How coronavirus has affected the big, vibrant, and very expensive South Asian wedding

Anisha and Vikash Sarpal on their wedding day this year (Picture: Navjit Surdhar)

The typical South Asian wedding is big, vibrant and costly.

But this year wedding season looked very different.

Couples across the country have had to face changing coronavirus restrictions for weddings, civil partnership ceremonies and receptions since March.

While some have welcomed smaller, simpler affairs, those with South Asian heritage have had to give their usually grand ceremonies and receptions a major overhaul.

Anisha Kripalani, 26, planned her wedding for 340 people in London with a total of seven pre-wedding events.

She was proposed to by Vikash Sarpal, 28, in February last year, and spent over twelve months planning her wedding.

The couple, who live in Essex, had to quickly deal with changing coronavirus restrictions in the lead-up to their wedding day.

Anisha tells ‘This is something you dream of from a very young age and something I’ve dreamed of even more since being engaged.

‘It was completely stressful and I would say I didn’t enjoy the build up at all, I think it got to me a lot.

‘I had huge levels of anxiety.’

Anisha in her traditional Indian bridal outfit (Picture: Navjit Surdhar)

Despite the restrictions, the couple did not want to delay their Hindu wedding ceremony on October 10.

‘With Asian families and communities it is all about being married before you can start your life, have kids and have a house together,’ Anisha explains.

‘We wanted to get on with our lives and move forward.’

They set about planning an adapted ceremony with the rules in mind, but found all the changes and uncertainty immensely stressful.

In September, the government introduced the rule of six and announced only 15 people could attend weddings and civil partnership ceremonies.

The bride recalls the rule of six ‘put a dampener’ on the couple celebrating pre-wedding events.

Pre-wedding events for Indian weddings include the Mehndi (Henna), Choora (Bangle) and Jaggo ceremony.

Anisha says: ‘The thing I was stressed out about was the uncertainty that at any point Boris could impose new restrictions, new guidance and that would mean we have to replan, replan and replan.

‘Every time there was a news notification that Boris was making an announcement, I would just be filled with anxiety.

‘It got to a point where my best friend said she was going to delete the news app from my phone.’

The couple successfully had their religious wedding ceremony in October with 14 guests in attendance.

For the Mehndi (Henna) ceremony, Anisha organised for friends and family to have their own henna done at home.

The bride says: ‘It was only on that week that I actually believed I was getting married.

‘Because of all the stress and uncertainty we had months before, it hadn’t actually sunk in.’

Family streamed the wedding at home and celebrated by throwing roses during the Hindu ceremony

One positive was that as a result of the smaller wedding, the couple were able to listen to longer wedding speeches and take in the emotion of the words.

‘It was a lot more of an intimate feeling and I was able to take it in and listen to the speeches and talk to our parents and grandparents,’ Anisha tells us.

‘You’re used to the classic Indian wedding of hundreds of people around you and not having the chance to speak to anyone.’

The couple streamed the ceremony to over 300 guests tuning in from India, America, Germany, Tanzania, Australia and Singapore.

Families who watched at home were dressed in traditional Indian outfits and celebrated with Indian food.

The bride said: ‘I was a bit nervous walking down the aisle.

‘The minute [Vikash] saw me, that was really emotional.’

After the religious and civil ceremonies, the couple spent their honeymoon in the Cotswolds. They originally planned to spend it in Singapore and Bali.

Now, after all the stress and changes, Anisha says she’s actually glad she had a smaller wedding.

‘She says: ‘If there were 340 people my parents would be worried: are the guests okay?

‘But because there wasn’t any of that, they could focus on what it’s really about, two people coming together.’

Dipal and Neel Patel on their wedding day (Picture: A Photographer Trush Patel)

Dipal Patel, 32, and partner Neel Patel, 35, set the date for their Hindu wedding ceremony on May 31.

The civil ceremony was booked for May 24 followed by week-long celebrations, including a Mehndi and Bollywood party.

The couple paid for all services, including the venue, in full by April.

Dipal said her ’emotions were all over the place’ when the UK was put into a national lockdown at the end of March.

She tells us: ‘Everybody knew it was my dream and I’ve always wanted this since I was a little girl.’

The religious wedding ceremony was rescheduled to November 1, with only 15 people allowed to attend.

The couple, who live in Essex, spent over a year planning the wedding after getting engaged in November 2018.

‘A lot of my friends are non-Asian so they were looking forward to being part of this,’ said Dipal.

‘They were actually going to go Southall and Ealing Road to buy a sari and dress up.

‘I’m a very fussy person and I wanted the best of the best, every day in bed I was researching, reading reviews, Instagramming.’

Planning a wedding was stressful this year (Picture: A Photographer Trush Patel)

Dipal recalls planning the wedding this year was stressful.

She says: ‘I was losing ridiculous amounts of weight, bags under my eyes, the tears were ridiculous.’

In particular, the couple faced issues with suppliers who refused to return their money.

Dipal said: ‘Asian weddings cost ridiculous amounts of money.

‘When everything tallies up you could have used that money for a house deposit.’

The bride remembers her late father, who owned a fruit and vegetable shop in Hammersmith, would work long hours to earn money and hopefully finance her wedding one day.

The absence of her father, who passed away in 2014, was particularly painful in the lead-up to the wedding.

‘It’s much more hurtful when you’ve worked so hard for it and you’ve seen your parents work so hard in their lives, working ridiculous amounts of hours, just to save and pay for this one day,’ Dipal says.

Dipal with her father, whose loss she felt when planning her wedding

In the end, the bride enjoyed her wedding day. She said the ceremony ‘went beautifully – on the day itself you tend to forget about everything’.

The Hindu ceremony was streamed on Youtube to over 300 people with guests watching from America, Australia, India, the Netherlands and Switzerland.

Some guests watched the ceremony in the early hours of the morning.

Dipal said Neel was ‘really patient’ throughout the lead-up to the wedding.

The bride recalls: ‘Every time I fell, he was there to catch me. I couldn’t ask for a more supportive person to spend the rest of my life with.’

Dipal and Anisha aren’t alone in having found the disruptions to their wedding plans especially stressful.

An online group was set up this year to support Asian brides whose weddings have been impacted by the pandemic.

Nishma Mistry, 36, created the Asian Bride Sorority Facebook group in May, to help women who have faced changing coronavirus restrictions for weddings and receptions.

‘I’ve created ABS to support Asian brides,’ says Nishma.

‘It’s provided brides with some much-needed wellbeing, knowing they are supported by others going through the same thing – having their celebrations cancelled or put on hold.’

South Asian weddings may have looked and felt different this year, without their usual fanfare and huge guest lists.

But in spite of a backdrop of loss and illness, the most important parts of a wedding continued to shine through: two people who love each other coming together in marriage.

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