A traditional Hindu wedding is full of small ceremonies and rituals setting the bride and groom on the path to marital, financial, and life-long success. Some of the rituals may vary depending on the origin of the couple; because of this, the steps below will outline the most common happenings before, during, and after a Hindu wedding.
Preparing for the Wedding - Spruce yourself up for the Haldi ceremony. This ceremony takes place two or three days before the wedding. During Haldi, a paste made of turmeric, gram flour, curd, sandalwood and rose water are applied on the hands, feet and face of the bride and the groom. The yellow color of the paste is believed to brighten the skin color before the wedding ceremony and bring good luck to the bride and the groom. Hindu weddings are full of color and vibrancy. A canopy of flowers will go up during this time in the house where the wedding will be and color will seem to pop up everywhere. Get your hands ready for the Mehndi Ceremony. The bride and all of her close family members get the palms of their hands and feet decorated by a professional henna artist. The henna is believed to enhance the bride’s beauty. This ceremony usually takes place a day before the wedding. This is similar to a bachelorette party, but without the antics and alcohol. It’s more about a celebration of the journey to marriage than the decoration or getting crazy.
Welcome the Baraat – the arrival of the groom and his family. Traditionally, the groom arrives at the wedding on a horse, accompanied by his closest friends and family members. The large procession includes lots of singing and dancing. This signifies the groom’s and his family’s happiness in accepting the new bride. Certain, more unconventional and modern, weddings will have the groom arrive in a cavalcade of cars. Have Milni – the meeting of the bride and grooms' families. The bride’s family, armed with garlands and traditional Indian sweets, then welcomes the groom and his family. Milni is an important tradition where the groom’s family is honored by the bride’s family. This is generally done at the house where the wedding is taking place. A red kum-kum (a powder) mark is applied to everyone’s foreheads. The members of each family are introduced to one another, encouraging peace and acceptance.
Completing the Traditional Marriage Ceremony - Watch as the bride and bridegroom enter. First will be the bridegroom. He will be brought to a decorated altar called a “mandap”' and will be given a seat and a celebratory drink – a mixture of milk, ghee, yoghurt, honey and sugar. The arrival of the bride is called the kanya through the Kanya Aagaman. The bride is usually led by her father to the marriage altar, which signifies that the bride’s maternal side approves of the union. The bride and the groom are separated by a white cloth and not allowed to see one another just yet.
Let the garland speak during the Jai Mala (exchanging of the garlands). Once the bride approaches the mandap (the altar area where the wedding rituals take place), the white cloth is dropped. The bride and the groom then exchange floral garlands. These garlands are to signify their acceptance of one another. When the bride and bridegroom exchange garlands (jayamaala), they declare, “Let all the learned persons present here know, we are accepting each other willingly, voluntarily and pleasantly. Our hearts are concordant and united like waters." An arranged marriage does not mean a forced marriage. In fact, forced marriages are now illegal in India. Though the two may not know each other, they are both willing to get married.
Observe the ritual of Kanyadaan. At this point in the ritual, the father of the bride pours sacred water in her hand and then places her hand in the groom’s hand. This ritual signifies the father officially giving away his daughter. Then the groom’s sister usually ties the end of his scarf to the bride’s sari with betel nuts, copper coins, and rice. These items symbolize unity, prosperity, and happiness for the couple. The knot specifically is meant to represent the eternal bond that comes with marriage. Recent weddings involve the exchanging of gifts, namely clothes and ornaments. The groom’s mother will give a “mangala sootra” to the bride, a necklace to indicate success. The bride’s father will then announce that his daughter has accepted the bridegroom and hopes that his family will accept her. Watch as the priest starts Vivaha-homa. At this point, a sacred fire will be lit and the Purohit (the priest) will recite mantras in Sanskrit. While the prayers are going on, oblations are offered to the fire. “Id na mama” is repeated over and over, meaning “it is not for me.” This emphasizes the virtue of selflessness required in marriage.
Count the rounds known as Saptapadi (seven steps around the fire). At this point in the ceremony, the couple walks around the fire with seven steps, each accompanied by a prayer and seven vows. This is when the marriage becomes recognized by the state. The first vow is for food. The second for strength. The third for prosperity. The fourth for wisdom. The fifth for progeny. The sixth for health. The seventh for friendship.
Note the bride's neck during Mangalsutra Dharanam. The mangalsutra is a sacred necklace that the groom ties around the bride's neck on their wedding day. After he ties this necklace, he gives her the status of being his wife. The bride is expected to wear this necklace as long as her marriage lasts. This necklace is a symbol of marriage, mutual love and commitment of the bride and groom to one another. Give Aashirvad – blessings from the family. After the wedding ceremony, the married couple receives blessings from their family members. The bride has blessings whispered into her ear by the women of both families. Then the married couple bows down before the priest and the elders’ family members and parents receive the final blessing. As the newlyweds walk through the guests, they are showered with flowers and rice to wish the couple a long, happy marriage.
Say farewell to the bride by Bidai. This step means the bride will be going away to the groom’s house. The bride will say her final goodbyes to her family members. The bride is given joyfully but also can be bittersweet for the bride and groom and their families. It is not uncommon to see tears during this stage. This is a very large transition for any woman, and it almost always is accompanied by a number of emotions, some happy, some sad. Carry the bride back in a doli (for traditional weddings). The bride is carried back in a doli from her parent’s house to her husband’s house. A "doli" is a decorated platform with a roof and four carrying handles on either side. It also has a comfortable mattress for the exhausted bride to sit on. The bride’s maternal uncles and brothers traditionally carry the doli. In many modern weddings, the bride is just carried in the doli out of the house – not all the way to the husband’s house. She would ride in a car the rest of the way.
Welcome the bride through Graha Pravesh. With her right leg, the bride kicks the kalash (a pot) usually filled with rice. This kalash is kept at the door of the groom’s house. After the kicking takes place the bride walks her first steps in the house of the groom. This is believed to bring about an abundance of food, wisdom, and wealth and be a "source of life." In old tales, it was viewed to contain the elixir of immortality.
Enjoy the reception. The reception is a huge formal party with lots of music to celebrate the successful wedding. This is the first public appearance of the bride and groom together as a couple. There are no formal traditions at the reception. Many traditional weddings do not offer alcohol and offer an array of only vegetarian food, in keeping with their traditional religious beliefs.