Indian billionaires are creating their own heavens to celebrate marriages – moving from one end of the world to the other end to find their preferred places. Marriages of celebrities have become national affairs, be it of cricketer Virat Kohli or industrialist Mukesh Ambani’s daughter.
It is a different thing that the extravagant weddings in recent months have tended to also generate a negative reaction. Too golden, too grand, too loud, the grievance goes. How can one spend so much money when there is a serious agrarian distress forcing innumerable farmers to commit suicide? After all, marriage is a solemn affair.
The union of a man and a woman, recognised by society or ceremony is as old as the human civilisation itself and marriage of some kind or other is solemnised in all human societies. But, over time, weddings have taken different forms.
Hindu marriage is said to be derived from laws interpreted in the Dharmashastras or sacred texts, which has its roots in the Vedas, the oldest surviving documents from the Vedic era. Therefore, arranged marriages can be said to have initially risen to prominence in the Indian subcontinent when the historical Vedic religion gradually gave way to classical Hinduism.
With the expanding social reform and female emancipation that accompanied economic and literacy growth after independence, arranged marriages are gradually ceding space to “love marriages”. Common in urban areas and also increasingly occurring in rural parts, parents now arrange for marriage-ready sons and daughters to meet with multiple potential spouses with an accepted right of refusal. These arranged marriages are effectively the result of the desire for wide search for spouses by both the girl's and the boy's family. If the girl and the boy are given the freedom to choose spouses, the marriage ceremony is still largely being arranged and conducted by the families. The festivities and celebrations, which are an essence of the kaleidoscopic Indian culture definitely have a considerable socio-economic impact.
The big Indian wedding market is estimated to be around $40-50 billion in size, according to a KPMG report. It continues to grow rapidly at a rate of 25-30 % annually. The estimated cost of a luxury wedding could be between Rs. 2 crore and Rs. 25 crore. The luxury wedding market is largely being serviced by a host of high-profile planners who come with ideas and then hire the right people for the job, or subcontract the various operations from flower arrangements to entertainment. The way the unorganised market works, there are planners scattered across major cities, who hire contractors and service providers, such as photographers and catering companies. Approximately, 60.5 million weddings will take place in India from 2017 to 2021 according to this report.
Weddings boost related industries such as wedding planners, decorators, mehendi artists, bands and musicians, photographers, bridal make-ups and caterers to name a few.
The bridal make-up industry, for example, has been picking up at a pace of 20% annually and awareness about make-up is growing at a rate of 50%. New kinds of jobs are witnessing unprecedented growth. The make-up artists have become highly paid professionals. Several professional marriage agents, consultants, legal advisors and matrimonial websites like shaadi.com and jeevansathi.com have witnessed huge growth.
Many banks and non-banking financial companies offer tailor made personal marriage loans. Wedding insurance is the new kid on the block. A couple may purchase a wedding insurance to cover unexpected losses due to fire, cancellation due to illness or loss to the wedding dress.
Wedding tourism, also known as destination marriage tourism, wherein the bride and groom travel to a serene destination, along with guests to exchange vows, has moved from strength to more strength and has already carved a niche in the global tourism industry. A recent FICCI study has estimated the industry size at about Rs. 23,000 crore. The marriage tourism industry is slated to grow at a rate of about 25% and reach to a mammoth Rs. 45,000 crore by end of 2020. Goa, Udaipur, and Jaipur are among the top destinations in India for a fairy-tale wedding.
The celebrity billionaires are now going abroad to celebrate their marriages. This promotes tourism, hospitality and transportation industries. This is also a feasible way to get rid of black money. Most of the wedding expenditure takes place in the form of cash. The big Indian weddings are the best, resplendent way to spend undisclosed income. The industry is recession proof. Irrespective of the business sentiment, wedding functions take place throughout the year.
There is a flipside to these weddings. If wasting of food in the value chain or in storage is causing headache to the government, its lavish misuses are going against the country’s democratic values. For, most of these weddings end up with sumptuous food varieties. The media stays busy finding the sources and the amount of fund spent in the marriage and in that melee, the moot point is missed that how such glamorous bouquet could be arranged by a the parties amid hungry stomachs going to bed near the marriage pandals.
Indian political parties, however, have tried to restrict expenditure on marriages time and again. The Marriages (Compulsory Registration and Prevention of Wasteful Expenditure) Bill, 2016 for example, sought to prohibit extravagant and wasteful expenditure on marriages and tries to enforce simpler solemnisation. It sought to put a limit on the number of guests to be invited and dishes to be served in weddings.
A total of six such bills were introduced in Parliament in the last 20 years. Three of these bills were introduced in the Lok Sabha and the remaining three in the Rajya Sabha. But these bills have so far remained only on paper.
The magnitude of such wastage is vivid in a report by the University of Agricultural Sciences, Bangalore conducted in 2012. The report shows that annually, Bangalore alone wastes 943 tonnes of quality food during weddings. “This is enough to feed 2.6 crore people a normal Indian meal,” the study conducted by a team of 10 professors concluded. The team surveyed 75 of Bangalore’s 531 marriage halls over a period of six months.
“About 84,960 marriages are held at 531 kalyana mantapas (marriage halls) in Bangalore every year. About 943 tonnes of high-calorie quality food is wasted in these halls annually. At an average cost of Rs. 40 per meal, the total food wastage in the city is estimated at Rs. 339 crore,” the study said. The study was conducted some six years ago and there are reasons to believe that the situation has worsened since then.
Wedding is part and parcel of Indian culture. That with time its form and concept would change is a reality. They have changed; these changes on the one hand have opened up new areas of economic activities generating income for thousands. On the other hand, larger than life wedding ceremonies by the opulent are mirroring a divided India.