Lavish Indian weddings are back and bigger than ever

After a more intimate turn during the pandemic, some wealthy Indian couples are now sparing no expense when it comes to planning their extravagant, multiday celebrations

By Praachi Raniwala

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In an undated image provided by House on the Clouds, at a February wedding in Mumbai, India, a crowd of guests cheered a couple during their varmala ceremony, or garland exchange.  (House on the Clouds via The New York Times)
In an undated image provided by House on the Clouds, at a February wedding in Mumbai, India, a crowd of guests cheered a couple during their varmala ceremony, or garland exchange. (House on the Clouds via The New York Times)

Published: Sun 14 May 2023, 10:43 PM

Last updated: Sun 14 May 2023, 11:35 PM

Indian weddings can be elaborate occasions, often lasting several days. But a break from tradition because of the Covid-19 pandemic meant that intimate or at-home nuptials became the norm for many. Now, the grand Indian wedding is not just back, it’s bigger than ever for the couples with the means to host extravagant affairs.

In the past year, high-profile brides, grooms and their elite families have chartered flights, rented gondolas to ferry guests across Venice, privatised an Italian piazza for a dinner by a Michelin-starred chef and even shut down the famous casino square in Monte Carlo for a ceremony.

According to the Confederation of All India Traders, the apex body for India’s trading community, 3.2 million weddings were scheduled to take place last year from November to December alone, generating about 3.75 trillion rupees (about $45 billion) in business for India’s wedding industry — a steep rise from 2.5 trillion rupees in 2019. CAIT reported that a majority of the weddings during the end of last year cost $3,657 to $121,902.

But there are also those who go on to spend a lot more. Devika Narain, a wedding designer who is a go-to for Indian celebrities, said such weddings could cost anywhere from $1 million to $5 million, or even more, for about 250 to 500 guests. “Décor, jewellery and guest entertainment tend to be the larger spends,” Narain said.

The Economic Times reported that a two-day destination wedding in a five-star hotel at a top-tier Indian location for 200 guests can cost $365,706 to $609,510. That sum can rise even more depending on the family’s requirements.

Khushnooma Kapadia, the senior director of marketing for South Asia at Marriott International, which has 137 properties in India, half of which cater to weddings, has seen a jump in demand for wedding bookings.

“There is no impact of inflation on the wedding segment with regards to size or scale,” Kapadia said in an email. She added that Marriott expected weddings revenue to increase by 20% to 25% this year from 2019.

Some wedding industry experts refer to the growth as pandemic revenge. “Couples are excited to celebrate, and they are not apologetic about it,” said Vandana Mohan, who works with high-profile Indian couples and is the founder of the Wedding Design Co. and Backstage Productions, which are based in New Delhi.

Vikram Mehta, founder of Mpire Events, who has planned over 150 Indian weddings around the world, added that the average expense for these weddings is around $792 to $913 per guest per day for a wedding of 150 to 200 people. “This is expenditure on the venues and service providers on the days of the wedding events,” Mehta said. “It does not include the bridal trousseau, flight tickets or the couple’s clothing and jewelry.”

In October, Alya Gupta, 22, a New Delhi-raised psychology graduate from the University of Toronto, and Harman Taneja, 26, a businessman based in Bengaluru, married at Sofitel Bahrain Zallaq Thalassa Sea & Spa, a luxury hotel in Bahrain. Three hundred and fifty guests flew in from around the world for their four-day destination wedding, which featured six events. “We both have big families, and it was important that everyone be a part of our celebrations,” Gupta said.

Travelling with 350 guests is not out of the ordinary for an Indian wedding, said Siddharth Sharma, the founder of House on the Clouds, a wedding photography and filmmaking company based in Bengaluru. Some couples even travel with 500 to 600 guests, said Sharma, whose business has been a go-to for Indian celebrity couples. “Two hundred is considered an intimate guest list,” he added.

Sharma said that he recently received an inquiry from an Indian political family for a reception party with 100,000 attendees.

Despite the size, there is a greater intimacy now in how these weddings are being planned.

Families are no longer the main driving force in wedding decision making. “Every detail is personalised according to the bride and groom — their favourite colours, songs, designers, food, artists,” Mohan said. “It has to be relevant to them.”

Ketan Sawant, a founder of A New Knot, a luxury wedding and event planning company based in Mumbai that has planned several celebrity and industrialist weddings, said: “The focus is not on showing the world how much you’re spending, it’s about detailing at a micro level. Families are leaving no stone unturned when it comes to hospitality and guest experiences.”

This includes catering to guests’ dietary considerations and offering amenities like steam irons in hotel rooms. “For weddings outside India, our teams have collected luggage at the departure airport and then delivered it straight to the hotel rooms at the final destination, so that guests can travel hassle-free,” he said.

Many couples want their weddings to be one big party. “We organised a 1920s-themed party in the lobby while guests were checking in, so that everyone could get into the mood from the get-go,” Mohan said of one recent wedding she helped plan.

Gupta said that she and her husband booked several artists and performers to keep attendees entertained through the four days. “It was a private concert-like vibe,” she said, “and we took all age groups into consideration.”

Mohan noted that Indian weddings had become cosmopolitan and global while still being culturally rooted. “Indian couples today are well travelled and research meticulously,” she said. “They’ll find the best of the destination — chefs, artists, wines, gifts — and bring it to their event. A couple we worked with visited several bars to discover local musicians to perform at their wedding. Another bride personally visited 15 destinations overseas before finalizing one.”

Sawant added that couples were also seeking landmark hotels and unique venues beyond banquet halls to add further novelty. “For a destination wedding in Doha, one of the events was at the National Museum of Qatar, which is not an easy feat,” he said. “We had to secure special permissions for it. We even work with government bodies and tourism boards to onboard certain venues.”

Europe was a popular destination for Indian weddings in 2022. Sharma and his crew photographed weddings in Paris; Istanbul; and Tuscany and the Amalfi Coast, both in Italy. This year’s itinerary includes Rome; Lake Como in Italy; Cancún, Mexico; and Budapest, Hungary.

Other popular options are the Middle East and the south of France. Rajasthan and Goa are still sought-after locations in India. “But couples will grab whatever is available this year because so many venues are already sold out,” Mohan said.

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.

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