Indian Wedding Traditions for Newbies that Still Happen in 2019
Updated: Aug 20, 2019
Indian weddings are legendary and part of the continuing legacy is how we balance trends and tradition. As we enter the digital revolution and culture and weddings continue to modernize, many Hindu wedding customs either evolve, fall by the wayside or get new life. I thought I would explain what the most common traditions are across big Indian cities and America/Canada so you know what to expect and also what you're about to be a part of!
What are the most common Indian wedding traditions and customs these days?
Misri (also called a Pooja)
Saat Fere (walking around the fire 7 times)
A lot of customs aren't followed by every Indian family anymore as many get busy, or spend too much time away from India, or simply don't see the need for it as much anymore. And that's completely fine. For example, you probably can't have an elephant in Singapore or Australia Indian weddings, and we rarely see that these days.
But these ones listed below are still relevant. Read on for tips on each custom and to know what you should attend as a relative or guest.
Importance of the Various Indian Wedding Customs
1. MISRI or POOJA
It's basically a prayer done with both families and close friends, a day or a week before the wedding. It's to ask for blessingss and ensure a smooth wedding and great marriage. You'll often see pictures of passed on family members, grand parents, gurus and priests the family follows, etc..
Should you attend? Unless you're super close or related, no, it would be weird if you did.
This is where all the hand painting for henna happens, and the girls sing songs celebrating the bride to be's new adventure. These days the tradition has evolved to allow the boys to join on the fun, so mehendi's have evolved from small house functions with all the girls in the living room gossiping to a full on poolside brunch affairs with booze, food and of course, henna art.
Do you need to attend? You definitely should, but if you have to miss one event, let it be this (e.g. if you can't get a flight on time)
Literally means dance. It's a massive party. The couples friends and family do choreographed dances for them, to show how much they care for them. Then at the end, the bride and groom do a dance for everybody else. It's filled with screaming, cheering, good food, alcohol, and so much more!
The sangeet as a custom has slowly become almost as big as the wedding reception itself, so definitely DO NOT MISS IT.
4. Haldi Ceremony
Haldi ceremonies are still pretty common, and a turmeric paste is applied to the groom and bride to cleanse them up for their wedding. (A shower after is needed). These days the custom has evolved to the homeys slapping the paste on the groom, while the ladies enjoy it more jovially. Usually it's like a 20 minute ordeal but everybody is welcome from either side, although if it's not announced don't feel you need to be a part of it. A lot of people are hungover from the sangeet and sleep it off.
5. Photo Shoots
Given the expensive decoration and the hair/makeup/outfits all done immaculately, it's also very common to see the bride and groom disappear for about 20 minutes to snap some formal portrait shots. This is new in Indian weddings but if you see it happening, try not to crash it so they can go back and join in the fun on the dance floor!
Baraat's are massive spectacles now, and the tradition is that the entire guest list of the groom meet him in a hotel lobby, parking lot or other gathering area and then move on over to the altar, in a one hour dancing party. In this wedding they used a boat to cross a river to the other venue, which luckily was also on the driver. Every big Indian wedding, especially North Indian weddings continue to have baraats.
The baraat ends when the groom's mother-in-law receives him near the altar. That itself is usually a smalll exchange of some token gifts and basically it's when "the two families meet and greet each other." It's a formal event, although it's over in 10 minutes and happens at Punjabi weddings and these days a majority of Indian weddings.
8. Laja Homa
Pouring of rice or flowers into the sacred fire. Happens still at most weddings and your pandit will guide you on the same. (not a specific moment, but just something to watch for during the 75 minute ceremony).
The groom ties a necklace around his gal to let her know, hey darlin, this is official! Since it's jewelry that the the groom is supposed to give his wife, he'll usually pay for it, although these days it's common to just let the girl pick it as you don't want to give her something she won't like! Again, just a part of the wedding ceremony so you'll just notice it as the priest is chanting his stuff.
10. Saat Fere (walking around the fire 7 times)
To close off the Indian wedding procession, the bride and groom walk around the sacred fire 7 times. After that, they're married!
This is the legal part of Hindu weddings, and once it's done, they're done!
1. I don't see these customs or ceremonies on my wedding invite? That's fine! Some families will do stuff like a Garba instead of a Sangeet (a different type of dancing), or maybe won't even have a Sangeet or wedding reception. Some will have alcohol, others might be vegetarian. India is a unique place with a million different nuances so please be respectful and simply try to enjoy the most!
2. What can I wear to an Indian wedding? We have a full guide here for first time guests.
3. Will I be able to understand the wedding vow? Most couples in the west, like in California or New York will likely recite their vows or promises to each other in English. Indian priests across the world are also half comedian/half emcee these days, and a ton of them are white. You might hear a lot of chanting in Sanskrit like you might hear in yoga class, but it's a lot more serious and just go with it. You should also have a printed out guide on your seat when you arrive at the wedding or be given a pamphlet explaining stuff.