The society thinks all that a girl possibly dreams in her life is to have a wedding with heavy gold and diamond jewellery, expensive silk sarees/lehengas/gowns, nitid leather embellished slippers, glistening artefacts and flashy decors. What am I? A walking Vogue magazine? Okay but these are different art forms and one should respect that, well not at the cost of the planet.
Getting married, celebrating it with a regal wedding is a memorable event and it should be enjoyed, no doubt. However our choices may affect those around us imparting negative energy to the joyous occasion. We didn’t let that happen to our green wedding on June 5th, 2016 - World Environment Day. It’s a year already and still seems like yesterday. Well, enough with the preamble and lets get into the core idea of this article. I am gonna share with you our experiences from hosting a vegan and eco-friendly wedding.
Step One: Announce about your wish to do an eco-vegan wedding to your family; allow them to freak out, convince and cool down. I am not kidding, this is the most time-consuming and laborious process of all. If you have completed the first step successfully, almost all the work is done you might think. Not really, you’ve got a lot to deal with now.
Our wedding theme was ‘Make the Connection’ because nature is our life supporter; animals and human are all connected with the environment. My husband and I had our vision on the green wedding, knew exactly how we wanted it to be, and took charge of it ourselves and did not depend on agents or event managers to execute our dreams.
Here is the list of ideas, why and how we executed them:
Outdoor venue: Natural light and cool breeze reduces electricity usage to minimum cutting down a huge chunk of the cost. After checking out the entire Chennai city for beautiful, vast, shady, comfortable and cool outdoor spaces, we ended up with VGP Golden Beach Resort who offered us wonderfully dense gardens. Likewise, each region no matter where have natural landscapes which can serve the purpose. Go for a shady location for added coolness (literally).
Earthy decor: Natural potted plants and seasonal flowers give fresh feeling, reduces plastic pollution and can be grown and composted afterwards. We had a local flower vendor from the market to decorate the ceremony area with Saamandhi (marigold was in season), and some plants from the venue itself. To make it a little more ethnic, we had them hang small brass bell at the end of few garlands. These bells were then given to children who admired them.
Eco-friendly invites: Handmade paper invites for family relatives and e-invites (click here to view) for friends. We approached a small business who does handmade papers and screen printing, selected the most raw form of card — unbleached cotton, jute and husk blend. Then printed info on veganism and mentioned it's an eco-friendly wedding persuading guests to avoid silk, leather, fur and plastics at the venue.
Clothing: Naturally dyed, fair-trade, organic cotton and linen dress and suit for us really made the difference and nobody could believe we did that! We extended our support to a not-for-profit social enterprise called Tüla by getting Praveen’s fabric from them. I got my dress made by a local designer with the fabric I procured from Co-optex and Nalli. Both these places have amazing collection of handloom, natural dyed cotton sarees and fabric. We also purchased engagement and post-wedding clothes form Anokhi. They specialise in Jaipur inspired wooden block printing with vegetable dyes, and have varied designer collections.
Footwear: We adorned cotton based shoes with soles made of recycled tyres from social enterprise Paaduks. It doesn't usually strike us that even footwear end up in landfills causing pollution. It might not be easy to replace adventure/sports footwear but everyday casuals and dress shoes are easily available by green businesses who recycle and/or use eco-friendly materials.
Rings: Bamboo engagement rings from Auroville Bamboo Research Centre. This might sound super crazy but we did initiate the idea of making bamboo couple bands at there and they were so pleased to design and make several sizes for us to try on. They went an extra mile and coated the rings with pure natural are wax for long lasting finish. Auroville is our soul place and it makes us happy that we have a piece of it with us.
Jewellery: An eco-friendly company called Jungle Jewels custom-made earrings, necklaces and anklets using locally sourced seeds and grains. No gold or diamonds for the fact that they need immense mining and human slavery. We do not need to hurt the planet and others to look beautiful. My friend Anu From Manya made comfy cute cotton thread bangles to go along with other jewels.
Thaali (Mangalyam): As per Hindu tradition, thaali is the significant bond between the newlyweds. Praveen and I actually do not believe there needs to be a physical piece of material to symbolise how much we love each other. This being the main component of the ceremony (like exchanging rings) the families were only keen on making it happen. As we excluded gold jewellery for environmental and humanity reasons, we could not say okay to a new gold thali. We were not able to skip this due to pressure from parents. Finally we settled to a deal to use old heirloom gold ornaments to melt, re-use and make up-cycled mangalyam. No new gold was bought or mined. We designed it in such a way that it is minimalistic, without reflecting any religion but Nature. The ‘Tree of Life’ design was made by a local goldsmith upon our request to show the importance of trees.
Garlands: Conventionally, exotic flowers are used with plastic and styrofoam to make wedding garlands. But we exchanged handmade garlands of naturally dried cardamom and almonds on cotton backing made by local Khadi crafters. The almonds were consumed, cardamom used for cooking and cotton thread sent for tailoring. There are many innovative ways to procure natural garlands. For those who prefer simplicity, can go with seasonal locally available flowers and leaves weaved with banana fibre as done traditionally.
Tender coconut welcome: Gives natural feel and refreshes the guests. My dad was super cool to get this idea and arranged a local tender coconut farmer to put up a stall where they sliced open fresh young coconuts as the guest arrived. This was my favourite part of the entire wedding, to watch guests awe at this soothing traditional welcome.
Vegan food: Of course we all know now that plant-based is the best for the planet and us. Traditionally there are so many vegan Tamilian dishes and we had them structured for breakfast. But the main meal was the Indian lunch buffet that was a wide spread of Melon juice, Aloo Channa Chaat, Curd Rice made of Soy Milk, Biryani with Soy Meat and Veggies, Veg Pulav, Eggplant Curry, Mushroom Kurma and Coconut Milk Parupu Payasam. We sat down with the manager and chef of the resort to explain about a plant-based diet and what not to include. They were very enthusiastic and felt it was fairly easy to switch dairy products with Soy milk, coconut oil, and so on. Its important to do some research and have a solid plan on what food is desired to be served so that one will be in a comfortable position to explain. The cutlery, glasses and plates were reusable ones provided by the management. It is best to avoid disposables as much as possible.
The musical instruments: Usually Hindu weddings have nadaswaram and tavil that are made of animal skins without any alternative. But after a lot of searching, we got musicians to play the SRI Mridangam which is not made of animal skin. The synthetic fibreglass shell mridangam was designed by vocalist and scientist Dr K. Varadarangan of Karunya Musicals in Bengaluru. This was very important and something that made the wedding completely cruelty-free and vegan!
Awareness for guests: Speeches and documentaries about the environmental issues, conservation of the ecosystem, and animal welfare were given by Sadhana Forest and our vegan friends in the large screen. We took this as a massive outreaching opportunity for about 800 guests and let them soak in all the messages to help them make conscious decisions.
Natural favours for guests: All good things come to an end. We wanted them to take home a strong message. So they got handmade organic cotton bags from The Yellow Bag social enterprise with traditional peanut candy, coconut, beetle leaves, and an information booklet on Veganism.
This was the first eco-vegan wedding in Chennai. Maybe after getting inspired from us, our friends would do the same. And when it is on social media, more people who come across might give it a thought. We considered this event as a huge, peaceful, beautiful activism. What we feel is, there is a lack of awareness about living sustainably. Many are focussing on planting trees and doing terrace gardening, forgetting the fact that one day of a big fat Indian wedding is enough to cause a huge destructive impact on the planet. Our guests were awed by our efforts to show how to have minimal damage on this planet, many even got inspired to follow.
It took us a lot of hard work to set things up and get there, taking the challenge on our own, after all, it’s our special day. Everyone asked “Why to take all this effort?”, to answer that: Well, with the rising global temperature, with increasing landfills in the city, with almost all natural habitats being polluted and destroyed — we have a choice to change and provide a better planet for our future generations or to be affected and kill their home too. We chose to be minimal with our carbon footprints and be sustainable wherever possible. Using fuel powered vehicles are kind of a necessity now but having lavish, tonnes of waste generating, landfill creating weddings are not. And that is exactly why we would like to show a better path.