Indian weddings are certainly every artistic photographer’s dream- I feel so fortunate to have shot so many. I am also particularly fond of them because they bring to mind several of my own Moroccan traditions. Certainly, the splendor can be overwhelming, and the various ceremonies and rituals are so distinct from Western traditions. So, I thought it would serve my couples and blog readers well to present a short illustrated guide. I have cut, paraphrased and reorganized many well written descriptions from various interesting websites and tried to indicate the sources below for further reading.
Indian marriages are known for their opulent and vibrant look, but in reality there is much more than just the gloss and glamour in an Indian wedding ceremony. In fact, the Indian wedding ceremonies are the most ritualistic and serious affair than any other kind of marriage performed any where else in the world. Most of the religions in India regard marriage as more of a religious ritual than a social or legal affair like that in west. Indian weddings are a perfect blend of traditions, values and celebrations. In India, marriage is not simply regarded as an event, rather it is considered as a soulful affair of the merger of two souls. An Indian marriage is a symbol of purity, union of two different people, community and culture. Marriage is not for self-indulgence, but rather should be considered a lifelong social and spiritual responsibility. Married life is considered an opportunity for two people to grow from life partners into soul mates.
Most of the times, an Indian wedding is associated with the Hindu marriage ceremony but it would be surprising for you to know that apart from Hindu marriages, Indian wedding also canopies in itself seven other religion marriages namely Islam, Sikhism, Zoroastrianism, Jewish, Buddhism, Jain and Christianity. An Indian wedding may also vary in accordance with the region and community rituals and traditions. Though different kinds of Indian marriages may have different kinds of rituals and traditions, one thing that remains common in all of them is the beautiful display of love, concern, commitment, and emotion. Indian weddings can last for days and are rooted deeply in culture and heritage. Traditional Hindu wedding ceremonies are fantastic, elaborate affairs which can include hundreds of guests and go on for days or more. This article will outline some of the basic elements of Hindu marriage custom in the wedding. For more information follow these links for or more detail on Hindu and several other regional Indian wedding ceremonies including Bengali, Gujarati, Kashmiri and more. An Indian wedding provides a rich tapestry of color and vibrant images that lend themselves to create striking wedding photographs.
Hindu marriages signify customs, rituals and elaborate celebrations and are full of fun and frolic. Indian weddings speak volumes of the rich culture, heritage and ethnicity of the country. Every region follows its own traditions customs and rituals for the wedding. A wedding is an important religious ceremony in the Hindu religion and one of the most important of the sixteen Hindu sanskars or sacraments. It is not only establishing the bond between two people, but also the bond between two families. A Hindu marriage symbolizes not just coming together of two individuals, but also the bonding of understanding, commitment, mutual love, oneness and spiritual growth. Traditionally, Hindu marriage is much more than just celebration and fun. It demands sacrifice, companionship, dedication, and devotion from both the partners. Hindu weddings are usually hosted by the bride’s parents and take place at a common place, decided by both the bride and groom’s family Hindu weddings extend up to four to five days. The ceremonies practiced are essentially divided into three parts – pre wedding customs, wedding day ceremony and post wedding rituals. The rituals and customs performed in each of the three phases have a deep significance and meaning. The pre wedding celebrations mainly includes engagement, sangeet, mehendi, haldi and tilak. Coming to the wedding day ceremonies, it involves different traditional rituals, each having its own meaning and role. One of the most important rituals of Hindu wedding is the seven rounds or sapta padi taken together, around the sacred fire, by the bride and the groom, while the seven vows or promise are read by the priest or purohit. no Hindu marriage is deemed complete unless in the presence of the Sacred Fire, seven encirclements have been made around it by the bride and the groom together.
Before the Wedding:
There are several important ceremonies that take place in the days before the wedding.
Misri – the ring ceremony:
Many Indian weddings are arranged, though love matches are possible. Once parents have made a match, the engagement is celebrated with a misri, or ring, ceremony. The couple exchanges rings and garlands and becomes promised to one another. This will take place several days before the wedding and calls for seven married women to draw the sign of Lord Ganesha in red powder spread above a bowl of rock sugar. Prayers are said by you and your fiancée and your parents and you will exchange flowered garlands and gold rings with your beloved in the presence of your priest. The groom’s parents will place in your lap a basket of fruit or other gifts to welcome you then feed your family misri – rock sugar – confirming the engagement and promising a life full of sweetness ahead. Months before the wedding, the engagement ceremony called Mangni occurs. In this rite, the couple is blessed and given gifts of jewelry and clothing by their new family. where both the families exchange gifts and good luck charms. An auspicious day is then decided according to the astrological charts and horoscopes of the prospective bride and groom for the marriage day. Customarily, the couple does not choose their wedding day. Instead, a religious family member or mystic is supposed to calculate the luckiest day by considering factors like astrology, birth dates and phases of the moon. If the date falls on a week day that is inconvenient for a wedding, many couples will hold two wedding ceremonies. The first on the actual day of importance with close family, and then a larger celebration that weekend.
The next ceremony is the Mehendi. Two or three days before the wedding, the bride is painted with Mehndi. In this ritual, an artist uses henna to draw beautiful designs on the skin of the bride and her female friends and family members. The bride’s hands and feet are also painted for good luck, and as protection from evil. These designs typically last for a few weeks, and it is customary for family members to take care of all work so the bride’s Mehndi will last as long as possible. It’s believed that you can tell how well a newlywed is being treated by her in-laws by how long it takes for the Mehndi to wear off. A tradition which is supposed to contain some portents is the application of henna. An old saying by Hindes dictates that the level of respect a new bride’s in-laws are according her is related to the amount of time it takes the henna to wear off.
Another important pre-wedding ritual is the Sangeet, where all the family and friends of the bride and groom celebrate by singing and dancing and partying all night. There is singing, dancing, food and drink, like a wedding reception the day before the wedding.. A large event, the Sangeet is most popular among Punjabis, Marwaris and Gujaratis, although most of the regions today also practice this ritual. This event takes place two or three days before a wedding.
The Wedding Day
The Ceremony The traditional Hindu wedding customs were formed more than 35 centuries ago. Each ceremony, each occasion, and each ritual has a deep philosophical meaning and purpose. The act of marriage is the onset of Grihastha (the householder stage of life). Hindus believe that this is one of the most challenging and difficult stage of the four stages of life. Traditional Hindu wedding ceremonies can last for days and involve much ritual in Sanskrit, which is the most ancient surviving language.
Choosing the Wedding Day:
In ancient times in India all the aspects and life situation were governed by astrology. People of all classes, whether King or poor, used to consult astrologers both in good and bad times. In today’s modern world, people do not give a lot of importance to astrology. But for many people, important decision in life, like wedding ceremony, name ceremony, etc., are finalized after consulting astrologers. Astrologers or priests prepare kundalis of both the bride and groom to match their kundalis. Kundali’s have three important elements; they are time of birth, date of birth and place of birth. After matching both the bride and groom’s astrology charts, astrologers choose a suitable date for their marriage keeping their planet positions in mind.
Traditionally, the bride wears a red or red and white sari. The sari should be draped modestly over the bride hair. Covering the head during a wedding is a mark of respect to the deities worshipped and the elders present. The ghunghat, which is equivalent to the veil of the Christian bride, is worn by the bride. It may vary in length, covering not only the head but the shoulders, back and almost down to the waistline. The draping may be done is several ways. The chunri, worn with a ghaghra choli, is tucked in at the waist on one end, pleated beautifully around the body and draped delicately over one shoulder. An odhnis is usually made of silk with a tie dye pattern. The center of the veil is used as a head covering the ends taken carefully under the arms and tucked inside the neck of the abho or chorio (the upper garment). The groom wears a kafni (long shirt extending to the knees) with pijamo (leggings) or dhoti (sort of an overgrown loincloth). The groom might also wear a turban and a sword with his wedding outfit.
The Hindu weddings are supposed to take place outside, on the earth, under a canopy known as a mandap. Seating beneath the mandap is usually on the ground or on carpets. The four pillars holding up the mandap signify the four parents who helped to raise the new couple. One rule which shouldn’t be broken is that anyone who enters the mandap or wedding canopy must have on sandals or slip-on shoes which can be easily removed. In addition, it’s a good idea to avoid wearing much black. Placed centrally under the mandap is a dish containing the most important part of an Indian Wedding called ‘The Sacred Fire.’ The fire can be small or large, depending on the preference of the couple, but it is the most significant cultural aspect to the wedding.
Within the mandap setting there are many different elements that are used during the ceremony. For example rice, The rice represents prosperity, but is also said to establish dominance in the marriage. The person who throws the rice first will be the most authoritative in the marriage. Another example is fruits and sweets. From time immemorial, Hindus have worshipped trees and have considered all flora and fauna as sacred. Trees, plants, leaves, flowers and fruit have an esteemed position in the religion and culture of India. So much so that no religious function, especially an Indian matrimonial ceremony, is considered complete without the presence of at least one of the above. Leaves like the betel, banana, mango, Neem, tulsi, durva are intrinsically woven into the tapestry of Indian weddings.
The betel leaf enjoys the pride of place among all the accessories of a Hindu wedding. The betel leaf denotes freshness and prosperity. Betel leaves or the tambool, which comprises betel leaf, areca nut and lime, marks the beginnings of all auspicious events. In Indian matrimonial alliances are sealed by exchanging the tambool. Invitations for an Indian marriage are distributed with tambool forming an important part of the invite. The betel is associated with the Trinity, Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva. Brahma: arecanut, Vishnu: betel leaf, and Shiva: lime.
As another example, in Hindu wedding ceremonies you can find lots of coconuts, flowers, and powders. A coconut is placed over the opening of a pot, representing a womb. Coconut flowers are auspicious symbols and are fixtures at Hindu and Buddhist weddings and other important occasions. In Kerala, coconut flowers must be present during a marriage ceremony. The flowers are inserted into a barrel of unhusked rice (paddy) and placed within sight of the wedding ceremony. Similarly in Sri Lanka coconut flowers, standing in brass urns, are placed in prominent positions.
Between all sects of Hinduism, there is always a statue of the elephant god, Ganesha. This is used as well as fruits, coconuts, etc. Ganesha’s head symbolizes the soul, and his human body symbolizes the supreme reality of human existence. Ganesha’s upper right hand holds a goad, which helps him propel mankind forward on the eternal path and remove obstacles from the way. The noose in Ganesha’s left hand is a gentle implement to capture all difficulties. The broken tusk that Ganesha holds like a pen in his lower right hand is a symbol of sacrifice, which he broke for writing the Mahabharata. The rosary in his other hand suggests that the pursuit of knowledge should be continuous. The laddoo (sweet) he holds in his trunk indicates that one must discover the sweetness of the Atman. His fan-like ears convey that he is all ears to our petition. The snake that runs round his waist represents energy in all forms. His vehicle is a mouse known as Mooshika, Mooshikam, Minjur, or Akhu, and this symbolizes the intellect, small enough to find out any secret in the most remote of places. It also signifies his humility, that he espouses the company of one of the smaller creatures.
Before the ceremony, the groom assembles his wedding party at a nearby location. In one hand he holds a coconut, and in the other the bride’s garland. The groom and his party then proceed to the mandap, often in a very ceremonious manner, like on the back of a horse or even an elephant. He is headed by a display of fireworks and the rhythm of the dhol drum. Sometimes, he also carries a sword. The groom’s procession, known as the Baraat, is deeply significant and is often as extravagent as possible, often including dancers and musicians. The members of this procession are known as ‘baraatis.’
At the entrance of the venue and small ritual will be performed by the bride’s father to bless the groom. The bride’s mother will then escort the groom inside the venue and to the ceremony area and inside the mandap. Following the groom, the rest of the baraat will make their way into the venue. There are many version of this custom, between Punjabi, Rajput, and others. However, the importance of the Baraat to the wedding is universal. After arriving, he is received by the bride’s mother who applies kumkum to his forehead. The kumkum represents the tilak ritual which is a portent of auspiciousness. He then bows to the bride’s mother and gives her the coconut. the Bride’s mother welcomes the Groom. She performs the ceremony to ward off the evil spirits he may have encountered on the way to the wedding. He is then asked to break the Saapath (the earthen clay pot) symbolizing his strength and virility
The Bridal Entrance:
The bride is then escorted by her maternal uncle to the Mandap. Often, she is carried to the altar on a beautifully decorated throne by her wedding party.
The bride is seated behind a white curtain, a symbol of traditional barriers. After the bride’s father thanks the Gods, the curtain is removed.
After the curtain is removed, the couple exchange flower garlands called Varmala. The bride places her garland around the groom’s neck, and vice versa. This is done as a gesture of mutual acceptance, and as a pledge to respect each other as partners. The flower garlands are made up of cotton threads, are bestowed upon the Bride and the Groom to proclaim acceptance of each other. Once she joins the groom under the Mandap, the marriage ceremony begins with the couple seated and facing each other. While chanting, the Brahmin will place an auspicious red coloured cotton cord around the couple’s shoulders to protect them from evil influences and to demonstrate the bond between them.
Ganesha Puja (Invocation to the Lord Ganesha & Other Gods):
The wedding ceremony begins with the worship of Lord Ganesha, the remover of all obstacles. The ceremonial offerings are also made to Varuna, Lord of the Seas. A copper vessel containing water, flowers, and coconut is worshipped. This is followed by the worship of the Lords of five basic elements of creation, namely fire, earth, water, air, and light. The most important part of the ceremony is the Kanya Daan (Giving away of the Bride): The bride’s parents indicate their approval of the groom to the audience, and the couple acknowledge their commitment to one another. The Bride’s parents invoke the Gods and tell the Groom, “On this Holy Occasion, we will give our daughter who is a symbol of Lakshmi, Goddess of Prosperity, to you in the presence of the Sacred Fire, friends, and relatives.” Now, the bride’s parents wash the feet of the couple as a sign of respect and a symbol of their blessing.
Hasta Melap (Joining of the Hands):
The couple is united by placing the Bride’s right hand in the Groom’s right hand. The ends of the scarves worn by the Bride and the Groom are then tied together signifying unity. The couple vows to remember the Divine; to look upon others with sympathy, love, and compassion; to be strong and righteous; and to show goodwill, respect, and affection to each other’s families. This ritual symbolizes the joining of hands of man and wife to begin a new partnership. The bride’s father places the right hand of his daughter in the right hand of the groom. These symbolize the acceptance of his responsibility to love, respect, and protect her. The bride’s parents give her away with gifts and blessings. All other family members of the bride also give her away with gifts and blessings. The father of the bride places her hand in the groom’s hand, and requests that he accept her as an equal partner. After he does this, he makes three promises in the presence of the sacred fire: To be fair, to support his family materially, and to love his wife. This ceremony is known as Kanyadaan, or ‘the giving away of the bride.’
The couple then invokes Agni, the god of fire. Together, the couple offers rice into the fire. This is called Rajaham, or the ‘Sacrifice to the Sacred Fire.’ Herbs, sugar, rice, oil, and other sacraments are offered to the fire. Once it is prepared, the seven encirclements, the most important part of the wedding ritual can be performed. The sacred fire is evoked by making offerings into the havan (holy fire). Prayers are made to various gods who control the elements, so that these two souls can be reunited properly and that they have an abundance of these elements in their correct proportions—to fulfil a peaceful life. In the center of the mandap, or wedding altar, a fire is kindled. A Hindu marriage is a sacrament, not a contract. To signify the viability of the ceremony, fire is kept as a witness and offerings are made. The bride’s brother gives three fistfuls of puffed rice to the bride as a wish for his sister’s happy marriage. Each time, the bride offers the rice to the fire. no Hindu marriage is deemed complete unless in the presence of the Sacred Fire, and seven encirclements have been made around it by the bride and the groom together.
The satphere, or “seven circumambulations” is one of the most important parts of the wedding. The couple walks seven rounds around the sacred fire and pledges another vow during each rotation. It is believed that this ritual is watched by Agnideva, the God of Fire, and that vows made in the presence of the sacred fire are considered unbreakable. The seven vows, or pheras hold much religious significance:
- 1. The couple prays to God for food and nourishment.
- 2. They pray for a healthy and prosperous life, and ask for physical and mental strength.
- 3. The gods are asked to bless the couple with spiritual strength.
- 4. The couple asks for attainment of happiness and harmony through mutual love, and a joyous life together.
- 5. They pray for the welfare of all living entities in the universe, and for noble children.
- 6. They ask for bountiful seasons, and promises to share their joys and sorrows.
- 7. In the last, they pray for a life of understanding, loyalty, unity and companionship for themselves and for the peace of the universe.
In traditional Hindu practice, the bride and groom do not kiss at this time, but it is an increasingly common American addition to the ceremony.
In this ritual, the bride and groom literally “tie the knot” by wrapping together sashes worn on their clothing. The couple makes vows to establish a happy relationship and household for each other. The priest ties the end of the groom’s dhoti or the kurta; whichever he is wearing, with that of the bride’s saree, the knot signifying the sacred wedlock.
Now, the parents of the couple bless the newlyweds by spraying them with rose water, or dipping a rose in water and sprinkling it over their heads. The groom applies a red powder called Sindhoor, to the bride’s forehead and welcomes her as his life partner.
The couple seeks blessings from the Gods, parents, and elderly relatives by bowing to their feet. Married women from the family bless the bride by whispering “Akhanda Saubhagyawati Bhav” (blessing for abiding marital happiness) in the Bride’s right ear.
Shilarohan and Laaja Homa:
Shilarohan is climbing over a stone/rock by the bride which symbolises her willingness and strength to overcome difficulties in pursuit of her duties. Both gently walk around the sacred fire four times. The bride leads three times and the fourth time the groom leads. He is reminded of his responsibilities. The couple join their hands into which the bride’s brothers pour some barley, which is offered to the fire, symbolising that they all will jointly work for the welfare of the society. The husband marks the parting in his wife’s hair with red kumkum powder for the first time. This is called ‘sindoor’ and is a distinctive mark of a married Hindu woman. The sindur is applied by pinching the thumb and ring fingers together.
The groom places a necklace of black and gold beads on the bride, a custom that came about relatively recently. This symbolizes the eternal bond that unites the bride in marriage to the groom. Traditionally, the goddess Laxmi is invoked in the mangal sutra and the bride is said to receive blessings throughout her marriage.
The last symbolic rite is to offer food to the sacred fire. Having done so, the bride and the groom feed each other. The couple is now married!
Close family will form a semi-circle and bless the newly wed couple.
Stealing and hiding of groom’s shoes:
One tradition in Indian weddings is the stealing and hiding of groom’s shoes on the day of his wedding by the bride’s sisters and cousins. The groom has to remove the shoes during the ceremony, so the bride’s family makes wacky plans to steal the shoe and hide it. On the other hand, the groom’s family tries to protect the shoe. Usually the bridesmaids successfully steal the shoes, as it is a matter of their pride and honour. Once the ceremony is over and the groom needs his shoes back, he and his family start searching for it. The bridesmaids surround him and ask for a huge sum of money which the groom pays them and gets his shoes back. Much of these customs owe their origin to the legends surrounding the Radha-Krishna romance and to an extent, the Shiva-Parvati myth. They are seen as the ideal romantic couples of all time and through various – folk songs, dance and recitations from the scriptures, their shared love is sought to be invested in a married couple. At another level though, these rituals serve the essential social purpose of bonding families together and strengthening amity within communities. Weddings also help in breaking the ice between the sexes so far as the guests are concerned. So in this atmosphere surcharged with gaiety, fun and laughter, there are the common pranks the bridesmaids play such as hiding the shoes of the groom, challenging the male guests to a singing session (usually antakshari) and throwing up teasers to the unsuspecting.
Vidaai, a post wedding ritual, marks the end of the marriage ceremony. It is a very emotional episode for everyone, as the bride seeks leave from her parents, family members, friends and relatives and goes to her husband’s home to start a new life with new dreams and hopes. It is a new beginning for her, as she bids farewell to her parents and goes to build a new life with her husband and his family. She leaves her parent’s home with tears of joy and sorrow – joy, because she is starting a new life and sorrow, because she has to leave her parents for it.
The bride’s father gives her hand to her husband and tells him to take care and protect her loving daughter. The ritual of vidaai is marked as one of the most emotional aspect of the wedding festivities. It is the formal departure of the bride from her parents’ home. According to the Hindu tradition, as the bride steps out of the house, she throws back five handfuls of rice over her head, in a way that it falls on the person standing behind her, as a symbol of prosperity and wealth. The custom of throwing rice signifies that the bride is paying back or returning, whatever her parents have given her in all these years of her stay with them and wishes for prosperity to always flourish in the house she is leaving behind. Just when the bride and the groom sit in the car and its starts, the bride’s brothers and cousins push the car from behind, signifying that they have given her a push ahead to start a new life with her husband. After the last car starts, money is thrown on the road to ward away evil. It is common for the bride’s younger sister to accompany her to her new home to give her moral support. During the vidai ceremony the bride is accompanied by her parents and associates, which lead her outside the doorstep of the house. Before crossing the doorstep, she throws back three handfuls of rice and coins over her head, into the house. This symbolizes that the bride is repaying her parents for all that they have given her so far. Moreover, in India girls are considered the manifestation of Goddess Lakshmi, the deity of wealth and prosperity. Thus, while leaving, the bride practices the ritual to keep wealth and prosperity intact in her home. This is the most emotional moment of the complete marriage ceremony as the bride’s family and friends bids her a teary farewell. With this they also bless her for a happy married life. The father of the bride takes her to the car or the Doli and hands her to the groom. After this he requests that he care for her and forgive her for any mistakes, guiding her constantly through their marital journey.
The occasion often presents mixed feelings as everybody is happy for the bride as she is going to start her new life. But at the same time people often cry, thinking about the bride is no longer just a part of their family. The pain of missing her and the joy of marrying her can overwhelm the heart of her parents.
Check out some full posts of the Indian Weddings I have photographed: