Punjabi Hindu Wedding Rituals
ROKA AND THAKA
This ritual is the first in a long list of rituals. In the first instance called Roka or Rokna, the family of the bride visits the family home of the groom with a lot of gifts. The bride is usually not present that day.
This visit is then reciprocated by the groom’s family and they visit the house of the bride. They bring a lot of gifts like dry fruits, sweets and savories, jewelries, money, et al. The couple is considered to be officially engaged and they are made to sit together and showered with gifts called shagun or sagan. They are also fed laddu. This return ceremony is known as Thaka.
This ceremony has always been a low-key affair and was originally treated as the date on which the two families decided to establish a relationship and fix the date of the wedding. But nowadays, Roka and Thaka are not organized separately. Depending on the convenience of both the families and availability of the key members from both sides, one ceremony is jointly organized.
This ritual usually begins with a small puja or prayer called ardaas to ask for the blessings of God in order to secure his blessings and complete support and consecrate the beginning of the journey.
Chunni ceremony marks the official engagement of the to-be-weds. Usually, the family members of the groom visit the family of the bride with gifts. A red-colored outfit like a sari or a lehenga-choli is gifted to the bride. She is also gifted a headscarf called chunni.
The family members of the groom also bring jewelry like bangles for the bride and also traditional sweets like mev, michri, fruits, and Mehendi (henna), a kind of dye to be applied on the hands and feet of the bride. These are considered to be gifts to the bride coming from the mother of the groom as a token of recognition of her as the fiancée of the groom.
The dupatta or the headscarf is placed on the head of the bride and her face is covered using it as a veil. This ceremony is called chunni Chandana. Then her hands are dyed with Mehendi and also the bangles are slipped onto her wrists.
The father of the groom puts meva into the “jholi” or bag of the bride and the parents of the groom also give her a date fruit to eat.
Some Punjabi Hindu families ask the groom to put a vermilion mark on the forehead or hair parting of the bride.
SAGAAI OR ENGAGEMENT
Often on the same day as the chunni chadhai ceremony, sagaai or engagement ceremony takes place. The bride and the groom exchange rings surrounded by their close friends and family members, thus officially getting accepted to the opposite family. Unlike western weddings, no marriage vows or vows of love are exchanged. Some families consider the exchange of rings as the final mark of acceptance of the bride coming into the family of the groom and vice versa.
In some Punjabi marriages, the rings are exchanged only at the end of the marriage and no separate event is organized.
MEHENDI CEREMONY (HENNA)
Mehendi is an indispensable part of most Indian weddings, which is hard to miss. It is one ceremony which every Indian woman – married or unmarried, love. Usually, Mehendi artists come to the house of the bride a day or two prior to the day of the wedding. They create intricate designs with Mehendi on the palm of the hands and feet of the bride. The designs are mind-blowing. The friends and sisters of the bride also get the gesture extended to them. The only thing that the artist and everyone else, ensures is that the designs on others do not appear to be more ornate than those made on the body of the bride.
The mehendi ceremony also takes place separately at the house of the groom where the close female relatives and family members get their hands and feet dyed for the occasion.
Often on the same evening, a ladies’ Sangeet is organized where ladies close to the bride sing and dance. It is nothing but a musical extravaganza. It is quite similar to the bachelorette party or hen’s party organized in the west to celebrate the last evening of the bride as a spinster. The ladies sing, dance, play musical instruments like the dhol , and also tease the bride.
In India, traditionally there has never been a ceremony closely resembling the bachelor’s party but these days, even the groom and his close friends celebrate the evening before the marriage by participating in different cultural programs. All of you who have had the good fortune to be a part of a Sangeet would know that it is an evening of great fun and merriment.
Light refreshments like different types of snacks are served to the guests at the end of the sangeet. But from my personal experience, I can say that the refreshments are not really light. They make up a full course meal. You know it’s India, right? And Punjabis are self-avowed foodies!
KANGNA BANDHANA CEREMONY
This is the first ritual performed on the morning of the wedding. A sacred thread called the mouli is tied on the wrist of the bride and the groom separately at their respective homes by a Hindu priest. They have to keep it on their wrist as it is considered to be a good-luck charm and wait until it falls off.
If you translate the nomenclature of this ceremony literally to English, it would be “placing bangles”. This is a ceremony that takes place following the kangna bandhana ceremony. A havan or a sacred fire is lit and the elderly male members from the side of the bride sit around the fire. The eldest maternal uncle of the bride plays a vital role and he also takes part in the havan.
The maternal uncle or mama and his wife would gift a set of 21 bangles – red/maroon and white/ivory in color. Nowadays, since ivory is becoming rare, brides also wear plastic bangles in different hues like pink, purple, and many other colors. But before sliding it onto her wrists, the bangles are blessed by all the elders present.
The bangles are purified in a liquid mixture containing milk and rose petals. The mama has to put the bangles on the wrist of the bride. But the head and face of the bride are covered with a white scarf at that time as she is not supposed to see the bangles at the time when it is put on her wrists. At the time of the ritual, flower petals are showered on the bride.
The mama of the bride also gifts the bride a lehenga-choli/sari which she wears at the time of the wedding. It is expected that the bride would wear the set of chooda for a minimum period of 40-45 days.
This is also a related ceremony. The sisters and friends of the bride tie umbrella-shaped figures called kalide to the chooda of the bride. They are red in color, a color that signifies fertility and happy conjugal life, and coconut-shaped, signifying prosperity at the home of the newlyweds.
The kalide is often encrusted with dried betel nuts, dry fruits, or coconut. There is a fine traditional practice of the bride shaking her kalide tied to the chooda worn on her arms and young unmarried girls stand beneath it. It is believed that if a part of the kalide or a leaf or a nut or a fruit falls on her head, then she would be the next one to get married.
I think it is pretty similar to the belief in Christian weddings that if any one of the bridesmaids or a young unmarried female guest manages to catch the wedding flower of the bride when she throws it into the air after her marriage when she is leaving with her husband, she would be the next lucky one to get married!
This ceremony takes place on the morning of the wedding. The bride is sat down facing four lamps or diyas. This ritual is quite symbolic. It is believed that the light emanating from the diyas would always keep the glow of the radiance on the face of the bride. The female members of the house would then apply a paste of turmeric, sandalwood, rosewater and mustard oil on the visible parts of the body of the bride. This paste acts like a scrub or cleansing agent and gives a shine to the face and hands of the bride.
The same ceremony is also performed at the house of the groom and all elderly female members of his clan apply the paste to the body of the groom. There is a lot of laughter and fun. Assembled guests also tease the bride/groom. The ladies also anoint each other’s forehead and face with the leftover paste. The young unmarried boys and girls also run around and apply the paste on each other’s faces hoping to get married.
This immediately follows the haldi ceremony. After the haldi is scrubbed off from the body of the bride, she accompanies her siblings and close friends to a nearby temple. A pitcher full of holy water is then poured on her. After this, she enters the inner sanctum of the temple and prays to the reigning deity of the temple, and asks for His/Her blessings. She then comes back to her home and takes a full and proper shower and starts getting ready for the main events of the evening.
Ghara Ghardoli also takes place at the residence of the groom. In his case, however, his sister-in-law usually pours the pitcher full of water on him and he usually doesn’t need to visit a temple. After he returns from the shower, he is given a regal, resplendent dress to wear in the evening.
After the groom is ready, he has to stand in front of the family deities and a small puja is performed by the priest. Puja of a pink-colored turban or headgear called sehra is done by the priest and it is then wrapped around the head of the bridegroom by his father or a very senior male member. The sehra has strings hanging down which should partially cover the face of the groom as he wears it. After the sehrabandi, the bride and his motorcade or his cavalcade is ready to leave for the wedding venue.
GHODI SAJANA AND GHODI CHADNA
It has been a long-standing practice for the groom to ride a caparisoned mare when going to the bride’s house or wedding venue to get married. Ghodi chadna is the ceremony where the groom gets up on the back of the horse to leave. But before he sets out, the mare or the ghodi is decked up. It is also fed by the sisters and female cousins of the groom and also given water to drink. This is known as ghodi sajana.
The sister-in-law of the groom puts surma, a black powdery item, in his eyes in order to ward off any sort of evil presence from his life as well as to make his journey safe.
This more or less ends the pre-wedding rituals. As the groom and his retinue are on their way, the bride is getting ready too. She wears a heavily embroidered saree or a crystal-encrusted lehenga with choli. Three or four heavy necklaces, a gold or diamond nose ring, anklets, and matching earrings complete the looks of the bride. She is also given proper bridal make-up by a professional make-up artist and also a nice hairdo by a stylist.
The elderly male members of the family of the bride also oversee the last-minute preparations and stand in a queue at the entrance of the venue, waiting for the arrival of the baraat.
AGWAANI AND MILNI
This is the ritual that marks the arrival of the groom on his horse with his procession in tow. They are welcomed at the entrance by the family members of the bride. Punjabis are loquacious and love making new acquaintances. They are generally very warm too. So when the two groups meet, a lot of love and warmth are exuded and exchanged. It is common for the relatives from both sides to hug each other and also shake hands. This ritual is called agwaani.
The groom is especially welcomed by the mother of the bride in a traditional Indian welcome which includes aarti, that is worshiping him with a lighted lamp and is led inside. Each of his relatives meets and is greeted by the corresponding relative from the side of the bride. This means that the maternal uncle of the groom meets the maternal uncle of the bride, the paternal uncles from both sides converge, and so on and so forth. This coming together is observed as milni.
VARMALA OR JAIMALA
After the groom enters the wedding hall, he is led to an elevated stand. At the sacred mahurat, the bride too walks in and gets up on the stand. The bride and the groom then exchange garlands.
During this ceremony, there is a lot of excitement and hoopla. The groom is repeatedly egged on by his siblings and friends not to lower his head so that the bride has to work extra hard to reach him.
MADHUPERK OR MADHUPERKA
This is a very old Vedic tradition. After the exchange of the garlands, the bride and the groom sit around the sacred fire. The bride would first give the groom a small bowl of water. He sprinkles some water first on his feet, then his body, and eventually drinks the rest.
After this, the groom is given a sherbet called madhuperk, made of clarified butter or ghee, curd, honey, and some essence to drink. He takes it and sprinkles some in all directions before slowly sipping on it.
This ceremony is symbolic and very touching. The father of the bride’s hands over the bride to the groom and entreats him to take very good care of her. He tells him that he has brought her up with much love and care and expects the groom to give her equal love and respect and take care of her happiness always.
He also advises his daughter to love her new family and take good care of her husband. She should always ask for his permission before doing something and also dedicate her life to the progress of her new genealogy.
After this, the wedding havan is lit and 14 parallel lines of flour are made on a plate and kept in front of the groom. A flower bud is kept atop it. The 14 lines symbolize 14 wedding vows that the groom has to fulfill all through his life. The priest chants mantras and the priest tells the groom one vow at a time and exhorts him to fulfill it with his life. He has to take the vow and erase it one line at a time with that flower bud.
The couple now has to circle the sacred fire four times. For the first three rounds, the bride leads from the front followed closely by the groom. The end of the scarf worn by the groom is tied to the end of the saree or the lehenga worn by the bride.
The bride is considered to be an incarnation of Goddess Laxmi, the Goddess of wealth and prosperity and the bride is believed to bring the family she would soon become a part of, prosperity and happiness through her measured actions and calm presence of mind.
The order changes in the last phera and the groom goes in the front. After the last phera, the couple is declared married by the priest. The Fire God or Agni is believed to solemnize the wedding Himself by being the witness of this act.
This is a sacrificial ceremony. The younger brother of the bride takes rice flakes in his hands. The bride forms a cup with the palm of her hands and the groom puts his cupped hands beneath her hands. The brother of the bride then puts the rice flakes in the cup and the couple offers it to the Fire God and seeks his blessings. Lajahom is repeated three times.
Lajahom marks the completion of the Vedic wedding rituals. After this, a very important ritual called sindoor daan is performed. The groom anoints the forehead of the bride and fills her hair parting with vermillion.
This signifies the end of the marriage ceremony and the beginning of a new relationship between the couple. This bond is believed to last forever. Since Hindus believe in the concept of rebirth/ multiple births, it is believed that once a couple ties the knot, they get bound forever-even in the next lives.
A rationalist might question the basis of such a belief but that’s how it is. A very common saying in Hindi is “Janma janmantar ka saath”- this should give you an idea of how valuable marriage is to Hindus.
This is not exactly a ritual in the strict sense of the term. But it is an old tradition that is still followed in most North Indian weddings.
Obviously, the groom has to come to the wedding venue wearing a particular shoe. But before stepping on the rostrum, he has to take off his shoes. And naturally, the rituals take some time to complete. During that period, the shoes are left unguarded.
This gives the ideal opportunity to the sisters and cousins of the bride to remove it from the spot and hide it. After the wedding, when the groom comes down, he finds his shoes missing. What follows next is hilarious. The cousins and sisters of the bride start negotiating with the groom, his brothers, and friends to give a suitable ransom for the release of the ‘kidnapped’ pair of shoes. The groom finally relents to end his ‘trauma’. The ‘kidnappers’ often ask for gold kalecharis for the sisters of the bride and silver kalecharis for her cousins.
After this, the guests, especially the baraat are served a lavish dinner. Food at a Punjabi wedding is one of the high points. It could be strictly vegetarian or can have a mix of both veg and non-veg items. There are often multiple cuisines, live counters, and separate stalls serving different kinds of tasty food.
This is a typical Hindu bridal send-off ceremony. It is a beautiful tradition. On the following day of the marriage, it is time for the bride to bid farewell to her family- parents, siblings, kind, and buddies. It is a very poignant and touching moment. The bride takes phulian or puffed rice in her hands and without turning back, throws them over her head backward in the direction of her family.
This is how the bride thanks her family for taking care of her hitherto and also throwing puffed rice signifies the hope that there would be everlasting prosperity at the house.
The brothers and male cousins of the bride lead her to the car where her husband is already waiting to take her to his abode. The return procession is called the doli and the mother of the groom and some other elderly female relatives arrive before the doli leaves.
They have to reach the groom’s house and make preparations for receiving the newly-wed couple.
This is the first of the post-wedding rituals that take place at the home of the groom. The mother-in-law has to apply mustard oil on both sides of the entrance door and wait for the doli to arrive. Once they arrive, the mother of the groom does an aarti of the bride with a pitcher of water. After completing each circle of the aarti, the mother tries to drink the water but every time the bride stops her. She would allow her mother-in-law to drink the water only on the seventh count. After that, the bride has to overturn a container of rice with her feet and also leave an impression of her lac-dyed feet on a white cloth.
She is then welcomed in and led to the room containing figures and photographs of Gods and Goddesses. The couple first seeks their blessings and then the bride is made to sit down so that she can get acquainted with her new relatives.
MOOH DIKHAI KI RASM
Literally translated this means, the face of the new bride is revealed to the relatives and neighbors for the first time. She lifts her veil and starts interacting with the assembled guests freely. This is how they break the ice.
The mother-in-law bestows a lot of gifts and jewelry on the new bride and other elders also bless her and give her gifts.
After this usually, the bride returns to her parental home for a day accompanied by her husband and the couple spends the night. The following morning she returns to the home of her in-laws with a lot of gifts.
GRAND RECEPTION PARTY
This is a party thrown in honor of the newlyweds by the family of the groom. It is a lavish, grandiose affair, and guests are invited who come and meet the couple and also have a lot of fun. Nowadays, cutting and serving bridal cakes and champagne are quite common. This idea has been borrowed from the West. Elaborate dance and music arrangements are also made. The couple hit the dance floor along with the invited guests. It is a night of fun and hoopla. A lot of hullabaloos is made (all in jest, mind you). The youngsters and the aged obliterate the age difference for that day and boogie down together. You would frequently notice pelvic thrusts and gyrations and joyful laughter.