Indian businessman hosts wedding for 151 couples

SURAT: With the brides dressed in traditional red and gold embroidered saris and the grooms wearing long tunics and turbans, 151 young couples tied the knot at a mass wedding in the western Indian state of Gujarat on Sunday.

The nuptials were hosted by an Indian diamond trader who has been paying for the weddings of fatherless women in the city of Surat for several years.

Mahesh Savani said he first stepped in to play the role of the father in 2008, when one of his employees died a few days before the weddings of his two daughters.

Every year since then, Savani has paid for the weddings of young women from poor families who have lost their fathers.

Weddings in India are expensive affairs, with the bride's family traditionally expected to pay the groom a large dowry of cash and gifts. Hundreds of people, mostly family members and neighbors of the couple, are hosted at lavish meals over a number of days, adding to the cost.

Savani said the wedding and gifts for the 151 couples would cost more than 50 million rupees ($750,000), with around 100,000 guests joining in the three days of festivities that ended Sunday.

The sprawling school ground where the mass wedding was held was decorated with flowers and lights.

"I see this as something sacred, so I am not counting the expense," Savani said.

The businessman, who has made his fortune in diamond trading and real estate, said he saw himself as a "foster father" to the young women. He gave each of the brides gold jewelry, clothes, and pots and pans to set up her new home, much like the dowry given in traditional Indian weddings.

The brides praised Savani's efforts.

"Ever since my father died two years ago, my mother has worried about my wedding and how to raise money for the expenses," said 23-year-old Meetal Gondalia. "Savani Papa has eased all her worries."

"Only someone who has lost her father can understand how much a girl needs her dad on her wedding day," said Vimla Koringa, 27, as she waited for her wedding ceremony to begin.