Originally published in The Hindu

Brides and grooms in organic cotton, zero-waste festivities, vegan feasts… eco-conscious millennials are giving traditional weddings a twist, writes NAVEENA VIJAYAN

A wedding sans silk saris. Hard to imagine? Here is a list of things that brides and grooms are striking off from their dream day: milk and ghee-laden laddoos, strings of jasmine and braids of lilies, and a sparkly invite. Instead, eco-conscious youngsters are following celebrities such as Natalie Portman and Anne Hathaway and going for vegan weddings. The priority is to generate zero waste rather than get the best beautician, bartender or bridesmaid. With eco-friendly, green and vegan emerging as popular wedding themes, the big Indian wedding is being forced to shed some fat.

For instance, Chennai-based couple Monica Pandian, an entrepreneur, and Praveen Raj, an engineer, tied the knot at the lush green lawns of VGP Golden Beach Resort on June 5, World Environment Day.

The date was decided a year ahead at their engagement, which coincided with World Vegan Day (November 1). Everything about the celebration was aimed at recording a minimum carbon footprint — from the use of small potted plants on the dais to Monica’s cotton-based shoes with soles made of recycled tyre (by Paduks)!

The invitations had a note on veganism, and were made of eco-friendly handmade paper for relatives, and digitally sent for friends. The guests were requested to avoid wearing silk, leather or fur and using plastics at the venue.

Monica wore a dress tailored from a natural-dyed cotton saree made of organic handloom, and Praveen, a handloom organic rain-fed cotton-dyed suit. Monica’s jewels were done using seeds and grains (made by Jungle Jewels).

A lavish wedding generates tonnes of waste, and creates landfills, says Monica, who did her Masters in Ecology and Environment Science in Pondicherry University, and now runs a company called Mystic, which provides earth-friendly alternatives and services. According to figures given by city-based wedding planner company Marriage Colours, around 12,000 couples tie the knot on an auspicious day in India. That sums up to around 10 million a year. How much waste would that generate, Monica wondered. She didn’t want theirs to contribute to this burning issue. “The first time I voiced my idea about a green wedding, my family was very speculative. They said, ‘But this is not the traditional way’. However, once they saw the setting, they were convinced,” she says.

The duo even made sure that musical instruments such as the tavil, which are made of animal skin, were replaced with SRI Mridangam — a synthetic fibreglass shell mridangam (specially made in Bangalore). With that, the couple checked all the boxes to make the wedding animal cruelty-free.

Meanwhile, another couple in Mumbai decided to open their wedding for guests and pets alike.

Shasvathi Siva, a chef, couldn’t let her pets miss out on one of the most important events of her life – her wedding to Karthik Krishnan, who works in advertising. Her love for animals translates beyond an affection for her four pets, to those who are stripped of their skins for leather, silk or forced to produce milk. A vegan (originally from Chennai), she ensured that her wedding included all traditional South Indian dishes, but made with almond, soy or cashew milk instead of cow’s milk.

“Besides that, we used edible spoons made of carrot and corn paste, ordered ice creams from White Cub (dairy free), and used vegetable oil instead of ghee in the wedding pyre,” she says. “We used a bamboo swing for one of the ceremonies, sourced boxes made of sugarcane pulp for serving snacks, and painted eco-friendly messages on coconut carvings,” she says. The couple bus-pooled guests from their venue to the resort to avoid fuel wastage, and made sure items like gift boxes that were sourced from other cities were transported by train.

Despite these precautions, a gala event does generate disposable waste. So last year, another couple, Abhishek Raje, a freelance researcher for an animal rights NGO, and Sowmya Reddy, an animal rights activist and owner of Paradigm Shift, a vegan restaurant in Bengaluru, besides having vegan food and reusable decor elements, went on to hire a Zero Waste Management Company called Hasiru Dala to ensure that their celebration left no waste behind.

According to Marwan Abubaker, co-founder of the company, this is a new trend. “It’s just over the past six months that we have been seeing several weddings, marathons and corporate events contacting us to manage their waste.” The drill is quite simple. Once the family approaches them, the company asks their priorities and suggests ways in which they can reduce waste. A few examples: use of mud pots for curd, reusable steel glasses instead of plastic cups, organic disposable plates, potted plants for decoration, cloth bags for giveaway gifts, and so on. “If there is waste, it is segregated and sent for either composting or recycling,” he says.

Abhishek and Sowmya had a beautiful wedding at a lesser cost. Generally, the average Indian spends one-fourth of his/her total savings on a wedding. The spend-size is approximately Rs. 1.5 to 2 lakh crore per year in South India (figures given by Marriage Colours). “Now, many couples are asking for eco-friendly elements to be incorporated in their weddings,” says Mira Balachandran of Haritham Events, an event management company. With no meat, silk, milk or lights, green weddings are probably turning the 100 crore-worth industry modest, helping it develop a conscience.

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