South Asian Wedding: Rituals and Traditions

South Asian weddings are a reflection of their exuberant attitude towards life and their colorful culture. For South Asian families, wedding is as much about knowing and coming together of families as it is for individuals. Historically weddings were collaborative and community celebrations where neighbors got together with the prospective couple’s friends and relatives to help out and celebrate. In recent times, it is an occasion where family members from all over the world get together and participate in the wedding ceremonies. Many of the wedding customs are common among the different South Asian religions. Celebrations last for about a week and are full of colorful rituals and traditions.

Many wedding traditions that originated in ancient times have also been preserved by second and third generation immigrants in western countries such as the UK, Canada, and United States.

These are some of the important ceremonies that are a part of the South Asian wedding tradition:

Pre Wedding Ceremonies
Roka (end of search) – This ceremony marks the beginning of a formal relationship between the families of the bride and the groom. This is a relatively small family tradition to secure the commitment to the relationship. The families involved exchange sweets and gifts (generally traditional clothes and Jewelry). This exchange is symbolic of welcoming the bride’s family to the groom’s and vice versa.

Chunni Chadana Ceremony (Gifting of a scarf to the bride) – Chunni chadana is similar to an engagement in the western tradition. The groom’s parents and close relatives visit the bride’s house. The groom’s sister or sister in law presents the girl a red sari or suit, as a token of acceptance of the girl in their family. Thereafter, the girl wears the clothes given by the boy’s family. The main ritual of the ceremony is when the girl’s would be mother-in-law places a red chunni or scarf on the girl’s head and gives her some traditional jewelry. The ceremony comes to an end with the exchanging of rings between the prospective bride and groom.

Sangeet Ceremony – Wedding folk songs are sung during this ceremony generally at the homes of the bride and groom. Friends and relatives dance to the tunes. The songs are filled with blessings. There are often some amusing punches thrown in to tease the prospective couple.

Mehndi Ceremony – Mehndi is an important pre wedding ritual. Mehndi is taken to the girl’s place by the boy’s family. This Mehndi is then applied to the girl’s hands and feet in beautiful motifs. The gifts for the girl with the mehndi also include dry fruits, specifically dry dates.

Jago Ceremony – Jago is a steel pot with candles in them. Traditionally and historically in India, the bride or groom would typically be living with their family at their father’s village while their mother’s family would be in a different village. The maternal family would arrive at their father’s home a few days before the wedding while carrying the Jago and singing folk songs in the loudest and most boisterous way to announce their arrival at night time while keeping the neighbors awake and inviting them to join in the celebration.

The Wedding Ceremony
After the celebrations mentioned above, the wedding day arrives when rituals are held at the bride and groom’s side before the actual wedding.

Rituals at the Bride’s home
Chuda (Gifting Red Ivory Bangles to the bride) – On the wedding day the rituals at the girl’s home begin with the Chuda ceremony. The oldest maternal uncle and aunt play an important role in the performance of the ceremony. Chuda is a set of red and cream ivory bangles. Relatives and friends touch the chuda and give their heartiest wishes to the girl for her future married life. Prasad or holy offering is distributed to all. After that, the girl’s uncle, aunt, friends and cousins tie kaliras (silver, gold or gold plated traditional ornaments) to a bangle worn by the girl.

Vatna or Maiyan – Vatna involves applying a paste made from turmeric powder, chick pea flour and mustard oil on the bride and groom by their friends and relatives. As this is a traditional herbal concoction for glowing skin, the ceremony is historically a symbolic of beauty for the bride and groom. During the ceremony, the bride and groom sit under a red canopy that is held by family members on a red board called a Patri. A red thread is tied around both the bride’s and groom’s wrist to ward off the evil eye.

After the Vatna the girl gets ready for the wedding and sets off for the wedding venue with her family.

Rituals at the Groom’s home
Sehrabandi -A Vatna ceremony is also held at the groom’s house followed by the dressing up of groom in his wedding attire. Thereafter, the groom’s sister ties the “sehra” on the groom’s head. In some cultures an elderly member ties the sehra. After the completion of Sehrabandi ceremony, all those who witness the function give gifts and cash to the boy as a token of good luck.

Ghodi Chadna – The Ghori Chadna is the final ceremony at the groom’s place. The groom’s sister-in-law lines the boy’s eyes with surma. Thereafter, the groom’s sisters and cousins feed and adorn his mare following which the boy climbs the horse and leaves his home for the wedding venue.

Rituals at the Marriage Venue
Milni Ceremony – The bride’s family welcomes the groom and his family when the baraat (wedding procession) arrives at the wedding venue. The girl’s relatives give Shagun (a token of good luck) to the groom’s close relatives beginning from the elder most relative. It is a ceremony symbolic of the coming together of both families.

Following this ceremony the bride’s friends and sisters do a “ribbon cutting” ritual where the groom’s entrance is blocked with a ribbon. This ribbon is cut by the groom but the scissors are negotiated for a price by the bride’s side of family. The ceremony is full of jokes and good humored teasing from both sides. After a compromise is reached, the groom cuts the ribbon and offers money or gifts.

Religious wedding Ritual –This ceremony involve the recital of sacred verses from the holy text of the bride and groom’s religion.

In the Hindu tradition, this is called Kanyadaan and Phere, the bride and groom take seven rounds along a small fire. Fire is symbolic of sacred energy and the seven rounds are symbolic of promises made by husband and wife to each other. The Bride’s give her hand into the hands of the groom. This symbolizes that the bride is a part of the groom’s family.

In the Sikh tradition, this ceremony is called “Anand Karaj”. The Bride and Groom, their families and relatives go to a Gurdwara where sacred verses are recited and the bride and groom take four rounds around the Holy Book followed by Ardas.

It is during this period when the bride’s sisters steal the groom’s shoes and return them in exchange of cash. A lot of negotiation and friendly banter is exchanged between the two parties.

Post Wedding Ceremonies
Bidaai (Departure) – The bride departs from her parental house and bids goodbye to her parents, friends and relatives. While leaving the home, the bride throws back handful of puffed rice back at the exit of her home as a token of her family’s prosperity and good luck. Thereafter, the couple leaves for the groom’s house.

Welcoming the bride to the groom’s home – When the couple reaches the Groom’s house, they are welcomed by the latter’s family at the doorstep. Mustard oil is poured on both sides of the door at the entrance. Relatives and friends gather and chat at the groom’s home to welcome and see the bride.

Kangna – This is a ceremonious game played between the bride and the groom. Both have to find a ring or a bangle that is put into the milk mixed water. Whosoever finds it first, wins. It is said that the winner of this game dominates in the married life.

Reception Ceremony
The groom’s family often throws a reception party following the wedding day. It is an occasion, where the newly wedded couple is given a warm welcome by all who are invited at the wedding. A more relaxed atmosphere is observed at the reception and families celebrate the successful completion of the wedding.