What is unique about South Asian weddings?

Written by    Last updated: October 10, 2006

There is a bewildering array of rituals, ceremonies and occasions connected with weddings in the Indian sub‐continent. Here are some unique features…

Mandap

Pre‐wedding ceremonies

Each religion and region in the Indian subcontinent has its own series of pre‐wedding rituals. The most important of these are the engagement (sagaai or mangni), the music evening (sangeet) and the bride’s henna party (mehndi). Most of these ceremonies are attended by close family members; some, like the music and henna night, by friends of the bride. There are usually a variety of delicious snacks and sweets served at each event.

Wedding ceremonies

While in Christian weddings the congregation awaits the arrival of the bride, in South Asian weddings it is the groom’s arrival to the bride’s house that is preceded by great fanfare. There is exchanging of garlands (jaimala) between the bride and the groom and between the respective relatives on each side (milni). Amongst Hindus, the main ceremony involves taking 7 rounds of the sacred fire, with Sikhs it is 4 rounds of the holy book and with Muslims it is the mutual consent ceremony in the presence of the family elders.

Post wedding ceremonies

After the wedding, there is the home‐leaving ceremony, called doli, rukshat or vidaai, when the bride formally leaves her parents’ home. The farewell is an emotional occasion with a lot of tears. However, this is balanced by an equally joyful welcome into her new home and there are several rituals to do with entering the husband’s home. In the Hindu faith, the new bride is seen as symbolic of the goddess Lakshmi, bringer of good luck and prosperity into the home. In the following weeks and months, most communities have further ceremonies such as the bride’s first visit to her parent’s home and rituals to do with removing the bridal bangles (choora).

Mandap

Mandap

Unique to Hindu weddings, the mandap is a sacred canopy where the actual fire ceremony takes place. It is usually chosen with great care and decorated elaborately with flowers and draped fabric. There is a special prayer ceremony before the wedding ceremony relating to the mandap where Lord Ganesh, remover of obstacles, is invoked to bless the forthcoming marriage.

Henna

The ritual of applying henna or mehndi to the hands and feet of the bride, a day or two before the wedding, is common in most North Indian communities whether they are Muslim, Hindu or Sikh. The Henna may be sent from the groom’s house along with other gifts for the bride. The mehndi evening is a joyous event and one for all the women in the bride’s family to get together. Most of the women present will also have mehndi applied to their hands. Some say that if the colour of the bridal mehndi comes out dark when it has dried, the bride will be much loved by her husband while others believe that it signifies a happy relationship with her mother‐in‐law. Therefore, there is a great effort made to make the colour emerge deeper with the use of special oils and herbs.

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