Christine Aziz on Britain's pounds 25m Asian marriage industry
GIVING away a daughter in marriage for Britain's Asian community is an expensive business. While the Indian government is encouraging its population to spend less on weddings, British Asian weddings are getting increasingly extravagant. The average middle-class Asian family will usually spend pounds 85,000 on a wedding with all the cultural trimmings, while the less well off can expect to wave goodbye to up to pounds 30,000. In London and the Home Counties, businesses servicing Asian weddings have a total annual turnover of more than pounds 25m.

No wonder Wedding Affair, a new glossy magazine covering all aspects of Asian marriages, sold out on its first three editions. The magazine's publisher, Sakalain Meghjee, hit on the idea while trying to find a photographer for a friend's wedding. "Trying to find one was difficult and time consuming. They were booked up for a whole year. We decided that what Asians needed was a wedding services directory and added a magazine section to it."

The first issue included articles on make-up, wedding gift lists, details of Hindu marriage customs and plenty of advice on where to shop. Many British Asian brides-to-be fly to Bombay for their pre-wedding shopping, so the second issue featured a shopping guide to the city.

The directory is a Who's Who of companies providing services for weddings such as car and hall hire, caterers and honeymoons (Mauritius is the top newlyweds' hotspot) and more specific Asian services - mandaps, the ornate gazebos used in Hindu marriage ceremonies, sari shops, suppliers of white horses to deliver the bridegroom to the marriage, and astrologers. The latter play a crucial part in the timing of the marriage.

"A marriage won't take place if it is delayed even a few minutes after the time given by the astrologer. The whole thing is cancelled," Meghjee said, adding that despite the anglicisation of the younger generation of Asians in this country, "everyone wants a traditional wedding". Maybe so, but some brides are keen to take on some of the indigenous marriage customs. One article in the first issue featured a sumptuous pounds 6,500 wedding dress for "Asian brides considering the Register marriage as an opportunity to dress in traditional English wedding attire".

Later on, the bride slips into the customary red and gold sari for the religious ceremony. Amerjhot Singh, receptionist, marries Kuldip Singh Dhoot, an electrician, in September. They were born in this country, and while their marriage was arranged according to tradition, they broke with convention by being allowed to meet alone. "We wanted a traditional marriage and my parents have been saving for it since I was born. Altogether it will cost about pounds 25,000. They say they want the best for their only daughter."

An Asian marriage is not just a contract between two people but is an alliance between two families. Traditionally the parents of the bride pay the bulk, but in Britain costs are increasingly being shared. Even so, it is still the bride's parents who have to find the pounds 7,000-pounds 10,000 plus for the gold jewellery which she takes to her in-laws as security.

Apart from the jewellery, the majority of the bill is made up by food, with several ceremonies spread over two to three weeks and an average of 500 guests at a time. One Sikh businessman flew in a German chef to make his daughter's table- size wedding cake at a cost of pounds 30,000.

Ashiq Abdeali runs Happily Ever After, a company which provides a complete wedding service - waterfalls and bag pipes as extras and a Cinderella carriage. He invited 1,800 guests to his wedding, belying the claim that Muslim weddings generally lack the flamboyance of Sikh and Hindu weddings. "We had a bar, which was a bit controversial as Muslims aren't supposed to drink," he said.

According to Sarah Tazeen Ahmed, a media student researching Asian weddings, many parents get deeply into debt while trying to raise the money to pay for a marriage. "One woman, recently widowed, had to marry off her last daughter. She got herself into terrible trouble by re-mortgaging her house and now has difficulty with the repayments, but she doesn't regret it," she said.

Half the married couples interviewed by Ahmed regretted the money spent on their weddings. "They wished they had kept the money and spent it on something more useful later," she said, adding that there was a strong element of "trying to keep up with the Patels".

Divorce is creeping into the Asian community, but according to Meghjee, parents are still keen to give their children a once-in-a-lifetime wedding, whatever the cost. But the magazine has a telling entry: a list of marriage guidance counsellors. Asian Media Publishers: telephone 0181 201-9766