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South Asian Wedding Traditions

By: 
Alisha Lall

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Photo by: Joey T. Photography

“Can I wear a sari to your wedding?” said every one of my friends at one point in time. There is something about the colors and the dancing and the food that make Indian weddings something intriguing, something different. A girl is faced with a lot of decisions with planning a wedding, but one of them usually isn't whether the groom should ride in on a horse or elephant. Although modern twists have been made on the traditional Indian wedding, the meaning behind the events leading up to the big day remain true. Before the parties commence, haldi, yellow powder known as tumeric, is placed on the bride and groom by the family and relatives as a cleansing at home.

Traditionally, the bride wears green to represent the color of henna or yellow to represent turmeric.  The week of festivities begin with the Mehndi. As she sits on a swing while henna is placed on her hands and feet, the bridal party throws an elaborate event in honor of her. Sisters and cousins and friends perform dances and songs one after another. The more dances you have, the better the wedding.

The henna designs are beautiful and ornate and differentiate the bride from anyone else. It turns the bride into a woman and provides mental preparation as she approaches her wedding day. She can no longer run around with everyone else as she is about to become a wife and a daughter-in-law. The longer she keeps it on, the darker the color will stain, and the happier the marriage will be! Sangeet is an announcement for the upcoming nuptials. Traditionally, this could be up to ten days long, however now that people have jobs and lives, it is held the night before. There's drinking and dancing and speeches at the expense of the groom, and this is the last time the bride and groom will be seen separately before becoming husband and wife.

The choora ceremony takes place the morning of the wedding. The maternal uncle puts a set of up to 21 bangles, red and white, on the bride's arms. The bride was intended to keep the bangles on for a full year until her husband removes them, but now 40 days is the standard. The purpose was to make sure the bride did not do any excessive housework. I'm sure many brides would opt into that deal. Then she would take over the household chores for her mother-in-law. And yes, all brides moved in with their in-laws back then to learn how to become good wives. Sometimes, change is good!

The Bharat is the opening act to the ceremony. The groom rides in on a horse or an elephant, or sometimes even a helicopter or luxury car, welcomed by his side of the family. There is music and drums playing, while everyone dances in excitement. The jai mala is next, where the seniors of the groom's family meet the seniors of the bride's family and exchange flower garlands. Finally, the wedding is about to begin! There is one tradition that is my personal favorite; stealing the groom's shoes. It is imperative that the timing be impeccable for execution, and the bridal party typically utilizes the ceremony to attack. It is probably the only time the groom will take off his shoes during the day. If the groomsmen manage to steal the shoes back at any point, the ladies lose out on a special gift from the groom, typically money or jewelry. Clearly, this is a vital part of the wedding.

The ceremony takes place with the bride and groom sitting next to a havan, or open fire pit, with the priest. As he recites seven wedding vows, the groom walks the bride around the fire pit with a scarf tied between them. At the end, the bride's brother hands her rice puffs to throw into the fire for purification. The groom places a necklace on his now turned wife's neck called mangalsutra and places vermillion, or red powder, on the middle part of her hair. This symbolizes a girl becoming a woman and the head of a household. As she leaves the ceremony, there is a procession of tears and joy as she is leaving her family and joining a new one.

Traditionally, the wedding ceremony was held overnight and as the sun rises on a new day, she begins her new life. Now we just have a good ol' wedding reception like everyone else! And to ensure the fun never stops, the bride's family hosts a dinner the evening after the wedding day to welcome their daughter and her new family. As you can see, an Indian wedding is as much about the families and traditions as it is about the bride and groom. Needless to say, if you have the opportunity to attend or participate in an Indian wedding, do not miss out! Rock that sari and enjoy a week-long event you will never forget..

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