The Greek’s can say what they like; nobody does a big wedding the way Indians do. The Indian nuptials’ long parade of rituals and feasts lasts several days, always involving at least a hundred guests in the most colorful, elaborate and lavish party you can image.
“It’s true that the national passion of India is neither film nor cricket as is commonly believed. Our national passion is marriage. People spend all their lives thinking about marriage, their own marriage, marriage of their siblings, children, neighbours and so on.” Professor Shubha Tiwari.
Perhaps as an indication of how seriously this passion is regarded, the divorce rate in India is very low – about 13 in 1,000 marriages, against 500 in 1,000 marriages in the UK.
Once upon a time, Indians married at home and perhaps put some money aside for what was perceived as a splurge on a honeymoon abroad. But when India entered the mainstream of globalisation, the Indian wedding market increasingly looked east for lower prices and more exotic pictures for the wedding album.
Thailand is one of the world’s favourite destination for Indian weddings. Bangkok is only a four-hour flight from Delhi and Mumbai.
Very soon that travel time is likely to also apply to Hua Hin International Airport, with promising signs that direct flights from India, including Go First, an Indian airline based in Mumbai, as well as Singapore and China will soon become a reality.
Phoenix Aviation CEO John Laroche is continuing to engage in deep discussions with airlines as plans move forward towards opening the Indian market.
While India is a major market, only 50% of the Indian weddings that come to Thailand are actually from India itself. The rest are Indian nationals typically from Dubai, Singapore, Hong Kong, Indonesia, the US, Europe and South Africa.
The average duration of each wedding is three to five nights, with approximately 600 rooms booked. It still costs two to three times more to host a wedding in India than in Thailand, says Satish Sehgal, a former President of the Thai-Indian Business Association.
“What makes Thailand unique for weddings is the warm hospitality, proximity to India, world-class hotels, choice of cuisines, value for money and a ‘Can Do’ mind set. Thailand has a wide range of destinations to offer for the entire wedding party, although we have noticed there is a distinct preference for the beach resorts,” said Runjuan Tongrut, a former Director the TAT New Delhi.
The Royal Coast is ideally placed to provide for this market with weddings and honeymoons amongst TAT targets for tourism promotions. The region’s infrastructure includes many world-class resorts, often with an ocean frontage and with Thailand’s best weather, facilities such as swimming pools and open air dining can be enjoyed unimpeded.
To experience first-hand an Indian wedding in Hua Hin, pre-Covid, we were introduced to an Indian family who booked their Indian wedding with 200 guests at a Hua Hin beachside resort where we were ‘embedded’ as we attended the celebrations.
Lavnya (the bride) and Shaan (the groom) and their respective families graciously welcomed us as their guests with our assurances to respect their wedding as a very special family occasion. Our sincere thanks for their amazing acceptance and hospitality.
The couple chose the Royal Coast their wedding destination because Shaan was eager for the wedding to be a ‘destination wedding’ and, based on his experiences visiting as a guest at a friend’s wedding here and Lavnya’s love of the ocean and the beach, a Hua Hin beach frontage resort presented their best option.
Shaan’s family have been Dubai residents for around 40 years, so local knowledge would have allowed the costs to be managed, but a decision was made for a ‘destination wedding’ and Thailand was the best option. Choosing India itself also had the potential blowout in guest numbers which may have also reduced the intimacy of the celebrations
It’s very apparent that ‘family’ is a revered institution in India and in other countries where Indians have settled. Many Indian families have successfully maintained relationships between distant continents over many years. During the wedding we met one lady from Bombay who was being frequently texted by absent family members from different countries wanting an update.
A majority of the guests came from Dubai, India, Canada and England with a few coming from America and Australia. Lavnya and Shaan are both based in Dubai but with a Punjabi heritage, their wedding followed the traditions of this Northern Region of India.
It’s not practical for just any Resort to host an Indian wedding with flexibility needed to accept a variety of outside service providers being engaged. Ceremonial and decorative components of the wedding are complicated and intricate. Adherence to traditional Hindu practices needs lots of advice and support by experienced ‘aunties’ as well as the religious leaders present.
‘Indian time’ (much more expansive than ‘Thai time’) means that no one expects the schedule to be kept and being over an hour late is no big deal. Yet somehow guests figure out when to be where; that’s a skill in itself. Late night parties really mean early mornings with the daylight hours greeting many party goers. Sunglasses are an essential accessory of the wedding attire.
After it was all over some guests enjoyed an extra day or so for some sightseeing around the region and the bride and groom were set to have their romantic honeymoon, heading towards another resort in Pranburi.
Here’s A Summary of Three Days at Lavnya and Shaan’s Wedding Celebrations
Day 1 Mehendi
Mehendi or henna is a paste made into designs as a symbolic representation of the outer and the inner sun. Vedic customs are centered on the idea of “awakening the inner light”. Traditional Indian designs are representations of the sun on the palms. Then the After Party – ‘til morning!
Day 2 Sangeet
The term Sangeet, when translated into English literally means ‘sung together’. The Sangeet is a time for celebrating, singing, dancing and joking. It includes some good-natured ribbing of the couple’s soon-to-be in-laws and a perfect time for wedding guests to meet and get to know each other better.
Day 3 Jenoa
This is perhaps the Hindu ‘coming of age’, based on religious practices which may or may not have happened prior to the wedding. It includes the groom being daubed with a yellow yoghurt based paste. In Shaan’s case, he had already undertaken the more formal version with an older brother, so at his wedding much less formal than usual; a ‘messy’ and according to Shaan a very cold confirmation of his ‘adult’ status.
A Churra is a set of bangles that are traditionally made of ivory, with inlay work, though now made with plastic they are worn by an Indian bride on her wedding day as a tradition originating in Punjab, North India. It is a favoured tradition in Hindu families,
After the groom has dressed up in his wedding clothes (after a quick swim), a puja, a prayer ritual performed to host, honour and spiritually celebrate an event is performed. To complete the Sehrabandi ceremony, all attending, including us, were also ‘turbaned’ in readiness for the wedding procession.
The groom traditionally arrived at the ceremony on a decorated white horse. This is not always a practical option and in Shaan’s case both the arrival at the ceremony and later the couple’s departure was by Tuk Tuk. To quote Shaan he was ready to “Tuk Tuk her away.”
Guests danced around him to the beat of the dhol, an Indian drum. After that, the bride and her family greet the groom, and the couple exchanges floral garlands to wear around their necks to symbolise their acceptance of each other.
Wedding Ceremony & Reception
The couple takes the saptapadi, or seven steps, as they vow to support each other and live happily together. Finally, the groom applies a red powder to the centre of the bride’s forehead and ties a black beaded necklace around her neck, symbolising that she’s now a married woman.
Performances of the Bhangra, a frenzied Punjab folk dance, takes centre stage at the wedding reception. No encouragement needed to join in or any particular dancing skills, the rhythm is very infectious for the old and young, just go crazy!