The waves seemed gentler, and the sun shone brighter over sea and sand the day Shweta Seetharaman and Maanav Sagar got married beachside at Caesar’s Palace, Dubai, November 21, 2021.
Through six months of planning that began with picking a venue, choosing the food, the décor, the clothes and the wedding planner – the common thread had been how to host a wedding that would best represent them as a couple, their love for family, cultural inclusion and a sustainable ethic.
Shweta being Tamilian and Maanav Punjabi, their four ceremonies, beginning with the engagement, a Mehendi party, the wedding and the Sangeet – were a mix of both Indian cultures. Both sets of family and friends participated in all the ceremonies unconcerned about the “side” they were representing.
The wedding itself was a Tamilian ceremony, preceded by the baraat (the entourage accompanying the bridegroom to the wedding venue), a North Indian touch. The bride’s family and friends, however, joined in the song and dance as the groom came in. They then rushed over to the other side to perform the Milni ceremony, a Punjabi ritual in which the bride’s family welcomes the groom and his family.
“That was the only thing I missed,” Shweta, a banker, rues. “Everything else was both of us together and both our families together. This was a concept that most people found unusual and weren’t expecting. But I am so glad we did it, because both sets of families were able to participate in all the various experiences of the wedding together.”
As Maanav, who works for a venture capital firm, says: “It was both of our worlds coming together.”
A conscious wedding
As important as it was to have their respective families together was trying to make sustainable choices. “Right from the beginning, we had indicated that we wanted to incorporate as many aspects of a conscious wedding,” says Shweta.
By Indian standards their guest list was “small” – between 160-200 – and most were staying at the property. To offset the carbon footprint of guests flying in, the couple worked with Dubai Municipality and DTCM (Department of Tourism and Commerce Marketing) to plant Neem trees. “The hotel planted some 200-odd trees,” says Maanav. “Our wedding planner planted a few, while we separately planted trees in India.”
They decided to ditch all plastic packaging – for instance, plastic bottles in all the rooms were replaced with glass ones – use recycled paper wherever paper was absolutely necessary and provide QR codes that guests could scan for the wedding itinerary and menus.
For wedding souvenirs, the couple used the services of Mumbai-based company The Plated Project to commission decorative plates with art that best encapsulated their wedding. “For each plate you order, a meal is donated to someone in need,” Shweta says. The couple ordered 150 plates and sponsored 750 meals through them.
The wedding décor, while being aesthetic, relied heavily on biodegradable natural elements such as masses of natural flowers, and props and furniture that could be recycled and reused.
At every stage the degree of planning was intense.
Nowhere were the results as top-notch as in the case of the all-vegan menu, with the hotel urged to source as many ingredients locally. as possible “As with everything we weren’t trying to make a statement,” says Shweta, who is vegan while her family is in stages of transition. “It just felt right to me.”
The prime objective was minimizing food wastage. So, while guests were treated to a sit-down meal at one of the events, with an exact number of meals being prepared, there were also live counters, so food didn’t have to be pre-prepared.
Initial plans to donate extra food to a food bank were abandoned as Dubai Municipality’s stringent food safety and hygiene guidelines require food to be consumed within a stipulated time. The couple settled to send the unconsumed food over to the staff cafeteria.
Maanav and Shweta’s wedding could very well have been a pioneering attempt in Dubai at cutting the flab that sneaks into most weddings. Their wedding planner Arun Bablani of Vivaah Weddings concurs. “This was the first step that any wedding planner has taken towards a sustainable wedding in the UAE and it was only possible with the full support of everyone involved, most importantly the commitment of the couple and their families.”
As for Maanav and Shweta who first met at age 14 in Qatar, lost touch through the years only to reconnect years later, their wedding was all about being authentic to themselves. Such as Shweta wearing sneakers so she could dance in a lehenga that Maanav jokingly says, “was half her weight”.
Apart from a Veena maestro at their sit-down meal, and DJs for the Sangeet and Mehendi, they had no external performers. “We were the entertainers,” says Maanav, with Shweta adding: “Maanav had so much fun at the wedding, that watching him was entertaining for all of us because it gave all of us energy. When I think back, I don’t think we had any of the stereotypical experiences that brides and grooms have. We are so grateful.”