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WORLD FOCUS

India: The land of grand weddings

Social media is fuelling extravagance as Indian couples flaunt photos, videos online

Suhani Dang and her groom-to-be Karan Gulati drove 116km from Delhi to Tijara Fort-Palace - a 19th century fort converted into a heritage hotel - in neighbouring Rajasthan state for a photo shoot, a month before the wedding on April 18. A drone camera captured multiple images of the couple in different poses that would be sent out with the wedding e-invite.

Ms Dang, 26, who is combining the modern with the traditional, is also sending out physical invites to close family, complete with a customised box of chocolate and lychee Indian sweets.

Indeed, Indian weddings are not just getting bigger and fatter but more high-tech.

"I have not been able to take care of myself over the last six months. Most of my and my family's time is going into ensuring those four to five days are unforgettable," said Ms Dang, who chose a decorator through Instagram and did all her wedding research online.


Mr Rohan Mehta (standing in car, right) made news with a lavish, wedding bash in Florence, Italy, in 2015. The son of millionaire Yogesh Mehta reportedly spent €20 million (S$30 million) on the three-day ceremony. PHOTO: EUROPEAN PRESSPHOTO AGENCY

Her wedding consists of religious functions, a cocktail and a mehendi sundowner where there will be dance performances and a band plus the chance for women to get henna or mehendi tatoos on their hands.

Of course, mixing technology, such as sending out invitations on iPads and LCD screens, with the traditional is not making India's weddings any cheaper.

NEW WAY TO SHOW PASSION

In both bigger and smaller cities, it is about showing people that this is what I can do... something that has not been done before.

MS DIKSHA MEHTA, who works in a studio that creates invitations and gifts.

UP TO FAMILY

When I decided to get married... I knew I wanted the big fat Indian wedding. It was a given. I didn't need to think about money.... It was up to my family.

MRS AKHSITA BAGAI, 28, who got married last November.

  • How much does a wedding cost?

    The average Indian spends US$15,000 (S$21,000) on a wedding, which is quite a lot for a country where the monthly per capita income is just above 8,000 rupees (S$172).

    Wedding budgets for the fast-growing upper middle class and super-rich can range from 900,000 rupees to several billion rupees.

    An Indian wedding typically lasts around four days. Guest lists could have a couple of hundred names or thousands.

    Here's a breakdown of the main expenses:

    JEWELLERY

    It is hard to give an estimate of how much a family spends on gold for a wedding as those who are well-to-do start saving soon after the birth of a girl.

     Weddings account for approximately 50 per cent of annual gold demand in India, according to figures from the World Gold Council.

    WEDDING INVITE 

    The cost varies from a few hundred rupees to 15,000 rupees for a single  invitation card. The invite can be accompanied by sweets or little tokens such as a gold or silver coin. 

    PHOTOGRAPHER'S FEES 

    The price can go up to 500,000 rupees a day. 

    WEDDING OUTFITS

    A designer outfit can fetch anything from 200,000 rupees to seven million rupees for an embroidered bridal lehenga (a long skirt with  a top) or sari.

    FOOD 

    Hotels or caterers can charge a few hundred rupees or over 3,500 rupees per guest.

    DECOR 

    The cost ranges from 30,000 rupees to 500,000 rupees.

    Nirmala Ganapathy

Jaws dropped when Mr Rohan Mehta, son of Indian millionaire Yogesh Mehta, reportedly spent some €20 million (S$30 million) on a three-day ceremony in Florence in Italy in 2015.

Such extravagance and expense have fuelled a debate over whether wedding costs can be curbed in a country where marriages reflect social status.

A piece of legislation - called Marriages (Compulsory Registration and Prevention of Wasteful Expenditure) Bill, 2016 - proposes to do just that. The Bill, by parliamentarian Ranjeet Ranjan and unveiled last month, suggests that a family that spends more than 500,000 rupees (S$11,000) on a wedding give 10 per cent of the amount to marriages of women from poor families. The money, according to the Bill, should be put into a government welfare fund that is then distributed to poor families

The Bill has a slim chance of passage in a country where the marriage industry is recession-proof and estimated at US$38 billion (S$53 billion) with a 30 per cent annual growth.

"One segment does it with pomp and show, with 600 people and upwards. Other segments, even if they can afford it, try to keep it simple and classy," noted Ms Nanki Chawla, a wedding planner at Events by Nanki. "But the ostentatious segment is in the majority."

In November last year, Mr Gali Janardhana Reddy, a mining baron and former Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) minister in Karnataka state, arranged a lavish wedding for his daughter Brahmani, 21, and bridegroom Rajeev Reddy, 23, the son of a business tycoon.

At a cost estimated at a staggering five billion rupees (S$107 million), the wedding included Brazilian samba dances, dozens of bullock carts to ferry guests, creation of a vast temple complex, elephants decked with flowers and giant balloons.

And it all started with an invitation card which included an LCD screen that played a video of Mr Reddy, his family and the bridegroom singing a song, inviting guests to the wedding.

Not surprisingly, the wedding sparked controversy and attracted the attention of income tax authorities for its display of wealth at a time when people were struggling to get cash following the government's decision to take high-value notes out of circulation - as part of a crackdown on rich Indians with unaccounted wealth.

Social media appears to be contributing to the extravagance.

When BJP legislator Santosh Danve got married early last month, the wedding preparations included a music video starring the couple frolicking and posing in a car to the tune of Love Me Again.

The video was circulated on WhatsApp and uploaded on Facebook where it got 75,700 views.

More than 30,000 guests attended the wedding and the media detailed how art directors built a wedding set resembling a mediaeval-era palace.

"In both bigger and smaller cities, it is all aspirational. It is about showing people that this is what I can do... something that has not been done before. Basically a talking point like getting a music video with the groom and bride which is then posted on Facebook or on wedding websites and it gets hundreds of likes," said Ms Diksha Mehta of Diksha Mehta Invites, a New Delhi-based studio that creates invitations and gifts.

At the same time, technology is also helping people plan weddings better. Over the last five years, nearly four dozen websites have popped up that gather thousands of vendors in one place.


Brides showing off hands decorated with henna during a mass marriage ceremony in Ahmedabad, India. A total of 131 Muslim couples took their vows, said the event’s organisers. PHOTO: REUTERS

Last year, matchmaking website Matrimony.com launched online portal matrimonybazaar.com for services, from caterers to wedding venues in the southern state of Tamil Nadu.

"Wedding spending has only been going up. The average Indian spends US$15,000 on a wedding which is quite a lot for a country like India. Which is why we are trying to capture our share of it," said Mr Murugavel Janakiraman, founder-CEO of Matrimony.com.

Different aspects of the wedding industry are booming, thanks to the continued spending.

"The wedding photography market is exploding. People are even taking photographers with them on holiday to get that perfect picture," said Ms Mansi Midha of The Wedding Photography Company.

"A dime a dozen professionals are quitting their jobs to become photographers overnight, lured by the money."


Adorning the bride in gold is a time-honoured ritual in India. Many families start saving once a girl is born. Half of the country's annual gold demand is generated by weddings. PHOTO: THE WEDDING PHOTOGRAPHY COMPANY

Photographs were important for Mrs Akshita Bagai, 28, who got married in November and has since uploaded pictures on a wedding website, garnering thousands of likes.

Her wardrobe alone cost hundreds of thousands of rupees as it consisted of nearly a dozen designer dresses from Indian designer duo Rimple and Harpreet Narula.

"People are still talking about my wedding. They are talking about my look, which was very different for each function," she said

"When I decided to get married and found the right person, I knew I wanted the big fat Indian wedding.

"It was a given. I didn't need to think about money.... It was up to my family.

"That is something I have seen in Indian families. They want to throw a wedding for their child, whether it is small and personal or a big wedding. It is their wedding too."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 04, 2017, with the headline 'The land of grand weddings'. Print Edition | Subscribe