India has emerged as one of the most desirable locations for opulent ‘destination weddings’ among celebrities from Hollywood and elsewhere, a trend arising from a heady cocktail of their ideas about the country. The West, while regarding India as the cradle of Eastern spirituality and a place of escape from materialism through yoga and meditation, also gawks at lavish Indian wedding parties. The result is a strange mishmash of spirituality and spectacle.
In recent years, the glamour and conspicuous consumption of Indian marriages has captured the Western imagination and generated countless columns of coverage. Expensive weddings are hardly a new phenomenon in Southasia, but with economic liberalisation, multi-million-dollar Indian weddings are on the rise. ‘The socialist inhibitions of old have gone,’ comments sociologist Patricia Oberoi. ‘And there is encouragement from private interests, and by default from the government, to spend more.’
A case in point is the recent March wedding, dubbed India’s most expensive wedding ever, of Congress politician Kanwar Singh Tanwar’s son Lalit. The bash was the apogee of modern-day Indian consumerism; unofficial estimates put the cost at USD 22-50 million. The bride’s family reportedly gifted a helicopter to the groom, who wore a garland of banknotes during the wedding ceremony.
The media in the West is enamoured by India’s growing economic clout, especially since the country survived the recent global financial crisis in a shape better than most economies in Europe and North America. Even at times of the deepest financial gloom, India consistently provided the international media with colourful stories of consumption and runaway growth. Tales of outlandish weddings sit nicely against this backdrop.
Everything for sale
The honour of being the trendsetters for outlandish Western celebrity weddings in India can be bestowed upon Arun Nayar and Liz Hurley, the textiles heir and model, respectively. In 2007, they decided to follow their English-castle wedding with a Hindu one in the groom’s homeland. The ceremony took place at a maharajah’s palace outside Jodhpur. Hurley’s fabled cleavage was tastefully covered with a pink sari for the ceremony, and guests were required to pick an ‘ethnic’ outfit from a boutique set up especially for the purpose in a swanky Mumbai hotel. British tabloids and celebrity magazines had a field day covering the celebrations, reportedly one of the most expensive celebrity weddings of all time. The marriage itself, however, was short-lived. The couple recently separated amidst rumours that Hurley was having an affair with cricketer Shane Warne.
In December last year, American pop star Katy Perry married British comedian Russell Brand in a seven-day North Indian extravaganza. The festivities featured a procession of 21 horses, camels and elephants, and an after-party at which P Diddy, the American rap star, performed alongside Indian classical dancers. The couple later remarked – apparently, without a hint of irony – that it had been a ‘very private and spiritual ceremony’.
Now, the biggest Hollywood celeb couple of them all, Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie (aka Brangelina) are rumoured to be talking of a traditional shaadi in India. The couple are said to have turned to 83-year-old Hindu mystic Gurudev Ramlaji Siyag to teach them yoga and meditation, in order to get through a rough patch in their relationship. Rumour has it that it is at this guru’s ashram in Rajasthan that the pair now plans to tie the knot, sometime in 2011. Few stories would be capable of uniting both financial journalists and celebrity hacks in a feeding frenzy, but this one has.
read the rest of the article on the Himal website