By Jerome Taylor, The Independent UK ,
A big day for Delhi, and for 36,000 starry-eyed couples
11 December 2006 . An auspicious alignment of the heavenly bodies made it a very good day to get married in Delhi yesterday but a very bad day to venture out for any other reason. Hindu astrologers singled out 10 December as the best day of the year for couples to make their vows, prompting a surge of some 36,000 weddings that left the city gridlocked and its hotels choked.
"The general cosmic order is particularly auspicious. Priests, wedding halls and cooks will have been booked up months in advance," said Ramesh Kallidai, secretary general of the Hindu Forum of Britain. "Using astrology to decide a wedding day is a very ancient tradition and is still very much used by orthodox Hindu families in India."
Abi Jackson, a Briton in Delhi to attend a friend's wedding, said celebrations had broken out all across the city. "It was really very difficult for my friend to find a hotel for the marriage as so many had already been booked up," she said. "The family's astrologer told them the next few days are the best days to get married."
For centuries, Hindu families have consulted Vedic astrology to guide them in making crucial decisions, particularly when it comes to marriage. Astrological birth charts are frequently used to decide whether a couple are suitable for each other in the first place, while an auspicious wedding date is believed to increase the chances of the marriage being happy and fortuitous.
The authorities in Delhi, a sprawling city of some 14 million people, were on standby to try to ensure the day went smoothly and to try to keep cars moving in a city already renowned for choking traffic jams.
"We are expecting a huge number of people to go for the weddings today but we are sure that we will tackle the situation," Qamar Ahmed, joint commissioner of police in Delhi, said.
Weddings in India often involve elaborate processions by the groom's family through the streets before the ceremony. The parades bring traffic to a halt and are usually led by the groom on a horse, with family members and a host of musicians.
"You have to remember it is not just the bride and groom that are getting married," said Mr Kallidai, explaining why so many people are at Hindu weddings. "An Indian marriage is also a wedding between two families so the numbers attending will always be large."
The wedding business is big business in India, particularly as the booming economy creates more and more wealthy urban middle classes. Worth an estimated $10bn (£5.2bn), India's wedding industry is growing at a rate of 25 per cent a year. Even poor families will often bankrupt themselves to pay for a daughter's lavish wedding.
The Christian Science Monitor says the minimum a middle-income family in India will spend on a wedding is $34,000, compared with $26,000 for the equivalent American family.
Shaadi.com, the world's largest matrimonial service which specialises in ceremonies for Indian couples, says there has been a major rush to get married since 8 December when the sun, a vital celestial body in deciding when to marry, moved into an auspicious region of the sky. "For us it's the busiest season," said Manisha Gakhar of Shaadi.com. "It's difficult to find staff because everybody is mostly tied up."
But those hoping to get married auspiciously have just five days remaining to perform their marriage, because the period from 15 December until 15 January is considered a particularly unfavourable time to tie the knot.