Tradition and glamour: Indian weddings are a mix of both. Although they tend to stay rooted to their customs, beliefs and backgrounds, Indians are also known for throwing some of the most lavish weddings in the world. In short, nobody does a big fat wedding the way Indians do. While they are, naturally, very important occasions, they are also most often sheer fun.
Growing up in Mumbai, India, I attended at least a dozen weddings every year. I fell in love with the colourful, musical, fairy-tale wedding fantasies that each bride and groom (and their families, and a whole host of wedding planners) dreamt up. Unlike western weddings, where there is often a limited number of guests comprised of close friends and immediate family, Indians believe the guest list should be as big as possible. Long lost cousin thrice removed? The more the merrier! Brother’s dog walker’s mother-in-law? Sure, why not!
India is a country of diverse religious beliefs including Hinduism, Islam, Christianity, Zohorastrianism, Sikhism, Buddhism and Jainism. These are further divided into several sub-categories. While marriage rituals and traditions differ based on the religion of the bride and groom (and their ideas of a dream wedding, of course), Indian weddings of any type are typically spread across five to seven days of festivities. The events usually include a Sagaee, Mehendi, Sangeet, Haldi, Pheras and Reception (see the “Indian Ceremonies: Decoded” box for more info). Other events can be added by the bride and groom depending on time, budget, and levels of creativity. I remember going to a casino night and a treasure hunt for one cousin’s wedding!
Some readers may have seen Indian weddings only in movies like Bend It Like Beckham and The Monsoon Wedding, but let me tell you, that is not it! There is way too much more fun to be had than what you see in movies. One has to experience a real Indian wedding to get that feeling.
Nowadays, many Indians are choosing to get married abroad, in what is typically referred to as a destination wedding. Greece, Italy, France, the Maldives and Brazil are all popular destinations, but guess what? According to a survey conducted by Travel+Leisure magazine, it was Thailand that was voted “world’s best wedding destination” by Indians.
There are a variety of reasons why this is so. For one, Thailand is just a four hour flight from India and ticket prices are just a little more expensive than the cost of a domestic flight. Thailand is also cheaper in terms of food, alcohol and accommodations. But the biggest reason could be simply that the so-called Land of Smiles is an excellent vacation destination. What other country boasts such a bounty of spas, beaches, national parks, wildlife and cultural gems?
The Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT) reports that the average amount of money spent on just one Indian wedding in Thailand is 10 million baht, with an average of 200 to 500 guests in attendance. The average duration of each wedding is three to five nights, with approximately 600 rooms booked. In other words, Indian weddings have become a serious money-maker for the hotels and resorts deemed swanky enough to play host.
Since 2010, Chiang Mai in particular has become a growing hotspot for tying the knot, hosting an average of 10-15 Indian weddings each year. Naturally, the most popular time of the year is high season, between November and March, not just for the cool weather but because according to Indian customs there are a number of auspicious days that fall during the monsoon season when a marriage cannot take place.
When it comes to location, luxury is key, and all-inclusive is a major plus. As such, two of the city’s most upmarket resorts – the Dhara Dhevi and the Shangri-La – have become the most popular locations for Indian weddings in Chiang Mai, their opulent style and old world glamour meshing perfectly with the fantasy nuptials clients have in mind.
The Shangri-La, for example, provides four different wedding packages – Elegance, Glamour, Indulgence and Extravaganza – each more lavish than the last, which can be selected based on the client’s budget and guest list. “We have about four to eight Indian weddings a year,” said Franz Ritcher, Shangri-La’s General Manager.
Of course, any dream-wedding requires the perfect planner, and for Indians marrying in Thailand, there is only one person to call: Keeren Baweja, owner and operator of the seven-year-old Bangkok-based company Weddings By Keeran, and the most popular Indian wedding planner in Thailand. Keeran, an Indian expat who has lived in Thailand for the past 18 years, recommends various locations throughout the country as well as themes like traditional, contemporary and fusion. Once that’s decided, Keeran and her team manage everything from the accommodations to the food to the entertainment, and every little detail in between.
“Everyone desires to have a unique wedding,” said Keeran. “We understand and respect that sentiment. Therefore, each client’s thoughts, suggestions, aspirations and financial plan are taken into consideration before we present our customised novel ideas. It is our goal to create and manage events that are a perfect blend of sophistication and tradition, that epitomise a client’s personal touch.”
So far, Keeran has done two grand weddings in Chiang Mai and has several more lined up for 2014. “Chiang Mai makes up for its absence of coastline with equally spectacular tourist spots and mountain views,” she added. “When the subject of marriage in Thailand comes up, images of romance amid breathtaking locations always come to mind. This picturesque thought makes Chiang Mai a popular year-round wedding destination.”
Not Your Average Wedding
Indeed, Keeran’s most recent wedding extravaganza, led by Worapot Srabua of Thailand-based destination management company and events organiser Oriental Events, took place in Chiang Mai, and it was one for the record books.
Dhiraj and Sheryl Wadhwani got married in Chiang Mai in September 2013. This young, jet-setting Hong Kong based couple of Indian origin always wanted a destination wedding, and fell in love with Thailand, specifically Chiang Mai, not long after they got engaged in a private chateau outside Rome.
“The culture and tranquillity that Chiang Mai offers in comparison to other Thai destinations is marvellous,” said Dhiraj. “Thailand is known for its exceptional hospitality and this is something we have come to love about the Thai people. Chiang Mai is less tourist-ridden or commercialised when compared to other Thai destinations which makes it all the more attractive.”
Dhiraj, the Director of Business Development of Wadhsons Ltd., a family-run clothing business, and Sheryl, creative director of a high-end family jewellery business, tied the knot at the Shangri-La with 800 guests. No expense was spared.
“The Shangri-La was the only hotel in Chiang Mai that could accommodate our guests with constant five-star luxury,” they said. “It also has an extremely large ballroom which enabled us to make our dream of a sit-down dinner function come true. Seating and serving 800 people is extremely challenging!”
It was a grand affair with four days of ceremonies and events including a pool party, a sangeet, a civil ceremony, a spectacular reception, and of course, the wedding itself. Each event had a different theme and dress, from “Turkish Chic” to “Ethnic Vintage Glamour” to “Shades of the Sea.”
“The main highlight was our entrance for our wedding ceremony,” reminisced Dhiraj. “Sheryl and I arrived on a giant floral float as part of a 500 person parade. The parade included flower girls, feather girls, peacock girls, musicians (including drummers, flutes and gongs), martial arts performers, Thai bells, elephants, umbrella dancers, parrot floats, peacock floats and Lanna flag dancers! We also had fireworks after the ceremony.” (Did I mention no expense was spared?)
Dhiraj and Sheryl had guests flying in from the UK, USA and Europe, many of whom had never been to an Indian wedding before. “I was surprised how elaborate and perfectly planned everything was,” said Kelly, one of Dhiraj’s American friends. “I can't imagine all the effort that must have gone into it. There were so many beautiful displays of flowers, the stage was set up with dramatic backdrops, they hired various actors and performers. The last night, which was the black tie event, there was a trapeze artist hanging from the ceiling, pouring everyone champagne as they walked in.”
As Chiang Mai continues to become an increasingly popular wedding destination for Indians, the number of ceremonies in 2014 is expected to double, which is good news for tourism and the local economy. TAT is also doing its bit to fuel the fire. So far, two tellingly-titled books have been launched on this very subject: “Weddings and Celebrations in Thailand” and “Fall in Love in India, Get Married in Amazing Thailand.”
So get ready, Chiang Mai, and start making some Indian friends! Wedding season is here, and these are some parties you just don’t want to miss.
Indian Ceremonies: Decoded
Sagaee: The engagement is called Sagaee in Hindi and is the traditional occasion for the exchanging of rings.
Haldi: A ceremony where family and friends apply a paste made of turmeric on the bride and groom. It is said to bring a natural glow on the couple’s faces and is also a way of blessing the couple with wealth and prosperity.
Mehendi: The Mehendi ceremony takes place 2-3 days before the wedding when the bride, family and friends apply henna to their palms. The Mehendi and Haldi ceremony date back to the vedic times and are the most ancient traditions in Indian mythology.
Sangeet: A fun event where friends and family of the bride and groom perform some skits and dances.
Pheras: The wedding ceremony is where the pheras take place. Pheras are circuits made of the Agni fire by the bride and groom as they solemnise their vows.
Links and Contacts:
053 851 715-16
Weddings by Keeran
081 618 1857, 084 436 7371
Shangri-La Hotel, Chiang Mai
053 253 888
Dhara Dhevi Hotel and Spa
053 888 888