Indian Weddings are fun and vibrant affairs. Wedding of those of the Hindu faith can comprise multiple steps across more than one day. Invited to a Hindu wedding without knowing what to expect, or planning one of your own? Here are some fundamental stages, and explanations of their significance. Customs may vary by ethnicity and religious practices. As always, the hosts’ preferences should take precedence. Special thanks to Axioo for lending us the use of these beautiful photos taken in Conrad Bali.
Here’s what we’ll cover in this article:
Graha Shanti is a religious ceremony which takes place a few days before the actual ceremony. Its purpose is to rid of any ‘obstacles’ that would bring about unrest in the future newlywed’s household. Commonly associated with this ritual is Pithi. Pithi – made of turmeric, rosewater and chickpeas are smeared on the bride and groom’s faces, hands and feet by their relatives as a form of blessing and is believed to ward off evil spirits
The Mehndi party is traditionally a private party for the bride and her closest female friends. Overlapping traditions are seen in Malay weddings. During this ceremony, the hands and feet of the bride are decorated with henna, a brown dyed drawing of intricate designs where floral patterns are most commonly seen. This event is not unlike a bridal shower familiar to Western cultures.
This ceremony takes place after the mehndi party and involves the coming together of the families of the bride and groom. Expect music, singing and dancing at this fun and lively ceremony, where performances are dedicated to the bride and groom. It’s a highly anticipated event where families of both sides get to bond over the promise of a good time.
Wedding Day Ceremonies & Rituals
Hindu weddings, also known as kalyanam in Tamil, are traditionally vibrant affairs that bustle with life and vigour: wedding parties are often regally adorned in gleaming traditional attire, and sacred rituals carried out faithfully and respectfully, under the gazes of friends and family amidst canopies of extravagant décor. The order of events is not fixed and may vary by ethnicity and region of origin.
Arrival of the Bride and Groom
The bride awaits the groom at a meeting place. As the bride’s guests arrive they will be ushered to the same area as well. The arrival of the groom is an event in itself, he is accompanied by family members and close friends. The entrance may vary in the scale of grandiosity but often they enter amidst music, dancing and a rice toss. A garland will then be presented to the groom as he makes his way into the meeting place.
Giving Away of The Bride
The kanyadaan ceremony marks the bride’s father or guardian’s “giving away” of her hand in marriage to the groom, literally: The bride’s hand is placed in the groom’s, and the groom is made to promise his commitment to the bride and their relationship. The couple then trade wedding bands.
Prayers to Lord Ganesha
Prayers are made to the deity Lord Ganesha, or Ganapati, who is revered as a remover of obstacles, so that all evil and negative energy will be eradicated, and that the couple will transition seamlessly into their new stages of life.
Tying the knot
The mangalsutra (also known as thaali), a necklace of gold, is tied around the bride’s neck by the groom. It is the traditional symbol of marriage among Hindu women, much like the wedding ring in Western cultures, and this stage of the Indian wedding is similarly greeted with much fanfare. In turn, the groom’s scarf is tied to the bride’s dress, symbolising a lifelong bond, before they must perform the vivaha homa, in which a sacred fire is lit to create an atmosphere of purity and spirituality.
Jai Mala & Rice Shower
The couple graces each other with a garland of flowers as a symbol to welcome one another into their families. The newlyweds also shower each other in rice mixed with saffron and turmeric as a symbol for fertility and prosperity in their future life.
7 Circles around the holy fire
The couple then undergo the Saptipadhi, one of the most critical stages of an Indian wedding and the one that is legally binding. Together, they take seven steps circling the sacred fire while reciting seven vows, each step representative of a different promise to each other in the couple’s journey ahead as newlywed husband and wife.
Red Marks On Her Forehead
Sindooram, a traditional vermilion red or orange-red coloured cosmetic powder is placed as a dot or along the middle hairline of the bride to symbolise that she is now a married woman and to conclude the ceremonies.
In celebration, the wedding reception may then commence with a great celebratory feast, either in the evening or on another date, a joyous occasion of singing, dancing, and jovial laughter. Despite the significance of the traditional Indian wedding ceremony, most guests but the closest of family and friends are only expected to attend the wedding reception.
Wedding Etiquette For The Clueless Guests
How Should I Dress For The Ceremony?
Due to the significance of the ceremony and the venue in which they are commonly held, special attention should be paid to what you wear on the day. Traditional attire is recommended, such as a sari, lehenga skirt, or Salwar kameez suit, and if not, clothing that is at least conservatively fitted. Be mindful to avoid leather goods, as the usage of animal hide may be prohibited in certain ceremonies.
Avoid the colours black and white, they are considered inauspicious. Lastly, because the rituals may involve going barefoot, consider footwear which can easily be slipped on and off for the sake of convenience, such as sandals, or juttis as a suitably festive traditional alternative.
How Should I Dress For The Reception?
Traditional attire is not required, but guests are recommended to dress modestly. If you do choose to go the traditional route, women may dress in any of the female attire previously mentioned, while men may opt for the likes of dhotis, jippas, and kurtas. Jewellery is welcome, but not an excessive quantity, so as to not steal the limelight from the bride on her special day.
What Gifts Should I Bring?
A monetary gift is customary, as in Malay and Chinese weddings, in an envelope either of paper or, traditionally, embroidered. The amount should end with a one, as even numbers or numbers with zeroes might be perceived as inauspicious. RM51 and more per attendee should be an acceptable starting point for gift-giving.
How Long Does The Celebration Last?
After you’ve eaten your fill and had your fun on the dancefloor, it is acceptable to leave before the party comes to a formal close. Just don’t forget to greet and congratulate the newlyweds before you do, in case they miss out on the opportunity to speak to you amidst the hustle, bustle, and multitude of guests. Be sure to do the same for their parents as well.
While the above stages and etiquette are a guideline of what you can anticipate, remember to pay special attention to what is listed in the invitation, due to potential cultural, regional, and religious differences. Above all, try to have fun, and celebrate the bride and groom! You can’t reasonably be expected to be familiar with every nuance, so fret not over potentially crossing certain boundaries, beyond those which have been detailed. We hope this guide has helped familiarise you with what happens throughout the course of a magical Indian wedding.