We don’t call weddings in India “BIG FAT INDIAN WEDDINGS” for no reason, weddings are a grand affair in the country spanning over several days of splendid celebrations with music, floor breaking dances, colorful rituals and splendid outfits! Every religion and region bring specific and unique customs attached to a wedding which are of utter importance. Indian parents start planning for the marriage of their daughter and son from the day they are born and teach them how important this lifetime relationship is. It is a big deal for a girl since she will have to leave her parents’ home to mark a new journey with her life-partner. Every girl dreams of this day to be special and out of a fairy tale story which she can cherish all her life. For parents, it is a dream come true to see their children finally settled happily into their new lives and for the couple, it is a journey marking the beginning of love and excitement. The planning is elaborate especially on the girl’s side which includes everything from clothes to jewelry to food to the venue to little little arrangements for various ceremonies.
The wedding ceremonies can last anywhere from three to five days depending on the culture and religion. Lots of excitement fills the family and relatives with sheer joy and they also start planning in advance their outfits and looks for different occasions. Looking into the traditions of Indian weddings is like entering a world of its own which is so rich and colorful!
HINDU WEDDINGS CUSTOMS AND RITUALS
The diversity in Hindu weddings is profound in India since the traditions vary even with state and region adding more flavor and fun to the wedding rituals. A Hindu wedding is as vibrant as it gets and is immersed in grandeur and joyful celebrations which start months before the actual wedding day. The main rituals which are of utmost importance in a Hindu marriage are Kanyadaan, Panigrahana and Saptapadi. Let us look into the traditions which make these weddings so extraordinary!
HOROSCOPE MATCHING OR KUNDLI MILAAN: This is the first step before proceeding in a Hindu wedding. An astrologer takes the kundli or patrika of both boy and girl and matches the qualities or gun. If everything is ok as per him, then the parents agree and proceed to meet and if it does not match, then parents most of the times prefer not to talk further. These days, the young generation restrains from this ceremony and do not believe in horoscope matching.
ROKA CEREMONY: This ceremony usually takes place after the parents have finalized and the couple has approved of each other. The Roka is a stamp on the relationship and is an intimate ceremony where only close family members are present. All the wedding preparations start after the Roka ceremony. The parents do a tilak ceremony of the girl and boy and exchange gifts. In some cultures, the Roka is done only with the boy and the girl is not present in the ceremony. This ceremony may happen 3 to 6 months ahead of the actual wedding.
ENGAGEMENT: This is a more formal and bigger ceremony when boy and girl exchange rings and a lot of dancing and fun take place with family and friends. The ceremony is organized by girl’s parents. The girl looks her best in a formal and elaborate Indian dress which may be an Indian lehenga choli or a floor-length Anarkali suit or an Indo-western dress. Bringing his dapper side up, the boy rocks in an Indo-western outfit or a formal pant suit!
SAGAI OR SAGAN CEREMONY: A Sagai or Sagan ceremony is organized by the boy’s family and mostly happens few days before the wedding. In which a puja takes place with only the boy sitting with the priest and male members. There is an exchange of gifts amongst the families. These days due to the scarcity of time, a lot of families combine engagement and Sagan ceremony together to keep it short and simple.
LAGAN: Now, this ceremony marks the beginning of the wedding days leading up to the actual wedding day. Lagan is written by a Hindu priest or pundit on a paper who says from today celebrations begin and usually, girl and boy don’t step out much during these 3 or 5 days since it is considered inauspicious. The dholki and dance celebrations start from the Lagan day.
TEL BAAN OR HALDI CEREMONY: In some cultures like in Uttar Pradesh and Marwari families this ceremony is called Tel baan and in other cultures, it is called Haldi. Tel baan takes place daily from Lagan until the wedding day and involves a mixture of mustard oil, curd, mehendi and haldi which is applied on the body of the bride or groom with a few strands of grass by female members only. It symbolizes cleansing and detoxification of the soul and body after which they take a bath.
A Haldi ceremony is similar it to Tel baan, it involves the application of lots of haldi or ubtan on the whole body of bride and groom by the family members. The ingredients vary with different cultures which can include milk, curd or sandalwood. It is considered being anti-inflammatory and auspicious and it also brings glow. This is a fun-filled and vibrant ceremony where family members enjoy troubling the bride and groom with lots of haldi!
MEHENDI: A light and celebratory occasion which takes place during the day time when Mehendi is applied on a bride and groom’s hands. The Mehendi designs are elaborate and intricate on a bride’s hand and feet which can take several hours to finish. It is believed that if the color of Mehendi is deep she will have a good married life and will be loved by her husband and mother-in-law!
All female members sit down to get their hands decorated in beautiful Mehendi designs with a lot of music, dholki, and dance happening side by side. The girl radiates with bridal glow and prefers wearing a kurta and with a ghagra skirt or an Indian suit since mehendi is applied on the feet as well. The girl wears signature accessories on Mehendi which include exquisite floral jewelry worn as a maang-tikka, earrings, and necklace.
SANGEET: It is all about DJ, dhol, dance and fun on a sangeet ceremony! The ceremony takes place at night and family members prepare and perform on Bollywood songs to make this occasion absolutely special for the couple. The sangeet ceremony in some cultures happens separately at bride and groom’s house respectively but in modern times the families are combining the celebrations together making it grander! The bride and groom also do special performances with friends and family to make it worth remembering. Brides these days prefer crop top blouses with a lehenga skirt sans the dupatta to keep it fuss-free and light. The groom keeps it suave in casual Indo-western attire or kurta pyjama.
COCKTAIL: If you thought Indian weddings are only about traditional ceremonies, then wait, a Cocktail ceremony is just the opposite of that! Modern, unconventional, glam in absolute Bollywood style is what a Cocktail party brings to you. The party takes place at night and is either celebrated separately at bride and groom’s house or it is a combined celebration with both families enjoying together. Cocktail party caters drinks to the coming guests and of course music and dance are an essential part. Brides wear a sequin or stylish designer gown dress or a designer saree in absolute Bollywood vogue and groom gives her a company in a well-fitted tuxedo.
BHAAT NYOTNA: This ceremony happens in Uttar Pradesh and Marwari Bania families and some other communities where a sister invites her brother to the wedding of her daughter or son in a grand way, one or two months before the wedding. The ceremony is finished on a day before the wedding when sisters do tilak ceremony of her brother and his family on the door-steps of her house with lots of music and dhol. The brothers give lavish gifts to the sister as a wedding gift for her daughter or son.
GHURCHARI: It takes place at groom’s house during the daytime. The groom gets ready and sits on a ghodi or white mare and proceeds to a temple with band-baaja and dancing. The family members dance and enjoy in-front of the ghodi. At the temple, a puja takes place with the priest and the procession returns home to get ready for the main event.
CHADAT OR BARAAT: The chadat starts a few kilometers away from the wedding venue after all the family members and friends reach the venue of chadat. The groom looks absolutely royal in his achkan or sherwani with a pagdi or sehra on his head. Rajput groom wears a big sword with pearl strings or a layered stone necklace and in some cultures, the groom wears a heavy garland of rupee notes. He arrives in a buggy or carriage driven by horse or on a beautifully decorated ghodi or white mare. This is a moment of great joy and celebration for the family when they dance their hearts out on the music-band and dhol. A lot of fireworks take place during the chadat or baraat ceremony.
GROOM’S WELCOME: Now, groom welcome also varies with different culture. All the family members of bride’s family wait for the welcome and as the groom reaches the gate the ceremony starts. The bride’s brother goes to receive the groom and usually, females carry out the ceremony when bride’s bhabhi or mother conducts the tilak ceremony of groom with aarti. In Marwadi families a small shrine of 7 birds with a Ganesha statue hangs at the entrance which the groom has to touch with a stick and then enter inside. A Gujarati groom’s nose is pulled by his mother-in-law as a playful gesture. Punjabi weddings are all about grandeur, all the members of groom’s family are greeted with a milni or a welcome gift.
Maharashtrian grooms are welcomed with a Seeman puja which is carried out by the bride’s parents at the entrance of the wedding venue. In the state of Assam, the guest and groom are showered with lots of rice as they reach the venue gate which makes it difficult for the groom to enter the venue. The groom’s friend holds an umbrella to protect him and also has to pay shagun for entering the venue. After this, an aarti is performed by bride’s mother.
In the modern times, ribbon cutting ceremony is a trend. Once the groom reaches the gate he is asked to cut the ribbon and then rest ceremonies are performed.
JAIMALA: Just after the grand entrance of bride in her extravagant wedding lehenga and luxurious jewelry, Jaimala or Varmala takes place. Some brides wear sarees on the wedding day like South Indian brides wear a heavy Kanjeevaram saree, Maharastrian bride wears a Paithani silk saree, Bengali bride wears a rich red silk saree and a Kerala bride wears a beautiful white and gold silk saree throughout the whole ceremony. The wedding lehenga in few cultures comes from groom’s side.
These days, Jaimala ceremonies are opulent affairs conducted in excellent theatrical manner. They can be as fancy or as simple depending on how much a family spends on the wedding. Traditionally, Jaimala is an exchange of floral garlands between bride and groom which is a mark of their matrimony. This ritual is an ancient part of Hindu religion practiced in marriage.
Even the garlands today are available in lightest to heaviest designs in a wide of variety of flowers, though rose garlands are all time favorites.
KANYADAAN, PANIGRAHANA, SAPTAPADI AND SAAT VACHAN: After the wedding fun, comes the serious wedding ritual of Phera which is carried out in two to three hours. In the older times, Pheras were conducted all night which was a tedious process. But modern times have shortened the ceremony; still, the timings can vary with various cultures. The whole Phera ceremony includes Kanyadaan, Panigrahana, Phere or Saptapadi and Saat Vachan. It is conducted by a Hindu priest with bride and groom and bride’s parents sitting around the Agni-Kund. The bride wears a mukut on her head as the Pheras starts. Some brides change from a bridal lehenga to a saree as a Phera dress. The color of the saree can be yellow, red or white and red depending on the culture.
A Kanyadaan is a ritual in which the father of the bride gives the hand of his daughter to the boy while pouring holy water on the hands of his daughter and then placing her hand in the hand of the groom. Kanyadaan is considered as the most sacred and biggest ritual in a Hindu marriage. Panigrahana is carried out after the Kanyadaan, which starts by lighting the fire or Agni by the groom. It is a ritual which involves holding each other’s hand as a symbol of marital union and the groom fully accepting the responsibilities of the married life.
The Saat Vachan or the seven vows is one of the most important rituals conducted during Pheras and is an integral part of Hindu marriage. In some cultures, dholki is played while the Pheras are in process. The groom’s sister ties the knot with a dupatta between the bride and groom for Pheras. Though the whole ceremony is called Phera but the actual Phere or Saptapadi involves taking seven rounds around the Agni-Kund while taking seven Vows or Saat Vachan. The groom after this fills the maang or center parting of the bride with Sindoor using a ring and it is essential that Sindoor falls on her nose, since it is considered auspicious.
He also ties a Mangalsutra which is a sacred symbol of the bride’s married status and is made of gold and black beads. It is believed the ritual originated from South India where it is called thaali or Maangalyam. A Mangalsutra denotes the union of two people and their faith and trust on each other. The wife wears the Mangalsutra all her life until the death of her husband.
JHOOTA CHURAI: While all the serious affair of the Phera ceremony is happening, the bride’s sisters and cousins are busy robbing the shoes of the groom or what we call as Jhoota Churai. It is a fun-filled ceremony where the shoes of the groom are hidden by bride’s family and they don’t give it back until he pays as much as they demand of him. This ceremony includes negotiations from groom side, light arguments, and some teasing. After the groom pays, the shoes are returned respectfully to him. In Punjabi weddings, the groom’s family gives a token of gift called Kalichari which is a gold or silver ring to the sister-in-law.
VIDAAI: This is really the most emotional moment in the whole wedding when bride finally has to leave her parents’ home for a better life. A number of Bollywood songs are based on Indian Vidaai which are played by the music-band as she departs. This ceremony leaves every member of bride’s family in tears of joy and sadness including the bride herself who leaves with the blessings of her parents. While she leaves her home, she throws back a handful of wheat or rice behind her which is collected by her parents, this ritual is conducted so that her family is happy and prospers after she leaves. When the bride finally sits in the car with the groom her brothers give the first push to the car for a new journey of her life.
BRIDE’S WELCOME OR GRIHA PRAVESH: Now, comes the new phase of a bride’s life about which she is anxious as well as happy. The mother-in-law welcomes her son and daughter-in-law with a tilak and aarti at the gate. A bride’s welcome is called Griha Pravesh, she then slowly kicks a Kalash or pot filled with rice kept at the home entrance gate with her right foot and then she steps into a plate filled with Aalta and walks inside the home with her red footprints which signify the entry of Goddess Lakshmi.
To make it light and happier for the new bride a game called Kangana Khilaai or Kangana Khelna is played. A bowl filled with water, milk and rose petals is kept in front of bride and groom. A ring is dropped in the bowl and they compete against each other to find the ring with their one hand, whoever finds the ring first wins the game. There is a lot of enthusiasm and cheering while the game is carried out thus breaking the ice for the new bride.
RECEPTION: The celebrations continue on groom’s side with pomp and show. Reception is a welcome party for the new bride and bride’s family is a guest on this occasion. She has to look nothing less than ethereal since all the guests will eye her. It is a formal yet a little casual occasion as compared to the wedding since bride and groom have the liberty to move around and meet the guests.
Brides have a galore of varieties to choose from and usually, the outfit is from groom’s side, which can be a designer embroidered jacket kurta with a skirt or a lehenga choli and even designer sarees are a choice paired with heavy or extravagant jewelry to make a stunning statement. Groom looks equally smashing complementing his new bride in a pant suit or tuxedo.
UNIQUE HINDU WEDDING CUSTOMS IN INDIA
While these are common or known wedding rituals in Indian Hindu Marriage which may be called by different names in different languages and states, there are certain wedding traditions which are unique to a particular region, state and community. Time to dig out some less popular and special traditions of Indian weddings!
Wedding in Uttar Pradesh: One of the small towns in U.P called Sarsaul has a strange tradition where they welcome guests with tomatoes and not with flowers. They believe the bad beginning of a relationship leads to love and happiness. Sounds strange!
Punjabi Wedding: Punjabis have a ritual called Ghara Gharaoli which is very important for the bride. The bride’s sibling fills an earthen pot or ghada with water from a temple and then the bride has to bathe in the same water before she wears her wedding outfit. Another ceremony specifically celebrated in Punjabi weddings is Mata ki Chowki. In which the whole family sits, prays and dances on religious songs and bhajans for at least 4-5 hours in front of Hindu deity idols.
Kashmiri Wedding: In Kashmiri weddings, a pre-wedding ritual called Livun is performed, in which the houses of bride and grooms are cleaned completely. Wanwun is a ritual which takes places few days before the wedding which is a musical night held at bride and groom’s home respectively. It is followed by Maanziraat, a ceremony in which the doors of the bride’s and groom’s house is decorated and is followed by a celebratory bathing of the bride. The bride’s maternal uncle washes her feet to begin with.
Around two to three days prior to the wedding the bride’s family sends 51 plates or thaals of dry fruits, sweets, sugar, ghee, and gota. And the groom’s family also sends flowers jewelry and gifts for the bride.
The parents of the bride gift her Dijaru which is an ear jewelry signifying her married status. In Sanzwaru ceremony, the groom’s family presents mirror, sindoor, cosmetics, and beetles leaves covered in silver or gold foil to the bride. Duribat is a puja ceremony in which both bride and groom worship Lord Shiva and Goddess Parvati in their respective homes.
The groom is welcomed at the wedding venue gate by the exchange of nutmeg between the fathers of bride and groom.
Rajasthani Wedding: Rajasthani or Marwari weddings are full of vibrant traditions. One of the distinctive wedding customs is Ganpati Sthapna where the families from both the sides pray together for happiness and prosperity during and after the wedding. A special evening affair called Mehfil is also organized in Rajasthani weddings where Ghoomar dance is performed in front of the ladies of the family and the bride has a special seating arrangement. The entry of men is restricted in this Mehfil who enjoy their own celebrations but the groom has the permission to enter the ladies Mehfil.
A Janev ceremony is very important in which a Havan is performed on the wedding evening and the groom is handed over a Janev or a holy thread which he has to wear throughout the puja. He also wears a saffron robe during the entire ceremony and it is conducted to show his acceptance of married life responsibilities.
The relatives of the groom’s family carry the bridal outfit, jewelry, and other shringaar items to bride’s home a day prior to the wedding and this ceremony called Palla Dastoor.
A Marwari tradition called Korath is also performed in which the groom is specially invited by the men of bride’s family on the wedding day with silver plate or thali filled with moong, rice, coconut, jaggery, and wedding invitation card. After this, the baraat proceeds to the venue.
Bengali Wedding: In Bengali weddings, an early morning custom is practiced in which the bride’s aunts offer an aarti plate filled with goodies to Ganga river. It is believed that river Ganga will bless their daughter! Ai Buro Bhat is the last meal which the bride and groom have as unmarried person in their respective homes a day before or few days before the wedding. The meal is a lavish preparation including fish, fried vegetables, mutton curry, dal, papad, rice, paturi and rice pudding.
Another unique tradition is Bride’s entry in the Mandap, called Saat Paak. She arrives sitting on a pidi which is carried by her brothers and uncles. All this time she hides her face with beetle leaves and is not supposed to see the groom. The brothers and uncles then take seven rounds around the groom and finally, she removes the beetle leaves. While all this is happening women create a specific sound called Ulu Dhwani. It is believed the sound drives away the evil forces.
Wedding in Bihar: When talking of Bihari weddings, there is a pool of astonishing customs! One of them is where the new bride is asked to carry an earthen pot on her head to check her endurance. They keep on adding the pots to increase the weight and see how well she can balance. Well, that’s one helluva challenge!
Kumaon Wedding: The Kumaon region has peculiar customs in marriages and one such custom is the use of flags in baraat or procession. The first man in the baraat carries a white flag or Nishan which represent the groom’s side and the last man in the procession carries a red flag representing the bride’s side.
Manipuri Wedding: The bride and groom in Manipur release two fishes in a pond to drive away the evil forces. If the fishes swim side by side, it is considered an auspicious sign. In Manipuri wedding, all the seating arrangement at the wedding venue is made around tulsi or basil plant. The Phera ceremony is completed around basil plant with shehnai and kirtan.
Wedding in Assam: In Assam, a unique tradition called Tel diya is carried out on the wedding day. The bride’s mother-in-law keeps a ring along with a beetle leaf on the bride’s hair. She then takes oil and applies it on bride three times and gives her sindoor and wedding attire called Mekhla Chador.
For the ritualistic bath of the bride and groom on the wedding day, their respective mothers collect holy water from a river.
When the groom is welcomed on the gate at the venue, he is lifted by his brother-in-law who takes him to the wedding stage. The bride enters the wedding venue sitting on the shoulders of her uncle from the maternal side.
Wedding in Maharashtra: Antrapat or a silk shawl is used to separate the bride and groom which is removed only after the wedding mantras or chants are completed. The bride and groom then can see each other. After this, a custom called Sankalp is performed which involves showering of broken rice grains on the couple as a blessing by the guests.
Gujarati Wedding: Gujarati families observe a wedding ritual called Madhuparka. In which the parents of bride wash the feet of the groom and offer him Panchamrut made from milk, yogurt, honey, sugar, and ghee, then he enters the wedding Mandap. In a ceremony called Hasta Milap, the groom’s scarf is tied to the bride’s scarf which signifies the meeting of the souls, flower petals and rice grains are showered on them during the ceremony.
Wedding in Orissa: In Odia Hindu weddings, the first wedding invitation card is sent to Jagannath Puri or Lord Jagannath. Most of the customs are similar to a Hindu wedding only they have different names.
When the groom comes with baraat or Barajatri at the wedding gate, he is welcomed by the bride’s family and his feet is washed with coconut water and a mixture of curd, honey and ghee is offered. A ceremony called Baadua Pani Gadhua is performed, in which the bride’s family informs her that the baraat has arrived. She then proceeds for the ceremonial holy bath which is called Baadua Pani Gadhua. Oriya brides wear a yellow saree with red border called Boula Patta on the main wedding day.
During the phera ceremony, a mango leaves garland ties the bride’s hand along with the groom’s hand which is considered sacred. Puffed rice or Lajja or Khai is offered to the fire and the ceremony is called Khaiporda for wealth and prosperity. Another custom which is a light humorous gesture called Saala Bidha is carried out the brothers of the bride where they punch the back of the groom. The couple then goes out to see the Pole star after which the groom puts Sindoor in her center parting.
The newlywed couple now plays a white colored shell, and the ceremony is called Kaurdi Khela.
Wedding in Andhra Pradesh: A ceremony called Kashi Yatra is performed at the groom’s house where he pretends that he is going to Kashi and is not interested in wedding or worldly pleasures. The bride’s brother then stops and persuades him to marry his sister. In the wedding Mandap, a ceremony called Jeerakalla-Bellamu is performed, in which a paste of jeera or cumin seeds is used by bride and groom to apply on each other’s hand from under a curtain. This ceremony signifies an unbreakable bond between the couple.
Wedding in Tamil Nadu: The Tamilian Brahmin families follow a tradition similar to Andhra weddings called Kasi Yatrai on the wedding day with the groom. When he is about to enter the wedding Mandap, he acts as if he has changed his mind and is planning to take a Sanyaas or enter asceticism. The father of the bride then persuades him to carry on and enter the married life. This definitely must be an interesting scenario!
A wedding ritual called Pallikai Thellichal is carried out few days before the wedding, in which nine different types of grains are mixed with curd and filled in seven pitchers or earthen pots adorned with Sandalwood. The pots are immersed in water to feed the fishes. The ceremony is considered sacred and auspicious for couple’s married life. During the Kanyadaan ceremony, the bride sits on the lap of her father which means the daughter has played on her father’s lap and he is giving his daughter to the groom as a responsibility.
Wedding in Kerala: They are very particular about the auspicious timings in wedding rituals. The interesting part is they consider the timing when they enter the wedding venue as the most auspicious or lucky time and not when the actual rituals are performed. The couple takes only three rounds or Phere around the Agni-kund.
The Hindu weddings in Kerala is either a Nair wedding or a simple Hindu wedding. In Nair weddings, the mandap or Kalyana mandap is given a lot of importance in terms of arrangements since it is considered sacred. As the groom reaches the venue, he is welcomed by bride’s brother who washes his feet and takes the groom to the mandap. The groom is escorted to the mandap in a celebratory fashion with girls walking alongside with diyas. During the phera ceremony, groom gifts the bride a saree which shows his acceptance of her responsibilities. This ceremony is called Pudamari.
The meal in Nair weddings is lavish and is called Sadhya which consists of 25 dishes or food items served on Plantain leaves.
Sindhi Wedding: A custom called Santh is performed in Sindhi marriage wherein an anklet is tied to the bride’s ankle as well as of the groom. Around eight married women now pour oil on them which is considered as a blessing. After the oil is poured, they can wear the shoes and break the pitcher or earthen pot, which marks the breaking of old relationships.
Kayastha Wedding: In Kayastha weddings, there is a ceremony called Imli-ghutna which is carried out by the maternal uncle and aunt of the groom and it is believed it drives away the evil forces. It is also a way of informing the groom he should keep away from any kind of vices after the wedding.
Marrying a tree is also popular in Indian Hindu weddings, where if a bride is Maanglik she has to first get married to a Peeple tree to ward off the evil effects of being a Maanglik and then only she can marry.
Apart from individual weddings, there is also a practice called Saamuhik Vivaah or combined wedding organized by various communities, where many couples get married together at one venue. It is usually performed for poor families or the families who cannot afford the expenses of the marriage.
That is the beauty of culture in India, so many rich and diverse traditions make the Indian weddings one of a kind!