Marriages in India's northern state of Punjab, one of the country's richest states, are fast turning into a mega-buck affair, donning a new corporate look. They are getting bigger, fatter and louder by the day.
Lavish Bollywood-style wedding sets are all the rage
Until some years ago, Zirakpur was just a cluster of villages in Punjab on the outskirts of state capital Chandigarh. Today, it has become the unofficial wedding capital of Punjab with over 50 mammoth wedding venues or marriage resorts, as they are popularly called, where hundreds of lavish marriages are held each year.
"Punjabi weddings are always royal," says Dharminder Sharma, the director of a real estate development company who also owns a wedding resort.
"There is no other place but Chandigarh - Zirakpur is the only place they enjoy properly because the farms start from three to 10 acres. India’s first-class caterers are in Chandigarh."
There are about 50 wedding venues in Zirakpur on the outskirts of Chandigarh
Flamenco dancers, fresh orchids and ice sculptures
The resorts offer ample space to accommodate marriages where the guest lists can have up to 15,000 names.
Everything is hired – from the bridal wear to the wedding stages, which resemble glossy film sets, the planners to the choreographers.
Singers from Bollywood are often called upon to perform and second-tier film stars are paid to mingle with the guests.
Spanish flamenco dancers, fresh orchids from Thailand and ice sculptures are just some of the flourishes seen at recent weddings.
"People have a lot of money in Punjab," says Karan Wahl, a themed wedding planner. "They spend a lot of money on these marriages because they have only one daughter or son. That’s why there are big, fat weddings in Punjab. For political weddings they will call all the item girls, Russian belly dancers, some Bollywood stars. The caterers can be from Singapore or Kolkata - they spend a huge amount on all these things."
If you've got it, flaunt it
Only the very best catering is ordered, even if it has to come from Singapore
"Punjabis normally show off their wealth and they want to flaunt it," confirms journalist Jaideep Sarin. "If you have it, show it. It is a status symbol because many people want their weddings to be talked about even a year later. Some people put up sets worth nearly 10 million rupees for a one-day wedding, others might give cars like BMWs to all the 'baratis' or guests from the boy's side."
According to a recent survey, the largesse has spawned an $11 billion wedding industry, which is growing at 25 percent a year, and already beginning to rival the US industry, which is valued at $50 billion.
The grand Indian weddings and the emerging marriage industry are expected to prosper even more in the coming years, with Punjab taking the lead.
Author: Murali Krishnan (Chandigarh)
Editor: Anne Thomas