Known for its big fat weddings, India is witnessing a giant milestone of a different kind — metaverse ceremonies, where even the deceased can attend. COVID has seen India go digital, but is the 3D occasion here to stay?
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 converging, Jagananandhini and Dinesh Siva got married on February 6, 2022, near Krishnagiri district, which is around 250 kilometers (155 miles) from Tamil Nadu 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 for digital technology drove the duo to take this step.
Facebook, which is also branching out into the metaverse, says it is 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 our daily lives? Some in India certainly think so, but others think it will just be a passing fad that will slowly fade away once the COVID pandemic has passed.
Bride’s deceased father attended – as an Avatar
They claim their wedding, which had a Harry Potter Hogwarts theme, as Asia’s first metaverse marriage reception. And even the bride’s father who had died last year was able to attend their ceremony. A 3D avatar of the father had been created virtually.
Jagananandhini says she felt special as her late father could play a small part in her wedding.
“That was emotional, and I was incredibly happy. I got his blessings.”
Jagananandhini and Dinesh Siva (left) hosted their reception on February 6. Among the guests was the bride’s late father, who was reprized in 3D avatar form (right)
The bride admitted she missed the feeling of everyone dressing up, and also the shopping that 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.
Can metaverse weddings be a new trend?
Tardi Verse, a Chennai based company, organized and designed the recent metaverse reception.
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.
Meanwhile, after hosting the recent wedding, Selvaraj says he is getting a lot of inquiries from many couples who also want to host metaverse weddings.
Padma Rani, an Associate Professor at the Manipal Institute of Communication told DW that the metaverse cannot replace traditional weddings, as she feels the digital ceremony requires tech-minded people who have those 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 smart phone.”
A new fad
Yug Metaverse, a company based out of Mumbai, also recently organized and designed a metaverse wedding for a couple from the state of Madhya Pradesh.
Utkarsh Shukla, creator of Yug, says that the focus of their company is to connect people worldwide and make it feel real. 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 also hosting their wedding through metaverse 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
“Many other things in the metaverse might catch up, but I would be surprised if weddings became a mainstream part of it,” said Desai, who is the author of “Mother Pious Lady: Making Sense of Everyday India.”
Desai feels that in a country like India, marriage is not just about the couples, but is also about 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.”
Physical presence matters
Nidhi Chauhan, a 29-year-old from Chennai, had to cancel her wedding last year just 20 days before the marriage because of COVID restrictions.
Nidhi and Dikshit Chauhan decided to wait and got married last month with limited guests in a traditional way.
“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 fun involved in traditional weddings, along with the the emotions attached to it, are unmatched.
“Somebody’s physical presence makes a lot of difference. We dance, sing, laugh, cry everything at the same time,” she added.
“There are pre-wedding ceremonies, post-wedding rituals, which still many Indians 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,” said Rani.
According to a 2019 survey, conducted in 14 countries and before the pandemic, Indian weddings have the 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 happen in India every year.
Just how many of those will be using 3D Avatars in a post-pandemic world, remains to be seen.
Edited by John Silk