The wonderland of Kerala weddings is booming and how!

The traditional weddings in the state, which were very minimalistic, have now given way to celebrations that span three-four days
An Alice in Wonderland marriage from God's own country (Photo | Special arrangement)
An Alice in Wonderland marriage from God's own country (Photo | Special arrangement)

Couples pushing the boundaries of tradition, exchanging vows atop cliffs overlooking the sea or immersing themselves in Avatar-inspired wonderlands complete with lush greenery and mystical creatures. Others stepping into Casablanca-themed fantasies with family and friends playing the roles of heroes and villains. Even a wedding celebration entirely based on the classic novel Alice in Wonderland with elaborate props.

Weddings in Kerala are transforming into grand spectacles with celebrations stretching over multiple days and the rituals, food, and displays becoming increasingly vibrant and colorful. As the lines between reality and cinema blur, these weddings are becoming more extravagant and unforgettable. The sky's the limit, and Kerala's wedding industry is booming like never before, generating unprecedented revenue and breaking boundaries!

Raju Kanampuzha of Executive Events attributes the growth of the wedding market to the arrival of destination weddings in the state, which has spurred a cycle of big spending on large-format celebrations that have now become widespread.

"During the last leg of the pandemic, the state saw a boom in destination weddings because international air routes were closed. Kerala and Goa were the chosen places for destination weddings, and the impact on the sector was very powerful. The state earned huge revenue from the weddings and the trend caught on," he said.

The boom has continued.

Kishore G Das of Kollam-based Eve Experience, in fact, underlined a change after Covid: couples are engaging event managers for their celebrations.

"Earlier, the main expense incurred was for catering, and they also managed the decor. Earlier too, there were big weddings with huge attendees, particularly in North Kerala where the focus was on food. Immediately after Covid, the number of guests was controlled and families started spending more on the function. The intimately curated functions started creating beautiful moments, and the trend caught on. Now, people focus more on creating experiential events that create beautiful memories," he said.

The traditional weddings in the state, which were very minimalistic, have now given way to celebrations that span three-four days with elaborate ceremonies like Mehendi, Haldi, and Sangeeth, which are very common in North India and not common in Kerala.

"The increasing number of functions and rituals in a wedding makes it convenient for families to attend to the wedding guests who arrive on different days. Rather than hold a big function with a large number of people, when you call small groups for different functions, you get an intimate group and a sweeter experience," Das said.

"Recently, we did a wedding in Kochi for a family settled in Kollam. The guest list was small as it was held in Kochi, so they could hold it in an exotic-themed five-star hotel," he added.

Confirming the trend, Raja Gopal Iyer, CEO of UDS Hotel Group, said that the celebrations in destination weddings spread to three-four days, and the local population has also taken to destination weddings, even though in a smaller format.

"Traditional Kerala, with just a solemnised tying of a mangalsutra, has given way to elaborate rituals of Haldi, Mehndi, and other rituals spread over many days. The local population has also adopted several rituals from North Indian weddings," he said.

Joel John, CEO of Rainmaker Events, a Kochi-based destination wedding planner, told The New Indian Express that Malayalis are evolving to include experiential events in traditional weddings,inspired by the grand weddings they've seen elsewhere.

"There's a conscious effort to invest in clothes, jewels, and entertainment by the entire family. Family members even practice dance steps for the events. They also make preparations for grand entries in boats, helicopters and so on," he said, adding that the immediate change is the number of days spent celebrating the event.

Experiential celebrations

Couples are going the extra mile to make the moment special and memorable with celebrations that are immersive, interactive, and engaging, where participants can experience and enjoy the celebration in a hands-on way, says Kishore, who has conducted weddings on a floating jankar in Ashtamudi Lake and atop precarious cliffs overlooking the sea in Varkala.

Joel's company, which has been conducting events across South Asia, is happy to see that Malayalis are also demanding theme-based events, scripted even around film classics such as Avatar, Casablanca, Sholay, Atlantis and others.

In one instance, the sets of the old Hollywood movie Casablanca were recreated, with attendees dressed in costumes resembling villains and allies from the film. Another nostalgic example is the sets created for Sholay and Atlantis weddings, both based on hit films.

No Jai and Veeru, but a Sholay wedding all the same.
No Jai and Veeru, but a Sholay wedding all the same.(Photo | Special Arrangement)

Sanoj Kumar of 123 Wedding Album chimes in that photography at these weddings has also evolved over the years with most couples preferring candid photography, and also taking extra effort to make the event memorable.

"Man-made boundaries are transcended in these celebrations," said Kishore, noting that he has conducted up to three religious functions for a single couple.

"In the morning, we had a Buddhist-style wedding, followed by an English-Christian wedding the next morning for a couple where the bride was a Muslim from Kerala and the bridegroom was a Christian from North India. Additionally, we incorporated most of the rituals of a traditional Hindu wedding, such as sangeet, haldi, and mehendi," he added.

'Fastest-growing sector in the country'

Raju, who is also the state president of the Event Management Association of Kerala, estimates the wedding industry in the state to have an annual turnover of Rs 1,500 crore and growing robustly. The budget for such weddings ranges anywhere from Rs 10 lakh to Rs 10 crore, he added.

Joel told The New Indian Express that the wedding industry is the fastest-growing sector in the country. There is an ecosystem that involves food, clothes, jewelry, entertainment, lights, sound, photography, vehicles, and tents, which thrives on it.

"In Kerala, there are 15-20 big destination weddings happening per year with a budget of Rs 3-10 crore, and probably there are 20-30 smaller destination weddings that come between Rs 10 lakh to Rs 1 crore,” he said.

He added that a new culture of gifting attendees has also been adopted in these new-style celebrations, which further spurs the local economy.

S Abdul Nassar, treasurer of the All Kerala Gold and Silver Merchants Association, said that Malayalis have always lavished their all on the weddings of their kids.

"Lifetime savings are consumed mostly in wedding-related celebrations, and gold and diamond jewelry is an essential purchase. Although the volume consumed has dipped a tad due to the increasing price of gold, the spend has only increased over the years. Every parent dreams of sending their daughters decked in gold jewelry, irrespective of religion and caste," he said.

A 2016 study by the World Gold Council (WGC) emphasised that the average weight of jewelry worn by an upper-middle-class Kerala bride is 320g, compared with 180g worn by a Gujarati bride. The trade body estimates gold jewelry sales to increase by 100-200 kg per day during the six-month wedding season that starts with the Onam festival.

Box: Crafting an engagement and wedding to cherish
(Photo | Special Arrangement)

Kozhikode couple's dazzling golden-themed engagement

Pranav K, an event manager from Kozhikode, didn't have to think twice about planning a dazzling event for his engagement to Amaya, a fashion designer based in Kochi.

The event was golden-themed and held at a seashore resort in Kappad, with 500 attendees. Pranav had to convince Amaya to hold such a grand engagement, and the entire event was choreographed, with the bride and groom entering the stage and dancing to songs.

"I wanted to create a memorable event. It is a lifetime event that one has to cherish forever. My family was initially reluctant, and I had to convince them for it," Pranav told TNIE. He runs Mom's Love, an event planning company doing brisk business in North Kerala.

He recalls that his family was happy after the event and cherishes the memory. The curated event was meticulously designed from start to finish, with food that matched the theme.

(Photo | Special Arrangement)

Cyberpunk-themed Sangeet: a rollercoaster of energy and madness

Joel recalls a cyberpunk-themed Sangeet that had all the touches of a noir film. "It was a rollercoaster ride of energy and madness!" he remembers.

The Rainmaker team designed an entire set to bring the fictional realm of the Night City to life. It featured colossal displays that revealed unevenly placed notions of the cyber future.

The couple was escorted into the ballroom by the anti-corpo Voodoo gang with their industrial punk dance act, wielding neon katanas.

The food and drinks were also curated to match the theme. The waiters, dressed in matching attire, enhanced the appeal of the event, Joel added.

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