Wedding season in India has arrived, but for many it is no longer the bigger the better

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Wedding ceremonies are held differently even in India, with some couples opting for grand religious ceremonies while others lean towards a more intimate celebration.

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Indian weddings are big business. But some of them may not be as big this year as they once would have been.

The celebrations are known for being extravagant week-long affairs filled with elaborate religious ceremonies, glamorous outfits, song and dance, and of course, lots and lots of jewelry.

Many couples in India get married from November to February, which is considered an auspicious period in Indian culture.

According to Nikkei Asia, trade organization Confederation of All India Traders (CAIT) estimated that 3.2 million weddings would take place between November and December last year.

Celebrations in that month are said to have brought in 3.75 trillion rupees ($46 billion) for companies in the wedding industry, a sharp increase from 2.5 trillion rupees in 2019, Nikkei Asia reported, based on data from CAIT.

So it’s no surprise that lavish Indian weddings often draw up to 1,000 guests – and that comes with a hefty price tag.

However, the mindset of millennials in India has changed and many are starting to believe that less is more.

Couples are moving away from “big, fat” Indian weddings to intimate parties with a slimmer guest list, said Tina Tharwani, co-founder of Mumbai-based wedding planning company Shaadi Squad.

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They’ve opted to give guests a more personalized experience at the event, rather than making it a competition with their peers over who can throw the biggest wedding, Tharwani told TBEN.

Smita Gupta, founder of Delhi-based wedding planner Wedlock Events, agreed.

“The success of weddings depends on the guests, of course, but it’s not about the number of guests these days,” Gupta said. “They are more concerned [about] the guest experience.”

“If you call 600 guests to your wedding, you just pay extra money,” says 29-year-old Manika Singh. She is getting married in December 2023 and plans to invite up to 250 guests to the main party, which will be held at Jim Corbett National Park in Uttarakhand.

Renting the venue for two days will cost the couple 1,500,000 rupees ($18,400), or about 600,000 rupees ($7,400) more than before the pandemic and higher inflation.

Feeding people is not cheap

But cutting her guest list came with a caveat.

To accommodate her parents’ wish for a big wedding, Singh will also hold a luncheon reception for 300 guests at the family home the day before.

“You won’t even know half of the people, they’re just acquaintances of your parents,” she said, adding that this is a common practice that couples often succumb to in order to pacify their families.

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Despite couples downsizing their weddings, they spend the same amount. Even with a shorter guest list, spending big on the venue, food and decorations remains the norm, Gupta said.

Singh agreed, adding that inflation has driven up food costs and rice prices have “gone through the roof”.

Rising inflation has led many couples-to-be to spend a large portion of their budgets on food.

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Although Indian retail inflation fell from 5.88% in November to 5.72% in December, grain and milk prices continue to rise, according to Reuters.

Singh expects food to be the most expensive item at both the lunchtime reception and December wedding celebration.

That confirmed her decision to reduce the number of guests at her wedding, instead spending more on her outfit and jewelry, which cost her 700,000 rupees ($8,600).

“More people means less luxury at your wedding,” Singh said, “we can spend on that instead of feeding people.”

Pricey gold? No problem

Gold prices hit an eight-month high on Tuesday, with gold spot at $1,877 an ounce.

But that won’t stop soon-to-be married couples from buying gold for their big day, said Ramesh Kalyanaraman, executive director at Kalyan Jewelers.

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High costs haven’t necessarily stopped people from making big purchases, but they can wait a few weeks to see if prices drop, Kalyanaraman said. “It’s not a decline” in sales, he said, but “a slowdown in their purchases.”

According to the World Gold Council, India’s gold industry contributed 1.3% to the country’s GDP and is dominated by small and medium-sized enterprises.

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And it was no different during Covid.

Kalyanaraman said the ticket size for wedding jewelry was much higher during the pandemic as people were unable to spend money on entertainment or rent large wedding halls due to government restrictions.

“Gold jewelry is not a fashion accessory, it’s actually part of every custom and ritual,” he said.

Kalyanaraman said that in some Indian cities, parents start buying gold for their daughters from birth and will continue to replenish the collection as they get older. Many of those pieces are then worn on their wedding day.

Singh said she has a different attitude and will not be decked out with expensive jewellery. She will only buy one set of new jewelry and use another from her engagement ceremony. For the rest, she will ‘just wear fake jewellery’.