By Shree Baphna, AsAmNews Staff Writer
On Friday, February 24th I had the immense pleasure of attending an event that transcended (quite literally) any other event I have ever been to. I was able to watch Sheel Mohnot and Amruta Godbole marry in a Metaverse wedding, hosted by none other than fast food giant Taco Bell.
Many people I mentioned this to looked thoroughly perplexed at first, and I can of course understand why. The Metaverse is a hard concept to grasp. It is essentially a digital translation of our real-world lives into a 3-dimensional virtual reality world on the internet. One can create an ‘avatar’ of themselves and move around freely from place to place. To some, this may seem like another high-tech version of a video game, but there are many more applications the Metaverse can have besides that. The concept of ‘Metaverse’ first blew up when Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg announced in 2021 that he would be investing billions of dollars into the idea.
People have begun to catch on to the idea, and many have come up with far-reaching ideas as to how the Metaverse can be operationalized. Two of those people are Amruta and Sheel, who were early adopters. They entered a one-of-a-kind competition hosted by Taco Bell, wherein the winning couple would be married in the Metaverse version of the restaurant.
From a personal standpoint, I do see the practicality of a virtual reality wedding. It saves time and money, and loved ones who may not have been able to attend due to travel constraints or health constraints are now able to view this wonderful celebration of love.
Sheel Mohnot and Amruta Godbole. Courtesy: Taco Bell
Amruta and Sheel are both from the San Francisco Bay Area and were connected by a mutual friend. As fate would have it, their connection was purely virtual at first, communicating via telephone calls and texting. The pair connected over their share loved for Taco Bell, their Indian Heritage, and the importance of a vegetarian diet- something that is very culturally inherent for many South Asian Indians.
I personally remember that growing up as a kid, Taco Bell was one of the only reliable fast-food restaurants that served good quality vegetarian options. It may be somewhat of a stereotype that South Asian Indians love Taco Bell, but in reality, it was the one place for a very long time that had options for various dietary needs and even included a taste profile that was somewhat familiar to South Asian immigrants (i.e. spices, rice, rajma or kidney beans, etc.)
Keeping that in mind, it is almost unsurprising to hear of Sheel and Amruta’s immense love for the franchise. In fact, Sheel and Amruta had their first date at Taco Bell’s Pacifica location, said to be the most beautiful Taco Bell in the world.
The wedding overall followed the general format of most South Asian Indian weddings, with a few touches of Western elements (besides the obvious fact that it was just happening in virtual reality). All guests were wearing traditional Indian clothes, and some even sported Taco Bell-themed looks. The nuptials took place in Decentraland, which is a virtual reality world platform belonging to the Metaverse.
To top it off, the entire night was emceed by none other than Kal Penn, Indian American actor, author, and former White House staff member for the Obama Administration. Kal attended in avatar form, completely decked out in traditional Indian clothing for the wedding.
Kal Penn MCs the wedding // Photo via Shree Baphna
The wedding began with a traditional baraat, or procession, which is when the groom makes the journey to the wedding venue to meet the bride. This was followed by the nuptials, and then a reception to end the night. The baraat was a private ceremony open only to invited guests. I could not attend in my avatar form and instead joined other avatar viewers in a virtual reality event hall that was located inside a neon purple Taco Bell building in Decentraland. The setting was other-worldly, quite literally. Futuristic-looking trees and other greenery doted the landscape, while the giant bell from the Taco Bell symbol hung suspended, levitating like a purple UFO.
The inside hall was a shock of color as well, all neon purple themed. Screens were mounted at the top to screen the baraat and the nuptials. In the corner of the screens, you could see Sheel and Amruta in real-life, voicing their vows through their avatar selves.
Post the ceremony- which was, in fact, binding in real-life as in the Metaverse- the wedding reception was underway, complete with a dance floor, a full Taco Bell menu and buffet, and a nacho cheese fountain! One could even take pictures with the bride and groom (all in avatar form, of course).
Avatars were milling around, some dancing, some even taking a dive in the nacho cheese fountain. A DJ ran tracks through the night, and the bride even threw a bouquet of Taco Bell sauces into the crowd for avatars to catch. Barring certain things, it almost felt like I was actually attending a real-life Indian wedding!
Eventually, family and friends took to the stage, as announced by Kal Penn, to give their toasts through their avatars. Sonia (who I assume was a friend of the couple’s) commented on Sheel and Amruta’s “shared love for meme pages and all things tech”, which inadvertently fed into their sense of humor and formed a lasting friendship. Rishi, Sheel’s brother, open-heartedly and warmly welcome Amruta to the family, recounting how well both fit in with each other’s families.
An overlook of the venue // Courtesy of Taco Bell
What does this mean for the future of weddings, or other events?
Overall, I think it is safe to say a virtual-reality event of this scale and importance is a little hard to wrap my mind around.
What I personally find difficult to understand about the Metaverse is how it impacts our lives in reality. How do we translate the same amount of importance or tangible benefit from the Metaverse to real life? Does this simply depend on the rhetoric and the public’s ability to believe enough in it for it to have a weighted effect?
These are questions I am not sure how to answer. For an Indian wedding specifically, many of our traditions are steeped in religious meaning that require physical presence in a temple. Could the Metaverse be able to translate such nuanced meaning into the digital world, without the physical touch of humans?
Additionally, I wonder what an event like this means for other future weddings or large-scale events, especially in the pandemic era. For the burgeoning wedding industry, an option like a Metaverse wedding would certainly attract customers toward the cheaper and less hassle-filled option. It also allows much more control over elements to create a tailor-made experience for people. In this instance, Sheel and Amruta were able to bring out this fascinating fusion of Indian and Western traditions that combined their love for a specific kind of food.
Furthermore, a virtual reality option would perhaps be more inclusive of those who may not have the financial or able means to attend certain events. It is definitely a worthwhile option for many industries to look into, not just weddings.
Overall, it was a real privilege to be able to witness what I am sure is a historic event. It brings a brand-new flavor to tradition, customs, and the meaning of commitment to one another. This wedding sets a precedent that we have never seen before, and I for one, would like to explore this some more.
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