Those of you with non-South Asian ancestry might be unsure of what to anticipate at an Indian wedding. Even if you’ve been to a ceremony before, keep in mind that no two Indian weddings will be exactly the same because the continent is home to over 30 different civilizations. Sonal J. Shah, a wedding coordinator for the South Asian community in the United States, notes that while some people believe “Indian weddings are Indian weddings,” this is untrue. “Knowing what kind of Indian family you are in—North Indian? Southeast Asian? Punjabi?—and acknowledge that it still depends on how certain cultural nuances are handled.”
The most common Indian wedding customs are listed here.
01. An Astrology-Approved Date and Time
Indian newlyweds holding hands in closeup in traditional attire A Hindu priest known as a pandit (sometimes written pundit) will preside over the event and use astrology to choose the most fortunate day and hour for it to occur. If a South Asian couple decides to wed in the United States, this becomes more difficult. It’s not like you just pick a Saturday and make sure the Plaza is open, says Shah. “In America, you only try for weekend weddings.” The Plaza must now be available, the date must be lucky, and last, the hour.
02. Multiple Days of Activities
During the customary Indian wedding ceremony, the bride is decorated with flowers by the groom.
After two days of more private celebrations (such as the tilak ceremony, the Haldi (or pithy) ceremony, the mehndi party, and the sangeet) that are only attended by close friends and family members, the actual nuptial ceremony and reception, similar to what a Western wedding encompasses, take place on the third day. The majority of people like to use natural light and will choose an outdoor ceremony, but other options include ballrooms that allow open flames (more on that later).
03. Numerous Reds
Given that red is seen as auspicious, it should come as no surprise that it is the most dominant color at Indian weddings—often with gold accents. All of the saris, flowers, decorations, and invitations will be red, according to Shah. Sometimes, two or three days prior to the wedding, we even add a small amount of red dye to the bride’s hair.
04. All the People
“Oh, I guess we just spoke once? Great! You’re welcome to attend my wedding, “Shah quips. “That is the way things are. Everyone is welcome. This explains why some weddings are so big.” In the South Asian community, Shah continues, there is additional pressure to avoid offending anyone by not inviting them, and on the other hand, most of those invited feel bound to attend out of respect.
05. Clothing Alterations
According to Shah, Indian weddings resemble a sizable fashion show. “You dress differently for every single occasion.” The groom and his groomsmen wear a sherwani, which is a long top and pair of pants, and the groom typically dons a turban. The bride and bridesmaids wear saris or lenghas. The bride’s wedding party gets fewer opportunities to change their clothes than the groom, which Shah finds to be very nice. With vibrant colors and exquisite decorations, each attendee’s sari or lengha (the skirt version) feels as radiantly wonderful as the last.
06. The Groom’s Grand Entrance
Talk about an entrance—the groom has his own processional or baraat. He typically arrives on a horse, an elephant, or a luxurious automobile. Then, to welcome the families, he goes to the mandap, a dome-shaped structure that resembles a Jewish chuppa. The bride’s parents and the groom enter the sacred area with their shoes off and a fire (Agni) burning to represent the greatest level of a witness. The Hindu god Ganesh is prayed to under the mandap, where the couple and their relatives are prayed for good fortune and the removal of obstacles.
07. The Big Reveal of the Bride
While the bride gets ready for her big reveal, or Kanya aagaman, the bridesmaids, flower girl, and ring bearer (if the couple has chosen to exchange rings) all make their way down the aisle. She will frequently be escorted during the processional by her uncle(s) or the oldest male relative, and occasionally she will physically be carried before being given away, at the Kanya Daan.
08. Ceremonies of Unity
The bride and groom exchange flower garlands as part of the jai mala, with specifics depending on the culture. The bride frequently receives a mangal sutra necklace, also known as “an auspicious thread,” from the husband. A female relative of the groom ties a knot between the bride’s sari and the groom’s scarves for the hasta melap. The couple clasps hands, symbolizing “a love that unites two souls for a lifetime” through their physical union. The couple holds hands once more as they take four steps around the fire during the mangal phera, each representing a period of life: to pursue prosperity (artha), earthly pleasures (kama), spiritual salvation, and life’s religious and moral responsibility (dharma) (moksha).
09. Saptapadi (Seven Steps)
Seven more stairs will be taken by the couple to reach the saptapadi. According to Shah, “These are the first seven steps you take as husband and wife.” The bride and groom proceed from stone to stone, touching each with their toes, as the pandit recites the seven poems. Seven stones are traditionally laid out in a straight line by a member of the wedding party, usually the groom’s brother. They basically translate to: “We will treat one another with respect while we dwell together. We shall achieve equilibrium in our minds, bodies, and spirits by working together. We shall grow, amass wealth, and enjoy our successes together. Through our shared love, we will each find happiness, harmony, and knowledge. We will produce strong, moral kids together. Together, we will practice self-control, longevity, and faithfulness to one another. We shall work for salvation as a team and remain companions for life.
10. The absence of a kiss (Probably)
The newlyweds then return down the aisle while being traditionally showered in crimson rose petals. but no first kiss after being married? Because they don’t want to insult the elders, most Indians refrain from displaying a lot of affection over the wedding weekend, according to Shah. You virtually never hear someone say, “You may now kiss the bride.”
11. Large Party
Everyone who attended the wedding was typically also invited to the reception, and if you’ve ever watched a Bollywood film that culminated in a wedding, you know that Indian receptions are known for being parties. Typically, receptions begin at about seven and last till late. There may be a farewell for the bride and husband before they depart in a posh car or similar vehicle.
12. Indian-style bride and groom cutting cake
Yes, it’s frequently Indian, but that doesn’t necessarily mean hot or vegetarian. Additionally, a lot of South Asian couples favor providing both regional and non-regional options. Since there are Indians everywhere, Shah says, “we kind of build on it not being one type of thing.” “Many of our clients now choose Western cuisine.” Regarding the drinking scenario, Shah responds, “Most of the time, absolutely.” “I perform at most of the weddings, anyway.”
13. Intensified Dancing
An Indian reception frequently has a high theatrical element. Members of the wedding party or guests may perform Bollywood-style dances for the newlyweds. Before everyone else joins them on the dance floor, the couple will occasionally do a dance routine for themselves. Bhangra is typical.
14. Pranks Committed Against the Groom
During the reception, keep an eye on the bridesmaids and the bride’s family to possibly witness some grade-A mischief. Shah exclaims, “They do steal the groom’s shoes!” “Once they start demanding money, he will have to comply in order to bring them back. It’s all about the money. Additionally, they will occasionally make an effort to prevent the bride and groom from leaving the wedding, saying things like, “Ok, you pay us, you get to take the bride with you.”