Let’s be honest, Indian weddings are overwhelming for everyone involved -- the bride, groom, and all their guests. There are so many traditions that differ between religion and region of India, and there are tons of events to keep track of what we’ve forgotten why we do them or what they mean in the first place. Here’s your guide to the events you’ll most often experience at a North Indian Hindu Indian wedding and the symbolic, philosophical, and spiritual meaning behind them.
The wedding is the cornerstone of the weekend filled with traditions and rituals galore. It is performed by a Maharaj (priest) in Sanskrit, the sacred language of the Hindu religion.
Haldi (Turmeric Paste)
The Haldi ceremony is held either the day before the wedding or the morning of the wedding. Known to possess anti-inflammatory, healing, antiseptic, and purification properties, Haldi is essentially a cleansing process for the bride and groom to be. Its beautiful, mustard yellow hue is auspicious in Indian tradition representing a life of prosperity for the couple about to begin their new life together. A common reason why Haldi is used for this ceremony is to rid the couple of “Buri Nazar”, the Sanskrit term for the evil eye.
Baraat (The Groom’s Arrival)
The Baraat is when the groom is led to the wedding venue as part of a procession accompanied by family, friends, and his groomsmen. Back when cars weren’t available, grooms would ride horses and elephants to the venue -- a tradition that modern grooms often uphold. If you’re on the groom’s side, be prepared to join in on the dancing!
Varmala (Mala = garland)
The Varmala Ceremony takes place after the Baraat and also signifies the start of the wedding rituals. After the groom reaches the venue, he’s greeted by the bride’s family, specifically the bride’s mom who will perform a short ritual to ward off the evil eye.
Traditionally the groom then takes his place at the Mandap and waits for the bride, however, some couples choose to exchange their garlands after the Mother’s blessings.
In Hindi, “mandap” translates to a covered structure with pillars and serves as the altar for Indian weddings. The four pillars symbolize the four parents who worked hard to raise their children. At the center of the mandap is a fire. The couple praises the Agni Devta (the Lord of Fire) in hopes of bringing the presence of Vishnu onto the ceremony.
Mangalsutra & Sindoor
The Mangalsutra, a black and gold necklace with a gold or diamond pendant symbolizes good luck, love, and friendship. In Sanskrit, ‘Mangala’ translates to sacred and ‘sutra’ to thread. The groom also applies sindoor, red vermillion (also known as kumkum), to the center of the bride’s forehead. These two offerings signify the groom’s devotion to his bride and the bride’s new status as a married woman. A traditional ring exchange will also take place.
Saptapadi quite literally translates from Sanskrit to ‘seven steps’. The couple takes seven full circles, walking clockwise around the fire, representing the seven principles and promises they make to each other. They are tied together with dupattas (scarves), which are used to keep the couple united as they make their rounds. These seven steps parallel the Western tradition of ‘vows’. While the couple take their steps around the fire, family members that are present on the mandap bless the couple with rose petals and rice - celebrating a pivotal part of the ceremony. It is said that the couple has tied themselves together for seven lifetimes to come once this part of the ceremony is finished.
Vidaai (Bride’s Farewell)
The Vidaai ceremony is when the family bids farewell to their daughter. Family and relatives of the bride accompany her to the exit of the wedding venue, and her parents leading the pack hold their daughter close. This tends to be emotional. Typically, female friends and relatives of the bride will playfully stand in front of the car to try and stop the couple from leaving -- jokingly of course!
What to wear to an Indian wedding ceremony
Keep in mind when you’re choosing an outfit to wear to the ceremony that you’ll be sitting for at least an hour if not two. If the ceremony is outdoors, it might be hot and you’ll want something airy, and don’t forget to bring your shades! Also, if you’re on the groom’s side, you’ll want to be extra comfortable so you can dance in the Baraat. Just make sure that your outfit isn’t black since that’s an inauspicious color for the ceremony. Matching the bride and wearing red is usually unacceptable. If the ceremony is outdoors, it might be hot. Here are a few suggestions below.
While this is a glimpse into the events and rituals you’ll most often find at an Indian wedding, every region of India has its own traditions so don’t be surprised if you take part in something else not explained here! Even though they can be long and sometimes complicated to follow, Indian weddings go back centuries and are rooted in love.