Drums beating soulful sounds into the atmosphere, hearts beating louder with the joy of the union ready to take flight and the aroma of a new beginning coupled with a bittersweet goodbye. That is the essence of Indian weddings.
You cry, you laugh out loud, you eat everything laid out for you at the buffet, and you cry a little more. Every wedding I have been to, whether it is a cousin, or the cousin’s older brother’s wife’s sister, has enriched my perception of weddings as a whole. It is not just the bride and the groom who are embarking on a journey together, but two enormous families. I’m not exaggerating, the last wedding I went to had 2000 people, formally agreeing to spend all 30,000 Indian festivals in a year together.
In this post we take a cultural dive and find out a bit more about this fascinating world of long Indian weddings that kept Priyanka and Nick Jonas trending on social media for over a week.
The Stereotype of Indian Weddings is True
I have always had friends who find my family weddings fascinating, they love asking me questions about the various ceremonies and I honestly love answering them. Indian weddings are incredible and every part of India has their own unique way of celebrating the same occasion. But one thing that remains true for most parts of the country is the length of the actual wedding itself.
The stereotype of Indian weddings stretching across 5-7 days is absolutely spot on. I have never attended a wedding without having at least 6 outfits dry cleaned and ironed. Also, the week before this Indian Coachella begins is dedicated to eating practically nothing. But it’s all worth it because the moment the main event of the day has finished, I make my way to the tables neatly covered in the finest silk and fill up two plates with the most aromatic food. Seriously though, this feast is worth the pop I hear in my outfit 20 minutes after.
The wedding procession begins with the obvious engagement ceremony or what we call a ‘Roka’. This first pre-wedding event is where both families gather at the bride’s house and officiate the union that is about to begin. Gifts and traditional sweets are distributed and a priest is present to carry out the religious portion of the ceremony.
The significance of this event is the moment when the groom’s mother places a red ‘dupatta’ or long piece of cloth on the bride’s head after which blessings and tons of presents are exchanged.
This next event is my favourite one where women on both sides of the family get henna tattoos on their hands. Usually this event is carried out privately, so the groom’s family have their own ‘Mehendi’ ceremony and the bride’s family have their own.
This is an afternoon filled with good music, delicious snacks, and an hour of admiring the work of the women who are hired to be the artists behind the henna. This is personally the event I am always most excited for because the patterns look incredible and they last for a couple of weeks so it gives me a chance to show it off everywhere I go.
Also, traditionally the bride gets the initials of her future husband written in very small letters somewhere in her henna tattoo. And when the groom sees her he has to face the challenge of playing “Where’s Wally’ as he tries to find his initials all across her arms!
The event that follows is the most exciting one during Indian Weddings. This is known as the ‘Sangeet’!
It’s the closest I will ever come to starring in a Bollywood movie. Both sides of the family usually spend at least a month preparing and perfecting their choreography until the event comes around. And on the big night a couple of hours are dedicated to performances on the catchiest Bollywood songs by both sides to celebrate the upcoming nuptials.
Often, the friends of the bride and groom prepare a performance enacting the story of how the two lovebirds met. Let’s just say, it’s a full-blown Indian version of dancing with the stars!
The Main Event/Events
Now we have reached the big day and inching closer to the main event we have the ‘Baraat’. Here the groom and his entire family are literally walking towards the wedding hall with loud music from a set of drums or a ‘Dhol’.
The groom is usually sitting on a white horse while his family members dance around him, leading the way to where they will be greeted by the bride’s family (Check out this video below to see how this really goes down!).
This is the final ceremony before the official wedding begins. The bride and groom then take their seats at the ‘Mandap’ or altar which has 4 pillars symbolising the couple’s parents. The marriage is made official with both the bride and groom exchanging flower garlands. After the mother of the groom places a necklace known as the ‘Mangalsutra’ around the bride’s neck. Finally, the couple walks around a pit of fire 7 times commemorating the union lasting for 7 lifetimes. They are officially married!
I know Indian weddings are lengthy and often feel like they are never ending but that’s what I truly love about them. It’s as if one day just isn’t enough to celebrate the love between the two people and their families. And honestly, have you ever heard of a wedding ceremony where there is basically a musical taking place on a stage with actual planned performances?!
It’s exciting and surprising at every turn as I learn something new about my culture from every wedding I attend. For example, after the wedding ceremonies have taken place there is a really adorable tradition where a large bowl filled with milk and rose petals is placed in front of the newlyweds. First, they have to drop their wedding rings in it, and then they must compete to see who will find the rings first using just one hand. This game is played a total of three times to establish the true winner.
But nothing beats my favourite tradition where the bridesmaids steal the groom’s shoes before the wedding ceremony, forcing him to cough up some cash in exchange for his shoes. I have done this before at an aunts wedding and not to brag but I didn’t need to use my pocket money that month.
Also, where I’m from in India, there’s this funny tradition where the mother of the bride welcomes the groom by pulling his nose, this is known as ‘Ponkhana’ and I cannot wait for my mom to do that to my future husband, he has no idea what he’s getting into!
As joyous and entertaining as our weddings can be, I did mention at the beginning of this blog post that there is a bittersweet feeling in the atmosphere the whole time. This is due to the fact that the bride is leaving her parents’ house and moving in with her husband and his family.
This ceremony known as the ‘Bidai’ is the final one before everyone begins to leave and it’s honestly the one everybody dreads, especially the bride’s parents. It’s an incredibly emotional moment as the bride accepts her future in a new home away from the one she grew up in and acknowledges that she now has responsibilities to a whole new family. And although that is a good thing, there is a hint of sadness in the air that always comes with the territory of new beginnings such as a marriage. However, if you have a family like mine, the bride makes a run for it as soon as the main event has come to an end to avoid the dramatic goodbyes!
Yes, that is exactly what my oldest sister did when she got married. And hopefully, when it is my time, I will book an Uber in advance and sneak out when everyone is distracted by the dessert table. Ahh, traditions.
I hope you enjoyed this post and that you were able to have a little taste of what Indian weddings have to offer. I am proud of where I come from and how we go over the top with every occasion and I truly cannot wait for my own loud and extravagant wedding. And I hope that if you haven’t already, you will be able to experience what Indian weddings are like, and who knows maybe my wedding can be the first one you attend! (whenever that may be).