Indian weddings are legendary, and part of the continuing legacy is how we balance trends and tradition. As we enter the digital revolution and culture and weddings continue to modernize, many Hindu wedding customs either evolve, fall by the wayside or get a new life. I thought I would explain what the most common traditions are across big Indian cities and America/Canada, so you know what to expect and also what you’re about to be a part of!
What are the most common Indian wedding traditions and customs these days?
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Indian weddings traditionally last three days—all ceremonies considered. The first of these ceremonies is Misri, which takes place several days before the actual wedding day. In this ceremony, the marrying couple exchanges prayers, flower garlands and gold rings. Traditionally, the groom’s parents present the bride with a basket of gifts and misri (rock sugar), representative of sweetness in the future.
It’s basically a prayer done with both families and close friends, a day or a week before the wedding. It’s to ask for blessings and ensure a smooth wedding and a great marriage. You’ll often see pictures of passed on family members, grandparents, gurus and priests the family follows, etc..
The Sangeet party can be held separately or combined with the Mehendi ceremony. The celebration consists of the families of the bride and groom (or just the women) getting together for song and dance.
This party can be a stand-alone event or be connected with the Mehendi ceremony. The Sangeet is a celebration where both families get together to sing and dance. This can be restricted to just the women, or open for all to enjoy.
Literally means dance. It’s a massive party. The couples’ friends and family do choreograph dances for them, to show how much they care for them. Then at the end, the bride and groom do a dance for everybody else. It’s filled with screaming, cheering, good food, alcohol, and so much more!
The Sangeet as a custom has slowly become almost as big as the wedding reception itself, so definitely DO NOT MISS IT.
The Mehendi ceremony takes place just one day before the actual wedding. Only women attend this event in which intricate patterns are drawn on their hands and feet with mehendi (also known as henna). The designs signify a deep bond between the husband and wife. Oftentimes, the Mehendi ceremony is combined with Sagri, in which the groom’s female family members bring gifts and flowers to the bride.
Only the women in the families attend the Mehendi, which is probably the most recognized Indian wedding tradition. It is where the bride has her hands and feet adorned with intricate henna designs, which signify the bond between her and her future husband. Once the ceremony is finished, and the parents give the bride away, they do not eat again before the wedding to remain pure.
This is where all the hand painting for henna happens, and the girls sing songs celebrating the bride to be a new adventure. These days the tradition has evolved to allow the boys to join on the fun, so mehendi’s have evolved from small house functions with all the girls in the living room gossiping to a full-on poolside brunch affair with booze, food and of course, henna art.
On the morning of the wedding, the Haldi ceremony is held. In this tradition, both sides of the family spread a mixture of oil, water and turmeric over the skin and clothes of the bride and groom. The mixture is believed to play a role in blessing the couple and in moisturizing and calming their skin before the wedding.
Given the expensive decoration and the hair/makeup/outfits all done immaculately, it’s also very common to see the bride and groom disappear for about 20 minutes to snap some formal portrait shots. This is new in Indian weddings but if you see it happening, try not to crash it so they can go back and join in the fun on the dance floor!
Baraat’s are massive spectacles now, and the tradition is that the entire guest list of the groom meets him in a hotel lobby, parking lot or other gathering area and then move on over to the altar, in a one-hour dancing party. In this wedding, they used a boat to cross a river to the other venue, which luckily was also on the driver. Every big Indian wedding, especially North Indian weddings, continue to have baraats.
The baraat ends when the groom’s mother-in-law receives him near the altar. That itself is usually a small exchange of some token gifts, and basically, it’s when “the two families meet and greet each other.” It’s a formal event, although it’s over in 10 minutes and happens at Punjabi weddings and these days a majority of Indian weddings.
In traditional Indian weddings, the ceremony takes place under a Mandap, which is a four-pillared canopy. It is customary for the Mandap to be decorated in bright colours.
Pouring of rice or flowers into the sacred fire. Happens still at most weddings and your pandit will guide you on the same. (not a specific moment, but just something to watch for during the 75-minute ceremony).
During the wedding ceremony, the brother of the bride pours rice into her hands, some of which slips into the groom’s hands cupped below hers, and then into the sacred fire (which is lit in traditional ceremonies and is referred to as Agni).
In the Hindu tradition, rather than exchanging wedding rings, the groom ties a mangal sutra around the bride’s neck. The Mangalsutra is a necklace with two gold pendants. The groom ties the necklace with three knots to signify a strong bonding for 100 years.
The groom ties a necklace around his gal to let her know, hey darling, this is official! Since it’s jewellery that the groom is supposed to give his wife, he’ll usually pay for it, although these days it’s common to just let the girl pick it as you don’t want to give her something she won’t like! Again, just a part of the wedding ceremony so you’ll just notice it as the priest is chanting his stuff.
One fun ceremony is called mangal pheras. This is when the bride and groom circle the sacred fire four times to represent dharma, artha, kama, and moksha and they run to their seats—whoever gets there first will rule the household.
Lighting the Holy Fire
An Indian couple pledges their vows around the Agni, a holy fire that acts as a witness to the ceremony. The bride and groom take seven steps around the blaze while reciting this sacred Hindu pledge of marriage:
- With the first step, we will provide for and support each other.
- With the second step, we will develop mental, physical, and spiritual strength.
- With the third step, we will share the worldly possessions.
- With the fourth step, we will acquire knowledge, happiness, and peace.
- With the fifth step, we will raise strong and virtuous children.
- With the sixth step, we will enjoy the fruits of all seasons.
- With the seventh step, we will always remain friends and cherish each other.
In this part of the ceremony, the groom assists his bride to touch seven betel nuts, which are considered a holy plant in India, with her right toe while they recite seven vows. Once this is complete, seven married women from the bride’s family come up to the couple and whisper blessings in the bride’s right ear before she is carried out by her brothers.
Hiding the Shoes
Instead of tossing your bouquet to a group of single ladies, consider this Indian wedding prank that could leave your bridesmaids all the richer! In the popular Indian wedding game Jutti Chupai, bridesmaids steal and hide the groom’s shoes just before the wedding ceremony begins. Once the ceremony is over, the groom looks for his missing pair while the ‘maids, or saalis, look on at his failed attempts. Eventually, they ask the groom for a sum of money—20, 50, even 100 dollars—in exchange for his kicks.
Not all brides leave the altar with a cheery smile. At Hindu weddings, the newlywed says her goodbyes during the Vidaai ceremony, a tearful event in which the bride officially leaves her home and family to start a life with her new husband. She then takes handfuls of rice to throw over her head to show thanks and pay homage to her parents.
While she may have just married the love of her life, completing the wedding ceremony is also an emotional time for Indian brides as it is the moment when they officially farewell their family. The Vidaai ceremony is the moment when this happens, and the bride takes handfuls of rice to throw over her head as a sign of thanks to her parents.
One of the most significant parts of Indian weddings is the vibrant colours found throughout the celebration. From the attire to the flowers and decoration, colours such as red, gold, orange and burgundy generally fill the room.
There is no something white when it comes to Indian brides; in fact, they tend to favour deep reds, vibrant yellows, and bold oranges. This is steeped in Hindu tradition, where the sari should be brightly coloured and embellished with gold elements to symbolize commitment, spirituality, and fertility.
An Indian bride adhering to tradition will wear a 16-piece outfit that includes makeup, jewellery, and clothes. The most recognizable is the Mangtikka, a jewel worn on the forehead.
Fabric colours for her sari and the groom’s attire are largely dictated by the region they are from. The groom traditionally wears a turban adorned with flowers to ward off bad spirits and a special type of shoe called a Sherwani and Mojari.
Traditionally, the bride will wear a 16-piece attire called Solah Shringar, which includes makeup, jewellery, and clothes. Each item is meant to bring out the natural beauty of the bride. One notable piece of the Solah Shringar is the Mangtikka, which is the giant jewel the bride wears on her forehead and through the part of her hair. The actual garment the bride wears will vary depending on what region she is from. The type of jewellery may also vary. The groom’s attire is not as elaborate as a traditional Hindu wedding, and the groom will wear a Sherwani and Mojari, which is a type of shoe that is seen often in Mughal art. As for the guests, most women at the wedding will be wearing a Sari or a Lengha. The guests, as well as the bride and groom, generally dress in loud colour. Most attendees will wear Bindis and Bangles as part of their custom wedding attire as well. Some women also wear payals (anklets).
Starting a new life
The bride is taken to her new husband’s home, but before the couple enter, they are sprayed with saltwater to banish evil, and then the bride’s first steps in the home are taken after she has dipped her feet into a mixture of milk and vermillion. This means she leaves red footprints on the floor to summon the Hindu goddess of love, beauty, and fortune – Lakshmi. Lastly, the bride spills a bowl of rice with her right foot to attract wealth and to show that she is ready to take on her new responsibilities.
To ward off evil, the couple is sprayed with saltwater before entering the groom’s house. The bride then takes one more precaution: she steps in a mixture of milk and vermillion, leaving red footprints on the floor to represent the manifestation of Lakshmi, the Hindu goddess of love, beauty, and fortune. Finally, the bride kicks a pot of rice to ensure fertility and posterity, and, at long last, married life can officially begin!
Every culture contributes it’s own characteristics to wedding traditions. Learning about different wedding customs from around the world is a great way to understand the lifestyles and special traditions of other cultures and even to better understand your own. Indian weddings have many unique customs, so especially if you plan on attending one or throwing your own, it’s a great idea to gain a good understanding of what to expect.