India weddings a billion-dollar industry

MUMBAI // With less than two months to go until her wedding day, Divya Rastogi from New Delhi, is eagerly awaiting the nuptials, but she is also feeling the pressure of organising the celebrations.

There is much to be done for the three-day event, which will culminate in 500 guests gathering near the Taj Mahal in Agra for the main reception. And of course it all comes at a cost. The budget for the wedding is 3 million rupees (Dh164,700).

“Indian weddings are not just one-day celebrations,” says Ms Rastogi, who works as a safety specialist in the oil and gas sector. “It’s a huge thing in India.”

The bride and groom are buying five different elaborate outfits for the occasion, as well as jewellery, particularly gold, which is an intrinsic feature of Indian weddings.

And the kind of wedding Ms Rastogi is having would be considered to be fairly typical of a middle-class celebration these days.

As the wedding season gets under way, businesses that depend on the wedding sector are reaping the benefits of rising spending.

“With the economy booming in India, Indians are now spending their income on extravagant weddings like never before,” says Ashay Desai, the general manager at Blue Sea, a banquets and catering company based in Mumbai.

There are “no expenses spared” when it comes to weddings, he says.

Weddings are an important indicator of social status and wealth in India.

“Due to the surge in number of big fat weddings, segments like catering, decoration, wedding planners, jewellery, photography, make-up, have witnessed a significant boom.”

Widely quoted estimates peg the wedding industry in India as being worth US$40 billion a year and growing at about 20 per cent annually. Experts say that weddings cost up to 200m rupees for industrialists.

“On average, a person in India spends one-fifth of their wealth on wedding functions,” says Mr Desai.

The growth in the wedding industry is being fuelled by the expanding middle class and a young population. The number of millionaires and billionaires in India is also rapidly increasing.

Even the wedding invitations are often tome-like, elaborate products that are designed to impress guests. Taking this to the extreme, a mining baron, Gali Janardhan Reddy, from the south Indian state of Karnataka, in recent days has attracted a lot of attention with the invitations he has sent out for his daughter’s wedding. The boxed invitation includes an LCD screen, which features a video of the bride- and groom-to-be and Mr Reddy lip-synching to an Indian song.

“There is always a growing desire among Indians to plan or have the most lavish weddings,” says Karan Anand, the head of relationships at Cox & Kings, a luxury travel company. “A wedding is seen as the most important and once-in-a-lifetime event in India and affluent Indian families like to splurge millions of rupees; everyone wants to have a wedding that’s talked about.”

Mr Anand explains that it is becoming more and more popular to host “destination weddings”, for which family and friends travel to attractive locations in India or abroad for the nuptials.

In India, Goa is a popular destination for Indian beach weddings and the palaces and forts of Rajasthan are also sought after, while Bali and Dubai are desirable spots for weddings overseas.

Indians use this as an opportunity to make “a style statement” and to tap this growing market, the company offers services to create complete wedding packages from the invitations to venues and food and entertainment, he says.

“The well-heeled Indian wants to set a trend and create an impression by hosting the wedding reception in some exotic locale.”

At a small wedding fair held in Mumbai last weekend, stalls were doing brisk business as families flocked to the event to shop for clothes and jewellery for the wedding season, which runs from October to December.

MM Studio, a fashion boutique in Mumbai, was at the event, selling glamorous, brightly coloured lehengas (bridal skirt) and saris, priced at up to 70,000 rupees.

“There are so many things that happen and so many people related to the Indian wedding – from the bride and groom to the cousin’s family,” says Mannata Gupta, the merchandiser and buying head at MM Studio. “It’s a huge affair. Everyone will go out shopping to buy new outfits because now people in India really want to keep up with the latest trends.”

Mr Desai at Blue Sea has noticed that Indians are becoming more adventurous when it comes to menu options and catering.

“Clients are asking for new dishes, exploring cuisine of the countries which they have travelled to, to create uniqueness in the wedding catering menus,” says Mr Desai. “Innovative food set-ups and decorations are trending across all weddings as every function is unique.

From fine dining food concepts to street food concepts and counters for various themed events of weddings are being made.”

There are also a number of other industries that have emerged to cater to the booming wedding industry in the e-commerce sector, including wedding planning portals and matchmaking matrimonial websites such as and Bharat Matrimonial that allow individuals to connect with potential partners for marriage.

In many cases, it will be the parents who manage the profiles of their offspring on the websites and try to find partners that they deem to be suitable, often determined by details that are shared such as how fair their skin colour is, or which caste they are from, how much they earn, with arranged marriages still very much commonplace in India.

One of India’s more traditional matchmakers is Radhika Shah, who runs Radhika’s Matrimony, based in Ahmedabad in the western Indian state of Gujarat. Spotting a lucrative opportunity, she moved out of the fashion industry to become a matchmaker four years ago. She travels the country, meeting prospective brides and grooms and their families. Her basic fee is 50,000 rupees, and then she charges families 200,000 rupees to 500,000 rupees once a successful match is made.

“Now love marriages are failing and there tend to be too many divorces, so there is a shift back to arranged marriages,” says Ms Shah.

She has a team that conduct background investigations on the prospective brides and grooms.

“In one case, there was a family in Delhi that had BMWs and Audis, but we found out that they had rented all the cars because they wanted to get a girl from a very, very affluent family.”

Meanwhile, India’s wedding planning market alone is set to reach 1.6 trillion rupees by 2020, according to research by Ken Research, an industry intelligence firm based in Gurgaon in the Delhi area. It describes the wedding sector as a “recession-proof industry”. There has been a sharp increase in the number of wedding planners, who charge 10 to 15 per cent of the budget for the wedding as their consultation fees, according to the research.

For Ms Rastogi, she says that this is the one area that they managed to save some money, on a wedding in which costs are spiralling. Rather than opting for a wedding planner, her family are working relentlessly to pull off a spectacular wedding for the happy couple.

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