Forbes India 15th Anniversary Special

The increasing grandeur of the great Indian wedding

Experiential, one-of-its-kind weddings are here to stay as couples increasingly opt for exotic destinations. Though some prefer an intimate affair, there's no compromise on budgets as customisation, with an emphasis on guest experience, is at the heart of planning the event

Infographics By Mukesh Singh
Published: Dec 22, 2022 04:21:10 PM IST
Updated: Dec 30, 2022 12:57:29 PM IST

The increasing grandeur of the great Indian wedding(left) Wedding design company The A-Cube Project recreated the chaotic vibe of a phool mandi for a wedding that took place in Umaid Bhawan Palace, Jodhpur. Image Credit: The A-Cube Project (Right) Sonam Babani aka Fashioneiress weds entrepreneur Neil Sanghvi 2,222 meters above sea level overlooking the snow-capped mountain Matterhorn in Zermatt, Switzerland. Image Credit: David Bastiononi

The mountain and coastal views of Bodrum, Turkey, were going to be the backdrop for fashion influencer Sonam Babani aka Fashioneiress' wedding to entrepreneur Neil Sanghvi. 

They got engaged in November 2019 and were in the midst of planning their big day for March 2020, when the pandemic proved to be a dampener. The couple had to wait for almost two years before they could tie the knot in May 2022, this time overlooking the snow-capped mountain Matterhorn in Zermatt, Switzerland.

The couple used their original budget (for 400 guests) to have an intimate affair with around 20 guests on their big day on Chalet Zermatt Peak, one of the best chalets in the world. 

Tehiya Narvel, founder and executive director, Tehiya Narvel Events, a destination wedding design planning and management company in Zurich, Switzerland, that planned Babani's wedding, says the cost of a wedding starts in the range of Rs1.65 lakh to Rs3.3 lakh per person over a period of three days excluding travel expenses.

The wedding in May went viral on social media, with many calling it a benchmark for their dream wedding. Although winter weddings in the snow are becoming trendy, Narvel had received push back from clients in the past. Now, that is changing. "With our highest Indian wedding (Babani's mandap was 2,222 mt above sea level) in the world going viral on Instagram, more and more couples feel the need to push the envelope with unusual wedding venues," says Narvel.

Destination Bespoke

According to an estimate by the Confederation of All India Traders, over 32 lakh weddings will be solemnised between November 14 and December 14. The wedding market is expected to generate business worth Rs3.75 lakh crore in this period. In the same period in 2021, 2.5 million weddings generated a revenue of Rs3 lakh crore.

The increasing grandeur of the great Indian weddingWedding planners are optimistic about this wedding season that typically ranges between November and February. "The next couple of months till early March are set to witness even bigger wedding festivities, as they have some peak wedding dates. Our business, through vendors and overall, would increase by 15 to 20 percent in that period," says Ambika Gupta, founder & creative director of the wedding design company The A-Cube Project. ​

Also read: Behind India's most extravagant weddings

Rhea Goenka, daughter of Ravi Goenka, chairman and MD of RKI Group, wanted nothing short of a royal wedding, says her father. “She always dreamt of this fairytale destination wedding that couldn’t be replicated,” he says.

A resident of Mumbai, Rhea got married in December 2022 in one of the most grand palaces in Jaipur, Rambagh. It was a three-day event with 500 guests in attendance. “Destination weddings offer an unparalleled experience, guests are more involved than at a wedding in their hometown,” says Goenka.

Like Rhea, destination weddings are first on the checklist of several young couples. “We are seeing a huge surge in destination weddings at our city hotels, palaces, beach- and hill-resorts. The company has witnessed a growth of almost 48 percent in H1 FY22 in the wedding segment. Year to date, we are seeing a growth of almost 25 percent over the last year,” says Parveen Chander Kumar, executive vice president, sales & marketing, IHCL, that has a portfolio of 250 hotels, including 65 under-development ones globally across four continents, 11 countries and in over 100 locations.

Also read: The Weird, Unique and Offbeat Wedding Destinations

Narvel reveals 75 percent of the weddings that they take up are destination weddings. “Switzerland, Italy and France are the most beloved destinations,” says Narvel, adding that their business has grown exponentially this year. “2023 will be one of our best years. Smaller weddings are superseding, 600 and 700 passenger weddings are almost becoming the standard now.”

Nitya Bagri, co-founder, A New Knot, a Mumbai-based event management company, which specialises in luxury weddings agrees, “Eighty percent of our clients want a destination wedding.”

“Only a percent of the total weddings I’ve been covering recently are held in the native hometowns,” says Vishal Punjabi, a celebrity wedding videographer. Punjabi is currently covering six weddings a month while being approached by hundreds of couples wanting him to shoot their wedding. “International destination weddings are becoming huge, with a smaller guest list and curated experiences… families are going above and beyond for weddings,” says Punjabi, who rose to fame after Bollywood actor Anushka Sharma’s wedding photos and videos that he had shot went viral.

Also read: The many hats of a wedding planner

With the rising demand, Punjabi has increased his charges by 30 percent. He charges upwards of $10,000 depending on the size, duration, distance, number of events and post-product scale.

The Rising Extravaganza

The sky is the limit when it comes to spending on Indian weddings this year. It can range anywhere between Rs1 crore and Rs19 crore, according to Tina Tharwani, co-founder of Mumbai-based boutique wedding planning company Shaadi Squad. Some of the weddings done by us cost between Rs4 crore and Rs15 crore, says Nitya Bagri, co-founder, A New Knot, a Mumbai-based event management company, which specialises in luxury weddings. Both Tharwani and Bagri say the budget depends on the scale of the wedding, destination and number of guests.

According to a report by wedding planning platform WeddingWire India, the earnings of nearly half of its vendors per month have gone up in 2022 compared to 2019. It claims 31 percent of its vendors hiked their charges due to high product and labour costs across categories. “Post Covid, so many people have decided to go for alternative employment. Some people would typically come from the villages at this time… we have seen a lot of them moving back,” says Shivan Gupta, founder of luxury event space in Delhi, Amaara Farms. “So, with the available resources that stay in and around our cities, the cost has gone up.”

Also read: The big 'slim' Indian wedding

Sanjay Wadhawan, founder & CEO of luxury villa chain Earthaa Escapes, agrees. "Budgets for venues, décor, gifts and cars have surely gone up, and it’s here to stay," he says.

Last-minute and unforeseen hiccups increased the cost of Babani’s wedding by 25 to 30 percent. Almost everything from the décor, which included real cherry trees to imported flowers, had to be flown up to the chalet via a helicopter in the midst of a storm. “There were tonnes of challenges because there was the war and oil prices were going haywire. You don't realise it, but it affects everything so much when you're flying helicopters back and forth," says Babani.

The changing market situation is causing budgets to gain weight, according to Narvel. “We are at the cusp of a major shift in prices because of soaring oil prices. Prices have decidedly escalated and correspondingly budgets," she says.

Big Fat versus Small Lux Wedding

“The guest size curation is a mixed bag with some couples and families wanting to keep it intimate with 100 to 200 guests, while some others looking at hosting a much larger crowd of up to 1,000 people. This also depends on the location as destination weddings are known to have a smaller guest lists while local weddings generally see a larger guest count,” explains Tharwani.

“There’s a behavioural change among people after Covid. There is a definite rise in intimate weddings. People don't want huge gatherings. They prefer to get indulged with their friends and family members in a close-knit setting instead,” says Wadhawan.

The increasing grandeur of the great Indian wedding(Left) Couples are willing to experiment with décor for wedding ceremonies to create a sensory experience. Image Credit: The A-Cube Project
(Right) Sonam Babani wore custom gloves with a name and date of the wedding embroidered. Image Credit: David BastiononiImage

What’s Trending?

Customisation, with an emphasis on guest experience, is at the heart of planning high-end thoughtfully curated weddings. Whether it’s the menu or the table setting, details show, says Shivan Gupta. “Couples want to be sure that even if they are scaling down their weddings, they don't scale down the experience for the guests.”

Couples are willing to experiment with décor for wedding ceremonies to create a sensory experience. "For a couple whose wedding took place in Umaid Bhawan Palace, the décor aimed to recreate the chaotic vibe of a phool mandi," says Ambika Gupta, 36, founder & creative director of Chennai-based wedding design company The A-Cube Project. "Cane baskets overflowing with local flowers, interspersed with stalls for colourful pottery, block printing and lac bangles come together to create a contemporary Indian setting to kick off the wedding festivities."

The increasing grandeur of the great Indian wedding

Personalisation is also a key component of making a lavish wedding unique. Babani's ceremony had almost everything customised, including the bride’s and groom's outfits, which were inspired by the proposal location—Maldives. "We had dolphins embroidered on them and a little bit of marine life," she says. "I also have these custom gloves with our names and the wedding date embroidered."

Wedding gifts are another major investment this season. “Social media is one of the major contributors in deciding how one wants to conduct their wedding. People are also indulging in conscious gifting,” says Anjana Arjun, founder of Sarjaa, a sustainable women's handbag brand that has seen an exponential rise in bags being ordered as wedding gifts.

Kunal Patel, managing director, and Hemang Chandat, sales director of Monika Alcobev, a producer and distributor of premium alcohol, agree. The former says post pandemic, couples are more inclined to serve craft brands at weddings instead of mainstream ones. "For instance, aged tequilas have been the go-to spirit for high-end weddings," says Patel. The 38-year-old family-run brand offers a range of wines and spirits. “We have noticed a huge purchase increase in the alcohol industry,” he adds.

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The finer details for such weddings are highly experiential. They also provide an impetus to travel and tourism, food and beverages, music and entertainment, videography and photography, and the gifting industries. “This creates a bigger market for business across multiple verticals—stationery, gifting, décor & apparel, to name a few,” says Gupta of The A-Cube Project. “Personalisation has increased the scope of business for a number of other industries across décor, cushion printing, custom fabrics and stationery with a view to curate the overall aesthetic of the wedding in a way that truly reflects the couples’ personalities.”

A Sustainable Luxury

An increasing number of couples are trying to minimise their carbon footprint while planning the wedding of their dreams. Close to 25 percent of all inquiries that Shaadi Squad received after the pandemic wanted to incorporate sustainable elements in their wedding. “This number was fairly low pre-pandemic,” says Tharwani.

Chalking out a waste management plan to ensure all food and décor waste is scrapped, and ensuring environmental damage is minimised thoughtfully are some eco-friendly methods adopted by couples, says Tharwani.

The A-Cube Project looks for ways to collaborate with NGOs and local artisans for décor elements. “Clients are looking to reduce carbon footprint, they are conscious of the décor elements that are being used to personalise the wedding,” says Gupta.

New Way Forward

The Indian wedding industry is currently estimated at Rs3.78 lakh crore, and is expected to grow by 20 to 25 percent annually, says Praveen Chander Kumar of IHCL. “The Indian wedding industry has evolved, couples have become more enterprising, conscious and selective. I think marriages for this generation are becoming more about showcasing their identity,” says Shivan Gupta of Amarra Farms.

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“We have seen a whopping 60 to 80 percent increase in revenue in 2021-2022,” claims Tharwani. “There is no wedding season any more… this year, we have planned weddings even in the off season. We have seen a demographic shift in decision making wherein the couples themselves helm 90 percent of the wedding-related discussions.” 

The increasing grandeur of the great Indian wedding

The pandemic has brought about a shift towards intimate weddings. Today, we are back to almost pre-Covid wedding celebrations where everything is expansive and larger-than-life, says Tharwani. “We no longer have a set criteria for functions… people are keen on making their own agendas by adding something, eliminating something,” she explains. 

The desire for young couples to go above and beyond, and create a unique wedding experience seems like a trend that’s here to stay. “In my 12 years of shooting large-scale weddings, this year has been the grandest,” says Punjabi. “I’ve seen the biggest fireworks, the biggest concerts and massive décor setups. While how much of this extravaganza will sustain depends on many factors, primarily the health of the economy, but the willingness for experiential one-of-its-kind weddings is here to stay.”