Given that Hinduism is one of the most widely practiced religions in the world, there are many variations in how Hindu wedding traditions are observed and practiced. Across the globe, different ceremonies and rituals signify the union of a couple, and while there may be quite a few iterations of the different events, there are some similarities too. Here’s a guide on Hindu traditions that you can expect to experience at a wedding.
Traditions dictate if the wedding will be a simple one-day affair or a more elaborate three-day long festivity. A variation of religious and familial ceremonies help determine the number of days that the celebration will be held over. Much of this is dependent upon the horoscopes of the couple, the religious and cultural backgrounds and beliefs of the families, and the dates and times determined by the priest as auspicious for the events to take place.
Rituals are a big part of Hindu wedding traditions, and are dependent on a number of factors, including the lineage and ancestry of the families. Rituals can be held anytime from the wee hours of the morning until late at night, as long as it’s considered an auspicious time. Some rituals are shorter and can be only for immediate family members, while others might be longer and more involved, and even guests can attend the ceremonies.
While the application of henna or Mehendi on the palms and feet of the bride is a widespread practice, the designs or patterns used might differ based on the Hindu wedding traditions that the families of the couple follow. These can range from very simple, almost geometric patterns to more intricate and elaborate designs that extend all the way up to the elbows or more on the hands, and up to the calves or higher on the legs.
Hindu wedding traditions also specify the nature and number of gifts to be exchanged between the two families as a sign of their approval of the union. Depending on each family’s practices and beliefs, and the expert advice of the priest presiding over the ceremonies, this can range from flowers and sweets, to ornaments and clothing, and more. There may also be ceremonies blessing these items as they are placed in the hands of intended recipients.
The arrival of the groom to the wedding venue can be accompanied by much fanfare or it could be a more somber procession, depending on the couple’s families and the wedding traditions they follow. Some grooms arrive on a horse or elephant, while others arrive in a decorated vehicle or classic car, and others are accompanied by dancing, drums, and music. Some grooms might make an entrance in a procession accompanied by their close family and relatives.
Once the groom is seated at the wedding venue, the bride’s arrival is marked by her entrance with male members of her family ‘giving’ her away. This entrance would include her father, uncles, brothers, and cousins, and it can be anywhere from a party of one to more than five or six relatives. These men accompany the bride all the way to the seating area right next to the groom and before the priest so that the wedding ceremony can begin.
Hindu weddings traditionally take place in a temple where the families have worshipped for generations, or at a wedding hall or other event venue where the wedding will be officiated. In almost all cases, the ‘altar’ will be under a structure with a roof or canopy and four pillars housing the ceremonial fire in the center before which the couple are seated for their nuptials, guided by the priests presiding over the event.
Depending on the Hindu wedding traditions followed by the families of the married couple, the bride will have a necklace placed around her neck by the groom. This piece can be made of gold, black beads, or yellow thread, and the pendant attached is typically one associated with the families’ ancestral lineage. The grooms will usually be given rings, made of gold, silver, or other precious metals, to signify their newly wedded status.
The married couple exchanges celebratory floral garlands, placing it around each other’s neck as a sign of welcoming the other half into their lives. In some Hindu wedding traditions, the ceremony is considered incomplete without this final step. The garlands can be a simple variety of flowers strung together, or more elaborate designs that also include beads and other accessories. Some weddings might opt for a ring exchange instead of, or in addition to, this step.
To better acquaint yourself with the Hindu wedding traditions of the couple whose marriage you are attending, ask the wedding party or close friends and relatives what some of their practices are. These loved ones might be able to guide you to more resources to understand these traditions and their significance better.