There is a bewildering array of rituals, ceremonies and occasions connected with weddings in the Indian sub‐continent. Here are some unique features…
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.
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).
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.
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.
There are several essential accessories for the bride and the groom. For the bride these include; choora, a set of special red and white bangles; kalira, a chandelier‐like gold or silver ornament tied to a bangle on each hand; mangalsutra, made of gold and diamonds with black beads and sindoor, a vermilion powder put by the groom on the bride’s forehead after they are married. The groom usually has some form of headgear, usually a turban with a veil called sehra, made with gold tassels or fresh flowers. Sikh grooms carry a ceremonial sword, in keeping with the martial tradition of the community.
Traditional live entertainment
The shehnai is an instrument usually played on auspicious occasions, especially weddings. The Punjabi dhol, a large drum beaten with sticks, is also used at auspicious events, while the smaller drum, dholki, is played by the women at the sangeet or music night. In the Indian sub‐continent, a boisterous and noisy brass band announces the arrival of the groom to the bride’s home, with lively tunes designed to get members of the wedding party dancing in joy. Folk dances such as dandia in Gujurat and bhangra in Punjab also have a place at South Asian weddings as is the mujra, a classical dance, usually held on the night before the wedding. Most British Asians choose to have a live bhangra band or a professional DJ to play their favourite wedding songs and hits from Bollywood.
Most Hindus will consult an astrologer, if not for matching the horoscopes of the couple, then at least for picking the best possible day and even exact hour for the wedding. In recent times, there have been as many as 30,000 weddings in one day in cities such as Delhi, due to a certain line up of auspicious planets. This tradition springs from the ancient belief that the stars and constellations exert a tremendous influence on the lives of human beings.
Each region has its special dishes for the wedding feast. Generally the very finest ingredients including almonds, pistachios, pure saffron and real silver sheets are used in the cooking. There are a huge variety of sweets associated with nuptial ceremonies including ladoos, barfee and shakarparas. It is considered auspicious to provide a wedding feast for as many guests as possible, in order to invite a maximum of goodwill and blessings for the couple.
More than just the wedding dress, a typical South Asian bride will have up to 31 outfits bought specially for her wedding. Often each dress will have matching jewellery, shoes, bags and even coordinated make‐up. Some of the outfits will be given to the bride by her mother‐in‐law. The packing of the trousseau is done with great care, using decorative boxes or colourful embroidered fabric bags. The current trend for trousseaux is to have a mix of both traditional and trendy outfits. As the bride is expected to dress up in all her finery for the whole of the first year of marriage, she needs to have a fairly large wardrobe. The groom generally has a collection of up to 11 new outfits, containing a mix of both traditional outfits like a sherwani or a dhoti, as well as contemporary tailored suits, plus expensive accessories such as shoes, watches, gold chains and cufflinks.