Marriages are made in Heaven, as the proverb goes, the holy wedlock Divinely inspired, or conspired, but Weddings have increasingly become a matter for Mammon and his tribe. There is no Divinity apparent anywhere near wedding halls nowadays as the vile lord of wealth takes over for a brazen display of excessive extravagance, ably assisted by a more brazen team of professionals called Event Managers.
This has unfortunately become the order of the day. And because it has become the order of the day, everyone, irrespective of whether he has the means or the wherewithal, does it in grand style, more often in a grander style than all the rest put together. It is immaterial where the money comes from. It may consist of savings of a lifetime, borrowings, and mortgage or sale of property. What is important is that the wedding function has to be grand, in reality grandiose, come what may.
And the extravagance begins long, long before the gold-bedecked bride is ushered onto the stage for the nuptials. An ordinary letter of invitation would not do for the upward looking parents of the bride and the groom. It has to be appealing, out of the world, in style, texture, content and price. The ubiquitous line drawing of Ganesha, the Lord of removal of obstacles, is of course there, though the recent trend is to have a gold coloured 3-D representation of the Lord, perhaps made in China, pasted on to the front of the classy invite. It doesn’t matter if those receiving the invitation keep it aside after a glance or discard it to the waste basket once the event is over. Considering such a short shelf life, the card is indeed costly.
As with the texture of the card, so with the number of the guests. In the olden days it used to be family members, near relations, friends and neighbours and acquaintances who were invited to a wedding. If the number came to 500 it was considered by some as rather on the excess side. Not anymore. Now it will satisfy the conceited parents of the bride and groom only if the huge, opulent wedding hall is overcrowded, with teeming guests spilling over to the foyers and the verandahs, and the sprawling parking area for 3,000 cars has no space to accommodate half of the invitees’ vehicles. More the number of guests, the merrier will be the parents of the bride and groom.
The old custom of the parents or immediate family members waiting at the entrance of the venue to welcome the guests has been given a go-by long ago, with impeccably attired and heavily made up girls of the event management group doing the welcome gesture with much rehearsed smiles and namastes.
Once upon a time in this part of Kerala weddings used to be conducted in the house premises only with thatched pandals or pavilions, erected on the front yard for the nuptials and the side or backyard for the wedding lunch. The decoration of the pandal was an art in itself, the materials used mostly coming from the green neighbourhood. The ferns one finds everywhere in the area were plucked to be inserted in an artistic manner into the thatched side-walls to give it a green look, while there would be a false ceiling of vella viri, that is spread of white dhotis to the underside of the thatched roof. For pinning them to the thatch small thorns from the kalli plants abundantly available in the area were used. The long, cascading strings of flowers of the Olatti palm (botanically named Caryota urens) adorned the two sides of the entrance, to give a finishing touch to the whole art decoration of the wedding venue.
If the decoration of the wedding venue was an art in the long distant past, it is now a thriving business, involving, naturally, expenditure of millions. The wedding hall, already opulent, undergoes a ‘sea-change into something rich and strange,’ as the Bard said, with decorations that defy imagination. The whole hall is magically illuminated, the highly embellished stage looks ethereal, excellent music flows from a live band in a corner, and beautifully attired girls go hither and thither. The total ambience of the hall is such that one may even suspect that a piece of the Heaven has been brought down to earth and that one has to be thankful to the host for giving him a chance to sit there and watch the glittering ceremonies.
When I got married five decades ago, there was a photographer around who took less than a dozen photos, black and white, of course, which he pasted on to the initial few pages of a small album. What a far cry from that to the cinema like shooting arrangements for videographing a wedding nowadays. There is a whole array of photographers and videographers with their heavy equipment and a variety of props, recording everything that is worth recording in the hall. As though they are not enough a couple of drones fitted with cameras continuously fly around the hall, capturing every single gesture of every single guest. No doubt the professional touch they give to the wedding album and the wedding video is quite extraordinary, just as extraordinary as their price tag is.
The wedding ceremony in this part of the state, especially of the Nair community, used to be quite simple, taking up just a few minutes’ time. It was not at all as elaborate as North Indian or Brahmin weddings or as time-consuming as Christian weddings in Churches. When the auspicious time comes, the parents of the groom usher him on to the stage and, after circling the mandapam three times, make him sit on the dais. And then the bride is brought in by her parents with much fanfare. A long line of beautifully attired girls holding ashtamangalyam, led by an aunt of the bride, gracefully precedes the bride who too circles the mandapam thrice before sitting on the left side of the groom. The exchange of garlands, tying of Thali, the giving of Pudava by the groom to the bride are all over in a few minutes.
And as the groom and the bride stand up, indicating that the wedding ceremony is over, the guests, who have been happily and patiently watching the proceedings all the while, also stand up. What follows then is a mad rush to the dining hall, with almost every guest trying to jostle his or her way in to the dining area.
This is a guest behaviour that has undergone marked transformation over the years. There was a time when the guests had to be coaxed and cajoled by the bride’s family members to go over to the dining hall. It was as though they felt that rushing to the dining hall soon after the wedding was beneath their dignity or social status.
No such false notions plague the guests now. They have come partly to attend the wedding and partly to enjoy the wedding feast. But whether they do justice to the feast is quite another matter. What is arranged at weddings normally is an enormous feast and there is invariably an enormous waste of food also. The plantain leaf on which the feast is served has as many as 28 dishes, there are at least four preparations like parippu and sambar to go with the rice and not less than four items of payasam. Most of the guests finish off even before the serving is half- way through. The waste of food at almost every wedding is colossal.
No one knows how huge the average outgo on a wedding is in recent times, taking into account all the expenditures involved in the purchase of ornaments and the wedding dress, the hall rent, the flamboyant decoration of the premises, extravagant photography and videography, catering, introduction of North Indian wedding practices like Mehendi,Jaimala etc and other related items. Whatever it is, one thing is almost certain. It is beyond the means of a vast majority of parents who arrange them. That is why organizations like the Nair Service Society (NSS) occasionally make calls for frugality in wedding expenses. But the calls are not enough. There has to be a concerted, wide-based campaign against ostentation and wasteful expenditure on weddings.
A discussion on wasteful expenditure on weddings will not be complete without reference to a positive change that has come over the scene in recent times. Till quite recently most of those invited to a marriage would make it a point to visit the bride’s house on the eve of the wedding to give a gift (valuable or worthless) and, then, enjoy a dinner. Wedding eve dinner for guests had turned out to be a major item of avoidable expenditure related to weddings. It was therefore a good thing that some clever parent decided sometime in the past that enough was enough. In the impeccable Invitation letter, he printed the sentence There Will Be No Wedding Eve Reception at the Bride's Residence and Presents in Blessings Only. The message made it loud and clear: You are not welcome home with or without your gifts. Please attend the wedding instead.
Like the viral videos in the social media, this message has almost become an inseparable part of present day wedding invitations.