Avinash Bagri and Kirti Agrawal, both 31, had been engaged for over a year and were excited to be married on April 26. That date had been carefully chosen with the help of an astrologer — Indian weddings are typically planned around “auspicious” days — and this year, March and April were full of them. Then, the COVID-19 pandemic struck.
It’s estimated that over a million weddings in India have been postponed or cancelled since the crisis began, and according to astrological calendars, no new opportunities will arise until November.
So rather than wait seven months, Bagri and Agrawal opted for a virtual wedding.
11 a.m. to 1 p.m.
Indian weddings typically involve elaborate Hindu rituals, and Bargi and Agrawal’s parents agreed to a Zoom wedding on the condition that these be properly performed. Under normal circumstances, the bride and groom would spend the morning of the wedding day with their families and participate in rites such as a haldi ceremony, where their faces, arms, and feet would be painted with turmeric. The couple would also be kept apart until meeting at the altar.
Instead, Bagri and Agrawal spent the morning on video calls with their parents and gathering items for the altar. They were at Bagri’s sister’s, a two-bedroom apartment on the 11th floor of a high-rise outside New Delhi, so avoiding each other entirely was not an option. Their parents were in their respective hometowns — Satna and Bareilly, east of the city. In preparation, both sets of parents held religious ceremonies to wish the couple good luck.
1 p.m. to 3 p.m.
After the soon-to-be newlyweds held a prayer ceremony with a priest over Zoom, Bagri began to clean and decorate the balcony. They had to hold the wedding there, he explained, “otherwise the fire alarm would go off in the living room because of the holy pyre.” He hung mango leaves on the walls and strategized about where to put various recording devices.
One phone was placed in a phone stand on a window; another was positioned on a selfie stick jammed into a potted plant. A table was brought in for the laptop. Each device served a specific purpose. The first phone was for the overall view, the second was to record the wedding, and the laptop was for live streaming. “We had another phone for WhatsApp, because my dad was unable to connect on Zoom,” he added.
Typically, the groom would have spent this time getting ready with his groomsmen, followed by his mounting a horse and leading a celebratory procession to the bride’s location, where the ceremony would take place.
But Bagri and Agrawal had different concerns, namely their Wi-Fi connection. “Our only backup was mobile internet,” said Bagri. “Our priest’s internet was also crucial.”
3 p.m. to 5 p.m.
About two hours before the ceremony, Agrawal received a video call from her makeup artist. She sat in front of a mirror while her soon-to-be sister-in-law rummaged through a bag of beauty products and tried to follow the artist’s instructions.
After her makeup was ready 45 minutes later, Agrawal put on a blouse she brought from home and a skirt her sister-in-law loaned her. “My actual wedding dress was in my hometown,” she said.
Then it was time to check on final details. The couple made sure their internet was working — it was — and turned on their Zoom. Guests filed in, filling up the screen. Some had dressed up for the occasion; others wore regular clothes.
Priest: check. Parents: check. Guests: check.
The wedding ceremony began at 5:30 p.m. sharp.
In front of their priest, who was 900 miles away in Mumbai, and around 80 Zoom guests from all over the world, Agrawal and Bagri walked around the holy pyre seven times, acknowledging the seven vows a Hindu couple must take. Apart from the bride and groom, the groom’s brother, sister, and brother-in-law were the only people present in person. In Hindu weddings, the bride’s father usually gives away his daughter, but in this case, the groom’s brother-in-law filled in.
Around 40 guests stayed till the end of the ceremony.
Once they were married, friends and family celebrated the newlyweds with dancing and singing, all over Zoom. The session concluded with the groom’s mother singing a song to welcome her new daughter-in-law into the family — a tradition that would normally happen right before the bride set foot in her new home.
Usually, a Hindu ceremony can last up to a few hours and is followed by a reception where the couple is seated on stage while guests dance and enjoy an elaborate feast. Throughout the night, guests join the newlyweds to congratulate them, present them with gifts, and take pictures.
“They joked about sending money to us virtually, but we declined that,” said Bagri. “How can we take their money when we couldn’t even give them a proper wedding celebration and a nice dinner?”
Bagri and Agrawal will have a large celebration in November and hope to invite around 10,000 people. While Agrawal looks forward to that, she was pleasantly surprised by the virtual wedding. “It was a whole different experience to have a wedding this way — making do with what we have and getting creative,” she says. “I also got so many compliments for the dress and makeup.”