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Indian Wedding Season Is Here Again

This is turning into a year of wedding celebrations in my friend and family circle (completely unrelated to Bollywood pictures used here).

What a big deal we make of them! 

Are there any wedding celebration showcases bigger, grander or badder than the ones that Indians are prone to put on?  (And why is that, by the way??)

All you have to do is to check out some of the contemporary bridal attire promoted today to get the idea of how far they have come. This is simply a representative area since I am talking about the whole gamut of products and services surrounding the special event. We have effectively created a shaadi industrial complex around Indian weddings – not just in India but here in the US and anywhere else that has settlers from India.

Back to the future?

It’s only early, early spring, but ‘the season’ has started, alright.  I expect to attend and participate in a  plethora of weddings during the year. And it will take all kinds –

    • Elegant and sophisticated
    • Simple (these days, the exception that proves the rule)
    • Grand
    • Ornate
    • Over the top (for those of you interested, Have Trunk Will Travel, Inc* will rent you elephants for the baraat)
    • Mixed Race/Mixed Religion/Mixed Region
    • Arranged Marriages
    • And not.

* This is actually a neat enterprise that is committed to elephant care and welfare. So when you rent an elephant for your wedding, you are actually doing a service to this endangered species. If there’s no wedding in your future, check it out anyway!

This year, for a change, I am looking forward to wedding season. Hmmmmmm, I wonder why? I’m actually quite excited.

The closer my relationship to the bride or the groom, the more fun I expect to have. Especially in connecting and re-connecting with friends and  family. I’ve already got  two under my belt this year.

Depending on which region of India dominates the planning of a wedding (or whether it’s the bridal couple or their parents that rule) , it can turn out to be any of the following (not all are mutually exclusive) –

  • One big party – fun all the way
  • Quiet and Solemn
  • Noisy and Chaotic
  • Ritualistic and Ceremonial
  • Meaningful
  • Unforgettable

I’d guess that if wedding planners had one wish then, across the board they would aim for that one universal experience for the bridal couple, their entourage and wedding guests, i.e. making it unforgettable (for all the right reasons!).  

The corollary to this, of course, is that no one wants their wedding celebration to invoke that punishing, forgettable feel of ‘bland’. But just look at the vibrant colors in the picture below, as an example. Indian weddings, in general, are just this colorful and vibrant. Combine this with some spicy Indian cuisine, and luckily for my Indian friends, bland is simply not an option. 

In any case, best wishes and good luck to all who are making 2013 their special year!

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In India, Marriages are Made in Heaven. Or Shaadi.com

There’s Change. And then there’s Change.

India is a-changing. Rapidly. I’m not sure how many times I’ve written this. It’s becoming rather boring, even to myself, to keep repeating this mantra. But, what can I say? It’s what has happened to this country during the long period when I was living elsewhere, oceans away.

For change to be pervasive or significant, you have to imagine what it means for a nation of more than 1.2 billion people. Kind of like the changing of direction of a massive ocean liner. It won’t happen in the blink of an eye. But over a couple of decades? No question about it! In so many aspects of life, work and living in India – change is visible, dramatic and immense.  

But not so much in the case of Indian marriages. In this case, there’s probably been more of a very slow evolution, than any kind of revolution.

The Curious Case of Arranged Marriages 

This has been a country of arranged marriages over the ages, specifically way back since the fourth century.

So, just because the country has opened up to the West and just because of global mass media and communications, it doesn’t mean that centuries of tradition can or will become undone, especially when it comes to such life altering decisions.

Sure, there are some changes, especially in the metros, where marriages of ‘the other kind’ [regularly referred to as “love marriages” 🙂 ] seem to be more commonplace, but even in the metros, arranged marriages continue to rule the roost.

Marriage is still considered in India as uniting families rather than individuals.More of a family alliance than a union between two souls, that’s for sure.

These arranged marriages originally became a practice for the elite in society to maintain their high status. Gradually it became pervasive in Indian society in general, where each class sought to maintain its respective status.

A Central Fabric of Indian Society. But Why?

According to sociologists who have studied this broad phenomenon in India, historically and even today, arranged marriages serve various purposes in most of the diverse communities across India. 

1. Maintains social status and satisfaction

2. Gives parental control of children’s futures

3. Preserves ancestral lineage

4. Provides an opportunity to strengthen the family sub-group

5. Allows the consolidation and extension of family wealth and property

6. Enables the preservation of endogamy, the practice of marrying within a specific ethnic group, class, or social group, rejecting others (on such a basis) as being unsuitable.

When you think about this carefully, it’s easy to veer from the good to the ugly. It’s a dichotomy. On the one hand, you have something that is very practical. On the other hand, that same something is also rather cold. And, where in all of this is there any room for that concept called romance

The Modern Matchmaker

Into this old country with timeless traditions, enter shaadi.com (Note: “Shaadi” in Hindi means wedding).This was back in 1996. The founder, Anupam Mittal was a single guy who was having trouble finding the right girl to marry. So, he decided to marry technology to tradition and create shaadi.com. Or so the legend goes. From what I have read, he has remained single. But that has not stopped him from being the online facilitator and the “arranger”, so to speak, of countless Indian arranged marriages.

You have seen companies that have mission statements that speak of various prosaic or esoteric missions. For example, there are some staid one’s such as Microsoft’s

“…Helping People and Businesses to Realize their Full Potential”.  Oh…kay.

Or something fun, like Zynga, the games company, which describes itself as such –

Zynga wants to give the world permission to play… 

That’s pretty neat. Still, shaadi.com has a higher purpose. Here is how it describes itself –

using our services to find happiness.

It goes without saying that these folks equate marriage with happiness. Some would say that was a pretty contentious stance to take. But not many in India, I dare say. 

This online marriage broker is obviously doing something right in this country of a billion plus people. This site is ranked in the top 10 most visited sites of India.  They’ve hit a sweet spot, for sure.

Besides, it was also ranked as the most innovative company in India by Fast Company. Perhaps that’s because of the the way it applies technology to marriage – making it easy to use, safe, private, comprehensive – offering a whole host of variety, selection criteria, and ultra customer-focused.

So, how does it work?

Essentially it’s like a dating service except that there is only one real goal: M A R R I A G E. You can think of it as a dating service customized for Indians, with all the quirks and traditions that they are used to and need.

Versatility, Thy Name is Shaadi.com

In India, it’s not always the individual to be married who submits a profile on shaadi.com. Carrying its well-established tradition forward, it could be parent(s), sibling or some ‘elder’ in the family who decides that the candidate wants marriage. So, essentially, in these cases, you have just moved an “offline”, analog process to be online and digital. According to the site, a whopping 30% of profiles are submitted by someone other than the marriage prospect. This goes back to my theory that the ‘business’ of marriage in India has not changed much over the centuries.

No doubt shaadi.com is providing a valuable service to a country that is still very traditional in its approach to marriage and life in general, by using technology to expand the universe of the prospective groom or bride (or their parents) to find their mate for life.

In addition to helping the traditionalist, there is also something liberating about this process because even as this site enables the conventional Indian approach to get results, it also offers an opportunity for people to move beyond caste, community, religion and language  – should they choose to do so.  For example, perhaps an individual chooses to find and meet someone who has similar interests, rather than similar castes or backgrounds. They can do so now in the privacy of their home unleashing the power of their advanced search feature…all at their fingertips!

The service uses a subscription revenue model but I have yet to find any financials of this private company. However, with 15 years of history, this company has managed to touch over 20 million Indians globally and claims to have arranged a whopping 2 million marriages. Wow!

In addition, they have a mix of 70% Indians living in India and 30% Indians living outside of India. They have an impressive six million unique visitors every month with three million active members currently. The ratio of male to female between the ages of 21-35 is 65 to 35% – I’m not quite sure what conclusions to draw from this difference.

Shaadi.com may be the most well known and successful marriage site in India, but as you can imagine in this massive market, there’s room for copy cats, some backed by big name companies. So, here are a few more with some interesting names-

jeevansathi.com (“lifelong friend”)

simplymarry.com – labels itself as the first “metro-marriage” site.

bharatmatrimony.com (“bharat” – another name for India)

lifepartnerindia.com

vivahabandhan.com (“marriage bond”)

marriageexpress.com – Hmmmm, that sounds kinda fishy….

and of course, secondshaadi.com.  Why ever not?

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Photo credit – Traditional Indian Wedding: http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/b/bd/Indian_wedding_Delhi.jpg/500px-Indian_wedding_Delhi.jpg


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