For the culture-loving-curious ones amongst you who prefer to know everything about the traditions of an Indian wedding, here are all the ceremonies explained one by one.
Day 1: Traditional Indian pre-wedding rituals
On the evening prior to the wedding the beautifying of the bride and her female friends and family begins. The Mehendi ritual is a ceremony where henna paste is applied to hands, forearms, and feet. Besides having a cosmetic reason, henna is believed to have cooling properties and is supposed to calm the bride’s nerves before the wedding. As the wedding also marks the last night at the parent’s home and departure from the family house, the Mehendi ritual also offers one last chance to reminisce childhood memories and shed some tears over the closing childhood chapter and the turning of the page.
The word ‘Sangeet’ translates from Sanskrit to 'sung together', as this is where the celebration for the wedding-to-come begins. Originated in the Punjab regions of India and known to last a week, the Sangeet formally comprised of only female attendees from both sides of the family offering them a chance to let their hair down. Together the ladies would laugh, dance, and listen to songs by the elder female family members as they sung in unison with the bride as the focal point. However, modern times have allowed for men to join in on the fun.
Day 2: Traditional Indian pre-wedding ritual
The Haldi is a traditional pre wedding cleansing ceremony where the bride and groom are cleansed with turmeric by family and friends in anticipation of their wedding. The mixture is believed to bless the couple before the wedding, ward off any evil spirits, and give a nice ‘glow’ to the young couple for the big day. Unlike some of the ceremonies of the evening before, the Haldi is a more religious ceremony and includes spiritual aspects such as prayers and mantras.
Day 2: Indian Wedding Ceremony
The chooda ceremony is the first wedding ritual for the bride-to-be, in which she is decorated with a set of beautiful red and white bangles. Traditionally, a set of 21 bangles in red/maroon and white/ivory is selected for this ceremony by the bride’s maternal uncle (mama) and aunt (mami). They gift the chooda to the bride during the ceremony that takes place in the girl’s house. The bangles are first purified with milk and rose petals, before it is put on the bride's wrist by her maternal uncle, while all the close relatives touch the chooda as a mark of their blessings.
As is the case at the bride’s home, the groom also has some preparatory ceremonies at his parental home. One of those is the Sehra Bandi. After the groom has dressed up in his wedding attire, a small prayer (puja) is performed. Thereafter, the groom’s sisters prepare their brother for the last steps into manhood by tying a veal (the sehra) on his turban covering his face. By covering the groom’s face the sisters protect their brother from the Nazar, also known as the evil eye, on his way to the altar.
The Baraat is one of the most interesting (and fun) parts of the groom's traditions, as this is where the craziness begins. In North Indian communities, it is customary for the groom to travel to the wedding venue (often the bride’s house) on a decorated horse, accompanied by his family members and friends who are supposed to make a big impression by extravagant dancing and loud singing. When the groom is seated on a horse after his sisters have blessed it and given it food, the wedding procession is on. The bigger, the louder, the crazier, the more impressive to the bride’s family and thus... the better.
The Milni literally means "introductions" and is the moment the Baraat has arrived at the girl’s house and the families are formally introduced to one another. This is done by exchanging garlands in a particular order starting with the senior men in the families. For example, both eldest chachas (father's brother) will come together and exchange garlands of flowers, then the fathers, then the mothers, brothers, sisters, etc. all in descending order of age.
During the Milni the two who did not exchange garlands yet are the bride and groom. Obviously the bride will first need to make an entrance. After the groom has disembarked from his horse, he is greeted by the bride's parents with a small prayer (puja). The bride's mother blesses the groom and welcomes him into their house. After the groom has entered, the bride, escorted by her bridesmaids, will have her moment to shine by making her way to the stage.
In a ceremony similar to the exchange of rings in Western weddings, the couple exchange flower garlands, signifying they choose to accept as their spouses and love each other till the end. Friends and relatives of the bride and groom indulge in teasing and try to make the exchange of garlands difficult by lifting their friend/family member.
Kanyadaan and Pheras
Kanyadaan, meaning “giving away the daughter” in Sanskrit, is the final symbolic marriage ritual for the bride’s parents. During this ritual the bride's father puts a ring on the boy's finger before placing his daughter’s hand into the boy’s. It is a moment in every wedding charged with emotions, as the father lets go and gives away his beloved daughter into the care of another man, her husband, for the rest of her life. This ritual signifies both the acceptance of the bride’s father and his official approval of this matrimony.
It is after the kanyadaan that the ‘pheras’ begin. The pheras, best translated as vows, are seven promises made to one another as the couple encircles a sacred fire (agni) seven times. During the circles the couple promise each other happiness, care, courage, children, and of course eternal love. The seven vows along with the seven Pheras is the most important ritual of a Hindu wedding as it sanctifies the union of two souls and gives social recognition to the marriage. Only after the seven vows are completed can the marriage be deemed concluded. Similar to the ‘I do’ in Western weddings,
When this last ritual is over and the crowd is cheering, the couple gets up to touch the feet of all the elder members in the family and seek their blessings for a happily married life.
Vidaai (means good-bye) is a very emotional part of Hindu weddings where the bride officially leaves the parents’ house after her wedding. She usually sits in a Doli (a fairy tale like carriage) carried by her brother and uncle at the back and her husband and brother in law in the front.