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Has Bali become a wedding destination?

In 1989, The Rolling Stones wrapped up their multi-million dollar-grossing Steel Wheels tour.

Flush from the success of that return to glory, singer Mick Jagger took off to Bali for a vacation. He went with his long-time girlfriend Jerry Hall.

 

Perhaps the beauty of Bali got to Jagger. He proposed to Hall, she accepted and a wedding was arranged. Given that Jagger’s 1971 wedding to Bianca Perez-Mora Macias in Saint-Tropez had turned into a circus, it was understandable that he wanted as little publicity as possible for this one.

 

   The details that emerged were sketchy. The tabloids reported that Jagger and Hall had gotten married on a beautiful Balinese beach with only a few friends in attendance. The ceremony, we were told, was conducted according to Hindu tradition (Bali is a Hindu island) and took a full six hours. That sounds a little excessive; Hindu weddings can be long but six hours is stretching it.

 

   Other details – at least as reported by the British press – will strike most Indian Hindus as bizarre. Apparently the priest conducting the ceremony took a live chicken and then slit its neck to bless the union. Balinese Hinduism does not necessarily follow the same rituals as those created in Hinduism’s homeland, but even so....

 

   A local controversy followed. Contemporary accounts quote officials from Bali’s “Hindu religious bodies” as describing this ceremony as a “profanation of Hinduism.” This was not because any chickens were harmed during the wedding, but because Jagger and Hall were not Hindus and that “Jagger is not apt to be converted to Hinduism.”

 

   The storm never really reached the UK where Jagger and Hall announced that they had got married. All went well till 1999, when Hall filed for divorce because of Jagger’s constant philandering. Her lawyers asked for a settlement, only to be told that there could be no divorce because the couple was never married.

 

   Jagger’s lawyers took the line that no matter how romantic the ceremony was it had no legal validity. While the priest (the chicken slasher) may have believed he was conducting a wedding ceremony, he had neglected to fill out the correct forms.

 

   The argument worked. Hall got much less money (despite having four children by Jagger) than she had demanded because of the ambiguity surrounding the wedding.

 

   I went to Bali a few years after the Jagger-Hall ‘divorce’ (or not-quite-divorce). Though it had been over a decade since the couple either got married or did not, locals were still talking about the wedding. At Amandari in Ubud, where I stayed, I was shown a villa, which the couple had occupied on that sort-of-wedding trip and much was made of the Jagger-Hall connection.

 

   I went back again last month and found that a new generation had forgotten who Jagger and Hall were, let alone the circumstances of their wedding/non-wedding. Even the claim that they had stayed at Amandari on that trip was being disputed. On the Internet, foreign visitors were being urged to stay at another hotel which claimed to have been the venue for the ‘wedding’ and the ‘honeymoon’.

 

   But, in the interim, something stranger had happened. Bali had become one of the world’s leading destinations for weddings. It wasn’t just Hindu weddings (with or without dead chickens) but weddings of all denominations.

 

   I stayed at the Ritz-Carlton in Nusa Dua this time. It is a largish property with huge rooms, many restaurants and great views of the beach. My room was on a cliff and overlooked the sea. But each time I tried to take a picture of the beach, a huge white building loomed into view. As a structure it was grand and impressive but it did not fit in with my conception of a Balinese beach.

 

   I asked what the building was.

 

   It is the chapel, I was told.

 

   Chapel? Why does a resort need a chapel? I was intrigued.

 

   Do you know that it is the most instagrammed part of the resort, I was told. It is the one picture that every single person who comes to the resort takes.

 

"More and more couples all over Asia (and perhaps the rest of the world) want to get away from the cities they live in and get married in some beautiful location."

   Really? I did some digging around. And lots of watching.

 

   As soon as the sun began to go down every evening, at least one fancily dressed East Asian (Japanese, Chinese, Korean etc.) couple would make their way to the beach. The man would wear an expensive suit – sometimes, full morning dress even. The woman would wear an elaborate white wedding gown, often with a long train that would be held up for her by a bridesmaid or two.

 

   And then, with the ocean roaring behind them, they would beam at the camera as a professional photographer clicked away.

 

   So had the Ritz-Carlton become a wedding resort?

 

   Well, they said, they wouldn’t put it quite that way. But yes, couples from all over the world came to Bali to get married and the hotel was proud to host them.

 

   Hence the chapel.

 

   We are used to the idea of destination weddings in India now. Every couple of months I hear of some millionaire who has hosted an elaborate wedding for his offspring in Florence/Venice/Istanbul/Nice or somewhere as exotic.

 

   In fact, I was once in Florence and all anybody could talk about was how the local administration had agreed to block off town squares and whole streets to facilitate a big Indian wedding.

 

   Opinions were divided among locals: some believed that this was a scandal and a misuse of public spaces. Others thought that no harm had been done.

 

   I was on the side of the Indian weddings, of course. The town administration had not agreed to shut off whole squares out of love for India. They had done it for the money. Big Indian weddings provide huge boosts to the revenues of tourist towns and everyone (hotels, restaurants, florists, car companies, local performers, workmen etc.) makes a lot of money out of the revelry.

 

   If the Indians hosting the wedding were willing to contribute to the flagging economies of Western European countries, then wasn’t it sensible for the locals to just take the money without complaining?

 

   But I had not realised two things.

 

   The first is that the idea of a destination wedding is not a particularly Indian idea. More and more couples all over Asia (and perhaps the rest of the world) want to get away from the cities they live in and get married in some beautiful location.

 

   A destination wedding offers the couple other benefits too. They don’t have to invite all of their parents’ friends and their extended families. The typical wedding party consists of under 20 people including the couple themselves. So they can actually have a quiet wedding with just immediate family and close friends.

 

   A second advantage is that you don’t have to worry about going away for a honeymoon. Usually, the rest of the party departs, leaving the couple to spend some time on their own. And because Bali is big enough, the couple can even shift from Nusa Dua to say, Ubud for the honeymoon.

 

   There was another aspect of the destination wedding boom that I had not considered. If you are a millionaire or a billionaire then you can lock down half of Cannes for a wedding and enlist Manish Malhotra, Vandana Mohan, Ritu Dalmia and the other big names of the wedding business to help with the festivities.

 

   But what happens to the upper middle class family that has saved up for a destination wedding but can’t take over Venice?

 

   At such hotels as the Ritz-Carlton Bali, I discovered, entire divisions exist only to facilitate this kind of luxurious but not quite super-grand wedding. There are six different venues (including that chapel, which is a secular, not exclusively Christian space) for different functions. Indian caterers will arrange for vegetarian food. The hotel has planners who have experience in setting up the mandap on call and pandits on speed-dial. (Though presumably Indians will not want the Jagger-Hall chicken-slasher, even if he is still around.)

 

   Waking up to that view of the chapel each morning opened my eyes to how big a business the destination wedding has now become. It isn’t just Indians: everybody now seems to want to get away to get married. And it isn’t just the millionaires who can organise Indian weddings in foreign countries.

 

   Given that Indian domestic airfares and hotels are already so expensive, I guess many wealthy (but not super-rich) parents find that it doesn’t actually cost much more to go abroad for a wedding.

 

   A word of advice though. If you go to Bali, make sure that your paperwork is in order. Of course the marriage will last. But just in case it doesn’t, you don’t want to be the one left singing that old Rolling Stones song, As Tears Go By....
 

 

Posted On: 19 May 2018 02:30 PM
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