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Quartz Obsession — Indian weddings — Card 1
A bride walks in under a canopy of flowers to a song that’s most likely from the couple’s favorite Bollywood film. She goes slowly, partly because she’s nervous, partly because elderly relatives are nudging her to display some coyness, and mostly because an enthusiastic photographer is telling her to “look here.”
She reaches the stage, one that could put music concerts to shame. Her groom extends his hand to help her up. It’s a moment that lasts a little over a minute so drone cameras and videographers can get it in slow motion, from every possible angle.
This scenario is par for the course for anyone who’s been to a wedding in India. For others, it’s a scene out of a big-budget cinematic venture.
Indian weddings are as varied as the religions, castes, communities, and tribes that host them. Some are big, some are small, some communities pride themselves on sparse weddings, while others think that’s sacrilege. In any case, the big fat Indian wedding has withstood the test of time, economic turbulence, social reform, and even modern technology.
Don your glitziest sari and load up Instagram. It’s India’s wedding season and literally everyone’s invited.
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Quartz Obsession — Indian weddings — Card 2
10 million: Weddings in India every year, as of 2013. This is, by and large, an underestimation—weddings in small towns and villages are often not registered.
$50 billion: Size of the wedding services industry in India, according to a 2016 KPMG report, including everything from matchmaking to wedding planning, jewelry, and apparel
25,000: Weddings in Delhi on Dec. 7, 2015. Every year, one such astrologically auspicious date sees close to 20,000 weddings in the nation’s capital alone.
<2,000: Number of guests that make up a “smaller” wedding, according to one Gurugram resort owner
100: Number of guests currently allowed to attend weddings, due to Covid-19 pandemic restrictions
7.5%: Share of net worth generally spent by affluent Indian families on weddings
$100 million: Cost of the 2018 wedding of Isha Ambani, the daughter of India’s richest man Mukesh Ambani. Special musical guest: Beyoncé.
9: Number of events and parties across three Indian cities in 2018 to celebrate the marriage of actor Priyanka Chopra and musician Nick Jonas
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Quartz Obsession — Indian weddings — Card 3
India is home to Muslims, Christians, Sikhs, Jains, Buddhists, Parsis, and Hindus, and each contains multitudes of different traditions. But to understand the mainstream conception of Indian weddings, we’re talking about Hindu, upper-caste, largely north Indian weddings.
The wedding typically begins the moment a couple’s parents acquiesce to the match. Priests are consulted for astrological compatibility, and an auspicious date is chosen based on the Hindu lunar calendar.
Enter jewelers, venue vendors, decorators, choreographers, photographers, henna artists, artisanal gift makers, couture designers—or their mass market knock-offs. The engagement can be one event, two events, or even three. For instance, there could be a small formalization ceremony between the two families at home, followed by a Western-import rings exchange, accompanied by a night of dancing to Bollywood and folk songs. This ceremony also features lavish gifts, largely courtesy of the bride’s family, including gold and occasion-wear Indian apparel for the groom and his family.
Then comes the actual wedding events, split into a turmeric slathering ceremony called Haldi, the henna ceremony called Mehendi, a song-and-dance affair, the actual wedding ceremony, and perhaps even a post-nuptial reception.
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Quartz Obsession — Indian weddings — Card 5
In the olden days, the tradition of soliciting assets from the bride’s family was called dowry, but the official practice was banned in India in 1961. Now, these customs are couched as gifts. There’s even virtue signalling in the form of pseudo autonomy, where the groom’s side would often be heard telling the bride’s family, “All we want is your daughter in two sets of clothes.”
The wedding gala culture has several dark social consequences, too. Because the wedding is a huge expense, it is often financially debilitating for middle-class families. They begin to see their daughters as financial liabilities, and the son becomes a category-A asset, who will not only earn the big bucks, but will improve his family’s fortune with the wife he marries.
This, coupled with other social mores, leads to sex-selective abortions and female infanticide in India. The problem is so severe, it’s actually skewed the country’s sex ratio in favor of males and has led to a ban on pre-natal sex determination. Similar financial concerns have kept the practice of child marriage alive in rural India.
In fact, so severe is the economic stress of a daughter’s wedding that prime minister Narendra Modi, in 2014, recommended that people in villages plant at least five trees every time a daughter is born. “When the daughter is 20 years old, the trees will also be as old. And when she has to be married, the trees can be sold to meet the wedding expenses,” he said.
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Quartz Obsession — Indian weddings — Card 6
“Can someone tell me why the wedding day is the most important day of a girl’s life? As though nothing else matters. As though their existence has no value if they don’t get married. Why do parents beg, borrow, and steal to make sure their daughter is wed in style? This hardship is clearly borne less for the girl and more for the world. Society must see they didn’t skimp when they sent her off. Maybe because once she is gone they will never let her come back.”
—Kabir Basrai, season 1, episode 8, Made in Heaven
“Shaadi apne liye kar rahe hain ya inn logon ke liye? Haldi, mehendi, chivda, dal what the f**k is happening yaar?”
(English translation: Am I getting married for myself or all these people? Turmeric, henna, rice puffs, lentils, what that f**k is happening, buddy?)
—Kalindi Puri, Veere Di Wedding
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Quartz Obsession — Indian weddings — Card 7
Songs to take you through the henna ceremony as if you’re a bride leaving your parents’ home with an overconfident groom promising to whisk you away, with a marigold-like, bittersweet relationship with your mother-in-law awaiting you.
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Quartz Obsession — Indian weddings — Card 8
During typical Hindu nuptials, the bride promises many things to her husband, including an oath that she will never visit her parents’ house without his permission, eat a meal before him, or sit in parks and gardens alone. This differs in form and absurdity by region.
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Quartz Obsession — Indian weddings — Card 9
Hindu weddings have major cultural muscle power over most Indian weddings. For instance, the north Indian tradition of slathering the bride and groom with turmeric paste has made its way into most Hindu weddings, no matter the region. Of course the Instagrammability doesn’t hurt—an entire wedding party dressed in all yellow is aesthetically irresistible.
The entertainment business wields huge influence in this domain. TV producer Ekta Kapoor’s 2000s show, Kyunki Saas Bhi Kabhi Bahu Thi (Because the Mother-in-Law Was Once a Daughter-in-Law), popularized the ceremony of a new bride walking into her husband’s home only after nudging over a small vessel filled with rice.
Post-wedding festivals, such as Karwa Chauth (where a wife fasts without water and food for a day for the sake of her husband’s longevity), also transformed into gala community events thanks to filmmaker Karan Johar’s 2001 film Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham (Sometimes Happiness, Sometimes Sorrow).
More recently, Veere Di Wedding looked through the lens of four modern women at the chaos and stress that weddings and marriages can be, whereas Amazon Prime’s Made in Heaven looks askance at the entire industry. All of these reflect modern Indian society as much as they inform it.
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Quartz Obsession — Indian weddings — Card 10
Pre-wedding interviews, slo-mo shots, drones, songs, dance performances—you name it, an Indian wedding will most likely have it, and for the right price, it can be its own film.
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Quartz Obsession — Indian weddings — Card 12
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Lately in that email, we’ve been obsessing over specific companies. Grab your 🍿, here’s a snippet from the brief history of Reliance Jio.
(Get the full Ambani saga, and then take your obsessing to the next level by becoming a member.)
2002: Dhirubhai Ambani, who founded India’s Reliance Group with just $13, dies without a will in place. His elder son Mukesh becomes chairman and managing director of Reliance Industries. Younger son Anil is made vice-chairman.
2004: News of a property feud between the brothers surfaces for the first time in public. In a TV interview, Mukesh acknowledges the issue, but says it won’t affect Reliance’s business.
2005: The matriarch of the family, Kokilaben Ambani, intervenes to announce a demerger. The split allows Mukesh to keep Reliance Industries and Indian Petrochemicals, while Anil gets Reliance Infocomm, Reliance Energy, and Reliance Capital.
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