How to exchange vows... virtually
The big, fat Indian wedding has now shifted venue to Zoom and Facebook Lives
Avinash Singh Bagri and Kirti Agarwal had planned a grand wedding in Satna, Madhya Pradesh - an extravaganza that would have 8,000-10,000 guests. The date was set in April, but things changed when the Indian government announced a national lockdown to contain the spread of Covid-19. Realising they couldn't put their friends and family at risk, but not wanting to delay the wedding any further, Avinash and Kirti decided to tie the knot virtually. In Shaadi.com's Weddings From Home initiative, they discovered a platform where this quirky idea could see fruition.
E-invites were sent. A makeup artist was roped in to give Kirti a video tutorial on how to get the bridal makeup right. "We arranged for the mala (garland) with marigold flowers as only those were available. We also picked some flowers for the ceremony from the society garden. Finally, we had a 'Panditji' who performed all the rituals from his home in Mumbai, and he chanted all the mantras via a video call," the couple tells us. On April 14, the duo exchanged vows in a wedding replete with all ceremonies and rituals, performed virtually.
The notion of the big, fat Indian wedding is being silently challenged by millennials in India, who, owing to the current Covid-19 lockdown and social distancing measures, are opting for virtual weddings. Indian weddings are ordinarily grand events in their own right, where the physical presence of friends and family are often considered paramount. Avinash and Kirti admit that they missed having close friends around, but the joy of hosting the wedding as per schedule and mahurat (good omen) surpassed everything else.
Adhish Zaveri, director of marketing for Shaadi.com, says that the uncertainty revolving around weddings getting postponed is lurking. And while social distancing measures will have to be followed once things open up, an elaborate affair is not what people can plan easily in the near future. Enter a brand new initiative that helps people get married on Zoom (there has been a Facebook Live wedding too). "We try to replicate the wedding as close to the real one as possible. Fundamentally, it starts with a wedding invite where the venue is a Zoom link. We've had makeup artists reach out to brides, teaching them how to do their own makeup. A mehendi artist conducts tutorials. The priests conduct the weddings remotely. We had a dhol wali who would play traditional songs, so that the guests could dance. Everybody is on a video call. The second wedding we did was on Facebook Live. We were surprised to see the level of involvement."
Today, while there may be concerns of a Zoom call being hacked into, or a Facebook Live being shared by many, Ashish admits that this remains a cause of concern. While permissions are being taken from family members, he adds that couples who have tied the knot virtually see it as a documentation of the most important day of their lives.
So, are virtual weddings the future? Adhish maintains that this is a short-term trend. "In India, there is a statement aspect to a wedding. It's a reflection of status. People plan for weddings for years. So, with that much involvement, it's tough for the norms to change. It's just an alternative avenue." Today, the platform receives 4-5 requests for virtual weddings per day.
Sushen and Keerti had planned an elaborate wedding that had to be cancelled, owing to the lockdown. The couple, who wed virtually on April 19, had about 200 guests attending the e-wedding. "We had over 100 guests who attended our wedding with multiple people from each laptop/phone, who had logged in, so we had close to 200 guests. The meeting was at its maximum capacity throughout, and a lot of people had to view the event via Facebook Live that got close to 16,000 views at the time of telecast," the couple tells us, adding that they will finally move in together once the lockdown is lifted.
Interestingly, the site has also had maximum registrations from the UAE in April, though these aren't requests for Zoom weddings. "The engagement from the UAE has increased by 20 per cent. That's by the virtue of the fact that people are at home, you are with family and hence bound to take these familial decisions. Then there is also a lot of time in hand to introspect and reflect on big decisions."
Is the big, fat Indian wedding a thing of past then? An increase in the number of matchmaking queries and registrations for regular weddings may prove otherwise. For now, though, millennials seem to have done it again - challenged conventions to carve their own way.