Indian Wedding Traditions and Rituals Explained
Congratulations! You've been invited to your first Indian wedding ceremony! And if you're curious about what to expect, have no fear! Indian weddings are bright, colorful parties that typically last for three days. You may only be invited to the third day, where the actual ceremony and reception take place, or the entire event. Either way, there a few customs and traditions you'll want to know about before attending. So find your most colorful dress and put on your dancing shoes! You'll get the most out of the occasion with our guide below!
Pro Tip: The vast diversity of Indian culture means these rituals may vary from region to region - so this guide focuses on Indian weddings in a Western setting.
The Ganesh Puja
The Ganesh Puja is a ceremony that usually occurs at home with the couple, the bridal party, and close relatives. It is common to begin all auspicious ceremonies in the Hindu tradition with a prayer to Lord Ganesh. (Ganesh, the elephant God, is the remover of obstacles). This ceremony bestows good luck onto the married couple and their families, and destroys all obstacles they may face together.
Usually performed separately in the bride and groom's own homes, the pithi ceremony is a ritual that brings good luck. Pithi is a tumeric, rose water and chickpea flour paste that is applied to the bride/groom's skin. This thick yellow paste brightens the skin tone and bestows blessings upon the couple.
The Mehendi Ceremony
Before the wedding day, the bride and her female family members gather to apply their henna. These intricate designs symbolize joy, beauty, spiritual awakening and offering. And it’s said that the deeper the color, the stronger the bond between bride and groom. As an added bonus, the deeper the henna, the better the relationship with your mother in law is too! So Indian brides will let their henna dry for up to eight hours to ensure a rich, dark color. The Mehendi artist will also hide the names of the bride and groom in her henna for the groom to find later.
The evening before the wedding, the families will throw a Sangeet. This is a more informal celebration where the two families can meet and mingle. The entire guest list may also be invited and friends and family members perform skits or dances for the couple and a buffet style dinner is served.
The Baarat (Groom's Procession)
Arriving in style on the back of beautifully decorated white horse, the groom's arrival begins the ceremony. Surrounded by friends and family dancing and singing in a large circle, he meets his bride's family at the entrance to the venue. The bride's mother then welcomes the groom and the families embrace and greet each other with floral garlands. Then, the groom is escorted to the altar (mandap) to await his bride.
Similar to a Jewish chuppah, the mandap is the altar which unites the bride and groom. The four pillars of the canopy represent the four parents and at the center of the mandap burns a sacred fire called the agni.
After the bride is escorted to the mandap, she exchanges floral garlands with her groom. They place the flowers around each others neck to symbolize their acceptance of the union.
The Lighting of the Agni
After the garlands are exchanged, the priest lights the sacred fire, or agni. Agni symbolizes the witness of the divine. So any commitments made in front of it are made in the presence of God.
The Mangal Phera
After the kanya daan ceremony, in which the bride's parents give her away, the couple performs the mangal phera. They join hands and circle around the agni four to seven times, keeping in mind the four pillars to a happy life. These pillars represent duty to each other, family and God, prosperity, energy and passion, and salvation. Then after they circle the fire the couple races to be the first back to their seat. It's said that the fastest to sit will hold the dominance in the marriage.
Saptapadi (The Seven Sacred Steps)
After the mangal phera is complete, the couple takes seven sacred steps together. Each step represents a sacred vow the couple will make, symbolizing a happy, faithful and prosperous life. Then the groom applies a red powder to the center of the bride's forehead and ties a black and gold beaded necklace around her neck, symbolizing her new status as a married woman and his vow to protect her always. Finally, the priest will offer his blessings of the union and the celebration can begin! (Some couples will sneak a kiss here to scandalize their older relatives, but traditionally it is not a part of an Indian wedding).
Indian wedding receptions are very similar to Western ones, it's just one big party! There is a large buffet style dinner ending in cakes and desserts. And then everyone is encouraged to hit the dance floor! Because guests are asked to avoid bringing boxed gifts, at some point during the evening, the guests will shower the dancing couple with money to wish them a wealthy and prosperous life.
Indian weddings are fun and involved from start to finish. So put on your best gold jewelry and have a wonderful time! And don’t forget, if you're having an Indian wedding, custom programs from Marrygrams are the perfect way to keep your guests engaged and informed during the ceremony.