"We are willing to bankrupt ourselves"
Desi weddings are what dreams are made of; with no holds barred and nothing left to chance.
Those agonising months spent planning will now pay off. No expense spared, no stone left unturned and a dwindling bank balance serve as reminders.
Everyone absolutely loves a wedding. This is especially true of a ‘big fat’ Desi wedding; the mother of all occasions.
Enter a lavishly overstated but impressively exquisite venue. The tables, adorned with the most magnificent centerpieces and tableware, take your breath away.
The chairs draped with pristine covers and big, bold bows matching the overall colour scheme complement them perfectly.
The decor speaks volumes. Grand chandeliers hang from the ceiling and a beautiful wall of flowers stands behind the centre stage reserved for the bride and groom.
They will sit on thrones and be king and queen for their special day. Their guests will be in awe and feast on mouth-wateringly delightful dishes.
Gone are the days when a bride would be happy with a homemade salwar kameez and dupatta which her mother has lovingly decorated with sequins and gold braid.
There’s an obscene amount of money to be made from weddings and there are also those who have no qualms about exploiting their wants and needs while filling their own pockets.
Will you Marry Me?
This is where it all starts. The possibilities are endless when it comes to asking that all-important question. The ultimate aim is to outdo everyone else.
Many a prospective groom will have been pulling out his hair to come up with ideas.
For example, Gurpal Singh from Ilford wanted his proposal to be personal. He told us:
“Jess loves the Minion movies. So I dressed up as a Minion and surprised her in Stratford Shopping Centre.
“She got the shock of her life. It was worth it just to see the look on her face.”
His bride-to-be was not so impressed that someone in a minion suit was rubbing her back whilst taking a picture. She says:
“I was confused because when I turned around, the minion was holding up a sign asking me to marry it.”
“It shocked me to see the guy rubbing my back was Gurpal. I absolutely LOVED it! He was amazing.”
28-year-old romantic Varun Bhanot spent three months searching for a farmer who would let him leave a message in his cornfields for his sci-fi-mad girlfriend.
Finally, he found one. He took Anisha Seth in a helicopter so he could surprise her.
Anisha recalls that she was literally “swept off her feet” by the overwhelming gesture. Varun was understandably delighted when she said “yes”.
Lakhpal Singh and his soon-to-be fiance from London, went to India to attend a friend’s wedding. However, he had other ideas.
He carefully smuggled an engagement ring into his luggage and kept it hidden until the big day.
He then took Arti Sidhar to the beach at sunset and then got down on one knee and popped the question. She told DESIblitz:
“I just can’t believe that the man of my dreams is going to be mine forever. He makes me feel like the princess I want to be”.
These proposals are extravagant, personal and funny. The male Desi population is no longer content with a “will you marry me?” in a normal, everyday setting.
Oh no, the bar has been significantly raised and the competition gets fiercer and it appears the cost gets higher.
Hens and Stags
The popularity of hen and stag parties has certainly grown. Not only that but there is so much thought put into organising them.
No one wants to go anywhere local anymore. The destinations for these parties are now worldwide and the cost has mushroomed out of control.
Some of the younger generation of British Asians we spoke to said they wanted to make the most of their last few days of freedom.
They travelled to places far and wide and the most popular was Las Vegas which is renowned for its elaborate nightclubs and casinos.
A young Desi from Coventry says:
“My best man did a great job of getting me and my mates to Las Vegas. To be honest, I don’t remember much after that.
“It was expensive but I’m sure it was worth it. Probably the last time I’d get away with the lads before tying the knot so yeah it was great”.
The girls, because they too ‘just wanna have fun’, also go all out when making plans for a hen party. Ibiza is the place to go for the perfect celebration.
Pinky Sharma from Birmingham looks back on her hen do and explains:
“Ibiza was the perfect location. There were absolutely loads to do and because it’s not too far away, we were back home in a couple of days.
“We stayed in San Antonio where the clubbing scene just rocks.”
Of course, this is not to say that all couples go wild and travel abroad to grab their last bit of freedom but it is certainly more common than ever before.
The extravagance and obvious expense of stag and hen parties significantly increase the cost of the wedding.
Choosing the right venue is time-consuming. Making endless enquiries, whether by email or phone, requires patience and a certain degree of common sense.
The choice is endless and each one will promise the earth and try to flog various add-ons whether you need them or not.
Negotiating an affordable price within a budget entails several trips to and from the venue to meet with the event organiser.
It can be totally mind-blowing, and at the same time, frustrating. Many venues will offer in-house catering, a bar, and even a DJ.
Often, it is best to source these extras elsewhere unless you’re getting a bargain.
We contacted The Willows in Chigwell, East London and they were able to tell us that they could:
“….offer a dry hire price for the date requested….we would be looking at a dry hire price of roughly £8,000/£9,000.”
This quote is for a wedding reception on a Saturday in May for 400 guests. It is important to point out the price would vary for each customer.
Dry hire simply means that nothing else is included in the price. So you would need to add to this the cost of catering, drinks, decorations, and a dance floor.
Understandably, the expense of all of these items put together will go alarmingly upwards.
Cavendish Banqueting, which claims to be a “stunning Asian wedding venue in London”, gives instant quotes online based on your requirements.
Their price includes a choice of cuisine but not drinks. They would also provide the full decor for table decorations and chair covers.
A head table, flower vases, stage, mood lighting, LED dancefloor and a Bollywood dreams theme will set you back just over £21,000.
That’s another £12,000 for all the extras on top of the price for the dry hire for the Willows. The need to shop around is a must if you’re planning within a budget.
The Food and Drink
Arguably one of the most important decisions you will have to make for the big day. Clinching that deal with the caterers that wet your appetite will serve you well.
As with anything, the huge choice will leave you baffled, to say the least. Not only this but the range of dishes on offer will add to the predicament.
Once a decision has been reached, the question of taste arises. What will the food taste like? Will it be spicy enough or not?
What better way to solve this crisis than to go for a food-tasting session put on by the caterers?
Maninder Singh from Solihull tells us:
“The food tasting was so good. It’s like going for an Indian but eating as much as you want for free.
“We literally had all the dishes laid out on the table that we had picked. They aim to please and obviously want the business.
“We left feeling stuffed but happy with the food. I’d definitely recommend the food tasting before you commit to anyone”.
In addition to this, you will be expected to serve a selection of canapes and welcome drinks.
We spoke to some of our readers about their views on this. Tina, who lives in Edgware, revealed:
“When I got married we were made to feel like it was expected. So we went for the canapes and welcome drinks.
“We had a range of different canapes – both veg and non-veg.
“The ones that went down the best were the golgappas with the multi-coloured water and the mini fish and chips in cones.
“I’m glad we did it though as everyone loved them. The welcome drinks were great too and added that special touch.”
The cost per head varies from one caterer to another and the price range can be considerably broad depending on one’s requirements.
We contacted two London-based caterers for quotes based on 400 guests. These were the prices they gave us:
- £2.50 per head for a selection of vegetarian and non-vegetarian canapes.
- £17.50 per head for starters, main course, and desserts.
- £500 for a fruit display.
That’s a grand total of £8,000 for 400 guests plus the extra £500 for fruit.
£30 per head for everything – this is for several stalls serving food of different types. The choices provided were:
- Chicken and chips served in authentic boxes.
- Chinese food.
- Indian food.
- Mexican food.
These two quotes are for quite different catering needs. However, they still give some indication of the cost.
A Coventry-based caterer offered the same options as caterer one in London at a cost of £18.00 per head. Only slightly cheaper but it all adds up.
Another expectation is free alcohol. The cost of providing this can rocket sky-high based on the number of guests and the brands that you opt for.
The cost of a bottle of 70cl blended scotch whiskey will range from £13.00 to £28.00. You pay the price for the brand you want.
Whereas, if your choice is single malt whiskey you could be paying up to £40.00 for a 70cl bottle.
Likewise, the price of a similar-sized bottle of vodka for a cheaper brand is approximately £15.00. A top-branded bottle of vodka costs £35.00. Which would you go for?
As if this wasn’t enough, guests will also need red and white wine and beer for those not keen on spirits.
Now it doesn’t take a genius to see that the bill for alcohol can run into thousands of pounds if you decide you want to provide the top brands.
The need to buy gold is a long-standing tradition at Desi weddings.
It is widely expected in Asian households that the mother-in-law makes a gift of gold jewellery to her future daughter or son-in-law.
The fact that this gold jewellery will probably never be worn again and will sit in the safe of a bank somewhere matters not.
Gold is highly-priced but sells. It is a popular commodity amongst South Asians and any jeweller will tell you that business is good.
Gold is measured in tola in India and other Asian communities. This is a Hindi term and can also be spelled as ‘tolah’ or ‘tole’. At present, one tola is equal to 10 grams of gold.
A necklace set made of 22-carat Indian gold is likely to be priced anything between £1,000 to £5,000.
The price is largely dependent on the weight and the amount of work that has gone into producing it. The more intricate the work, the higher the price.
The Gold Forever website, which sells Indian jewellery, prices a necklace set weighing 21.7 grams at £1,038, and at the higher end, one which weighs 97.5 grams at £4,422.
The gold necklace set is made up of a necklace and earrings. A gold Khara for the male is the usual gift for the groom.
Priti Panesar who lives in Tamworth reminisces about her wedding outfit:
“When the date for my wedding was decided, my mum started work on my wedding outfit. It was bright red in colour and she spent hours each day on it.
“She glued each sequin on by hand and added gold braid and borders to the bottom and round the dupatta.
“It was so beautiful and even more so cos my mum had made it”.
As the search for the bridal wedding outfit begins, so do the headaches that come with it.
Understandably, it is the most important item of clothing that will be purchased for the wedding and far more difficult to source than even the groom’s outfit.
All eyes will be on the bride. It is her dress that everyone wants to get that first glimpse of. It is her dress that will bring out the green-eyed monster in other women.
The cost of a wedding lehenga is up to you. Shopping around is recommended as the prices in some shops can be extortionate.
Prices also change from region to region. As expected, London prices are much higher.
It has also become quite fashionable to travel to India or Pakistan to do a wedding shop for all the outfits.
Mongas, which is based in Southall and frequently visited by brides-to-be and family members, usually have a price to suit all needs.
Enquiring about their products tells us that one of their wedding lehengas costs £2,450, another £1,850 and a third one is £2,000.
If there are to be two outfits for one day, and there usually are, then you are looking at around just under £5,000 for both. There are shops where the price will also be much higher.
That’s the wedding day sorted for the bride.
Add to this the cost of outfits for the pre-wedding functions and those for the rest of the family members and your pockets will be much lighter.
It is important to point out that these prices are just a snapshot of what is available. Don’t be taken in by the first thing that catches your eye.
Shop around for the best deal which is so much easier now with access to online markets.
A Desi wedding will never ever be just a one-day affair. No matter how small or personal you might want it to be, some ritual or other will find its way into the whole event.
For most Desi weddings, there are other events and functions which will pave the way for the actual wedding day.
Let’s have a look at some of these:
- The Sagai or Karmai (also known as the Mangni) – this is the engagement ceremony that might take place just before the wedding or even up to a year before.
- Imam Zamin – following the Ishtikara (the finalisation of the match) – a Muslim custom where the groom’s mother visits the home of the bride carrying gifts and sweets. She also wraps a gold or silver coin in a silk scarf and ties it around the girl’s wrists.
- The Maiya and Jaggo – the Maiya or Vatna ceremony is performed three times before the wedding day. Its purpose is to cleanse and purify the bride and groom. Jaggo means ‘wake up’ and this dance is carried out with sticks and gaggars balanced on the head.
- Gaya Holudi and Tattwa – this is the Bengali name for Maiya and is performed in a similar way. The difference is that the remaining paste is sent to the home of the bride along with a whole Rohu fish.
- Mehndi – the Mehndi night is a great opportunity for all the females to get together and have their hands and feet decorated with beautiful henna designs.
- Nanki Shak – this involves the maternal side of the family bringing clothes and gifts to their daughter’s house.
- Sangeet night – mostly for the women who get together and play dholki and sing, often quite outrageous, boliyan whilst dancing to them.
- Choora ceremony – this is when the maternal uncle places the choora (the red bangles) on the bride-to-be.
- Sanjee night – this is traditional in Gujarati weddings where everyone performs a dance known as garba. It is similar to a Sangeet night.
- The registry wedding – this is the civil ceremony which is a legal requirement if you live in the UK. That’s another set of outfits too for everyone.
Reflecting on his own wedding, Lakhpal Singh says:
“The Jaggo was epic. We went all out and took the guests into the streets with the dhol.
“It was almost midnight but this was Ilford and no one said anything.”
“We ended up outside my fiance’s house and made so much noise that they all came out and joined in. What a night that was.”
Desi weddings are known for their long duration and that’s why most people love them.
Being able to celebrate with family and friends for days on end makes the occasion that much more epic.
But, with so much going on, it’s not wonder why families get stressed with the added costs as these pre-wedding functions normally require a marquee, caterers, drinks, and a DJ.
Hair and Makeup
Every bride wants to look spectacular on her special day. It’s common practice to hire someone to apply the bridal makeup and create the hairdo that will turn heads.
Bridal makeup artists don’t come cheap. Plus, it seems to be a requirement to have a pre-wedding consultation as well.
A bridal hair and makeup artist based in South London will provide a consultation for the sum of £150.
The actual makeup and hair for the wedding day will cost anything up to £355.
The price you pay for the consultation is regardless of whether you are happy with the outcome or not. In this case, you could be paying for 2 or 3 consultations before you find the one you like.
Try out some wedding fairs where some will offer consultations for free to get the business.
It is also not unusual for the mums, sisters, and cousins to have their makeup and hair done for the big day. The cost for everyone else is significantly less but still adds to the final bill.
There’s no denying though that this is one area where you cannot skimp. Beautifully and professionally applied makeup can make all the difference to your final wedding look.
Let’s also not forget about the men. They need grooming too for their big day.
However, having said that, be sure to do your research and ask friends and relatives for recommendations.
Arriving in Style
What bride-to-be will not have visions about her very own fairytale wedding? Or is it a Bollywood-inspired wedding she’s been dreaming of?
Whatever your desire, there’s something to suit every taste. The arrival of the bride and groom at the venue certainly deserves to create a stir among the eagerly awaiting guests.
Oh yes, that all-important entrance captured on video for life. Mani Chaggar recalls her wedding day:
“I got married two years ago. I had always dreamt of my Prince Charming coming to whisk me away on his white horse”.
What better way to make a statement than a striking white horse decorated in all its wedding finery carrying the handsome groom?
What a delightful image, definitely guaranteed to impress. Once again, Lakhpal says:
“My heart was set on a horse. We looked around and they all seemed to charge similar prices.
“We paid £500 to have the horse for just over an hour.”
Of course, the cost has to cover the transportation of the horse to and from the venue.
“It is an extra cost but you only do it one time. The impact made on everyone was worth every penny”.
Planning ahead for your arrival is important. Here are some of the most popular choices of transport for wedding arrivals:
- A horse and carriage.
- A stretch limo.
- A Rolls Royce.
- A Bentley.
- A London Bus.
- A Vintage car.
- A novelty car such as a Batmobile.
The prices will depend upon the distance needed to travel and the time the vehicle is needed for. Nevertheless, research shows that £500 would be the bare minimum for any hire.
Hiring a London Bus is not as unusual as you might expect. London Bus 4 Hire quote £699 for a 64 seater and £749 for a 72 seater bus for a maximum of four hours.
The price will be more if the bus is needed for any longer than four hours.
The wedding of Pranav Bhanot and Shefali Devda delighted onlookers on Westminster Bridge with their London bus.
The majestic procession, with the groom on a white horse, was followed by guests in a double-decker bus.
You would have been forgiven for thinking that you had walked straight into a scene from a Bollywood movie as the UK-based band ‘Ronak Mela Baja’ led the baraat.
The procession of guests danced merrily to ‘Aaj Mere Yaar Ki Shadi Hai’, ‘Dulhe Ka Sehra’ and ‘ Tujhe Dekha Jo Sanam’.
So whatever your choice of vehicle, be prepared to pay the price unless you’re happy to persuade a friend or family member to use theirs.
And Not Forgetting…
A wedding wouldn’t be a wedding without entertainment and music. Most venues supply in-house DJs but often it is more economical to hire separately.
The cost of hiring a DJ can be anything from £500 upwards depending on what is included in your package.
It can run into thousands and sometimes you may end up paying for the name too. The more established and well-known DJs will up their prices because demand is high.
Photography and videography are other costs certain to lighten the pocket. A DESIblitz reader stated:
“We didn’t want a wedding album as no one ever looks at it anyway after the first time. We went for the video and all the photos on CD.
“Just be aware that you probably won’t see your wedding video for at least a year. This is the norm it seems.”
He also told us that they paid £3,500 for their video package even without the album. The hiring of a drone added to the cost.
Bridesmaid’s dresses, the wedding cake, bouquets and haar, the mangal suttar, engagement and wedding rings, and favours also need consideration.
Engagement and wedding rings especially are expensive items and some men will spend a lot of money on these.
It’s all About Status, Pride and Ego
Harps KC from London remarks: “Every Desi likes to outdo the other”.
We spoke to British Asians who agreed that Desi weddings focused so much on trying to outshine one another.
Amandeep Kaur Kalsi thinks that there is a lot of emphasis on:
“Showing off their capacity and competing with other families”.
Everyone agreed that Desis are not very good at breaking ties with their families and friends.
So naturally, when it comes to putting together the guest list, heaven forbid that anyone is left out. Everyone appears on the guestlist even if you haven’t seen them for years and years.
Farhana Rokad admits that:
“The truth is we want an amazing occasion to show off.
“We are willing to bankrupt ourselves to achieve this idealised dream.”
Amina Kumar from Coventry adds to this by declaring:
“We pull out all the stops. The cost is not important; what matters is that the bride and groom have their dream wedding.”
Status, pride, and ego are paramount when it comes to deciding what type of wedding to have. Desi parents will go to any lengths to ensure that theirs is not dented in any way.
The cost does not matter. Shilpa Gohal who is recently married says:
“I suggested that we shouldn’t have free alcohol and that guests should buy what they want at the bar.
“This was not received well. My parents were horrified. Dad was like, ‘what will people think?’ They were so worried that they would be mocked.
“The thought of being laughed at was too much for them. So we paid for all the drink”.
The pressure usually comes from other relatives. The expectations are just too high.
Farhana speaks about this and according to her:
“Often the statements you hear are ‘people are expecting a big wedding’ or ‘we can’t let anyone down’.
“Even when the bride and groom do not want a fuss they are forced to go along with it.
“It’s very hard to say no and stand up for yourself. Asian families would get an Oscar for the emotional blackmail they dish out”.
Priya Halai from Essex agrees when she says:
“There are so many unnecessary traditions that have no meaning.
“Like when I got married, my parents gave jewellery or cash to my aunts and uncles. I mean really!
“I’m hoping my two will elope! Just tell me you’re getting married and go and then when you come back we’ll have a massive reception”.
Harps KC has the same idea when she says:
“Yes, the unnecessary giving of suits and shirts has been passed through the generations.
“My experience has been ‘mum, why do we do that’ and mum would say, ‘oh, I don’t know, they just do it’ and so we all carry on with it!”
Is it Time for Change?
The way in which Desi weddings are now conducted may have changed drastically over the last decade.
However, some things will never change. These age-old traditions persist and have been added to by the more current wishes and demands.
Desi weddings are so expensive because we allow them to be. Everyone we spoke to shared similar thoughts.
There is no denying that it is a very special day and will, hopefully, only happen once in a lifetime.
Nonetheless, isn’t it time to ditch some of the traditions that are centuries old and embrace modern ones instead?
A handful of British Asians did express the view that spending so much on a wedding was a waste of money.
Every bride wants her dream wedding but they suggested that it might be better to spend the money on travelling or a deposit for a house.
The expenses mentioned in this article are just guidelines for the sole purpose of highlighting how costly it is to get married in the modern age.
Each couple and family will do things their own way and will consider their own budget. However, the common theme that emerges is that people have a lot of expectations to fulfill.
Jess and Gurpal say that:
“We really wanted to travel and that was our choice. So instead of a big wedding, we went travelling for three months”.
Whether the mindset of Desi families will change or not remains to be seen.
Meanwhile, there’s no business like show business and a Desi wedding fulfills all expectations.