Foreigners attending Indian weddings organised by JoinMyWedding. (Image: DC)
In the second season of the hit Prime Video series Made in Heaven, when a young and financially broke wedding planner decides to earn a quick buck by inviting foreigners to the weddings she is planning, her senior severely reprimands her. Yet, in reality, this practice of inviting foreigners from around the world to attend lavish Indian weddings in exchange for a fee is far from fictional.
Take the example of JoinMyWedding, a web portal based in Australia. Orsi Parkanyi, its founder and CEO launched it in 2016, motivated by the desire to attend weddings around the world, and in particular, Indian weddings. She explains, "Indian weddings are world famous, so people have an idea what they are like. Additionally, the wedding industry in India is massive with each wedding hosting on average 400 guests, in some cases even going up to 1,000 or more guests, so a few additional guests don’t matter much."
More The Merrier
Parkanyi points out that Indians are open to hosting international people at their weddings because they are proud of their culture, and enjoy the increase in social status that a foreigner brings. "So, there is no need for a "hard sell" to find takers for this concept in India," she smiles.
"When we got married in 2013, our 800+ guest list had nearly 100 foreign visitors," says a young lady from Delhi, on the condition of remaining anonymous. "My in-laws had lived abroad in the initial years of their marriage in the 1970s, and my husband and I both pursued our higher studies abroad. So, we had a sizeable guest list of foreigners we wanted to invite. All our invitees attended despite the long duration of the wedding and the costs involved, because for them it was the opportunity of a lifetime – to visit India and attend a true-blue Indian wedding! So, I can see why there would be takers for a paid visit to Indian weddings."
Pawan Gupta, co-founder and CEO of matrimonial and wedding services company Betterhalf, thinks there are both positive and negative aspects to this practice. He highlights that it is a great way to promote cultural exchange as it allows foreigners to experience and appreciate Indian culture, traditions, and rituals up close. Plus, it can be a source of revenue for the local wedding industry, including hotels, resorts, caterers, and event planners.
It also makes for a truly unique experience both for the guests and the hosts, who will remember it for the rest of their lives.
He does, however, point out, "There may be concerns about cultural appropriation or misunderstanding the traditions involved. Some might view it as commercializing and commodifying of sacred ceremonies. Further, the presence of tourists might alter the dynamics and solemnity of the wedding for the couple and their families."
Nanni Singh, co-founder and CEO of ShowCase Events, an event management company, narrates the on-ground reality of this trend. "For some wedding planners, it’s an interesting way of making extra revenue, apart from being a value addition to the event. There can even be tiers of payment, so those who want to sit in the front row of the pheras will have to pay more than those in the back rows! Often, however, you can tell when the foreigners are paid guests because they will huddle together and not mingle with any one side of the family." She adds, "I feel that weddings are a very personal affair. Speaking for myself, I find it odd to have strangers be a part of it. These are sentimental moments that shouldn’t be commercialised."
Guest is God
On the other hand, Parkanyi asserts that the reason for Indians opening up their weddings to foreign guests isn’t monetary. She says, "Indian weddings are so expensive to arrange! A few hundred dollars will not make a huge difference to the hosts. I believe they do it because Indians love sharing their culture and meeting people from abroad. Plus, they love having the chance to show their amazing hospitality. After having attended many weddings through JoinMyWedding myself, I realised that the saying "Guest is GOD at an Indian wedding" is no joke. I have never been treated better in my whole life, and it’s totally authentic because that event hasn’t been arranged for my benefit. It would have happened the same way, even if I wasn’t attending."
Though this trend may have a growing number of takers, its long-term feasibility will depend largely on individuals. Where some will certainly be open to entertaining strangers from abroad, others will prefer to keep the solemnity and close-knit nature of the occasion foremost. Gupta ends on a cautious note, "It’s important to approach such experiences with cultural sensitivity and respect for the traditions and values of the hosts." (Noor Anand Chawla pens lifestyle articles for various publications)
I feel that weddings are a very personal affair. Speaking for myself, I find it odd to have strangers be a part of it. These are sentimental moments that shouldn’t be commercialised." — Nanni Singh, co-founder and CEO of ShowCase Events
The wedding industry in India is massive with each wedding hosting on average 400 guests, in some cases even going up to 1,000 or more guests." — Orsi Parkanyi, Founder and CEO, JoinMyWedding