“Yeh shaadi bhagwan ke kripa se ho raha hai (This marriage is taking place thanks to the mercy of god),” says Pandit PS Tripathi solemnly. “Theek se sunai nahi de raha hai (I can’t hear properly),” a disembodied female voice suddenly pips up as the famed TV astrologer from Raipur began to chant mantras rapidly; somebody else shush-es the woman. It’s hard to pinpoint who these voices belong to on the Zoom call attended by 100 people — relatives of Sushen Dang and Keerti Narang who tied the knot online last evening. As Tripathi extolled the grace of god frequently during the ceremony, it was another mighty power that made this union possible — the internet.
With the COVID-19 pandemic showing no significant signs of slowing down, some Indian couples are moving their wedding plans online, and big businesses such as Shaadi.com are leading the way. Not long into the national lockdown, the company introduced “Weddings from Home”, an initiative to help couples across communities, cultures and religions participate in wedding rituals that are conducted from the comfort of their homes over a video call. Their first wedding of the kind took place on April 14, between Gurgaon-based Avinash Singh Bagri, 31, and Kirti Agrawal, also 31, from Bareilly; their ceremony was presided online by a priest in Kanpur. For Dang and Narang’s virtual nuptials, Shaadi.com went on Facebook Live — nearly 200 people logged on to watch the ceremony, many commenting with surprise and snark in equal measure, while others congratulated the couple.
At his parents’ home in Andheri (west), Dang was dressed in a mustard sherwani; he’d borrowed a necklace from his mother along with one of her dupattas that was fashioned into a turban. The 26-year-old competitive intelligence analyst for an American startup moved to Toronto, Canada as recently as January and was in Mumbai for work in February when the pandemic began to spread outside China. “Ours is an arranged marriage; our relatives suggested the match and we began talking online last summer. We got engaged in October and the wedding was supposed to take place on April 19 at Corbett National Park. When it looked like it wasn’t going as planned, a friend told me about the online option. It works for us because we can go ahead with our plans while being safe. I think this will become a trend because even after the lockdown is lifted, things aren’t going to return to normal anytime soon,” says Dang, who had no trouble convincing his parents and relatives to opt for an online wedding. After all, the court registration had been completed in February. His bride-to-be, a 25-year-old make-up artist from Bareilly, had to talk her family through the process but they came on board soon enough. “I couldn’t collect my outfit so I’m wearing my mother’s wedding lehenga. That’s really special for me. Sushen and I started our relationship online anyway, so this felt like the next logical step,” says Narang.
On Sunday evening, her brother kept adjusting the volume on their screen so that her parents could follow Tripathi’s instructions correctly, who was speaking as loudly as possible, trying to complete all the required rituals within the shubh mahurat. Mem-bers of Narang and Dang’s clan joined the Zoom call within minutes of going live: some were dressed for the occasion and watched from their living rooms, others stayed in bed and tuned in.