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The Journals are the premier publications for high-quality, hyperlocal news and advertising in Monmouth County, New Jersey

Jan 21, 2021

Discovering the Lavish and Meaningful Traditions of an Indian Wedding

By Lori Draz

Haldi ceremony. Courtesy of Anna Wu Photography

There are few times in life when you can say, “This has it all” and truly mean it. When it comes to an Indian wedding, that expression is just the start. Indian weddings are among the most lavish affairs on the planet. Steeped in ancient rituals, these multi-week affairs are an explosion of vibrant color, exotic sights and smells, mouthwatering food, dance and pageantry. They are also enormous affairs, often hosting guest lists exceeding 700 invitees. Detail upon detail goes into every moment of these weddings, from the flowers, the jewelry, the food and the fashions – and they are plenty of wardrobe changes.  Wedding planning begins for many at the time a daughter is born. And the occasions carry equally lavish price tags. In fact, many parents take out loans at the birth of their children to have enough to prepare for these extraordinary celebrations. If you are lucky enough to be on the guest list, do everything in your power to attend. It will be an event you will not forget!

Indian weddings are Hindu, Sikh or Muslim celebrations. While there are differences based on the religion and different regional areas, there are many components which occur in all.

Shawna Gohel is the managing editor of Maharani Weddings Magazine. The company also operates MaharaniWeddings.com, a global resource guide for everything brides and their families need for the perfect day. Gohel travels the country and abroad, training reception sites on how to handle the special details of Indian weddings, and she kindly shared her overview of the key parts of these celebrations. She also shared her excitement about attending an Indian wedding.

“These are the biggest celebrations of a lifetime, and we want everyone to have the time of their lives. If you attend one, please mix, mingle, eat, dance and speak to as many people as you can. We are a very inclusive culture, and we want your memories to be as special as the family’s. Rest up and get ready for non-stop dancing, eating and fun.”

A typical Indian wedding starts with the Haldi, then goes on to the Mehndi, Sangeet/Raas-Garba, and finally the ceremony and reception.

The Haldi takes place on the first day of the wedding events and the color is yellow. It’s kind of a “spiritual spa day” for the couples. During the ceremony, a Turmeric paste, referred to as haldi in Hindi, is applied to face/neck, arms, hands, knees and feet by the family members who offer blessings and songs to the couple. The haldi is believed to possess healing, purifying and beautification properties, and the paste supposedly brings good luck and makes your skin glow.

The Mehndi is like the ultimate mani/pedi day. During this ceremony, gifted Mehndi artists paint intricate designs on the hands, arm and feet of the couple and occasionally their wedding party. Applying these complex designs takes time, so Mehndi parties have a relaxed vibe. You can expect to see plenty of comfortable and exotic seating options, as well as a variety of traditional Indian food to enjoy throughout the night. Superstition goes that the darker the Mehndi appears on the skin, the deeper the relationship will be, so brides are encouraged to relax while the pigments set. Another fun part is that the Mehndi artist will often hide the name of the groom in the intricate patterns and everyone tries to find the hidden surprise.

Typically, a couple will have the Sangeet on a Friday and the ceremony and reception on a Saturday. It’s almost hard to believe that these are back-to-back events as the Sangeet is a huge affair complete with decor, food and festive Bollywood-style dancing. It’s like two full bridal receptions in two days. During the Sangeet, the bride and groom’s family members perform highly choreographed dances to wish the bride and groom well in their new life together.

Baraat. Courtesy of Anna Wu Photography

Chooras (bangles). Courtesy of Studio Nine Photography

The Raas-Garba are energetic and playful Gujarati folk dances that everyone can participate in. You don’t have to be a dancer; the other guests will teach you the basics. The steps are easy to learn and fun to watch even if you’re not the dancing type, but giving it a try is well worth the effort.

The wedding ceremony is laced with numerous ritual traditions. The ceremony begins with the Baraat which is a celebratory wedding procession for the groom. The elaborately dressed groom travels to his bride’s family home riding an equally elaborately dressed white horse or elephant, although some modern grooms arrive sitting atop a convertible. The groomsmen follow with much music and dancing. Along the way, neighbors cheer on the procession. While it does not hold religious significance, it is an important custom nonetheless.

Next, the couple begins the actual wedding. The bride, wearing a breathtaking sari and spectacular jewelry enters. Bridal attire is frequently red as it is considered a most auspicious color, although some brides choose other color combinations. She joins her groom under a Mandap, a beautifully decorated canopy, similar to the chuppah seen in Jewish weddings.

The ceremony begins with a prayer to Ganesha, the god of beginnings and good fortune and the remover of obstacles. The ceremony continues with the Jai Mala. The couple exchanges large floral garlands which represent the bride and groom symbolically saying, “You belong to me, and I belong to you.”

Next, the most sacred part of the ceremony takes place around the sacred fire called an agnikund, representing the presence of Agni, the Hindu fire god. A Hindu marriage is a sacrament, not a contract, and the sacrament cannot be completed without this fire.

Mandap. Courtesy of Events Capture

Bridal Couple. Courtesy of Peter Nguyen Studio

First, the groom adorns the bride with a necklace of black and gold beads called the Mangala Sutra. Then bride and groom’s garments are tied in a knot as they circle a fire called saptapadi. The couple circles the sacred fire seven times, taking the seven steps known as Pheras to signify their bond. The seven Pheras steps are: Nourish each other; be each other’s strength; prosper and stay faithful; love and respect for families; care for children; to live a healthy and peaceful life; and bond of friendship and loyalty. The bride is seated on left of the groom before the Pheras and on the right after they are complete.

It is not customary for the bride and groom to kiss after the ceremony, however, in the U.S. and other fusion weddings, the exchange of wedding rings usually follows.

Elaborate jewelry. Courtesy of Studio Nine Photography

Shower of good fortune at the end of the ceremony. Courtesy of PTaufig Photography

After completing these customs, South Indian couples participate in the ritual of happiness. They shower each other with a mixture of rice, turmeric, saffron and even pearls to symbolize fertility, prosperity and happiness. Next, Sindoor, a red-orange powder is applied to the bride’s hair, signifying she is a married woman. Finally, the couple is announced as husband and wife.

And then the fun begins. Indian wedding receptions are some of the most lavish affairs anywhere. There is non-stop dancing and music, and the variety and quantity of foods are beyond imagination, but save some room as the desserts are just as numerous.

Bride and guests dance at Sageet. Courtesy of Sarani Weddings

Baraat horse and groom. Courtesy of Peter Nguyen Studio

If you are attending your first Indian wedding, here are a few things to know. This will be unlike any other wedding you’ve ever attended. Don’t be afraid you won’t understand. The guests are all happy to answer any questions and get you into the spirit of things. Plan for a long day; Indian weddings last much longer than traditional weddings you’ve attended. Break out your most colorful outfit. This is not the time for cocktail dresses and tuxedos. In fact, wearing black, white or red (which is often reserved for the couple and their family) is discouraged. This is time for bright greens and golds, hot pink and sunflower yellows. It is completely appropriate – and fun – to wear a sari to the wedding, even if you are not Indian. You do need to dress modestly though. No short skirts or plunging necklines, and wear a scarf that you can cover your head with when needed. Don’t bring a boxed gift. Money is the appropriate gift, and be sure to add a dollar to the amount, like, $301. Even numbers are unlucky. Check before taking pictures. While you’re welcome and will want to take pictures all day, there are a few parts of the ceremony that are not meant for photographs. You shouldn’t kiss the bride or groom, but you are welcome to dance the night away with them. Book your hotel room early. With so many guests, hotels often fill quickly. Do a little online research. Again, we recommend MaharaniWeddings.com or pick up a copy of Maharani Weddings Magazine. You will learn so much and the pictures are simply breathtaking. Most importantly, surrender yourself to this experience and have a wonderful time!