News & Politics

Anatomy: How to Book an Elephant for an Indian Wedding

In Hindu culture, elephants are a symbol of good luck, which is why grooms traditionally ride on them in Indian wedding processions. But getting that luck in Washington is neither easy nor cheap. Here’s how it works.

Illustration by Chris Philpot.

1. Commerford Zoo in Goshen, Connecticut, is one of only a few companies that bring elephants to weddings on the East Coast. Renting one of its two female Asian elephants in our area starts at $8,500.

2. Commerford recommends reserving an elephant a year in advance. Many couples book the elephant first, then pick a venue. Winter weddings are tricky, as elephants can’t be outside long in cold weather.

3. Commerford handles the permits. Maryland and Virginia allow the animals, but DC recently instituted a ban, which Commerford is fighting, that prohibits grooms from riding elephants.

4. The night before, the elephant gets a scrub-down and may have her toenails painted white with nontoxic paint. The elephants sometimes wear flower necklaces, bracelets, and other decorations.

5. On the morning of the wedding, the elephant boards a custom-designed, 60-foot tractor-trailer. Commerford recently got a new one at a cost of about $250,000.

6. Along the way, the elephant eats hay, fruit, vegetables, marshmallows, cookies, and other favorite snacks. Two or three handlers travel with the animal.

7. Before the procession, the groom climbs a stepladder to a special saddle with metal bars on three sides and a safety chain on the fourth. A boy of seven or eight typically rides with the groom.

8. The groom doesn’t hold reins to steer the elephant. Instead, handlers guide the animal, with members of the wedding party leading the way while singing and dancing.

9. The procession usually lasts an hour or so and travels just 400 to 500 feet. Once the groom arrives at the destination, the elephant and her handlers head back to Connecticut.

This article appears in the April 2013 issue of The Washingtonian.