Thousands marry in big Indian wedding

AFP/February 2, 2011

Amrvati, India - A total of 3,600 couples got married en masse in western India on Wednesday, organisers said, in a ceremony designed to raise awareness about poor farmers hit by debt and crop failures.

Some 2,433 Hindu couples, 150 Muslims, 749 Buddhists, 15 Christians and 253 tribal people tied the knot in an open-air ceremony in the town of Amravati, about 150 kilometres (95 miles) from the city of Nagpur in Maharashtra state.

Mass wedding ceremonies are relatively common in India -- although not on such a scale -- with couples in poor, rural areas taking their vows with others to cut down on costs.

Local lawmaker Ravi Rana, who was one of the grooms and the chief organiser, told the Indian Express newspaper on Tuesday: "I come from a region that is known for farmers? suicide. I myself come from a very poor background.

"I thought we could marry along with several such couples. If a people?s representative leads by example, it will send a good signal."

The Press Trust of India news agency said that about 1,000 couples were from farming backgrounds, with about half having parents who had committed suicide.

Exact figures about the extent of suicide among farmers are difficult to come by, but the Tata Institute of Social Sciences in Mumbai in 2009 said as many as 150,000 debt-hit farmers had killed themselves in the previous decade.

The response of Indian politicians and the media to the phenomenon was satirised in the acclaimed Bollywood film "Peepli Live" last year.

A spokesman for the organisers, Amol Chavne, told AFP that handicapped people and dwarves were among the brides and grooms at Wednesday's ceremony, which it was hoped would set a new Indian record for a mass wedding.

The event, which drew huge crowds, with women dressed in colourful saris and men in suits and fantail turbans, was only half as big as two weddings in South Korea last year, which each saw more than 7,000 couples tie the knot.

The couples were members of the Unification Church founded by the Reverend Sun Myung Moon, who has held mass weddings since the early 1960s.

In Amravati, police were out in force to hold back crowds that had gathered in and around the venue.

Staging the event was expected to cost 20-30 million rupees ($430,000-$650,000).

Chavne said the couples' marriages have been registered.

"There was a social welfare officer recognised by the (state) government who completed the formalities," he added.

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