India's wedding industry is stretched to the breaking point this week as an estimated 12,000 couples in the capital alone prepare to tie the knot. This week marks the first auspicious date to marry since an unfavorable planetary line-up stalled wedding ceremonies four months ago.
In the Indian capital of New Delhi, hotel banquet halls are booked, dress makers are stitching like mad, horses have been rented and caterers are cooking up a storm. After a four-month lull, the country's astrologers have determined November 27 to be an auspicious day to get married.
The reason behind the marital lull is the planet Jupiter, which, according to the Hindu almanac, has been passing through an unfavorable sector of the sky.
In India, astrology is taken seriously; an interpretation of the planetary line-up is considered crucial for everything from weddings to cricket matches to affairs of the state. Astrologer Ajay Bhambi counts among his clients Indian Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee. "What has happened, whenever Jupiter comes into Leo, and it remains there, up to 16 degrees, this period is about four months," he says. "Four to five months. So these degrees are not auspicious for marriages… because Jupiter was not crossing the good constellation."
Vidya Tikari owns an upscale New Delhi beauty salon. Having grown up mostly overseas, she admits some surprise at the number of brides flooding her salon this week. "People are very superstitious in this country," she says. "I just wish it was spaced out a little more - because it's better for us, because it's a lot of stress on my staff when we have to accommodate 18 to 30 people in one day. It's maddening."
Some younger Indians say they are less concerned about astrology than their elders. But 26-year-old bride Namita Jain says it is one thing to ignore the astrological forecast and quite another to risk angering one's parents. "I don't know - to be on the safer side, might as well choose it. Otherwise, there's no harm doing [it] on the other days too," she says. "It's just because of the parents I'm doing it."
In another part of town, a marching band is holding a dress rehearsal.
In northern India, a wedding usually begins with a procession in which the groom is carried on horseback to the home of his bride, while his family and friends celebrate by walking or dancing alongside. Nothing beats having your own band for your wedding procession.
Amarjit Ahuja manages the Swagat brass band - which is performing in at least eight wedding processions a day on November 27 and the days that follow.
In India, he says, people like a king's type of wedding - with elephants, horses and all the people from the kingdom attending. Mr. Ahuja says that type of pomp and fanfare is the best way to express your happiness and the love that you feel, because you're getting married.
Despite the stress of being one of thousands of people organizing a wedding on November 27, astrologers say it will pay off by ensuring a long and happy marriage.