Groom Turns Heads With an Elephant of an Entrance

By Maria Glod
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, June 15, 2008

The bride was stunning in an ivory sari that sparkled with gold. But it was the groom who turned heads.

Manan Shah, 28, in the grandest of entrances, arrived at his wedding atop Minnie, a 7,000-pound Asian elephant. The celebration yesterday morning outside the Ronald Reagan Building and International Trade Center stopped joggers mid-stride and had security guards cracking smiles. Tourists lined up with cameras, and locals snapped photos on cellphones.

Rolina Qu, 4, on her way to the National Aquarium with her family, spotted Minnie from across Pennsylvania Avenue just before 10 a.m. and alerted her big brother.

"She was like, 'Oh my gosh, an elephant!' I was like, 'No way,' because she tends to imagine things," Boyd Qu, 12, of Ashburn said. "Then I saw this elephant on the sidewalk, and people were sweeping sawdust off him, and I was like, 'He's big.' "

Shah, of Arlington County, is in corporate finance and has a flair for the dramatic. He proposed to his bride, Swati Raval, 24, two summers ago in a hotel room filled with rose petals and candles. With about 400 guests, some traveling from India, the couple decided on an elaborate Hindu ceremony in downtown Washington.

Shah dreamed of this moment since childhood, when he attended a relative's wedding in India and saw an elephant deliver the groom to his bride. He also has a fondness for the huge animals that stems from a favorite film and an Indian childhood classic, "Haathi Mere Saathi," the story of an orphan boy with elephant friends.

"You know how girls want the dream wedding," Shah's sister, Mansi Shah, said. "His dream was the elephant."

As Shah arrived at the Reagan building for the baraat, a procession that hearkens back to a time when bride and groom often lived in different villages, Minnie was waiting. The beast had traveled from Goshen, Conn.

Shah climbed into the saddle and lifted his 3-year-old nephew beside him. As a drummer began beating, Shah's family gathered around. They slowly wended through the courtyard, cheering and dancing as Minnie munched on carrots and marshmallows.

Chad McCann, 33, in town with buddies to visit Arlington National Cemetery, the Capitol and the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, paused to watch. "I'm from Louisiana, and you don't see many elephants standing in the street there," he said.

Minnie, 35, gussied up in a red, yellow and purple headdress with gold sequins, is accustomed to the attention. She has been in advertisements for AT&T and Kohl's department store, said Bill Commerford, whose family owns Minnie.

The gray diva, who also sported an elegant gold ankle bracelet yesterday, even had a photo shoot with Abercrombie & Fitch models for an ad that appeared in Vanity Fair, Commerford said. "I think it was the one with Brad Pitt on the cover," he added.

As the procession neared the door, a DJ announced the arrival to the rowdy crowd: "Everyone make some noise for the gentleman on the elephant!"

Shah jumped down, and the bride's family welcomed him. Raval, who waited inside, would soon make her own entrance down a long staircase.

As Raval and Shah begin their life as husband and wife, Minnie has more couples to unite. Today she's got a wedding in Boston, and she'll be back to the District for another in the fall.

© 2008 The Washington Post Company