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India's lavish weddings wane under Covid-19 hygiene measures

A couple get married in India's western state of Maharashtra wearing PPE kit while guests maintain social distance.
A couple get married in India's western state of Maharashtra wearing PPE kit while guests maintain social distance. © Bharat Rao

Indian weddings have always been lavish affairs where splashing out plays a major part. But the shift from grandeur to strict health measures is changing the look of marriages in coronavirus times.

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With social distancing becoming the norm, weddings are becoming smaller, more intimate, with emphasis on hygiene standards as well as contactless services.

This is a far cry from the “big” Indian wedding, replete with thousands of guests for multi-day revelry with cocktail parties, live bands, and elaborate feasts held in exciting locales.

Wedding lockdown

With Covid-19 still raging, the Indian wedding market is staring at a hard reset in the face of a pandemic which has upended all plans for social gatherings and ceremonies.

“We had booked a five-star hotel for the festivities that took months in planning,” Rahul Pradhan, an IT professional tells RFI. “In this new normal, to respect the wishes of society, we got married in our living room with just eight guests.”

“Clearly, our honeymoon plans have also been called off. It was Caribbean cruise and bookings were done. The pandemic has put paid to everything,” Manisha, Rahul’s new bride told RFI.

The country’s wedding industry is massive – venues, catering, outfits, rituals, photographers and videographers, jewellers and much more.

The high-profile weddings usually go on for several days and the guests are treated to an array of emotional and extravagant experiences.

Even poor families spare no expense to marry their sons and daughters in style, digging into savings or taking on huge debt.

Wedding industry withers

Event planners say over 12 million weddings take place in India every year, and the market has been growing at a steady rate between 25 to 30 percent.

“The wedding industry is worth more than 50 billion dollars annually and has never been impacted by recession. But it has taken a massive hit at this time with dates postponed or cancelled altogether,” Jagdeep Singh, a wedding planner from Punjab told RFI.

Couples that want to stick to their dates have been forced to drastically scale down their ceremonies and prune guest lists to the bare minimum.

With Indian weddings – especially Hindu ceremonies – very specific about date and timings, some weddings have even been hurriedly transformed into digital ceremonies over Zoom, YouTube and Google Hangouts platforms.

Guidelines issued by the ministry of health and family welfare underscore the need to keep already planned weddings to a limited gathering and postpone all non-essential social and cultural gatherings.

Under the circumstances, many couples and their families have either decided to wait for the situation to “normalise” or downsize the event in a major way by way of terms of capacity, preparations, food, photography and people.

“My original guest list had 1500 people. I had to prune it down to just 30 people as anything more would have attracted attention, and we had to cook the food at home,” Ritwik Kumar, a school teacher told RFI.

Kumar believes people are opening up to the idea that less is more.

Yet, there is a huge number of couples who have postponed their wedding to the latter half of the year, or to 2021, hoping by that time the pandemic will have waned.

 

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