India’s wedding planners tied in knots as celebrations resume

As the Covid shackles come off, large, opulent weddings are putting a strain on supply

Wedding guests in New Delhi, India. Photograph: Daniel Berehulak/Getty

Wedding guests in New Delhi, India. Photograph: Daniel Berehulak/Getty

 

India’s fabled opulent weddings are poised for a boisterous comeback for millions of citizens after a hiatus of nearly two years, following the countrywide decline in Covid-19 cases and an escalation of the vaccination drive.

The Confederation of All India Traders in New Delhi recently declared that more than three million weddings across the country – the majority of them postponed due to the Covid pandemic – had been rescheduled for the “auspicious” four-week period starting mid-November, in keeping with the Hindu lunar calendar.

Of these, some 150,000 are due to take place in the federal capital, with all major Delhi hotels and wedding venues reserved. Thousands of wedding planners, caterers and florists have been engaged and vast amounts of expensive jewellery and ornate trousseaus and other luxury goods have been procured for the festivities.

“It’s impossible to find a five-star hotel anywhere in the country until mid-December, as they are all booked up for high-end marriages,” says upmarket wedding planner Ahana Chowdhary in Delhi’s suburb of Gurgaon. After months of lockdowns and restrictions due to Covid, many people are “cutting loose and splurging on weddings with a vengeance”.

A cross-section of sari, clothes and jewellery designers also report brisk business, with many maintaining that they have not anticipated such a reversal in sales to a point where they are surpassing the pre-Covid wedding period.

“There is a sudden sense of urgency [in the marriage market] and we are running out of stocks,” renowned Indian couturier Ritu Kumar told the Economic Times, calling the turnaround in sales “sensational”.

Market reforms

Over the past three decades, following India’s market reforms in the early 1990s, elaborate weddings have become the leitmotif of the country’s proliferating upper middle classes – numbering about 300 million – to showcase their newfound wealth.

Global financial consultants KPMG value India’s wedding industry at about €43 billion annually, concentrated in the six-month-long “marriage season” that begins in late October each year and continues until March.

Commodity analysts say a major proportion of this expenditure is on gold jewellery set with gemstones such as diamonds, emeralds and rubies, most of it for presentation as dowry, which though legally banned since 1961 continues unabated.

India is the world’s largest gold consumer. Many opulent households even display such jewellery ahead of weddings, fostering envy and a competitive spirit between relatives and guests.

Wedding planners estimate that bridal trousseaus in most middle- and upper-middle class Indian families cost tens of millions of rupees. Doweries can include prime real estate, luxury cars and expensive artwork.

All such weddings begin with elaborate hand-delivered invitations that are often accompanied by a gold sovereign, an expensive silk stole, a fine woollen shawl or a bespoke silver bauble.

Cruel fairy tale

Depending on the region, religion and caste of the families involved, these weddings can be celebrated over several days of unbridled revelry for hundreds of guests who are feted with imported delicacies, liquor and wines.

Wealthier grooms have opted for horse-drawn carriages or even a string of elephants to weave their way to the wedding venue. There is also a growing incidence of grooms arriving in helicopters, showering the guests below with scented rose petals.

The ongoing pandemic, however, has by government fiat imposed a restriction of no more than 200 guests, an order that several wedding planners said was disregarded by most.

“Nobody would believe at any such wedding that India is a developing country where nearly two-thirds of its population of 1.3 billion lives on no more than $3 (€2.70) a day,” says Rita Paul, a Delhi-based fashion designer. Such weddings, she says, resemble cruel fairy tales.

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