Celebrating a true Queen’s union with her Rajah, we bring you another visual treat to complete these soulmates’ fusion wedding also being featured in today’s Photography Blog! When I say queen, I mean it! Maharani Jessica is a former Miss Iowa and transformed herself from a Beauty Queen to a Beautiful Bride during her 3-day epic wedding celebrations all planned and organized by KIS (cubed) Events! A vibrant Sangeet night was hosted by Jessica and Ravi to celebrate the beginning of their wedding festivities and for the families to mingle before the main event! An elegant western ceremony joined the lovebirds for the first time followed by an intimate party where great speeches were given in honor of the newlyweds! Following this enchanting night, a traditional Indian wedding ceremony was conducted to bless the union. The bride had her arms meticulously decorated by Bridal Elements who also took care of her makeup needs for all her events. Indaglow Productions compiled the couple’s favorite hits, and as a result, the new Mr. and Mrs. offered the ultimate Indian wedding reception. This pair also enjoyed their favorite Indian bites thanks to The Paanwaala that collaborated with Banga Studios for our bride and groom to have flavor and visual memories that they will never forget. See how these two cultures come together in this beautiful film, kindly shared by the wedding film master Diamond Label Films.
How did you meet your Groom and when did you know he was "the one"?
Ravi and I met in the summer of 2012 in downtown Iowa City when I was coming out of a yoga class and he was finishing up a business lunch meeting. We ended up converging at the same time on the sidewalk! Ravi, being the charismatic and confident man that he is, started up a conversation and asked me about my yoga practice. After a long talk on our walk through the downtown ped mall, we parted ways (he didn't ask for my number!)
Two years passed, and during this time he managed to find me on Facebook and we ran into each other a few times and got lunch together, but it was always just friendly. I do remember thinking that our conversations always came so easily and we had a similar sense of humor, but both of us were not in places in our lives to pursue this friendship in a romantic way.
Finally, I was performing at a holiday concert (I'm a classical singer) in November of 2014, and I ran into one of my friends who also happened to be performing at the event. The friend posted a picture of us on Facebook, and it turned out that this friend was also friends with Ravi! Ravi saw the picture and got a hold of him asking how he knew me and if he would put in a good word. Even after two years, Ravi was still interested! He later told me that this was his last shot, as I had "ignored" (actually, just forgotten!) to text him back about going on another lunch date and a following party. Sure enough, when this friend asked me if I knew Ravi and if I would go on a real date with him, it was like a light bulb went off in my head. Thinking of him in that light suddenly made so much sense, so I enthusiastically said, YES!
The next night, he called me and asked me out. I remember feeling so excited and had a strange sense that something "big" was going to happen with this man. The very next day, we went on our first date, and strangely enough, once we changed from friendly lunch dates to romantic dinners, we both fell for each other hard. After the third date (which happened in the span of just a week), I knew in my heart that I was going to fall in love with him. The first time we told each other we were in love with the other, we were in a hotel room in Des Moines, and it was in that exact same hotel room we woke up as husband and wife years later. I have never been so confident about anyone in my life. It has been history ever since!
Share the scoop on your Proposal Story!
Ravi and I were very communicative about our desire to marry each other, and in the summer/fall of 2016 we already had a wedding date (only our immediate families knew this), we had our venues mostly picked out, and we designed my ring together. I knew I wanted the act of a proposal to be a surprise, but we felt strongly that such a monumental decision should be made together. I knew after that fall that I would be engaged within the next six months, but it never took away from the excitement of the actual proposal! If anything, it made it even more exciting because of the anticipation.
Ravi and I had been doing long-distance for two school years, as he was in Iowa working and I was in graduate school pursuing my Master of Music degree at Yale. It was a great test of our relationship, and we made it through and grew even closer together through the process. I thought I would probably get engaged during spring break of my second and final year of grad school, as that is when I had two weeks off and I'd be in Iowa. Little did I know, back at Christmas, Ravi had talked to my family and told them of his plans. He also met with my parents and told them he wanted to marry me, and he got their blessing (no surprise there!!) He even messaged dozens of our friends and told them his plan long before it was carried out. A lot of people kept the surprise a secret from me!
It was winter break, January of 2017, and I only had a few more days left before I had to head back to Connecticut. The day before I got engaged, I went to Des Moines with my mom and sister and purchased my wedding dress! I remember telling them I was so excited to get engaged, as Ravi and I had been planning our wedding for many months at that point. My mom and sister could barely keep from bursting with the news that I would be a fiancee the very next day.
I drove back to Iowa City that night and spent time with Ravi's family at their holiday party. The next day, Saturday the 14th, I woke up and was under the impression it would be a normal day and that Ravi and I were going to go to our friends' holiday party. My friend Kaitlyn texted me and told me she had a gift card to a nail salon that she had gotten for Christmas, and she wanted to know if I would join her. I said yes, and she and I went and got her nails done. I am so thankful that she thought of this!! Ravi called me as we were heading back, and he asked if I wanted to get lunch. He asked what sounded good, and mentioned a few of our favorite spots. He took me to Thai Spice, which was the location of our first date! We ordered, and I noticed that Ravi didn't look too hot. He said he had a stomach ache, and he could barely eat any food. I chalked it up to just a weird stomach and didn't think much of it. After that, I went to the mall (my idea) with Kaitlyn and bought myself a new outfit for the holiday party. Thankfully, she helped me choose something to wear that she knew would look good in the photos and video of the proposal, although I, of course, had no idea still.
Ravi met me back at our house and said that we needed to stop by our new house that was under construction, as the lighting guy was there and wanted to show us possibilities for landscape lighting at night. I thought that was a bit odd since it was already dark, but we went and I noticed that on the way there, he was speeding. (Later, he told me that he saw our friends cars in the neighborhood and was trying to drive quickly so I wouldn't notice!) We arrived at the house and were met by our contractor and friend, Todd. Todd gave me a hug and I suddenly felt a palpable tension in the air. Everyone seemed nervous!! This is when it all came together for me, and it felt so surreal as Ravi took my hand and led me into our house, up the stairs, and out onto our master bedroom balcony. My heart was beating so fast, and I felt outside of my body. I took a deep breath and suddenly, I was out on our balcony that was draped in string lights, white curtains, and there was a bonfire crackling in the corner. Ravi was holding my hands and he looked me in the eye and said:
"I’ve spent my whole life building things. From legos when I was a kid, hotels as I grew older, to people and social enterprises as I realized the importance of service- but I wanted to propose to you at our new home as it will be symbolic to us both as the most important thing I will EVER build is a life with you, a family, children, and hopefully lots of grandchildren. I want to grow old with you. This new foundation which I'll kneel on will house our most prized possession: our memories.
There are 7 billion people in this world all yearning for a sense of connection, and I found YOU, a diamond in the rough and I want you to choose me to spend the rest of your life with.
Jessica Elizabeth Pray,
Will you marry me?"
I said, YES, OF COURSE! and we hugged, kissed, and danced, as beautiful music surrounded us. A friend who is a fantastic musician sang and strummed his guitar, and it was like Ravi and I were the only two people in the world. The connection and deep feeling of love was unlike anything I had felt before. Fireworks exploded in the air, and it mirrored the feeling in my heart.
Ravi's brother Raj came out and we hugged and celebrated together. Raj said for us to come over (he lives next door), as he had dinner for us and our friends Kaitlyn and Roby were there waiting for us, too. I was thrilled. We walked out of our house and opened the door to his. Everything was dark at first, and then all the lights came on, illuminating my favorite and most precious people in the world. Almost 40 of our friends and family were there, and we drank champagne, ate food catered from one of my favorite restaurants, and listened to a program of music played by our friend. The energy was incredible, and I was so happy when Ravi told me that even more friends were waiting for us at Clinton Street Social Club, a speakeasy downtown. He had rented the top floor, and once we arrived we were greeted by dozens of more friends. We drank, we toasted, and we celebrated into the hours of early morning. It was an unforgettable day!
Tell us how you went about planning your wedding, and your overall experience with the Venues, Hair & Makeup, Outfits, Decor Theme, and all of the other important details.
The most difficult part of planning our wedding was deciding how we were going to pay tribute to both of our cultures. I come from a conservative Christian background, and Ravi comes from a Hindu background. We toyed with the idea of having a fusion wedding, but the number of people we needed to invite didn't feel comfortable when we thought of saying our intimate vows to one another. Our solution, after much consultation with our families, was to have two separate ceremonies.
We decided that on Wednesday, we would have the Pithi at Ravi's parents' house in Iowa City, with a small number of family members. That night, we drove to Des Moines (2 hours away), where my family is from, and on Thursday afternoon we had the "Christian wedding". I will say, however, that it wasn't really a religious wedding at all, but instead a wedding purely about our love and our commitment to one another. That was at the Hoyt Sherman Place, a historic building, and theatre that is still in use today. I have actually performed there! What made that place special is that it felt like a true reflection of me, and Ravi wanted me to have that day to share my family's culture, which is a culture of love, connection, and making music. The room in which we got married was an art gallery, and it was stunning. I picked out all of the classical music to be played by a local string quartet, and the song I walked down the aisle to was The Swan, a song I grew up playing on the French horn. Each piece was meaningful to me, and I wanted to be surrounded by beautiful music, as that is my biggest passion. What was also great about this venue is that it would only fit up to 100 people, so we were able to share our most intimate and vulnerable moment of marriage with some of the most special people in our lives.
One thing we considered with this wedding and reception was cost and ease of decor. The great thing about choosing this venue, and the reception venue which was West End Architectural Salvage, is that since the venue was full of character and art, the only thing we brought in as decoration was flowers. At both venues, we were able to use things from the building to be a part of the decor. That made it so simple for us, and we could put all of our effort decor-wise into the Indian celebrations. Our reception was a blast, and the menu was purposely Mexican-inspired. I wanted everyone to feel like they could enjoy the food whether they were vegetarian or not, and who doesn't love tacos and salsa and chips?! We had other options for people, like salads, chicken, rice, and other staples, but there was plenty of flavor (and jalapenos!) to satisfy everyone's palate. My dad even designed a cake (made by a local bakery) that was a stage with an audience, and had ordered cake pops that looked like me and Ravi! I surprised Ravi with the song "Moon River," and we danced, drank, and ate into the night.
The next day, Friday, we drove back to Iowa City, where I spent much of the day getting my mendhi done, along with my bridesmaids and mom and mother-in-law. We then had our Sangeet that night, and that began the first event of several held at the Marriott in Coralville. Our decorator, Prashe, did a fabulous job transforming the huge concrete venue into a magical "streets of India" theme, complete with a life-size floral elephant! Different food stations (food by Vikram of Kama Bistro) transported our guests to India, and guests were able to take home many different favors. My sister and I performed a Bollywood dance to "Udi Udi Jaye," and I sang "Chura Liya" which was definitely an audience favorite! This event was easier to plan theme-wise because we wanted it to be fun, vibrant, colorful, and a delight for the eyes and mouth. People were blown away by the room when they walked in. It was incredible.
Saturday morning, after lunch, the Baraat began, and Ravi rode along the hotel avenue on a white horse. Our guests had such a fun time dancing, popping champagne bottles, and throwing Ravi in the air once he hopped off the horse. Colorful day-fireworks went off in the air, and it was probably the craziest Baraat we will ever experience! The wedding ceremony was inside in a ballroom, and our theme for that was classy elegance, candles, lights, roses in red and pink, and glass and gold accents. The mood was immediately changed to one of reverence, and our officiant did a fantastic job helping all our guests understand what was going on. Walking around the fire was especially meaningful. We finished the ceremony and had a few hours before cocktail hour. Cocktail hour was outside by the pond (we were blessed with perfect weather all week), and Ravi and I, unfortunately, didn't have much time to enjoy that before we were whisked away for photos. Our wedding reception was, in one word: magnificent. I can't even describe the elegance of the night. Photos really speak for themselves. I wore a designer lehenga and sang "Tum hi ho" to my husband. The food was served family-style, and the bar was a clear bar with lights inside. It was so cool. Ravi and I both wore mostly navy blue, and I had tons of hand-embroidered flowers and beads on my outfit. This event was in the same room as the Sangeet, and it was like they turned the room upside down and we all entered into a different dimension of pure class.
How did you select your bridal lengha or wedding dress? Did you have a favorite color in mind?
Over my spring break in 2017, Ravi and I went with our family to Mumbai to shop for all of our wedding outfits. I had a vague idea about what I wanted, but knew for sure I wanted a dark red bridal lehenga. It was quite difficult to find, and I ended up finding it a random stop along the way. I did love it and feel like a queen in it, but it still was not my favorite dress of the wedding week. My favorite dress was my reception lehenga and my white wedding dress. I looked online at white wedding dresses and knew I wanted a relaxed mermaid silhouette with a higher neckline because it would most flatter my body type. I wanted the back of the dress to be especially beautiful, and for it to be simple and elegant. I went to a few stores, and when I tried this on, I knew it was the one immediately. However, when it comes to me and dresses, I have worn a ton of incredible dresses in my life (I competed in Miss America and as an opera singer have many beautiful gowns). So, the dresses were never the most important thing to me when it came to my wedding. But I will say, each dress showcased a different part of my personality. My Pithi outfit showcased my playfulness in yellow, green, and pink; my timeless white wedding dress showcased my simple elegance; my multicolored Sangeet lehenga showcased my colorful personality, my red and bejeweled bridal lehenga was opulent and queenly, and my dark navy and gold reception lehenga showcased my simple beauty in a trendy and classy way.
What was the most enjoyable part of the planning process, and why?
Ravi and I loved working with our wedding planners from KIS Cubed Events. We worked directly with Nina Shah Patel and Nirjary Desai, and we had weekly calls with them and were able to meet our vendors either over the phone or in person and really choose people who could bring our visions to life. I think that was the most enjoyable part, being able to really see everything come together: our cultures, passions, love for food, and our guests. KIS Cubed made something extremely stressful feel a bit less so because there was a whole team of skilled people behind us helping us along.
What did your guests particularly love about your Wedding?
I think the most special thing that our guests loved was how much love and detail went into each event. Everything from the food, the dance floor, to the decor and music created an atmosphere that was truly unique. They also loved our toasts given by our friends and family. This was one of our favorite parts of the whole week. Our toasts were incredible, thoughtful, and so meaningful. They shared with our guests who Ravi and I are, and I think that was pretty special. Our guests also loved the bridge of cultures that we created. I made an effort in my dancing and singing of Hindi songs to connect with our guests, and that was really appreciated by everyone.
Was there a really special moment in your wedding that constantly replays in your mind?
Music runs deep in my family, and my grandma was a professional pianist and still teaches to this day. She played a beautiful Debussy piece during our unity candle lighting and marriage license signing at the Des Moines ceremony, and that was really special.
Before I walked down the aisle, I was at the top of a grand staircase looking down at my dad. I breathed in the whole moment, closed my eyes, and felt such intense emotion. Even thinking of that moment now brings me to tears. The most special moment of all came when I looked into Ravi's eyes during the Des Moines ceremony. I thought that our first look, or walking down the aisle would be the most special moment. So it came as a shock when I felt such overwhelming love and felt the magnitude of this "Huge Life Moment" while standing up there with Ravi. We would look into each other's eyes, connect and feel the loving weight of the moment, and then we would have to look away because of the feeling that we could just break down with emotion. I knew it would be amazing, but I did not expect it to be so intense. We were also blessed to have one of our best friends officiate the wedding.
For events other than your ceremony, please tell us as much as you would like about the decor, style, dances, and all the special details.
I mentioned the Des Moines reception at the West End Architectural Salvage, but one of my favorite parts about that all of the random salvage items around the building. In fact, where we had our dance floor was underneath a collection of old chandeliers, which looked beautiful. There was so much more detail for every event so I'm happy to answer any questions if there are any about a specific event!
We also wanted our guests to feel a part of the celebrations, so we had a man who is well-known for his fast turban-tying come from India to wrap about 50 of our male guests in turbans! Then, we had mendhi artists at our Sangeet for our female guests. We had a station with bangles, dupattas, and bindis, and we handed out dandiya sticks and taught our guests how to do that dance at the Sangeet! That really got people excited about the culture and feel comfortable.
Do you have any words of wisdom for Brides-To-Be?
Communication in the wedding process is extremely vital to a successful and memorable wedding week/day. Ravi and I discussed our expectations for the wedding week, things we really wanted to happen and tried to make sure they were included. We also knew going into it that we would have to make compromises and that it was a fact that our families would not get everything they wanted. There was no way we could make everybody happy. The sooner you realize that, the better. It was difficult sometimes standing up for ourselves and expressing what we wanted and how our vision should be executed, but ultimately after everything is over, your families aren't thinking about the guest they wanted to invite that wasn't included or the extra ceremony they wanted that couldn't be fit into the timeline. At the end of it all, we just basked in the love from family and friends, and our families were so happy how it all went as well.
Other advice along the same lines: Even though you need to keep the wedding focused on you and your fiance, understand that, surprisingly, the wedding is not actually about you. Especially if the wedding is bringing together families from different cultures, the wedding is actually about this new union of families. Ravi and I realized quickly that our wedding wasn't about us. Now, what turned out to happen, is that our wedding wasn't about us in the planning process. But, starting on the day of the first event, it felt all about us and our love. And our insistence on communicating with each other and our families meant that the compromises we all made for one another created a week that was unforgettable.
One last piece of advice: At the start of the events, put your planning brain aside. Give any last-minute responsibilities to people you trust. We had several loose ends at the start of the events, but we trusted that our designated friends and our team of planners would take responsibility for it. Also, remind yourself to be in the moment!! Don't be worried that the day is almost over, or worried about some other things. Unexpected things will ALWAYS happen. It's just a fact no matter how much planning goes into it. Ravi and I feel so grateful that we both were fully in the moment, and didn't let minor glitches get us down.
Anything else you want to tell us? We'd love to hear all about your other details! (jewelry, mehndi, venue, cake, bouquets, etc.)
Not having a typical wedding cake was really nice. The fun "stage" wedding cake at the DSM reception was a hit with the cake pops, and we were able to focus on other desserts for our Indian wedding reception. I think it is okay to part with tradition. Because Ravi and I had so many events, we really stopped and thought about what traditions meant something to us and what were traditions that weren't that important to us. It allowed us to focus on more of what was meaningful.
We look forward to bringing you more wedding inspo on Monday!