Wedding goes WiFi
The big, fat Indian wedding is beating lockdown blues, complete with band, baja and baraat
Decked up in a flowing red lehenga, exactly how she had always imagined, 25-year-old Keerti Narang couldn't stop dancing with 26-year-old Sushen Dang, who matched her every step in a mustard sherwani and maroon pagdi, on their wedding day. There was a pooja, followed by pheras, tears of joy, some friendly teasing and a lot of singing and dancing. The happiest day of their lives could have been like any other wedding, except Narang was on one side of a Zoom call in Bareilly, while Dang on the other side in Mumbai. And some 100 relatives were glued to their respective TV, laptop and phone screens from across the world.
Priest Tripathi conducts the pooja from Raipur
Like Narang and Dang, couples across the world, who had planned their wedding down to the last detail, are taking the virtual route after the pandemic crushed their plans. Pictures and videos of bedecked couples saying "I do" or tying the knot over video calls are abounding social media. While the UAE has reportedly started an internet wedding service, New York is allowing people to apply for online marriage licences. In India, too, couples are live-streaming their weddings, and now, shaadi.com has started a wedding-from-home initiative, offering pooja services, make-up tutorials and sangeet. We spoke to two such couples to find out how they got on with their big fat Indian wedding.
Preet Singh and Neet Kaur's wedding
Twenty-nine-year-old merchant navy officer Preet Singh, who hails from Mumbai, says his e-wedding with IT professional Neet Kaur from Delhi on April 4 was one of the first in the city. Considering that they decided to get married after two proposals, one of which included a jar of 100 reasons why Kaur loves him, Singh says it wasn't surprising that their wedding, too, "happened in a crazy way". "The ceremony was slated for April 4, but with the lockdown norms, it wasn't possible or safe. But we didn't want to wait as no one knew when this would be over. If people can study, do yoga and work online, then why can't we get married online? We wanted to just do it in the presence of our family and so we got on a Zoom call," he adds.
100 guests tuned into Narang's wedding, including this writer
Getting to share their best day with their loved ones was also the most important factor for Narang and Dang, who were supposed to get married at Jim Corbett National Park on April 18. "After we had to call off the ceremony, a friend came across shaadi.com's initiative and we thought we could give it a shot," shares Dang, a competitive intelligence analyst, adding that it was almost meant to be this way, given that he and Narang had met online. Narang, however, admits that it took a fair bit of convincing to get her parents warmed up to the idea of an e-wedding. "They had never heard of such a thing and they had been planning my wedding forever. But eventually they realised it was a good thing," she adds.
A major reason why shaadi.com, which helped organise Narang and Dang's big day, came up with the online wedding concept was that Indians place a huge premium on date and muhurat, says the site's marketing director Adhish Zaveri. "It's considered auspicious. One of our core values is connecting people. Since the lockdown put wedding plans on hold indefinitely, we got together with ad agency Leo Burnett that helped us work out the concept and looked at the technical aspects to ensure couples can go ahead with their original plan."
"Since ours was a first-of-its-kind wedding, we designed our own ceremony," says Singh, who set up the Zoom call with his relatives. "Both of us accepted each other as life partners publicly and our relatives helped themselves to chocolates as a gesture of celebration. After congratulatory speeches, the short ceremony turned into a full-blown dance party," shares Singh, adding that they plan on having a gurudwara ceremony later. Zaveri says they wanted to give couples the "real deal, with all the fan-fare". "We reached out to pandits, make-up artists, saree drapers and dhol tasha players. We created wedding invites with the video call link, helped brides put on make-up and mehendi through online tutorials, spoke to relatives about putting up performances, and managed the Zoom call."
But what about rituals that require one's presence? Priest Tripathi who performed Narang and Dang's wedding from his home in Raipur has a simple logic. "When you pray, God doesn't materialise in front of you. Similarly, kanyadaan is possible digitally if what's in your heart is true." We find out what he means, when we see the couple take the pheras around the pooja thali in their respective homes, amid applause from relatives. "Of course, there were hitches but God shows the way," he tells us.
Although hundred people on a Zoom call can be chaotic, a technical team from both platforms guided the guests. "The best part was the fact that our relatives, too, dressed up and put up dance and music recitals for us. I always dreamt of a different wedding, and that's what happened," says Narang, whose live-streamed wedding got over 80,000 views on Facebook.
A lockdown trend?
Vidya Singh, a Chennai-based wedding planner who's been in the business for 16 years, terms online weddings as "a Band-Aid for the time-being". Does she think the trend will pick up? "Those getting married online are the ones who can't change their dates. But I don't see this as a long-term thing in India. We see weddings as the coming together of the family. However, there'll be an attitude change and big fat Indian weddings will be scaled down." Zaveri, however, feels that given the uncertainty, e-weddings can be a "trusted alternative" to ensure couples' happily-ever-after.
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