Re-tying the knot

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By Renewing your wedding vows is all about rekindling the spark of romance in style, says Arundhati Basu
  • Published 22.01.11
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It’s Part II of ‘I Love You’. With the sun setting on a Goa beach, a young couple in their 30s read the vows carefully inscribed by the wife in elegant calligraphic lettering.

The two read each other Western-style wedding vows — a giveaway that there’s something slightly different about the simple ceremony on Morjim Beach: Nayantara and Rishi Ray Sinha aren’t getting married — they are renewing their vows after five years of married life.

The vows say it all: “I, Nayantara Ray Sinha, give to you, Rishi Ray Sinha, a new wife, and yet not so new; a new affirmation of love from the heart that has loved you for five years and will love you forever more. For I was nothing until you…”

On Candolim Beach in Goa, Leah Neville alights from a cart drawn by a pair of sturdy horned bullocks. Her husband of 10 years, Carl Neville, helps her step off the cart. They pop the champagne after reading the vows in the presence of a small train of bridesmaids and a best man.

At first glance, you might think that the couples are getting married the first time. But they’re actually part of a modern ritual that’s fast gaining ground — of renewing wedding vows.

Who exactly renews their wedding vows? Just about anyone. Once upon a time, vow renewal was only for couples who had been together for decades and who, as they approached old age, suddenly felt the need to inject a dash of romance into their marriages.

Today anyone — who’s already married — qualifies for a vow renewal ceremony. Take the Kapoors, a pair of merchant bankers based in the UK, who renewed their vows three years into marriage at the Lake Palace in Udaipur.

Vow renewal is a time for doing it exactly your way — with no need to toe the line of families and religious traditions. The Sinhas, for instance, experienced the high of a ‘white wedding’ — after having got married the first time the traditional Hindu way. For the Nevilles, a touch of exotica came by riding a bullock cart to get married again on a beach in India.

Lisa and Simon Gardener, a British couple, said ‘I do’ all over again on the beaches of Goa

“There is nothing traditional or boring about wedding vow renewals. It’s about pure romance,” says Lester Melo, a wedding planner in Goa.

The hot destinations for renewals? You don’t have to look far. India has become a hotbed for renewals with couples making a beeline for Goa, the Kerala backwaters or even Amby Valley, near Mumbai. Those who want an extra dose of ethnic colour are booking themselves into Rajasthan’s plush havelis or hotels.

Adds Melo, who gets a 60:40 ratio of Indian couples as opposed to foreign ones: “The cute trend is that Indian couples are going for Western-style renewals while foreign couples are going for the saat pheras and all things India.”

A do-over affair

Once in a while you might even hear of couples renewing their vows after their first year of marriage.

Beatrice Pinto, a wedding planner in Goa, points out the many reasons for a renewal. “You might be celebrating a special anniversary, going through a rough patch in the marriage, or you might want to get married again in the way you wanted,” she says, adding, “Or you may simply need an excuse to rewind from the trammels of busy life.”

The Kapoors made sure that they did everything in style. “Aditi, who had studied in the UK, got to walk down the aisle in a white wedding gown, which she never got to do earlier,” says Vinod Bhandari, Calcutta-based wedding planner and managing director of Wedding Xtraordinaire (www. winningedgeindia.net), who famously planned the Mittal wedding.

The Hills re-married at the Marari Beach Resort surrounded by local girls dressed in traditional Kerala saris

Thereafter the Kapoors got the works — they cut a cake and threw a three-day hedonistic bash. The couple and their 140-odd guests danced to music belted out by singer Sukhbir. The proceedings were given a regal touch when the couple reached the polo grounds in a vintage car and took part in a game of elephant polo. That was followed up with a 45-minute session of aeromodelling (flying model planes) on a specially -built runway. “A cricket match rounded off the entire occasion,” adds Bhandari.

But you can have it simple and intimate too. Karen and Rishi Harilal, a young couple from South Africa, came to Goa to re-take their vows in a simple no-frills ceremony. The Sinhas did their own bookings in advance at a South Goa resort and simply did a vow renewal followed by a romantic dinner.

“When we got married, it was just about the family. And I’d always wanted a very personal beach wedding. So my husband arranged for it as a surprise,” says Nayantara.

While some couples host their own vow renewals, others have close friends or relatives throwing it for them. Take C. P. Jain, a real estate professional whose vow renewal was a surprise thrown by his brother Sanjay Jain.

Jain and his wife, in their 50s and 40s respectively, were flown to the 5-star Cambay Resort in Jamdoli, Jaipur, for a ‘simple celebration’ of their 25th wedding anniversary. It turned out to be an elaborate three-day re-wedding that has them grinning from ear to ear when they think about it.

Sanjay who roped in Chitvan Jaipuria, a 23-year-old Calcutta-based wedding planner, says: “There was a host of events apart from the mehendi, sangeet and the garlanding ceremony. We brought in a stand-up comedian and the highlight of the renewal was a tongue-in-cheek awards night.”

The other special features of the Jain vow renewal were glossy coffee table books that Jaipuria put together to commemorate the couples’ marriage, special in-flight catering for the 150-odd guests and room tags that carried the names of each guest.

Karen and Rishi Harilal, an Indian couple from South Africa, opted for a no-frills intimate ceremony

Meanwhile, wedding planner Kanika Sethi’s client was not the couple but their daughter who planned a renewal to surprise her parents. “The idea was for the Seths, who are in their 50s, to take time off and go back to where they started. Their daughter, Aditi, liaised with me for the occasion from the US,” says Sethi who owns a wedding planning firm called Bespoke Ensemble.

“What was simply a party for Seth and his wife Kalpana on their 25th anniversary in Muscat transformed into a re-wedding. There were baraatis, dholki, a mandap, a pandit and saat pheras,” says Sethi.

While it’s usually Indians who are indulging in lavish vow renewals, at the other end of the spectrum are the foreign couples who prefer simpler ceremonies but in exotic locales.

Right on cue is the Nevilles’ vow renewal that Pinto helped plan. She introduced a quirky element into the proceedings by making the couple travel from the hotel to the beach by bullock cart.

“The choice of location and the bullock cart was just perfect. I wish we could do it all again tomorrow,” say the Nevilles wistfully.

Similarly, young British couple Lisa and Simon Gardner too sunbathed for days on the beaches of Goa and finally renewed their vows in a romantic sunset setting on a beach.

To give their do-over wedding the exotic Indian touch, Julie and Myron Barnhil, a Swedish couple in their 40s went for a fusion renewal of vows to celebrate 11 years of their marriage. And another couple in their 50s, Cindy and John, who travel frequently to Goa found it in the natural order of things that they should get re-married in Goa and with their local Goan friends as the wedding guests.

Then there are the Hills who were so fascinated by the idea of having a South Indian-style wedding that they landed up at the Marari Beach Resort in Kerala. The British couple in bright Indian wedding gear exchanged garlands. They were surrounded by a handful of local girls dressed in traditional white and gold-trimmed Kerala wedding saris.

To bring it about, Nicholas Hill tied up with the Kerala Travel Centre (www.keralatravelcentre.co.uk), a UK-based specialist tour operator, that offers vow renewals in the south at exotic locations like the tea plantations in Munnar, the Periyar wildlife sanctuary, the beaches of Kerala or the beautiful backwaters.

Rajeev Prabhakaran Olickel, director of operations at the Centre has an out-of-the-box suggestion for couples: “Why not renew it on a houseboat while gliding down the backwaters?”

Do it your way

There’s nothing that ‘should’ be done in a vow renewal. That might be the best bit of news along with the fact that they are remarkably easy on the pocket. Wedding planners are arranging for them, often at modest prices.

Pinto, who through her own firm Weddings Etc (www.weddingsetcgoa.com) organises renewals on the beaches of Goa, plans every minute detail and offers customisation on everything. She also has economy packages that start at Rs 16,000 for either a ‘Western-style’ wedding or an ‘Indian-style’ wedding.

Then there’s Melo who through his wedding planning firm of Weddings and Dreams (www.weddingsanddreams.in) loves to recreate a dreamy atmosphere for young couples on the beach.

“What you dreamt of while watching those perfect beach weddings in films, we do the entire deal — a white marquee/gazebo and white chairs, white flowers with a shimmering sea in the background,” says Melo. He has packages pegged at Rs 10,000 for an Indian-style renewal and Rs 15,000 for a Western-style renewal.

You might keep it simple, but according to wedding planner Ankit Bhargava of Regal Weddings (www.regal-weddings.com), you can be creative. “Bung in tours and spa massages to make it memorable. Many couples indulge in goodwill by feeding poor children,” he says. Bhargava’s firm takes you to the secluded South Goa beaches of Utorda, Benaulim and Varca.

The strictly-customised-plush-renewal meanwhile is the domain of Calcutta-based wedding planners such as Vinod Bhandari and Chitvan Jaipuria. They arrange for extravagant vow renewals.

Bhandari has been taking his couples to the palaces of Jodhpur and Udaipur. His latest renewal is for a couple from Dubai who are hotfooting their way to the Umaid Bhawan Palace in Jodhpur for a lavish three-day affair.

Says Bhandari: “Turn it into whatever kind of affair you want. After all, it’s your special day all over again.”

But a quick note: The only must is the spouse.

(Some names have been changed on request)