Despite their wedding being fixed months ago, Sameer Guha, 28, popped the question to his fiancée, a Sindhi, just a few weeks back. The proposal took place atop a hot-air balloon with the quintessential diamond ring. “Nowadays, you just have to do these things,” the Delhi-based Bengali lawyer mockingly laments.
Chennai-based Shankar Shanmugham and fiancée Ramya Ganapathi, both 28, decided to go the ‘cosmopolitan’ way for their wedding last June, since they were expecting friends from around the world. “We were getting married the Tam-Brahm (Tamil Brahmin) way, but to ensure that people had a good time, we had a mehndi, sangeet and a party, none of which are traditional Tamil functions,” says Shanmugham. “It doesn’t matter which community you belong to, sangeet is a big party where all friends and family have a blast,” adds Ganapathi.
Public relations associate Sangeet Govindarajan, who recently married a South Indian Catholic, wanted everything the ‘Bollywood way’. “I liked all that the movies showed: the engagement, mehndi, sangeet, bidai,” says the Bangalore-based Kannadiga, “so I convinced my parents into having one for me.”
Cases such as these are illustrative of a growing trend in Indian weddings: they’re increasingly incorporating elements like sangeet and mehndi as well as western themes of proposing and partying into other Indian wedding traditions. “There are two simultaneous processes at play,” explains Delhi-based sociologist Janaki Abraham, “a ‘Punjabification’ in terms of mehndi and sangeet whether you’re in Tamil Nadu or Kerala and a reinvention of local customs, thanks to television serials, which are set in different regions of India.”
Traditional meets personal
While there seems to be a homogenisation of the Indian wedding, mainly in the metros, it’s also becoming hip to be traditional. “The gift-giving, celebration of special occasions and festivals as depicted in the serials is glamourising tradition,” says Abraham. The ‘western’ way of proposing and partying, on the other hand, is coming from advertising. “It’s a creation of markets and consumption — the diamond companies will urge you to show your love through diamonds,” she explains.
Consumption and show are an important part of all weddings. Varun Rana of Gathbandhan Matrimonial, a marriage bureau in Delhi, says that in the “marriage culture” of Delhi, people “look at status”. And the feature that defines status is the scale of wedding parties. This transcends regions and religions. Rana has arranged eight Muslim weddings in the last year, and says that more Muslims are now opting for Punjabi-style weddings. “They have a circle of Punjabi friends, so they want that touch,” he says. Moreover, the show isn’t complete without the sangeet and mehndi.
Delhi-based wedding planner Meghna Dewan says traditions are merging, so that “it becomes difficult to make out if it’s a Marwari or an Oriya wedding these days.” Weddings are personality statements, she says, where people want to express themselves. So, it may not be just about north Indian influences. Dewan says she organised a Punjabi wedding recently, where the bride wanted a Sufi theme. “So we had a Sufi singer, the bride’s friends wore shararas and sheeshas were used in the decor.” Wedding photographer Cimmaron Singh agrees that people are no longer ready to go by the book. “The couple’s personalities, lifestyle and beliefs are taken into account, especially since now they are the ones who are doing most of the organising,” she says.
Bollywood plays a key role in Delhi weddings, explains Dewan, “everyone wants a designer or a set-up inspired by a movie or the stars. I remember getting flooded with queries for an ornate kundan set the way Abhishek-Aishwarya had done for their wedding.”
Choreographer Sumit Gautam who has worked in Bollywood and now does weddings in Delhi goes to the extent of saying, “without Bollywood songs and dances, a wedding party is dead.”
But filmmaker Kunal Kohli defends Bollywood in the Punjabification process. “Weddings will be influenced by pop culture and in India, pop culture is largely Bollywood. Having said that, fewer weddings are being depicted in our films now, the whole ‘shadi wala gaana’ has gone. There was a time when Sanjay Leela Bhansali, Karan Johar, Aditya Chopra all had a staple wedding song in their films, not anymore.”
The generalisation is also seen as more characteristic to Delhi/north India than, say, Mumbai. “Delhi is less about real style but more about showing off. So in that sense you can call it homogenised,” quips Kohli.
With inputs from Ruchira Hoon and Meher Ali.