Big fat Indian weddings slim down in tough business times
Preeti Punamiya is a young and excited bride-to-be, preparing to get
married in a traditional Indian wedding which usually features days of
But the impact of the global economic downturn has caused her to
rethink the extravagance, following a trend that has seen many Indian
families scale down their celebrations over the past 12 months.
“It’s our families who wanted to make it a grand affair,” said
Punamiya, a biotechnology researcher in her early 20s who is marrying a
US-based software engineer.
“I have wanted it simple, keeping costs under check,” said Punamiya,
who has cut back the days of festivities to three from the five
customary in her family and also slashed the number of ceremonies to
three from nine.
India’s wedding seasons from mid-October to January and April to July
bring with them street drummers and musicians, processions and open-air
ceremonies where the statement often seems to be: the bigger and louder
The industry is estimated to be worth 1.25 trillion rupees (27
billion dollars) a year. One leading wedding website Shaadi.com put the
average cost of a high-end marriage at 44,000 dollars.
But wedding planners say that as the effect of the worldwide
recession hits exports, imports and the service industry, India’s
wealthier urban upper classes are cutting back on costs.
“People are curbing expenses”, said Tejal Kadakia, who founded Knot
Forever, a Mumbai-based wedding management firm.
“For Indians, a wedding is a one-time event. People want a stylish,
quality event, but they are trimming catering costs and even those on
the guest list,” she told AFP.
A traditional Asian wedding is lengthy and elaborate, starting with a
trip to the astrologer or family priest who chooses the auspicious day
and time of the ceremony considering phases of the moon.
Rings are exchanged at the engagement, followed by the “mehndi”
ceremony, where the bride’s arms and legs are intricately painted with
brown henna dye to ward off evil and strengthen love.
The next day sees an elaborate “sangeet”, a musical, dance or even
Bollywood-style extravaganza. The wedding itself usually comes 24 hours
later, followed by cocktails and a lavish evening meal.
Moroccan- or Turkish-style weddings, with billowing tents, vast
pavilions, hookah smoking pipes and finely-upholstered, low-slung
divans, have proved popular with expat Indians who travel home to tie
But Tejal said: “These themes are vanishing. People prefer Rajasthani
or Luckhnowi themes which are traditional and cheaper.
“Until three years back there was a certain childishness, an urge to
show wealth. That has gone. Now it is not who beats whom. I would say we
all seem to have been beaten by recession.”
Candice Pereira, creative head of “Marry Me” wedding consultants,
said: “Some people do prefer to combine the ‘mehndi’ and ‘sangeet’
events.” Tejal also said families are choosing to skip the music and
“Earlier there was a demand for only well-known singers or bands,”
she added. “The musical event is becoming optional or is personally
choreographed. A lively family dance is considered enough.”
Nevertheless, Bollywood song-and-dance events remain hugely popular
with overseas Indians, particularly those from the United States and
Compared with many Western countries, wedding planners like Tejal and
Pereira, whose firm charges upwards of one million rupees per event, are
a new breed in India.
Wedding management firms have mushroomed in recent years across
India’s big cities, attracting clientele from medical doctors like
Punamiya’s family to industrialists and construction firm bosses.
But this year, Tejal said she has organised weddings for just six to
eight clients, compared with 10 to 12 in 2008.
Many overseas-based Indians or people of Indian origin choose to get
married in India due to cheaper costs and its cultural significance.
Overseas, the cost of hiring venues, catering and ethnic Indian wedding
wear quickly adds up.
India’s salaried urban middle classes are also learning to streamline
costs, amid concern for their jobs.
One recently-married Mumbai media consultant, who asked not to be
identified, said he had been under pressure to have a traditional
“multi-function” marriage, but was conscious of the cost.
“At one point I considered a court (civil) marriage, but the process
is complex,” he told AFP. “We finally did a two-day event, skipping the
‘mehndi’ and ‘sangeet’.”
The couple printed few cards, sending out most invitations on email
or through mobile phone text messages.
“My honeymoon will have to wait. I had to be back at work,” he added.
MUMBAI, Jan 14, 2010, AFP