It's true, you really can have a 'small' Indian wedding
Buffer the blow to uninvited relatives and save on money too
A slight nip in the air means only one thing. It’s wedding season. We start unpacking our trunks, calling chachis and mamis to try and locate that one family heirloom that you’re dying to wear to your friend’s sangeet. It’s the time of the year that many couples have been planning for. It can take months to pull off a wedding. It’s even harder to try a plan a small Indian wedding.
There’s so much that goes into it. We’re not just talking about finding the right shaadi joda and jootis to match, deciding menus and figuring out how to finance it all. There are also many feelings that need to be taken into consideration. For example, you can’t just hand your best friend/bridesmaid a to-do list that’s approximately 78,34,738 items long without also inviting her parents and siblings to the wedding. Your father wants to call his college friend who he hadn’t spoken to in 20 years until they bumped into each other at the doctor’s office two nights ago. Before you know it, the guest list has crossed 400 people.
According to a 2017 KPMG report, the wedding industry was worth a whopping $50 billion and growing. But in 2020, thanks to the restrictions imposed during the lockdown, people began scaling back with smaller gatherings, less opulence and a minimal guest list.
“Both our families kept pushing to postpone the wedding after lockdown restrictions lifted. They’re typical Punjabis, living in South Delhi. They wanted the big splashy wedding, because in their minds, it was a matter of their respect, image and standing in society,” says Rashmeet Sarna. It took Sarna and her husband-to-be, Navraj Singla, some time to persuade their parents otherwise.
“The pandemic gave us some perspective. All that money, the shosha baazi, and for what? To impress others for a few days? After all the loss we’ve faced as a society this past year, we have to realise there are more important things now,” says Singla. He felt the wedding should focus on the families coming together, on the new relationships being built, and celebrating life. They started planning a small Indian wedding to tie the knot surrounded by loved ones next month.
By small, we mean an upper limit of 200 people – friends, both families, extended relatives and colleagues.
While the pandemic did see many getting married in court ceremonies and even over video calls, there has been a change observed within the younger generation shifting towards minimal and sustainable weddings, even before the restrictions came into place.
Robin and Naina Shastri always wanted an intimate wedding. More than that, they were on a tight budget. “Robin was supporting his younger brother through college, their parents had passed away many years ago. We’re both from middle-class backgrounds, our focus was to stick to our budget while making it a special day,” says Naina. She said keeping costs low was a major challenge, especially since she has a big family, and is the only girl of her generation. “They were all looking forward to my wedding, but we had to make some tough decisions.”
If you watched The Big Day on Netflix and said ‘nope, not for me’, then minimise the damage done to your bank accounts and the feelings of family members with their advice. If nothing else works, you could always get married on a weekday.
How to throw a small Indian wedding
Divide the guests across different events
Having multiple wedding ceremonies and events comes with higher expenses, but it allows you to split up your guests across them all. “We’re not inviting everyone for every ceremony. We’re having a separate sangeet and mehendi on one day, the next day is the wedding ceremony and a dinner later in the night,” says Sarna.
Invite your high priority guests to the ceremony that means the most. You can divide distant relatives, acquaintances and colleagues across the mehendi and sangeet in “different batches”. Everyone gets a slice of the cake, at some point, and to spend a few special moments with the happy couple while they celebrate.
“Our ceremony will happen with close family members at the gurudwara. We’re giving ourselves some time to rest before welcoming the final lot for a family and friends dinner.”
Make an A list, and back-up with B and C
You need a strong stomach and thick skin to cut names off the list. If you’ve decided to have a small Indian wedding, then you’re going to have to be ruthless in this department. Who is on the A team of guests? Does Anita from your mother’s Whatsapp cooking group really need to be present during your pheras? “This system works best when it comes to friends, relatives are still bound to get a bit upset. I don’t think there’s any real way around that,” says Naina
For the A list, she recommends dropping anybody you haven’t spoken to in the past year. “They aren’t an active part of your life. They go onto the B or C guest list. It sounds harsh but the goal is to keep numbers down. You have to do it.”
If someone from the A list can’t make it, then you can invite someone from the B or C list.
Send out wedding favours to those you didn’t invite
A way to pacify people who didn’t make the cut is by sending wedding favours to their homes. It can be as simple or grand as you like, depending on how much you want to spend.
Maybe make it a personalised gift to commemorate your union, but ideally something they can actually use or keep. Think scented candles, maybe with the couple’s initials on them, or an eco-friendly gift set if you want to go the sustainable way.
A little memento to let them know that you’re still thinking of them and asking for their blessings.
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Simplify the food and drinks menu
No one is going to hold a grudge if you serve three dessert options instead of six, and only two appetisers.
We agree that weddings are all about the food, but when it comes to budgeting, keep the menu short and sweet. “We have friends who served different buffets serving Italian, Indian and continental food. It’s unnecessary. We decided on a small menu: 4 mains, rice, roti and a dessert,” says Robin.
It’s ‘fun’ to see your relatives get hammered and dance like they’re toddlers learning to walk. But an open bar might not be the best idea, if you’re financing it. Keep the offerings controlled with wine and beer, and maybe a signature cocktail to commemorate the special occasion.
An added tip from Robin is that if you’re having a religious ceremony at a temple or gurudwara, many of them also have a canteen that can supply the post-ceremony meal. The menu may not be extravagant, but more often than not, the food is delicious.
Swap exotic flowers for seasonal favourites
There are two ways we can go about decor. Host an outside wedding at a stunning location where the view and ambience itself becomes the only backdrop you need with a few added lights. What you spend on the location, you save on decorations.
Or keep it at a simpler location and spend on the decoration. You can opt for a more minimal look with lanterns and lamps instead of multicoloured light shows. “You realise that a large part of the decor expenses goes on flowers. From the malas to the table centrepieces,” adds Naina. One thing that a seller at the phool mandi told her mother is to go for seasonal, locally-sourced flowers rather than the exotic ones.
Your fancy arrangements can be swapped for greener pieces by adding plants to the mix as well.
Host as many ceremonies as you can at home, or cut them out altogether
The pre-wedding puja, meet and greets and even the nikah. You can save on the venue by hosting as many ceremonies as you can at home. The smaller space also gives you another excuse for a tighter guest list.
Enlist your friend’s farmhouse or ask the uncle with a massive verandah and garden to could host the haldi ceremony.
Instead of having a separate mehendi ceremony and sangeet, you can merge the two. And if you really want to save, you can drop a ceremony altogether. While many rituals hold an important place in our wedding traditions, some are added frills that are more for our pleasure. And if money-saving is the name of the game, then we’re going to have to prioritise.
Recycle mom’s saris and swap gold for gold-plated or costume jewellery
We grew up with plans of being a Sabyasachi or Manish Malhotra bride after seeing their beautiful creations splashed across magazine spreads.
But when you’re on a budget, look towards your family heirlooms instead. You could start a new wedding tradition. There are definitely going to be beautiful saris in your mom and grandmother’s closet that you could wear for some ceremonies. Instead of couture stores, look for local tailors who could make you an outfit while sticking to your budget.
You can keep investing in gold jewellery for a later date. If you’re the type of person who’s planning a small Indian wedding, how often would you even wear that heavy maang tikka? Kundan jewellery looks just as good. Pick gold-plated pieces instead of gold. There are also many places where you can rent jewellery for the day, then get your deposit back upon return.
Enlist your friends’ and relatives’ selfie skills
Plenty of smartphones now come equipped with cameras that can rival the quality of a DSLR. Put your guests’ selfie skills to use by getting them to take candid shots through the day. They’re going to be clicking photographs anyway, right? Make it known to a select few that it’s their responsibility to capture the day’s events.
We have a personal preference for candid shots, especially when it comes to marriages. Smiling faces, dancing relatives and little kids jamming out to the DJ. Stuffy posed shots just don’t hold the same power to evoke happy memories years later
If you have a photographer friend, then even better. You can ask them to be the pro for your small Indian wedding. If the fees for a professional wedding photography studio is coming up to too much for your small Indian wedding, then find out about the assistant photographer working with the main professional. Their charges are usually a lot less.
Create an all-in-one wedding website as invites
We get all excited about having creative and intricately designed wedding invitations. Honestly, the only person who really holds onto those is the couple getting married. No one else is keeping that as memorabilia. It’s more likely going to end up in the bin a week later.
Cut down on costs and paper waste for your small Indian wedding by creating a wedding website instead. You can share the website link along with a Save the Date with guests, making this the go-to spot for all the wedding-related information they may need. From location pins for venues to nearby hotels and a detailed itinerary for the day. All the little details that you’d otherwise have to skip out on in a written invitation can find a spot on this website. There are several platforms like Wix, Weebly and WordPress that let you create a site with existing templates for free.
And the wedding photos that you ask them to take can have a separate section on the website with a Google drive where the guests themselves can upload them for you. Here you could also share photos of the preparations to build some excitement for the upcoming special day.
The big fat Indian wedding will always hold a special place in our hearts, and our collective cultural memory. But, it’s taken us too long to see the high level of waste that’ also involved in it all. Food, flowers, money on things that no one is going to remember two months from now. So what if the stage the bride and groom danced on was only two feet off the ground and not five?
The money you’d spend on pricey invites, decor and more, spend that on a relaxing honeymoon, or a downpayment towards a flat instead. We’re all here for this new era of small Indian weddings. Focusing on human relationships and financial health of the couple going into this new chapter of their building a life together.