Millennial couples go with smaller gatherings

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

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Indian weddings are big business. But some of them might not be quite as big this year as they used to be.

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

Many couples in India get married between November and February, which is considered an auspicious time in Indian culture.

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

This month’s celebrations would have netted companies in the wedding industry Rs.3.75 trillion ($46 billion), a steep increase from Rs.2.5 trillion in 2019, Nikkei Asia reported, based on data from CAIT.

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

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

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

They have chosen to offer 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 CNBC.

India's wedding market has grown

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

“The success of weddings obviously depends on the guests, but nowadays it’s not the number of guests,” Gupta said. “You’re more worried [about] the guest experience.”

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

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

Feeding people doesn’t come cheap

But trimming her guest list came with a caveat.

To accommodate her parents’ request for a grand wedding, Singh will host a lunchtime reception for 300 guests at the family home the day before.

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

Although couples are cutting the size of their weddings, they are spending just as much. Even with a shorter guest list, large expenditures on the venue, food and decorations remain the norm, Gupta said.

Singh agreed, adding that inflation has pushed up food costs and rice prices have “skyrocketed”.

Rising inflation has led many prospective couples to spend a large chunk of their budget on groceries.

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

Singh anticipates that food will be the most expensive item at both the lunch reception and wedding reception in December.

This confirmed her decision to reduce the number of guests at her wedding but instead spend more on her outfit and jewellery, costing her 700,000 rupees ($8,600).

“More people means fewer luxuries at your wedding,” Singh said, “so we can splurge instead of feeding people.”

Expensive gold? no problem

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

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

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

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

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And that was no different during Covid.

Kalyanaraman said the wedding jewelry ticket size was much larger during the pandemic because government restrictions prevented people from spending money on entertainment or renting large wedding halls.

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

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

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

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