by my bridesmaids. The performance involved about 20 dances, highs, and lows, and included songs from Bollywood classics to a bit of George Michael and Taylor Swift.

Mehendi - Theme & Decor

THEME: Eastern/Moroccan/Pakistani theme. We chose a purple, yellow, aqua, teal and pink colour scheme.

DECOR: We used decor and fun details in our color scheme to really bring our traditional Pakistani Mehendi theme to life. We worked with a combination of different wedding professionals for various aspects. Everything was in our color theme of

Some details included:

  • Stage: Bollywood Mandaps set up the stage where Shankar and I sat throughout the event.
  • Chairs and tables: Manningham Function Centre.
  • Table linen: Balwyn Events.
  • Table decor: We hired simple centerpieces from Bollywood Mandapsand decorated the tables with rose petals
  • Floor seating: We hired cushions, ottomans, Moroccan-style benches and small tables fromKasbah Moroccan Importswhich we positioned around the dance floor. This was where most of our friends and cousins were seated. We also borrowed large cushions and a few rugs from relatives.
  • Lighting for the dance floor: Lighting Lab.
  • Paan stand: We hired a stall from My Sweet Event Hire and put together a paan stall (traditional Pakistani/Indian snack food). We decorated the stall with things from our home.

Mehendi - The Look

SANIYA’S OUTFIT: My outfit was made by Shakeel a tailor/designer, based in Karachi, Pakistan. I provided the design based on inspiration from the internet and incorporated some handwork specific to my parents ‘Sindhi’ heritage. The idea for this outfit was that it should be simple, traditional, and fit with the color scheme for the Mehendi. It complimented the grooms’ outfit, the stage, and also the kurtas we had custom made for the boys.

JEWELLERY: Hand-made fresh flower jewellery which is quite typical for a Pakistani Mehendi event.

HAIR AND MAKEUP: The amazing Haffsah Bilal and the team at Lajeen Artistry. I’m terrible at that stuff, so I left it all up to her. For the Mehendi, it’s a tradition to have your hair in a plait so we went with fancy plait extension with some volume that Haffsah helped choose. Makeup is meant to be minimal, so we kept it light.

HENNA: My henna was done by NiluRaj – Beauty ArtShe’s very flexible and talented. The design I chose had a bit of a Middle Eastern look to it. I preferred this style of henna and Nillu a few photos for ideas, and she did a great job. The henna did wear off very quickly and needed a whole lot of lemon and standing in front of the stove frying cardamoms to make it dark!

GROOMSMEN’S OUTFIT:  Shankar’s male cousins and close friends were dressed in yellow with a teal shawl and my male cousins and friends were dressed in purple with a yellow shawl to match the color scheme. Because I have such a huge family, this was no easy feat! We spent a day running around the markets of Pakistan, and ended up buying 100 meters worth of material and had them all custom made. We then found material for the shawls and had those dyed to our color theme.

Wedding Ceremony - Overview

VENUE: Royal Botanic Gardens MelbourneNymphaea Lake, 200 guests. We knew we wanted a garden ceremony, so after weighing up a few options, we decided there was no place more perfect than the exact spot we’d had a picnic on the day Shankar proposed, and the same place we had hung out a decade ago! Our main concern was about inconveniencing guests who would have to go to Abbotsford Convent for the Reception afterward but it turned out to be fine.

FOOD & DRINK: Guests were provided drinks and wedding favors on arrival which had some little snacks in case people were hungry during the ceremony.

HIGHLIGHTS: Shankar entered to a dhol played by Sultan. I walked down the aisle to the string quartet from the day Shankar proposed. We intertwined all of our different cultures into one wedding ceremony with three parts: Part 1 – Sri Lankan ceremony; Part 2 – Vows and civil ceremony; and Part 3 – Nikkah (Islamic Marriage) ceremony and Pakistani post-wedding rituals/blessings.

TRANSPORT: Classic Prestige Car Hire supplied our wedding cars.

Wedding Ceremony - Décor & Unique Details

THEME: Both Shankar and I love parks, gardens, and nature. The ceremony at the Royal Botanic Gardens didn’t require theming per se – we just went with the natural beauty of the surrounds.

DECOR & UNIQUE DETAILS: Some decor elements included:

  • Florals: We used florals by Botanics of Melbourne to decorate the various elements of the ceremony area.
  • Signage: We also hire a signboard from The Wedding Zone.
  • Altar: We had a small altar/mandap for the ceremony setting. The structure was set up and decorated with flowers by Botanics of Melbourne.
  • Marquee: Since it was peak summer, we hired a marquee from instant Shade for the guests.
  • Drinks & favors table: We had a table with wedding favors and drinks. We decorated the table using items we owned as well as little props hired from My Sweet Event HireShankar’s cousins went early to the venue and took charge of putting together the table using the things we provided – they did a fab job! We also hired a few extra drink holders from The Wedding Zone.
  • Favors: It is Sri Lankan custom to provide sweets after the wedding ceremony, so we combined this with our favors and made a little treat bag for the wedding ceremony. The bags were made from hessian fabric, with a wooden personalized tag, sourced from Etsy.

Wedding Ceremony - The Look

SANIYA’S OUTFIT: I love ivory, and I love lace (who doesn’t!), but my mum and mother in law were keen on some of the traditional red. So after a lot of back and forth, I designed an outfit, that in the end, was perfect for me. It was unique and I felt super comfortable in it. My outfit was made by Mohsin, a designer/tailor, based in Karachi, Pakistan.

JEWELLERY: For the Wedding Ceremony, I wore a traditional a ‘Dhurri’ set from Sindh, Pakistan, which is where my parents are from. It has a very tribal feel, which I loved. It was probably my favorite piece as it is unique and complimented my outfit.

HAIR & MAKEUP: Lajeen Artistry. At the wedding, I decided to have my hair down as that’s what I usually feel most comfortable in. I needed a headpiece (matha patti) to work with my hair, as well as a veil – so some of my hair was pinned up and with a quiff at the back. Haffash also did hair and makeup for my mum and bridesmaids.

SHANKAR’S OUTFIT: A sherwani from Junaid Jamshed in Pakistanbecause quite frankly I didn’t know where else to look!

Bridal Party Look

BRIDESMAIDS OUTFIT: I designed the bridesmaids outfits myself, with inspiration from Pinterest. I went with ivory as I thought it would look great with my ivory and red dress as well as the groomsmen’s outfits. I had them made from scratch – we went to markets in Pakistan, found the cloth, had it dyed, bought the strip of material for the borders, and bought material for the blouse. We had it stitched by a young tailor at the markets. He did a fabulous job! The bridesmaids wore the same ivory sarees for the Reception.

JEWELLERY & ACCESSORIES: We also purchased jewellery to match the bridesmaids’ outfits from the same markets.

HAIR & MAKEUP: Lajeen Artistry.

GROOMSMEN OUTFITS: The groomsmen wore a traditional kurta-pajama for the wedding ceremony, sourced from Junaid Jamshed in Pakistan. They groomsmen changed into blue suits by Pierre Cardin for the Reception.

Reception - Overview

VENUE: Abbotsford Convent, 200 guests. I always wanted an outdoor Reception, and to be able to dance and celebrate under the stars. We looked into a marquee but didn’t think we could make it work with the numbers we had without spending a ridiculous amount. We were sold by Abbotsford Convent’s courtyard, its history, and it’s down to earth feel. Neither of us is big fans of bling, so the rustic charm of the venue was perfect

FOOD & DRINK: Bursaria Fine Foods. We had roving desserts instead of a cake, which were bite-sized desserts served on the dance floor in the courtyard, including mini ice cream cones.

HIGHLIGHTS: We wanted our Reception to be intimate, down to earth and fun. We love music, so that was always going to be a big part of it. The groomsmen made an entrance with a dance to the 80s song ‘Poison‘. The bridesmaids entered ‘Who Run the World’ by Beyonce. Shankar and I entered ‘Houdini’ by Foster the People. Shankar’s sister Harini and my cousin Umais did a classical music duet, with Harini on veena and Umais on tabla. One of my favorite moments was when Shankar sang a song on the night which he had written himself. We danced the night away to the tunes mixed by our friend DJ NYD.

Reception - Décor & Unique Details

THEME: Rustic.

DECOR & UNIQUE DETAILS: We wanted to work with the venue’s rustic charm. The decor elements included lots of floral details and little DIY elements. We provided our DIY props to our Shelley, our event manager at the venue, who arranged them on the day. Some of my favorite details included:

  • Florals: We worked with the Abbotsford Convent’s charm, by adding lots of floral details to space. The floral arrangements were all by Botanics of Melbourne.
  • Stationery: We had a whimsical rustic theme to the stationery which matched our invitations. They were all done by Santiago Sunbird.
  • Table chart board: We sourced an old frame, an easel, and some fabric to create a board for the table chart.
  • Table numbers: We purchased picture frames and used watercolor paint to do our own DIY table numbers.
  • Photo ladder: We sourced two ladders and hung some old photos between them.
  • Vintage photo table: We also included a photo of each of our parents from around their wedding days which was pretty special.
  • Photobooth: Originally I wanted to create a DIY photo booth at the wedding ceremony, by hanging a picture frame from a tree, however, the venue wouldn’t allow it. We eventually found Little Pixel Box, a new company that just started up. They were very open to our ideas and really did a great job!

Reception - The Look

SANIYA’S OUTFIT: Originally, I hadn’t planned on changing outfits between the Wedding Ceremony and Reception, so I didn’t have an outfit made for the Reception. However three weeks before the wedding, I was wishing I had! By an absolute miracle found this beautiful ghagra at My Wardrobe. It’s very “me” and I loved it from the moment I laid eyes on it!

JEWELLERY: I wore the same ‘Dhurri’ set I wore for the Wedding Ceremony.

SHANKAR’S OUTFIT: Shankar wore a navy blue suit from Godwin Charliwith a bow tie from Declic.

Post-Wedding Dinner - Overview

THEME: Formal.

VENUE: The International of Brighton, 450 guests. We chose the venue as they were flexible and accommodating to our requirements. The venue was able to entertain for the 450 guests my parents wished to invite, and allowed for our close family friend to provide catering. It’s a bit of a blank canvas, and you can make what you want of it.

FOOD & DRINKS: Indian cuisine byTandoori Nights.

HIGHLIGHTS: The post-wedding dinner was almost like a second Reception for all our family friends. A cool story from the Reception preparation was about our cake. The cake we had ordered unfortunately fell apart on the journey to the venue and was going to be unusable for the event. By some absolute miracle, one of the venue staff began chatting with a passer-by who happened to be a cake maker. She went to her house, grabbed some icing, and fixed the cake! We were blown away by what she was able to do!

DECOR: Key elements included-

  • Stage setup: Hire and setup by Bollywood Mandaps.
  • Table centerpieces: were provided by Balwyn Events.
  • Candy bar: The candy bar and theming were done by my sister Asbah. She went with a purple, gold, and floral color scheme, black table cloths, white napkins, purple ribbon around the napkins, and purple and gold boxes to collect candy from the candy bar.

SANIYA’S OUTFIT: I wore a red and purple lehenga that I found at the last minute at My Wardrobe. I had designed a lehenga to be made in Pakistan but they made it with churidaar instead. The team at My Wardrobe was a lifesaver!

Tips For Brides-To-Be

  1. Spend some time with just you, your dreams, imagination, and a piece of paper (+/- your future spouse).
  2. Lock in cinematography and photography early, and if there’s one thing it’s worth paying for, it’s this!
  3. Go through the “what-ifs” early, and be pedantic early on. When it’s a month or two before the wedding, delegate like crazy till there is someone, and/or some people aside from yourself, and your partner that know all the details. At that point, your job is to hand over the reins, and enjoy every moment, no matter what happens.

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