India’s big fat wedding industry is a US$130 billion gold mine for the economy

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“The wedding itself is special for us. We’re the ones who have planned everything – from food to decor to outfits. We always dreamed of our D-Day and now got the chance to design it and will soon live it,” said Divya, who has invited about 180 guests to celebrate the day.

Achint, a software engineer, and Divya, a journalist, are paying out of their own pockets for the wedding, which is estimated to cost over 2 million rupees (US$24,000).

Achint (right) and Divya plan to spend over 2 million rupees on their wedding this month at a luxury resort on the outskirts of Bengaluru. Photo: Achint and Divya/Handout

While many Indian weddings are elaborate affairs, there has been a notable shift in the scale of such ceremonies in recent years, according to industry observers. More couples are opting for intimate affairs that involve increased spending per guest.

Regardless of the budgets set aside by couples, India’s wedding industry is booming.

The sector is worth US$130 billion annually and is an immense driver of economic activity, according to a recent market report by the brokerage and investment research firm Jefferies.

India holds more wedding ceremonies each year than any other country, with between 8 million and 10 million – or nearly 25 per cent of the global total. In comparison, about 2 million weddings and 8 million weddings take place annually in the United States and China, respectively.

The value of India’s wedding industry is about twice that in the US, according to the report.

“An otherwise value-conscious society, Indians love to spend on weddings, which could be disproportionate to their level of income or wealth. And this is irrespective of economic classes,” the report said.

“The average expenditure on a wedding at US$15,000 is a multiple of per capita or household income. Interestingly, an average Indian couple spends twice as much on weddings compared to education [pre-primary to graduation], in sharp contrast to countries like the US, where wedding expenditure is less than half that of education.”

Actors Salman Khan, Ram Charan, Shah Rukh Khan and Aamir Khan perform during the pre-wedding celebrations of Anant Ambani in March. Photo: Reliance Industries/Handout via Reuters

The total spend is likely inflated by the weddings of the country’s ultrarich. Among them, Anant Ambani, the scion of India’s richest family, and his wife-to-be Radhika Merchant were estimated to have spent between US$100 million and US$200 million on their pre-wedding festivities. The star-studded event on July 12 is likely to be the most expensive wedding ever held in India, according to industry observers.

Even Prime Minister Narendra Modi has taken an interest in the lucrative industry by calling on Indian couples to hold their wedding ceremonies in the country.

Is it appropriate to hold a marriage abroad? … I would say ‘Wed In India’

Narendra Modi, India’s prime minister

In January, Modi launched a “Wed in India” campaign, similar to his earlier “Make in India” initiative aimed at encouraging more companies to manufacture their products in the country.

“Is it appropriate to hold a marriage abroad? Can’t the marriage be held in our country? How much of India’s wealth goes out? You should create an environment where this disease of getting married abroad does not enter your community. I would say ‘Wed In India’, like ‘Made in India’,” Modi said at a public event.

Booming industry

Weddings in India are mostly held on days considered auspicious according to the Hindu lunar calendar. Typically, the peak wedding seasons span from the middle of March to April, then July to September and around the middle of December.

Indian weddings are usually multi-day affairs, with the expenditure traditionally borne by the bride’s family.

However, with nuptials becoming ever more extravagant, families from both sides are more willing to share the cost, industry observers say.

“We are seeing the number of guests shrink from the pre-Covid-19 era. But spending is not shrinking, suggesting that people are paying more per guest with more experiences and more luxurious elements rather than calling 1,000 people to their wedding,” said Mehak Sagar, co-founder of WedMeGood, a wedding marketplace.

An invitation card for the wedding of Indian tycoon Mukesh Ambani’s son is seen in an unboxing video. Photo: Reliance Industries Limited / Handout via AFP

“Millennials and Gen Z both value experiences over material items, and hence weddings are turning into affairs with unique experiences for guests, whether they kick off with a cocktail-making session, a cricket match, or a yacht party,” Sagar said.

Prospects for the country’s wedding industry are bright given that 600 million Indians are aged between 18 and 35. An estimated 400 million weddings are expected to be held in India in the next 15 years, according to a an industry report.

Sagar said several factors have contributed to the spike in wedding spending in recent years.

Couples are choosing more elaborate themes such as eco-friendly ceremonies, exotic backdrops and luxurious rooms. They are also engaging more culinary and entertainment professionals, such as celebrity chefs and popular artists, to attend and work at their weddings.

A bride shows her henna-dyed hands as part of a Hindu marriage ceremony on the outskirts of Ahmedabad in February. Photo: AFP

In addition, expensive gold jewellery and other lavish gifts remain indispensable items at many Indian weddings.

“On average, couples are spending approximately 1.2 million rupees per wedding, which exceeds the country’s GDP per capita and average household income,” said Vikram Sagar Ravi, vice-president and business head of online matchmaking service Matrimony.com.

“Families these days often opt for grandeur and extravagance, featuring luxurious venues, designer attire, elaborate decorations, cinematic photography and videography, exquisite makeup looks, and elaborate catering,” he said. “Despite varying income levels, wedding spending remains relatively high across the board. As household incomes continue to rise in India, wedding expenditures are expected to increase, potentially disproportionately in some cases.”

Industry and social observers say the close involvement of families in weddings is a key factor driving costs up.

“All the family members and relatives come together for a wedding,” said Channamma Kambara, an assistant professor at the Institute for Social and Economic Change in Bengaluru. “Right from the time of seeking a groom or bride until the wedding reception, the family is actively involved.”

A wedding would be deemed a success by family members partly by the gifts they have received, Kambara said.

“During the wedding, they have to be treated well and given good enough gifts so that they do not speak ill of the host. Many times they will be very judgmental about the whole event, which the bride’s or groom’s parents prefer to avoid.”