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An Intimate Traditional South Indian Wedding Under the Spanish Moss in Charleston

By Cathleen Freedman | Photography by 

Rachel Red Photography

|Planning by 

Host & Haven

When Shilpa Topudurti and Keshav Rao first met at a mutual friend’s tequila-filled birthday party, sparks did not immediately fly. “She thought I was too ‘keen,’ and I thought she was too quiet,” Keshav recalls. But their friend-in-common could see right through this supposed inauspicious first encounter and texted Keshav halfway through the dinner, insisting that he had just met his future wife.

Several weeks later, Shilpa and Keshav found themselves in the same close-knit 70-person cohort at Wharton. The two eventually began dating, no longer writing off the other as too “keen” or “quiet.”

Less than a year after their relationship began, Keshav formulated a plan to propose to Shilpa on her birthday in Prospect Park, where they had their first date. Keshav had told a photographer where to hide while he proposed, but as they wandered to the agreed meeting place, there was a children’s birthday party in the exact same spot. “We walked near one of the lakes while our photographer somewhat stealthily moved her equipment,” he recalls. As massive NYT mini crossword fans, Keshav handed Shilpa a crossword, and while she started the puzzle, he got down on one knee.

They scheduled their wedding for the weekend of November 7, 2020 and invited hundreds of their loved ones for a traditional Indian ceremony in South Carolina. By spring 2020, however, Keshav and Shilpa knew that there was no possible reality for a large and safe wedding in the fall. Keshav’s father’s cancer returned in early 2020, so postponing and delaying a felicitous celebration was out of the question. “Instead, we chose to craft something incredibly special for him and the rest of our families, while maximizing safety amidst the pandemic,” Keshav explains. Together, they made the difficult but responsible decision to limit their guest list from hundreds to seven immediate family members.

As soon as they moved forward with a micro-wedding, Shilpa noticed an immediate difference in her state of mind. “There was a weight lifted off my shoulders once we made the decision,” Shilpa explains. “We shifted our energy to making the smaller and safer ceremony special for our families.” With this new mentality, she began to truly love the planning process. “I had hours of virtual creative design sessions with Lindsey of Host & Haven about curating experiences and incorporating custom details—the specialty Raynaud plates from our lunch that we get to keep forever, embroidered napkins tailored for each guest, mini cakes, and interactive invitations, just to name a few—that would not have been possible for the size of our original guest list.”

“I remember feeling bummed at various points when the reality sunk in that what we had spent half a year planning was not going to happen,” Shilpa confides. “Everyone around us rallied and was so incredibly supportive and really stepped up to make our new plans memorable. As an example, Lindsey came up with a super sweet idea for Keshav and me to send new interactive invitations created by Prairie & Sage to our immediate family who would be attending.” The invites were masterfully packaged in elegant cloth boxes with Spanish moss and vintage stamps.

Shilpa had booked a March 2020 week-long trip to India with her mother, sister, and soon-to-be mother-in-law for all of the bridal accouterments. Three days before Shilpa was about to leave, she had to cancel because of COVID-19 restrictions and concerns. “I had spent months speaking to designers in India planning for my visit, but luckily, my mom and mother-in-law headed over there a few weeks prior, so they were able to do all of the shopping for me.” Shilpa adds preemptively, “Yes, this meant a LOT of FaceTimes at 2:00 a.m. with my mom and grandmother to pick out clothing and jewelry, and I did not get to try anything on, but we made it work!”

For each day of the weekend festivities, Shilpa planned a distinctive bridal aesthetic. She elucidates further, “Thursday was a bit more modern editorial. Friday was laid back comfort, and Saturday was traditional.”

Thursday started the wedding weekend, featuring the couple’s first look and Shilpa’s bridal shoot. For this day, she sought a monochromatic gold palette, and her mother-in-law found the exact gold Kanjeevaram tissue saree from Angadi that was on Shilpa’s vision board. Considering that tissue sarees are of the utmost delicacy and require nine months of careful crafting, it’s no small miracle that she snatched up the last one in the showroom. “I paired this saree with a custom blouse and veil from Kresha Bajaj. The details on this blouse were incredible,” Shilpa gushes. She completed her Thursday ensemble with custom-made earrings from Jain Jewelry and a contrasting red lip and sleek bun by Pampered & Pretty. Keshav looked dapper in his Giorgio Armani outfit.

Friday held all of the pre-wedding ceremonies, and Shilpa wanted an effortless look to complement the beachside property milieu. Her Anita Dongre printed lengha boasted delicate tassels, floral jewelry, and gold bangles. “This was the most comfortable outfit,” Shilpa shares. “It even had pockets!”

Keshav also wore Anita Dongre for the pre-wedding events. Shilpa’s mother and Keshav’s mother both dressed in Kanjeevaram silk sarees from Angadi, and Shilpa’s sister donned a custom-woven Benarasi saree along with several outfits by Mishru.

On Saturday, Shilpa abided by traditional South Indian bridal attire, wearing a red Kanjeevaram saree from Angadi with a custom zardozi blouse from Jayanti Reddy Label. Her grandmother specifically hand-selected the stunning diamond polki and emerald set from Tarasri Tibarumals for Shilpa’s wedding day. “She was not able to travel for the wedding from India, and it was so special to have her included in the process,” Shilpa says about her grandmother. For the beauty component, Shilpa “completely trusted Ash and Co.” She adds, “I loved the way she modernized the traditional South Indian bridal hairstyle, opting for a more effortless braid with tons of texture.”

The entire traditional South Indian ceremony was the consummation of her wedding visions. “Ever since I can remember, I always pictured getting married outside,” she says. “After browsing dozens of venues and finally finding the perfect oak tree in Charleston surrounded with Spanish moss, everything aligned.”

The mandap was another fulfilled dream. Shilpa wanted hers to be unique and complement the space. “[Lindsey] worked with Gathering Events to design the most serene and peaceful space,” Shilpa states. “The juxtaposition of the seated florals with the hanging installation perfectly complemented the different levels of the tree. The movement in the garlands built into the installation was perfect for the sunny but breezy day.”

Keshav will never forget the moment he saw Shilpa make her grand appearance while he sat on the mandap. “She was accompanied by her sister but was shielded by a thin curtain until she was sitting across from me” he reminisces. “All I could see were her delicate hands from underneath the partition, and as I held them, surrounded by our priest’s mantras, I simply couldn’t stop smiling and thinking how lucky I was to spend the rest of my life with my best friend.”

The newlyweds basked in their post-wedding bliss, as they absconded to the secret gardens with their guests. The cake baked by Jim Smeal was “another highlight” of this perfect day and fueled the celebrating that would follow later that evening at the couple’s beach rental.

When they look back on their wedding, both Keshav and Shilpa admit they are “extremely grateful we managed to have a special in-person, COVID-safe celebration with family” and someday soon “hope to have many celebrations with friends ahead.”