History of Wedding Invitation Cards in India


The marriage business is big business in India. Back in 2013, Conde Nast valued the Indian wedding industry at $38 Billion! According to Conde Nast, the average Indian spends one-fifth of the wealth accumulated in his/her lifetime on a son or daughter’s wedding, second only to the investment made in the family home. The wedding invitation card is just the tip of the iceberg as far as wedding expenses go. This is the first major spend that kicks off an orgy of expenditure for the girl’s family! Boat loads of money and creativity are coming together to create outstanding wedding invitation cards! But it wasn’t this way before. Let’s look at the history of wedding invitation cards in India.

Arundhati Virmani is a historian at the École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales in Marseille, France and teaches at the Centre Norbert Elias. She has a Ph.D. from the Sorbonne Paris-I and worked as Reader in the History Department, Delhi University, and at the University of Bordeaux III. In one of her speeches, Dr. Virmani had the following points to say about the evolution of wedding invitation cards in India. We have compiled her speech for your benefit.

Thank the British Raj for your wedding invitation cards

The culture of sending our marriage invitation cards in India shaped up only on the 19th century and this idea was borrowed from the British. The idea of printing wedding invitation cards was enthusiastically adopted by the Indian royalty, merchants and landlords of that time, eager to share colonial practices and etiquette. Wedding cards in India were thus a clone of the Victorian wedding cards. Here is a wedding invitation card from 1881.

Image of Victorian Era Wedding Invitation Cards India

1950’s and 1960’s: Wedding invitation cards were dull and plain

The standard wedding invitation card had a utilitarian function back in the days. Its purpose was to tell us who was getting married when the marriage is scheduled, the location for the event and the program for the day. As it is the tradition even now, close relatives were invited in person by the parents of the bride and groom and sweets or fruits were also given as gifts along with the invitation card. Till the 1950s, wedding cards remained simple and restrained.

Wondering why wedding invitation cards were simple those days? Apparently, the style of the invitation cards corresponded with the Indian Government’s leaning towards a socialistic society and the general aversion towards big spending habits. People were also scared of income tax raids from the income tax department!

Here is another example of a wedding invitation card for Princess Padmavati Raje of Gwalior printed in 1960. While it has a rich colour, it is very simple by today’s standards.

Image of 1960s Wedding Invitation Cards India

1980’s: When ethnic became chic

In the 1980s, the focus on wedding invitation cards seemed to be aligned with Indian ethnic designs and motifs. This trend was in tune with the Indian government’s promotion of folk art and handicrafts in a big way. Motifs and symbols used in the cards became “Indian”. There weren’t large scale modern wedding card stores to shop from. Invariably, you would have to go to a printer somewhere in the old part of your town and they offered limited customization. However, the emphasis changed from purely communicating a message about the marriage to providing a tactile and design oriented feel or style in addition to the message. Here is Dr Virmani’s wedding card printed in the 1980s.

Image of 1980 Wedding Invitation Card in India

1990’s: The big bad world of wedding invitation cards in contemporary India

In contemporary India, wedding invitations have become bold and innovative with varying materials, printing methods, presentation and packaging styles. They are no longer confined to small paper sizes. Bigger is now considered better in this day and age where flaunting your wealth is the in thing. We have all kinds of formats – scroll, books, cards in boxes, multiple folds, and innovative shapes! There are multiple invitation cards for different functions. For example, wedding, reception, and other functions such as the Mehendi ceremony in North India.

Image of Wedding Invitation Cards - Contemporary India

The use of expensive materials like crystal and pearls have also meant that wedding cards nowadays (at the expensive ones from rich families) are not discarded! They will end up being preserved as they are valuable. In fact, Dr Virmani predicts that wedding invitation cards will eventually be preserved and traded on eBay!

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