Aside from “Did you ride an elephant?” and “Was the food too spicy?”, one thing that I am frequently asked about our Indian wedding is “How many days was it?”
One very well-known aspect of Indian weddings is that they can take place over multiple days. Because India is so diverse and traditions vary so greatly, the ceremonies that are part of a marriage will change based on factors such as region, religion, family, and more. (To make it even more complicated, sometimes the ceremonies are the same but called different things!) We celebrated our marriage with a mix of Sikh and Hindu Punjabi traditions, so I will be discussing traditions and ceremonies within that framework 🙂
I recently posted about our wedding day, which included our Anand Karaj (Sikh marriage ceremony) and reception. Today I will be discussing those “other days” which round out our wedding experience in India!
Lead-up to the Wedding
Vikram and I arrived in India about a week before the wedding festivities started. In that time, we made multiple trips to the market to purchase ritual items, traveled to the nearby town of Ambala to have my wedding lehenga fitted, and spent lots of time as a family getting to know each other.
One of the days included a Path ceremony at Vikram’s family’s home. Path is general term for a ceremony in which a holy scripture is read at length, and is seen as an auspicious event to usher in a new beginning – be it a wedding, new home, baby, etc. We had an Akhand Path ceremony, in which the Sikh holy scripture – the Guru Granth Sahib – was recited. All of the furniture in the common areas of the house was moved out, and large carpets were brought in for everyone to sit on the floor (similar to a Gurudwara Sahib).
Brunch typically follows the scriptural recitation. In our ceremony, most of the men stayed outside eating and conversing, while the women gathered indoors for singing and dancing to traditional Punjabi songs.
I unfortunately had to retreat to the bedroom to escape the unspeakable heat, but emerged as soon as I heard all the women playing drums, singing, and clapping. I was greeted by an effervescent atmosphere that was an almost humorous juxtaposition to the staid piousness of a few minutes before. The singing soon broke into dancing in the center of the circle, and even I was drawn into the dance at the urging of many women – I felt like I was in a movie!
My family arrived the day before our official wedding festivities started, and I joined them at the hotel. We settled in, discussed their flights, and enjoyed the calm before the storm.
Monday evening was our sangeet, which I typically describe as a hybrid of a bachelor/bachelorette party and a rehearsal dinner. It’s like a bachelor/bachelorette party because it’s typically separate events – the groom with his family and friends, and the bride with hers – having one last hoorah before the big day. At the same time, it’s like a rehearsal dinner because it’s right before the wedding, and it’s relatively tame (compared to a B-party) because there’s family there – typically it consists of a dinner and dancing.
Our sangeet was a little different in a couple of ways. First, we had a combined sangeet instead of separate ones for the bride and groom. This was so that I wasn’t stuck in a hotel room with the four people I brought to India, while Vikram partied with hordes of his nearest and dearest 🙂 Second, in addition to dinner and dancing, we added a ring ceremony (basically an engagement). We had already gotten big-time engaged in the U.S., but there is traditionally an engagement ceremony in India as well, so we included this in the sangeet!
On Tuesday, we had our mehendi (also known as henna) ceremony. It was applied to the hands of all the key women in the wedding – my mom, Vikram’s mom, Vikram’s closest cousins, etc. As per tradition, Vikram even got a little too! For me, it was much more involved – my mehendi covered the front and back of my hands and arms up to the elbow, as well as my feet and halfway up my calves. Everyone’s application took around 10 minutes except for mine, which took over an hour!
The purposes of mehendi are varied. One purpose is for decoration – it is applied in beautiful designs to make the bride look even more beautiful on her wedding day. Another purpose is stress relief – on top of being decorative, the mehendi paste also has medicinal uses, and actually pulls heat away from the body as it dries and hardens. This was more than welcome, as the wedding stress and 9000 degree heat of Patiala had left me feeling far from bridal!
The paste takes a while to dry, and while it does you cannot touch it and must be careful with your movements. For me, that meant 3-4 hours of watching old American movies on a lawn chair in the hotel while my shoulders and knees slowly cramped up.
Once the henna is dry, it crumbles off and reveals the dyed skin underneath. This crumbling was no problem for my hands, feet and freshly-shaved calves. It’s also no problem for typical Indian brides, most of whom either have very little arm hair or wax it off for the wedding. But as a woman of European descent who didn’t know any better and has a sizable amount of practically-invisible-yet-very-present arm hair for the paste to get stuck in, this was exactly as painful as you’d imagine.
Once the paste was all gone, I still had to be careful not to let my freshly-dyed skin touch water; the color continues to develop and darken with time, and water stops the development process. This is important – since mehendi pulls heat from the body, it also means that it indicates how much “heat is in the blood”, which is essentially the depth of the bride’s love for her husband-to-be. The darker the henna, the deeper the love. I thought this was so sweet, and hoped my henna would develop very, very dark. It was also the only reason I agreed to go to the bathroom using rubber gloves for the rest of the day!
In the evening, Vikram’s mom, aunt, and a few close friends came to our hotel and performed the Batna ceremony. Normally this would have been performed by the bride’s family for the bride, but since we’re not familiar with the customs my in-laws were kind enough to help out 🙂
For the ceremony – the same one that Vikram had earlier in the day – I sat underneath a cloth while the women said prayers and rubbed a turmeric paste onto my arms, legs, and face. The turmeric is said to give a certain glow to the skin for the wedding day, and I was all about that! This was also the time that they put my chooda on for the wedding ceremony. When the Batna ceremony was finished, they left me a container of turmeric body scrub for my shower the next morning.
Even though I struggled to find a comfortable position with my new chooda and desperately wanted to wash my hands, I finally managed to catch some beauty sleep for my big day.
I woke up painfully early on my wedding day and jolted to the bathroom to admire my henna and take my long-awaited shower. I was relieved and a little surprised that the henna had developed to an almost purple color on my pale skin. I finished getting ready (meaning I finished my shower and threw on sweats), and was driven to the saloon to get beautified. The rest you can read about right here!
On Friday we performed rituals to finalize our marriage. Normally these would have been done on the wedding day itself, but we postponed them because we had another wedding to attend immediately following ours.
We first went to the local Gurudwara Sahib, where we prayed and made offerings for a prosperous marriage. Afterwards, we went out into the courtyard of the Gurudwara Sahib and played the Stick Game (my favorite!), which is between the bride and her husband, brother(s), and cousin-brother(s). The bride is paired up with one of the guys, and each person is given a stick. Seven is an auspicious number, so:
- The bride hits the guy on the bum six times with her stick
- The guy hits the bride on her bum six times with his stick
- The bride hits the guy one last time on the bum, for a total of seven hits
- The guy hits the girl one last time on the bum, for a total of seven hits
I must say, with all the wedding stress it was very cathartic to walk around hitting people with a stick! After this, we returned home to play the Knot Game and the Coin Game.
Before our marriage, both Vikram and I had matching bracelets tied around our wrists with seven knots. In the Knot Game, we took turns untying and removing the other person’s bracelet as fast as possible. Since Vikram’s knots were all ratted together and nearly impossible to get apart (while mine were still very smooth because I am a proper lady who is gentle with her jewelry) I lost this one 🙁
In the Coin Game, there was a very large pan that was filled with milk, water, and grass and placed on the floor between us. The bride and groom each put one hand in the pan, and a coin is dropped into it. Whoever finds the coin first wins – the game is played seven times, and whoever wins the majority is said to rule the house. After lots of struggling and splashing nearly everyone in the room, I won!
When we finished these games, we were officially considered married! It was a long and honestly quite tiring process, but so worth it! I will never forget these experiences and wish I could go back to that magical time!
These are the traditions that I personally participated in for my Punjabi Sikh wedding. There are many other ceremonies and games that we did not do, simply to put less pressure on my American family. These include:
- the bride’s family stealing the groom’s shoes and returning them (in exchange for money)
- the Ribbon Cutting Ceremony in which the groom’s family is refused entrance into the reception hall and finally let in (in exchange for money – there’s lots of money involved in Punjabi weddings!)
I hope you enjoyed hearing more about our Indian wedding! If you have any questions or thoughts, please feel free to share them in the comments!