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Leaner, safer, smarter and more sustainable: How Indians are saying 'I do' during the pandemic

Gayatri Vinayak
·6-min read
LUCKNOW, INDIA  OCTOBER 28: People wear masks while performing rituals in a wedding ceremony, at Old Jail Road, on October 28, 2020  in Lucknow, India. (Photo by Dheeraj Dhawan/Hindustan Times via Getty Images)
LUCKNOW, INDIA OCTOBER 28: People wear masks while performing rituals in a wedding ceremony, at Old Jail Road, on October 28, 2020 in Lucknow, India. (Photo by Dheeraj Dhawan/Hindustan Times via Getty Images)

We are known for our love of celebrations – big and small. We celebrate births and birthdays, festivals, naming ceremonies, house warming ceremonies wholeheartedly. However, no other event is celebrated with as much gusto and pomp as the big fat Indian wedding – an event that sees fun, food, family and friends gather in one big party that lasts several days.

Things are a bit different, this year, though. This wedding season is seeing smaller, intimate affairs, courtesy the pandemic, restrictions and safety concerns.

While 76 per cent of couples will be going ahead with their chosen dates, marriage reception cancellations are at an all-time high. Weddings will be low key with 23 per cent going ahead only with the wedding celebrations.

Further, around 68 per cent of Indian couples are planning on reducing their overall guest count while only 40 per cent of couples believe that their budget will be 25 per cent or more, lesser than what they had originally planned.

These statistics have been revealed in the Global COVID-19 Wedding Report, conducted by wedding technology company, The Knot Worldwide.

Leaner, tech-savvy weddings, the same joy

Ankur Sarawagi (India Country Head, The Knot Worldwide)
Ankur Sarawagi (India Country Head, The Knot Worldwide)

With safety fears and restrictions in some areas over the number of people that can gather, weddings are getting leaner as people comply with local guidelines and regulations in the interest of their, and their loved ones’ safety. Ankur Sarawagi, India Country Head, The Knot Worldwide Overall, explains, “Since the pandemic, couples are opting for several small events on one day with limited people, rather than several large one-day events. More than half of the couples have decided to hire fewer vendors to ensure that they follow COVID-19 norms and complete measures are taken in accordance to the Central and state Governments’ event guidelines to ensure everyone’s safety.”

According to him, couples and vendors are coming up with smarter ways to make weddings work for them, making this an innovative period for the wedding industry of increased digitisation.

Sarawagi lists the ways in which weddings have adapted to the pandemic:

Increased reliance on technology: This includes using wedding websites to relay new information and updates for guests as plans evolve, sending e-invites to ceremonies instead of traditional wedding cards, and even a list of frequently asked questions which details any new health and safety precautions that will be incorporated into wedding festivities. Many couples also offer a virtual component by live-streaming their ceremonies to include guests who are unable to attend due to safety reasons.

Contactless greeting etiquettes: Such as a namaste, pranam, salaam, bow, or something more casual and playful like a contemporary ‘gesture line’ filled with bows and waves.

Social distancing guidelines: To ensure guests in attendance feel comfortable being in close proximity to one another. To-be-weds will add more tables to account for seating with more space in between each guest.

Catering: Preference for seated plated dinners as this will prevent groups of people from being near the food at a buffet or self-service food stations, and multiple bars. If a serve-yourself style meal is what a couple prefers, smaller stations will be incorporated rather than a long assembly line for a full buffet.

Entertainment: Find alternative means of keeping guests engaged by sharing experiences and celebrating from their seats or without all gathering in one place, for example, through dance or musical performances.

Multiple wedding formats: Weddings could happen in various formats -

  • Micro-wedding or mini-wedding with 30 or 50 guests, respectively - often immediate family and close friends only.

  • Shift weddings where couples will be able to host their wedding day festivities at their original venue and with their full team of wedding vendors while interacting with people in shifts. This allows them to adhere to social distancing guidelines and event capacity restrictions. With this option, couples could host their ceremony with an appropriately sized small group of their guests, while live-streaming to the rest of their loved ones, followed by a reception with the same group who attended the ceremony for a few hours before the next group of guests arrive for the next celebration.

  • Multi-weddings which would see different groupings of people in attendance in order to meet social distancing and government guidelines.

    Safety comes first

While some couples have put their wedding plans on hold, for now, others are going ahead with their marriage celebrations, while ensuring that the safety of guests remains of utmost priority. Some couples have done away with large venues, and have shifted to smaller, more intimate affairs, or are even holding ceremonies in their houses, while others are trimming guest lists and events.

According to the survey, 25 per cent of couples prefer that their guests take a COVID-19 test ahead of the event, as a precaution. 75 per cent of couples will be conducting temperature checks for attendees and 47 per cent will also provide follow-up checks to them a week after the event to check for symptoms. Further, 91 per cent of couples are also encouraging guests to sanitise their hands, wear face masks (79 per cent), and ensuring members of the staff and vendors such as photographers, makeup artists, etc., wear masks or PPE kits (84 per cent) while on duty.

To happily ever afters

Indian Bride and groom wear masks during their wedding in Tonk, Rajasthan, India on 24 June 2020.  (Photo by Himanshu Sharma/NurPhoto via Getty Images)
Indian Bride and groom wear masks during their wedding in Tonk, Rajasthan, India on 24 June 2020. (Photo by Himanshu Sharma/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

A KPMG report pegs India’s wedding market at USD 50 billion, growing rapidly every year. A huge number of people are directly and indirectly connected with it. Thus, the pandemic has seen vendors struggling with cancellations.

However, according to Sarawagi, the wedding industry is incredibly resilient. “We’ve seen wedding professionals go above and beyond for couples impacted by COVID-19. They are doing everything they can to support couples during this difficult time and showing flexibility in working with couples who are postponing their weddings.”

The pandemic, in no way, has put a dampener on the festive mood, too. “Couples are sharing their love and joy with near and dear ones through live streaming ceremonies on video call, hosting socially-distant gatherings of friends and family or intimate mini-ceremonies and shift weddings with immediate family on their original wedding date, followed by a larger event when the pandemic subsides.”

Going forward, couples may need to find more creative ways to host weddings safely, keeping local restrictions in mind. This would require couples, families, wedding organisers and vendors to think innovatively.

Sarawagi is optimistic that the wedding industry will bounce back, it is just a matter of how and when. “While it is key to remain optimistic, we want to assure couples that love will not be cancelled,” he says.