Indian/South Asian Wedding Traditions
India is the second-most populous country in the world. It was originally populated by varying forms of hunter-gatherers. Due to the nature of the hunter-gatherer, this area is highly diversified. There are many sub-cultures and traditions throughout the country. This makes planning an Indian/South Asian wedding both challenging but also very invigorating. There are so many different traditions to consider.
Many Indian/South Asian weddings take place over several days. They are usually very intricate, colorful, and rich in culture and tradition. Most often the entire family is involved in the planning and organizing of the wedding. In many Indian/South Asian cultures, the marriage is just not the union of the Bride and Groom. It’s the blending of the family.
There are several traditions that take place from the beginning of the engagement period up until the wedding. These traditions will vary based on family origin.
Once we are at the wedding weekend there are a few celebrations that will most often always take place.
In America, it’s not uncommon for families to have never met. Many family members may still live in India or other parts of the world. When there is a wedding it’s a great opportunity to get everyone together.
Sangeet & Mehendi
The Sangeet is a party that is usually hosted by the Brides family a few days before the wedding. It’s a great way to get the families together, eat, dance, play music, and get henna done. There are often songs, performances, and friendly jokes, that are showcased at this event.
The word Sangeet translates to ‘sung together’ from Sanskrit. ‘Gaun’, another word used to describe the event, means ‘songs’ or ‘to sing’ in Hindi.
At the Sangeet, the bride will take place in a Mehendi ceremony. The Mehendi ritual is when a Henna artist is hired to draw intricate designs on the bride and her female guests. The designs are drawn on the hands and feet using a paste of ground henna leaves. The henna is believed to ward off evil, promote fertility, and attract good energy for the soon-to-be wedded couple. Many times the Grooms name is hidden in the artwork and the groom is meant to find it on the wedding night. These designs are very intricate and beautiful. The henna will last for several days.
In Hindu and Sikh weddings, the Groom is led to the wedding venue in a procession known as the Baraat. On the Wedding day, the groom’s family and friends will participate in this tradition. Most often the Bride will be hidden away, but watching from a window or balcony. It is most common to have the groom ride in on a white horse. The horse will be adorned with a costume matching the colors of the wedding. The Groom may be holding his oldest nephew should he have one. We have seen the groom come in a variety of ways. These have ranged from motorcycles, luxury vehicles, and even elephants.
After the groom reaches the venue, female relatives of the Bride’s family greet the Groom and his family. They apply tilak (sacred red color mixed with water) to his forehead and perform aarti to ward off the evil eye. The Groom then continues to the Milni Ceremony where he greets the Bride’s male relatives. During the Milni Ceremony, the men of the groom and bride’s family get to know each other.
The music that is played during the baraat is very loud and usually has a great beat to dance to. It is a combination of hip-hop, drums, and Bhangra fusion. The DJ will usually have large speakers out the back of a truck or van and the Dohl drummer will be on foot. The guests will dance and celebrate in the streets on the way to the venue.
Hindu weddings take place under a structure with a canopy called a Mandap. This is most often outside. If it can’t be outside inside is acceptable. The pillars represent the four parents.
The Mandap is usually beautify decorated with draping, beading, flowers, and bright colors. Again, depending on the origin of the family, they may be sitting on chairs, or on the actual mandap itself.
Traditionally the parents of the couple are seated at the mandap with the officiant. Because the bride’s father is already at the altar she is usually escorted by the maternal uncle. The entrance of the bride varies greatly on the origin of the family. We have seen brides escorted by uncles, other family members, carried in a basket, carried in by several groomsmen on a chariot, or escorted by her parents.
On the mandap, itself is a fire pit and a Puja Thali. The Puja Thali is a tray of ceremonial items. These items are turmeric paste, rice grains, divas and incense sticks, coconut, flowers, Indian sweets, and holy water.
The ceremony consists of many traditions. The bride and groom will be tied together in a ceremony known as the Granthi Bandhanam. Following the Granthi Bandhanam, the couple will embark on the Saptapadi ceremony (also known as the seven steps). The seven steps represent promises the couple is making to each other and their families. Similar to speaking your vows in a western wedding.
The Indian/South Asian weddings are filled with colors, scents, flavors, and family. Each wedding has it’s own variances and requirements. As planners, we are familiar, and have the experience, with many of these traditions. We will however always default to the family to ensure we are executing properly and will work with a decorator to ensure that we are properly representing the culture.
The logistics for Indian/South Asian weddings are much different than those of a western ceremony. Many venues in Richmond, Va can’t accommodate due to size restrictions, the amount of time required by these events, or are not in a great location that allows for a baraat.
I strongly suggest hiring a planner even if your family is very involved. We will all work as a team to ensure the best experience for everyone.
As always, I would love to chat.