It is a universally acknowledged truth that Indians love to conduct and participate in lavish and colorful weddings. In some cases the money spent on weddings in India are close to the GDP (Gross Domestic Product) of small African nations. A wedding thus turns out to be an occasion to display and flaunt one’s family wealth and social status.
At this point a distinction needs to be made regarding ‘wedding and marriage’.
A wedding is the ceremony in which two people are united in marriage.
A marriage is a state of being united to a person of the opposite sex as husband or wife in a consensual and contractual relationship recognized by law.
Indian weddings have always been special occasions, celebrated with great zest, fervor and enthusiasm. But as a growing economy pumps new wealth into the country, the festive spirit has been overwhelmed by an ostentatious display of wealth. All these maybe fine for the affluent class. But what about the middle class and the lower section of society? Why do they spend so much on weddings they cannot afford? Why do they spend so much even if it means that they get into a debt they have to repay for years to come.
However, in the very recent past there has been a sincere effort by the Sikh clergy who issued a code of conduct urging Sikhs to eschew expensive weddings. They urged that weddings should be simple, the food, vegetarian, drinks, non-alcoholic and be over in a few hours.
The craze for big, lavish weddings extends to Indians settled in Europe and America. The 2004 marriage of British based steel baron Laxmi Mittal’s daughter, in France, involved 20 page invitation cards, Bollywood song and dance, and five days of events in palaces such as Versailles. In 2006, New York based hotelier, Vikram Chatwal got married in India with festivities spread across three days, three cities(Mumbai, Udaipur and Delhi) and 25 parties.
Let us examine the existing practice among Indians in North America and Europe. Owing to the influence of the western tradition, prospective Indians grooms and bridegrooms lay out a relatively structured plan that includes among other things, budgets, schedules and entertainment. Finances are discussed from the moment marriage is mentioned. Indeed money plays such an important role that it is common to hear couples finalizing their wedding date in relation to their economic condition. Money has become such an important part of the wedding process that pre nuptial agreements are becoming a part of the deal.
The Indian wedding market, be it in India or America or Europe, is a huge industry. From designer bridal wear and exotic honeymoon destinations to breathtaking backdrops and evocative photography, a lot of what is out there is simply too hard to resist. Keeping up with the Joneses has never been easy.
So far we have been looking at the aggressive onslaught of the wedding culture. It is now time to do some introspection on ‘marriage’. The success of any marriage is not dependent on how much is spent on flowers, dining, or live entertainment, but rather on the lifelong commitment and dedication of the partners to the union. Although finances play a very significant role, the success of a marriage is not measured in dollars or rupees, honeymoon destinations or real estate investments.
In the end most couples spend countless hours and resources planning their wedding but forget to plan their marriage. No matter how much time and money has been invested in its planning, the wedding offers no guarantee to a successful marriage. Planning a wedding should begin by planning the marriage; wedding lasts only a few hours but marriage lasts a life time.
Talk show Queen Oprah Winfrey once when asked whether she would ever tie the knot said that she would never marry because America is a country obsessed with weddings and not with marriages!
The author has distinct memories of numerous wedding he attended as a teenager, in the sixties. During those days it was customary to hold the reception at the bridegroom’s house. This would be a ‘pandhal’ or a ‘shamiana’ erected in front of the house. At a reception held in honor of the author’s relative all hell broke loose when guests were invited to occupy the seats. It was indeed the law of the jungle, ‘might is right’ that prevailed. Everyone around started pushing and jostling one another in order to be the first to make it to the seats. During the melee that ensued some lost their footwear while others were on the verge of tears owing to frustration and anger. Today we have come a long way and things are organized in an efficient manner and in many instances by the popular Event Management companies.
Almost twenty years ago the author had engaged his parish vicar in the matter of some unhealthy practices of the Syrian Christian wedding (excessive expenditure and inordinate delays in entertaining the invited guests). The Vicar was very pragmatic and realistic in his reply. He exhorted and politely challenged the author to implement these ideas when it was time for his daughters to get married. However the Vicar respected the sentiments raised and reciprocated it through the editorial of the quarterly news bulletin of the church.
Perhaps the noblest example of conducting simple weddings have come from the Nehru family. For them it is always a closed affair with very few people in attendance. And most of the marriages within their family have been civil marriages.
All said and done, being part of a big and lavish wedding is an experience like no other. Most women dream about having the ‘perfect wedding’. Having a special day is perhaps enough to live a lifetime, but then at what cost? Certainly, a person is entitled to spend his money on whatever takes his fancy regarding weddings, but no one may loose sight of such a thing as social responsibility.
Perhaps lavish weddings maybe done away in the foreseeable future when people refuse to attend such weddings. Will this ever occur? It is indeed a million dollar question.
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