Chances are you may have seen vibrant pictures from Indian weddings. What do you think of, when you picture an Indian wedding?
Bright colors, dancing, singing, henna, festivities spanning several days, elaborate rituals and traditions, all of the above and more. Growing up as an Indian-American, I was always mesmerized by Indian wedding festivities. Traveling to India occasionally for family weddings, I fully enjoyed taking part in the various celebrations, and would relish any opportunity I had to dress up in full Indian attire.
However, it was not until many years later, when I actually had to plan my own wedding, that I understood the significance of the various ceremonies. I also came to appreciate first hand that Indian weddings are considered a union of two families, and therefore many of the customs involve both families.
The summary below is a general overview of customs that are common throughout India. It is important to note that India is actually a very diverse country, made up of several subcultures and each region has its own traditions.
Ganesh Puja – this is a religious ceremony that commences the Indian Hindu wedding rituals. It is a prayer to Lord Ganesh, the remover of obstacles and bestower of good luck. It is typically done at home with the couple, and close family and friends in observance. The ceremony blesses the couple and assures that the wedding can be performed without any hindrances.
Pithi/Haldi Ceremony– this is a ceremonial bath that usually takes place separately in the bride/groom’s homes. A paste of turmeric, sandalwood, and gram flour is made and applied to the bridge/groom’s skin. Turmeric is considered auspicious in Indian customs, and signifies purity and fertility. It also has an aesthetic purpose, and is believed to provide a beautiful glow to the skin. At the end of the ceremony, family members typically bless the bridge/groom. The bride will often wear yellow on this day, to represent the color of turmeric.
Mehndi Ceremony– Prior to the wedding, the bride and female attendees will typically have a mehndi (henna) artist come and apply mehndi in intricate designs on the hands, forearms, feet and legs. The bride typically has the most extensive and elaborate mehndi, sometimes taking several hours to complete. Common folklore is that the deeper red the bride’s mehndi turns, the stronger the bond between husband and wife. As a fun wedding game, the mehndi artist will often hide the name of the groom in the bride’s mehndi for the groom to find.
Sangeet/Garba – this is a musical night that takes place the night before the wedding. It is a joint event attended by both sides, and allows both families to enjoy singing and dancing to celebrate the couple. It is an “informal” night that allows both families to meet and greet.
Baraat– this is the groom’s procession, whereby the groom makes his way to the altar, followed by all his family and friends. The groom typically rides on a decorated white horse, with family and friends singing and dancing along the way.
Shaadi/Wedding ceremony– the specific rituals in the wedding ceremony vary from region to region. Often, a Hindu wedding begins with the bride and groom exchanging flower garlands (jai mala). A priest will then light the ceremonial fire (agni) in the center of the altar. The couple will walk around the fire four to seven times depending upon which region of India they are from (mangal phera). Each circle represents a pillar of happiness, namely duty, prosperity, love and spiritual salvation. After that the couple will take seven steps, symbolizing seven wedding vows, and they will be officially married. The groom will then apply a red powder (sindoor) to the bride’s hair partition, and tie a gold and black beaded necklace (mangal sutra) around the bride’s neck, symbolizing that the woman is now married. The couple will seek blessings from the priest and family members. For the wedding ceremony, the bride will often wear the color red.
Reception- similar to an American reception, this is a party to celebrate the married couple after the official wedding takes place. All family and friends can provide their congratulatory wishes.
Indian weddings take place over several days. Attendees typically dress in bright colors. White is usually avoided, as it is the color of mourning. Black is also considered inauspicious and generally not worn. In general, Indian weddings are very lively and meant to be a celebration of life through food, song, and dance!
My vivid childhood memories of Indian weddings actually inspired me to write a children’s book, Bindiya in India. It tells the story of a young girl who travels to India for the first time to meet her family and attend an Indian wedding. If you’d like to introduce your child to Indian weddings, please check out the book, coming fall 2020!