No big marriage halls. No long queues in dining rooms. No large crowds bumping into each other. And no colossal discussions between families.
With all the fanfare but without the fuss, Jagananandhini and Dinesh Siva got married on February 6, 2022, near Krishnagiri district, which is around 250 kilometers (155 miles) from Tamil Nadu’s state capital Chennai.
But this couple’s nuptials were like no other — they hosted their wedding reception in the metaverse. COVID restrictions and a love of digital technology inspired them to take this step.
Facebook is also branching out into the metaverse, calling it “the next evolution of social connection.”
Metaverse combines multiple elements of technology, such as virtual reality, where users can feel alive inside a digital world. It is being considered as a long-term solution in big business, but can it also enter other spheres of daily life? Some in India certainly think so, but others think it is just be a passing fad that will slowly fade away once the COVID pandemic is over.
Transcending time and space
Jagananandhini and Dinesh Siva claim their wedding, which had a Harry Potter Hogwarts theme, was Asia’s first metaverse marriage celebration. They even managed to ensure that the bride’s father, who died last year, was able to attend — by creating A 3D avatar of him.
Jagananandhini says she was grateful that her late father could play a part in her wedding.
“That was emotional, and I was incredibly happy. I got his blessings.”
The bride admitted she missed seeing everyone dressed up, as well as the shopping that traditionally precedes weddings. She also said that “if it weren’t for COVID, I think I would have said no to this.”
“Marriage is of course a huge moment in my life,” said the groom Dinesh Siva. “And I wanted to make it memorable. I wanted all my friends and colleagues to be there for my big day. In a digital space like metaverse, even 10,000 people can attend my ceremony, no matter in which part of the world they live in.”
According to Indian law, the bride and groom must be physically present during the wedding ceremony. After having an intimate marriage function in the morning, the couple had their Meta reception on the evening of February 6.
A new trend
It was designed and organized by TardiVerse, a Chennai-based startup.
Vignesh Selvaraj, who heads the firm, feels that “even after the pandemic, I guess a lot of youngsters would love to host their weddings in the metaverse.”
But according to social commentator Santhosh Desai, metaverse weddings are unlikely to become popular in India in any mainstream sense.
“It is mostly like one of those statement weddings, how some people want to get married on a flight or underwater. It can be an attention-grabbing thing. Some people might think: ‘OK, let us do something unusual.’ But Indians enjoy the physical presence far too much,” he told DW.
His feelings are echoed by Padma Rani, an associate professor at the Manipal Institute of Communication. She told DW that metaverse events are unlikely replace traditional weddings, and that a digital ceremony requires tech-minded people who have the resources readily available.
“Only extremely tech-savvy people might prefer metaverse weddings, which constitutes a very small part of Indian society,” she said. “Everybody has a mobile [phone]. But having a mobile cannot be considered tech-savvy. Lots of people in India do not know how to use apps and other things in a smartphone.”
However, after hosting the recent metaverse wedding, Vignesh Selvaraj says he is getting a lot of inquiries from many couples who want to follow suit.
Breaking with tradition
Meanwhile, Yug Metaverse, a company based in Mumbai, recently designed a metaverse wedding for a couple from the state of Madhya Pradesh.
Utkarsh Shukla, creator of Yug, says that the focus of the company is to connect people worldwide and provide a “real” experience. He adds that the pandemic has accelerated the pace of metaverse growth in India.
Speaking to DW, he said he is busy preparing for the first “metaverse Muslim wedding” in India.
Mohammed Waseem and Moni from Uttar Pradesh, a North Indian state, are hosting their metaverse wedding in February.
“I want my wedding to be special. That is the main reason I chose metaverse,” said Waseem, who is a software engineer.
“I have friends in many countries, and I want every one of them to attend my wedding. On the other hand, I also want to break certain rituals that are associated with traditional marriage,” he added.
Union of families
But Santhosh Desai feels that in a country like India, marriage is not just about the couples, but the whole family.
“So for the families and the elderly people to be open to metaverse, and to give them a sense of satisfaction, is not the easiest thing in the world,” she said.
“Many other things in the metaverse might catch up, but I would be surprised if weddings became a mainstream part of it,” said Desai, the author of “Mother Pious Lady: Making Sense of Everyday India.”
Physical presence matters
Nidhi Chauhan, a 29-year-old from Chennai, had to cancel her wedding last year just 20 days before it was scheduled to take place because of COVID restrictions.
Nidhi and her partner decided to wait. They had a traditional wedding last month with a limited number of guests.
“Metaverse weddings can be a practical solution during this pandemic considering the importance of social distancing. But still, I would prefer a traditional marriage because it unites the entire family and even the extended family. Irrespective of how busy everybody was with their lives, all of them got together for my celebration,” said Nidhi Chauhan.
She feels that the high spirits and moving moments involved in traditional weddings are unmatched.
“Somebody’s physical presence makes a lot of difference. We dance, sing, laugh, cry — everything at the same time,” she added.
Professor Rani agrees. “There are pre-wedding ceremonies, post-wedding rituals, which many Indians still don’t want to defy. Even though a small section of youngsters see metaverse as a crazy and unique way of hosting the wedding, a larger part of society would not want to accept this. It is a trend that has been created by a not-so-normal situation due to the COVID pandemic,” she said.
According to a 2019 survey, conducted in 14 countries and before the pandemic, Indian weddings have the world’s largest number of guests, with an average of 524 participants. India is followed by Mexico and Brazil with 185 and 159 guests, respectively.
About 10 million weddings take place in India every year. In a post-pandemic world, just how many of those will be attended by 3D avatars remains to be seen.