Money and marriage: An invitation to the wedding of the year

The guests included film stars, industrialists and politicians - although Peter Mandelson was a notable absentee. Robert Verkaik joined the (15,000-strong) throng at the outrageously lavish union of Prakash Hinduja's youngest daughter in Bombay
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The Independent Online

The monsoon thunderstorm that broke over the morning Bombay skyline was interpreted as a sign that the Gods had given their blessing to one of the most eagerly anticipated weddings in India's society calendar.

Neither disapproving Hindu deities nor torrential rainfall were to be allowed to cast a shadow over the marriage of Renuka Hinduja to the wealthy Swiss lawyer Olivier Cavadini.

For the four Hinduja brothers, whose business empire has a turnover equivalent to the GDP of a small country, the lavish wedding celebrations would tell the world that the troubled family had finally turned the corner.

It is more than a year since charges against three of the brothers, Srichand, Gopichand and Prakash, over alleged corruption in the Bofors arms case had been dropped. In Britain the cash-for-passports scandal that had embroiled two of the brothers and led to Peter Mandelson's second resignation has been largely forgotten.

So the wedding of Prakash's youngest daughter this weekend was to be much more than a family affair. It was also an ostentatious acknowledgement of the family's return to happier times.

The meticulous preparations included the posting of invitations to the world's most powerful and influential politicians and industrialists. A dazzling array of Bollywood film stars and their studio bosses were also invited to provide the requisite glamour.

For the hundreds of foreign guests jetting into Bombay last week the Hindujas' largesse meant a fully paid hotel room in one of the city's luxury hotels and the use of a chauffeur-driven car for the duration of their stay.

Each wedding guest was also kitted out in a traditional Indian costume, designed by one of Bombay's most exclusive fashion boutiques.

One of the guests, a US hedge fund manager from New York, said: "From head to toe I felt like a powerful white maharajah."

Amid the downpour, 1,000 of the Hindujas' friends and business acquaintances and many ministers of state climbed into the executive cars and headed for the Hinduja family home.

Dozens of police officers stood guard at the entrance as guests were forced to pass through electronic security checks. "It was only at this point that the sheer scale of this enterprise really hit you - it was like walking into the hanging gardens of Babylon," a Swiss banker who had been invited to attend said. "The sound of bells and the smell of incense was intoxicating."

In the arrival hall the guests milled about under the designer forest canopy which had been installed for the wedding before joining the groom who rode a bejewelled horse to the sacred altar place, a golden Hindu temple.

The two-hour-long ceremony, conducted by one of India's most respected Hindu priests, was screened live on TELEVISION monitors. This was for the benefit of guests who preferred to watch the spectacle from the lounges, where they were served food and drink by queues of attentive waiters,

But just before the arrival of the bride, the monsoon rains finally broke through the roof of the tropical forests.

"I think there was some concern that the whole structure would come tumbling down under the weight of the water. But then servants appeared with large wooden bins to catch the falling water," one guest said.

The marriage ceremony closed with the bride being carried through a sea of guests in a special carriage called a doli. Then the party moved on to India's biggest hotel, the 700-room, Grand Hyatt, where the 1,000-strong wedding group was joined by three thousand more guests for a banquet of vegetarian nouvelle cuisine.

Outside the hotel the ranks of paparazzi waited for their chance to snap the politicians and celebrities who had come to pay respect to the corporate brand that is the family Hinduja.

They were not disappointed. The Indian Chief Minister, Vilasrao Deshmukh, the industrialist Mukesh Ambani and the former sheriff of Bombay, FT Khorakhiwala, represented the political and business muscle of the country. Bollywood also up turned up in force, withSophie Chaudhary, Gulshan Grover and Jackie Shroff the biggest stars on show.

But many of the politicians and celebrities from Britain, where Srichand and Gopichand Hinduja have based themselves, decided to stay away. There was no sign of Peter Mandelson, nor MP Keith Vaz, who for so long has been a friend of the family.

A British lawyer who had worked on a number of Hinduja projects in the past said: "The Hindujas are still hot potatoes in England. The Mandelson affair may not have damaged them personally but it was a warning to politicians to stay away." Inside the hotel, nearly 4,000 guests trooped across a red carpet before being officially received by the Hindujas. This post-wedding party was a strictly Hindu affair so that the food was all vegetarian and waiters were ordered to serve guests "mocktails" in place any alcohol. Many western guests managed to dodge the booze ban by slipping upstairs to take advantage of the hotel bar facilities.

Much to the chagrin of one American banker, was no Indian dancing. "That was a real shame as I was hoping for a bit of a Bollywood show," he said. "But this was the biggest party I will ever be lucky enough to go to."

For thousands of bankers, entrepreneurs and professional advisers it was a networking opportunity of a lifetime. A ticket to the reception conferred on the guest instant access to like-minded contacts in a safe environment for doing business.

In the secretive world of the Hindujas these events, all be it on a much smaller scale, have proved to be the most successful way to support their business empire as well as help curry favour with politicians.

Another US based hedge fund manager said: "I've come away with about 20 business cards from people from all over the world. It would take make years to get these kind of contacts."

The Hinduja business philosophy is summed up on the family's website as "My Dharma (duty) is to work, so that I can give." But this is supported by a competitive corporate structure.

The Hinduja family mission statement continues: "Professionals are allocated independent charge of diversified activities. There is a high premium on healthy internal competition, incentives to executives and employees for outperforming one another, and appreciation of good performance."

For the Hinduja family the success of the weekend's wedding has helped complete a remarkable turnaround.

It will also allow them to focus on their next project - the £58m purchase of the former head office of the Crown Estate, the Queen's £6bn property portfolio.

The family has taken out a 100-year lease on its office in Carlton House Terrace on the Mall, the road that leads to Buckingham Palace from Trafalgar Square, with Downing Street just around the corner. It has been reported that they are budgeting between £40m and £50m over the next three years on renovating the office and turning its 60 rooms into accommodation for 38 members of their extended family.

The deal has been struck by Srichand and Gopichand Hinduja, the eldest of the four Indian billionaires, although Prakash and Ashok will also use the house as a London base.

Of course the brothers and their wives would prefer the marriage to be less about business and more about the spiritual.

In the invitation booklet given to guests, the family writes: "The institution of marriage is universal. Vedic marriage is one of the most ancient religious and social institutions of the world. It is known as vivaha, the carrier of abiding family traditions and values. Sadly, today the institution of marriage is under attack in much of the world. We believe that Vedic insights, values and practices may be able to help in its rehabilitation."

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