Of course, there is no such thing as a typical hindu wedding; every bride and groom wants things done differently, and depending on the background and heritage of their family, and even whether you’re having it in Birmingham, Bradford or Bengal, the traditions will differ. We work closely as wedding planners and event organisers with the bride and groom’s family, the priest and the venue to ensure everything that matters to you happens in exactly the way you expected.
Nevertheless, as a guide, here is an overview of some of the key elements of a Hindu wedding.
In Indian culture marriage is celebrated as a sacrament (Sanskara), a rite which allows two individuals to begin their voyage in life as one. In a Hindu wedding, the diversity of creation becomes possible when spirit (Purush) fuses with matter (Prakritti). The Hindu wedding puts importance on three vital values: happiness, harmony, and development. Marriage can be traced to the Vedic era. The ceremony should take place on a day in the “bright half” of the sun’s northern route. A few months before the wedding an engagement service known as a Mangni is held. This is to sanctify the couple, who are given offerings of jewellery and clothes by the new family.
Jaimala (Exchange of Garlands)
The couple exchanges wreaths of flowers to show acceptance of each another and to promise to respect each other as partners.
Madhupak (Offering of Yoghurt and Honey)
The bride’s father offers the groom yoghurt and honey to express his welcome and esteem.
Kanyadan (Giving Away of the Bride)
The father of the bride puts her hand in the groom’s as a gesture to ask him to recognize her as an equal partner. The idea behind Kanyadan is that the bride is the goddess Lamxi and the groom is Lord Narayana. The parents are smooth the progress of their unification.
Havan (Lighting of the Sacred Fire)
The couple calls upon Agni, the god of Fire, to observe their commitment to each other. Sandalwood, herbs, sugar rice and oil are presented to the fire.
Rajaham (Sacrifice to the Sacred Fire)
The bride puts both hands into the groom’s and her brother puts rice into hers. The bride and groom offer the rice as a sacrifice to the flames.
Gath Bandhan (Tying of the Nuptial Knot)
Scarves wrapped around the bride and groom are tied together representing an eternal bond. This symbolises their pledge to God to love and stay faithful to each other.
Mangalphera (Walk Around the Fire)
The couple walks four time around the fire in a clockwise direction representing four Mangalpheras or four objectives in life: Dharma, religious and ethical duties; Artha, wealth; Kama, earthly enjoyment; Moksha, spiritual deliverance and emancipation. The bride leads during the Pheras, showing her resolve to stand first beside her husband in all contentment and sadness.
The bride and groom walk seven steps together to denote the start of their voyage through life as one. Each step represents a marital promise:
First step: To respect and honour
Second step: To share joy and sorrow
Third step: To trust and be loyal
Fourth step: To encourage appreciation of knowledge, principles, sacrifice and service
Fifth step: To confirm their promise of purity, love of family obligations and holy growth
Sixth step: To follow principles of Dharma (righteousness)
Seventh step: To nurture an eternal bond of friendship and love
Jalastnchana (Blessing of the Couple)
The parents of the bride and groom sanctify the couple by dipping a rose in holy water and sprinkling the water over the pair.
Sindhoor (Red Powder)
The groom applies a spot of vermilion, a red pigment, to the bride’s forehead and welcomes her as his life-partner.
Aashirvad (Parental Blessing)
The parents of the couple give their blessings. The couple touches their parents’ feet as a sign of esteem.
Menhdi (Henna Ceremony)
Where the traditional painting of the hands and feet with a henna paste. The names of the bride and groom are encorporated into the design (called Mehandi) the wedding night cannot start until the groom has found both names. After the wedding, the bride doesn’t have to carry out housework until the Menhdi has faded away. It is believed that the deeper the colour the stronger the bride’s love for her groom.
Mangalasutra (Thread of Goodwill)
A necklace worn only by married women at the wedding as a symbol of their union.
Bengali Wedding Traditions
Before a Purohit (a priest), the bride and groom and their elders sit down together. They then verify that the couple are not blood relatives and have the same social status. After this, the wedding date is agreed according to the Indian calendar. (Note that there are some time periods when a wedding can’t be held.)
The Aashirwad confirms the marriage union. It takes place in the evening, a couple of days before the actual wedding in the presence of a priest, at the groom or bride’s house. The door is adorned with mango leaves which remain there for a year after marriage. The bride is offered a sari. The groom is given a ring, gold buttons and a watch.
The day before the wedding, the priest comes to the house of the bride and the groom and recites a prayer to their ancestors.
On the wedding morning, before the sun rises, the Dodhi Mangal takes place. Up to ten married women go with the couple to a pond. They ask Goddess Ganga to attend the wedding and they then return with a pitcher of water from the pond to bathe the bride and groom. The bride and groom are given fish, curd and rice which will be the only food they eat all day.
The Wedding Ceremony
At the ceremony all relatives are present except the groom’s mother does not attend. An uncle gives the bride away. If mothers aren’t present it’s believed that this will shield the bride and groom from the ‘evil eye’.
The groom is welcomed by people trumpeting conch shells, bells ringing and ululation. The most senior lady of the house puts a silver plate to the groom’s forehead and then the floor, and to the groom again. This is thrice repeated, and then the groom is given sweet treats. Water is then trickled onto the doorstep of the building as the groom enters.
The priest arrives with an idol of God and the service begins. Floral garlands are exchanged. While the ceremony is carried out, dinner is sometimes served. After the ceremony, games are played and songs, poetry and jokes are carried out by family and friends in order to keep the couple up all night.
The Mandap Ceremony
The morning after, the bridegroom applies the vermilion to his bride’s forehead, symbolising her new marriage status. In the presence of the priest, they then worship the Sun God, seeking blessings of the elders and leave for the groom’s house.
The Arrival at the Groom’s House, and The Bou Bhat Ceremony
At the groom’s house, women pour water under the mode of transport with which they arrived and the couple get out of the vehicle.
In some traditions, women wash the bride’s feet with milk and flour before offering sweets and sherbet to the bride and groom. In other traditions the bride steps into the milk flour mixture and imprints her soles onto the mixture.
The elders bless the couple. Ornaments and saris are offered to the bride. The couple sit on a wooden plank and the Bou Bhat ceremony starts.
Women blow conch shells, ring bells, and wail. The bride refrains from eating food in her in-laws house. In the night, the bride puts on a new sari and the bedroom is adorned with flowers, both of which come from the bride’s home.
A couple of days after the wedding, the couple return to the bride’s house. The thread which was tied on her wrist by the priest is cut.
Gifts are swapped between the bride and groom’s families before and after the wedding.
Ritual Baths and Attire
A bath of turmeric, oil and water is applied to both the bride and groom’s hair by elder women. Both parties put on new clothing. Conch shell bangles are dipped in turmeric water and are put on at the bride’s house.
The bridal dress is called a sari. A Pakistani bride wears red for her wedding because red symbolizes happiness and because it is bright. No one else is allowed to wear red.
Her hair is usually in a twist and topped with a tiara and a veil, called the ghunghat, which is equivalent to the veil of the Christian bride. Covering the head with a veil or tiara shows respect to the gods and elders present. It can vary in length, and can cover the head and shoulders, back and sometimes to the waistline. The chunri, worn accompanied by a ghaghra choli, is tucked in at the waist on one end, folded around the bride and draped over one shoulder.
Sandalwood is sometimes painted onto the bride’s face in the design of the crown.
The groom wears a Dhoti, an unstitched piece of clothing, and a shirt. When he arrives at the bride’s home he changes into another outfit, covering himself with a sheet and wearing the topor (a papier maché headdress).
The groom sometimes wears a white silk brocade suit, a sword and a turban as his wedding garment.
The groom also sometimes wears a safa with a flowing tail-end. Other grooms might put on a wound pagdi, or a topi. White flowers may be tied in strings which fall delicately over the forehead, called sehra.
In northern, central and western India, a golden kalgi dotted with precious stones is knotted over the right of the groom’s safa. Sandalwood is painted in the centre of the forehead or over the eyebrows and it is then decorated with white, gold and red dots.