When Namrata Nataraj and Nitin Bathi got married in Bengaluru last month, they had six complete strangers attending their three-day Kannadiga wedding. No, these weren't gatecrashers, but six foreign travellers who had purchased tickets to attend the couple's wedding.
The travellers and the hosts had connected on Join My Wedding, a startup that lets soon-to-be married couples invite foreign travellers to their weddings by selling tickets. While couples get the chance to partly finance their wedding, travellers have the opportunity to experience a big fat Indian wedding.
Nataraj and Bathi were the first couple to actually have travellers attend their wedding. After coming across a Facebook post on Join My Wedding, the two were intrigued by the sheer novelty of the idea. "It was something nobody had done before," Nataraj said. "We thought it was a great way to make friends. Given a chance, we too would loved to attend someone's wedding in a new country." Due to the large scale nature of each event, (500 guests for the wedding and 1,000 for the reception) privacy wasn't really a concern.
By the time they listed their wedding on the website, the two had already been planning their wedding for over a year. With only a month ago, they were unsure if anyone would come with such short notice. Surprisingly, they ended up selling nine tickets to six travellers from Australia, France, Spain, Ireland and New Zealand, who were in Bengaluru that week. The six attended their mehendi, sangeet, marriage and reception between 27 and 29 August, with the tickets priced at $50 for a day, calculated on the basis of the cost for food and transport.
"The one thing that they liked the most was the food -- both the Kannadiga lunch served on banana leaves on the wedding day, as well as the north Indian dinner on the reception," Nataraj said. "They also enjoyed the traditional games that are played by the bride and groom after the wedding." The couple deputed a friend to take care of the guests during the course of the wedding and guide them through various ceremonies.
"To me, it was interesting to see how relaxed the entire event was," Luke Sinclair from New Zealand said. "It was a lot less formal than the European weddings I am used to. There were a thousand people there but nobody was drinking alcohol and it was very peaceful and relaxed." He also ended up by inviting two fellow travellers from Ireland, who he had met while travelling in Hampi.
"I was quite overwhelmed at the huge number of people initially, but the bride's friend made us feel welcome," another guest Liam Kelly said. "The ceremony was relaxed and colourful, but some dancing and music would have been great."
It was the elaborate rituals, the colour and sheer opulence if Indian weddings that gave Hungarian strategy consultant Márti Matécsa and Australian entrepreneur Orsi Parkanyi the idea to turn the spectacle into a profitable business venture.
Matécsa got the idea when she was invited to attend a college friend's Tamil wedding in Coimbatore a few years ago and fell in love with the local food, the organised dressing in sarees and the friendly people.
"It was an experience of a lifetime. My favourite part was when we arrived at the venue, literally walked the red carpet and danced with a group like in Bollywood movies," Matécsa told HuffPost India. "On my way back home, I kept thinking about how lucky I was to attend such a wedding and formed the idea of opening up weddings to foreigners."
And Join My Wedding was founded in April this year. At its heart is the idea that Indian weddings are unique cultural experiences. The founders say that the website is a global platform but India remains their current focus. "An Indian wedding is a significant cultural affair and it is not uncommon to have a wedding with over 1,000 guests that happens over a few days," Parkanyi said.
Couples can specify the cost of the tickets, the functions, and inclusions such as accommodation, transport and food. Ticket prices vary, with a three day affair costing between $300-500, and the company taking a 15% commission fee. Couples can also opt to share the wedding listing only with family and friends and request them to contribute to their wedding costs.
Over 60 peoples have registered on Join My Wedding till date, and the company plans to partner with travel agencies to offer special tours centred around Indian weddings. "We hope to bring the world a little closer by helping young couples share their rich culture and special day with interested global travellers," Parkanyi added.