19 Hindu Wedding Customs to Expect at a Traditional Hindu Wedding

Honor your Hindu heritage by incorporating these customs into the big day.
Hannah Nowack The Knot Senior Weddings Editor
by
Hannah Nowack
Hannah Nowack The Knot Senior Weddings Editor
Hannah Nowack
Senior Editor, Weddings
  • Hannah writes and edits articles for The Knot Worldwide, with a focus on real wedding coverage.
  • Hannah has a passion for DE&I and plays an integral role in ensuring The Knot content highlights all voices and all love stories.
  • Prior to The Knot Worldwide, Hannah was the Social Media Editor at Martha Stewart Weddings.
Updated Dec 10, 2021

Hindu weddings are steeped richly in tradition and often filled with beautiful customs and rituals. Whether you're a to-be-wed in the throes of wedding planning and looking for ways to honor your heritage, or a wedding guest preparing to attend a Hindu wedding ceremony for the first time, it's important that you understand the traditions customarily included in Hindu weddings.

We connected with pros who are well versed in Hindu wedding rituals to get the scoop on all the traditional details often included in Hindu weddings. They gave us an in-depth look at what each tradition means and what's involved in each element.

While many modern couples are opting to personalize their nuptials, the big day is a beautiful spot to honor heritage, even if that means just a few of these many ideas get included in the wedding plans. Take a gander at this ultimate guide to Hindu wedding traditions and be sure to bookmark it to reference again down the road.

1. Lagna Patrika and Wagdaan

The lagna patrika is the formal engagement ceremony and announcement of the couple's impending marriage. During this couple, the couple exchanges a written vow that their marriage ceremony will take place at a later date they've selected.

Another ritual known as wagdaan may also take place as part of the engagement. The form that wagdaan takes differs from family to family, but it usually involves the exchange of a ring as a promise of marriage. The wagdaan typically takes place during an engagement party known as mangni (in northern Indian) or nischitartham (in southern India).

2. Barni Band–hwana and Mayara

15 days before the actual wedding there is a ritual known as barni band-hwana which involves tying a thread, called mauli, to the groom and his parents' hands as a way of asking the gods for safety on the wedding day.

Often this is then followed by mayara which is the "maternal uncle's ceremony" in which the maternal uncles of both to-be-weds shower the families of the to-be-weds with gifts and treats as a way of offering well wishes. Historically, they would also bring the dresses that the bride and her mother would wear for the wedding, but that's not always the case with modern weddings in Hinduism.

3. Mandvo and Pithi

The mandvo or pithi prewedding ceremony, also known as the haldi ceremony, involves applying a turmeric paste to the couple. The color yellow of the haldi paste signifies beauty, fertility and purity, and it also wards off evil, thereby preparing the couple for life together and blessing them with good luck. "Haldi is a Hindi word for the spice of turmeric," explains Katy Haley of Bridal Bliss. "This spice is incredibly healing and is utilized for a prewedding cleansing and purification ritual. First, the turmeric is created into a paste and rubbed in different areas of the body."

4. Mehndi

The mehndi (alternatively spelled mehendi), is the prewedding event where, traditionally, the bride and many of her loved ones will have henna applied to their hands, and possibly feet, in intricate patterns.

Traditionally, the mehndi party is hosted by the bride's parents and may include special choreographed dances to keep everyone entertained as the mehndi application can take a long time. Additionally, the henna application is generally just for females, but couples at modern South Asian weddings may choose to extend the invitation to males as well. The event often showcases a color palette that is totally different from what the couple has planned on the wedding day—bright colors, especially oranges and pinks, are popular selections.

Henna has properties that help to regulate body temperature. The cooling effect it creates on a bride's hands and feet are said to help relieve stress and headaches. Additionally, according to lore, the darker the henna designs on a to-be-weds skin, the more loved they will be by their in-laws and new spouse. Plus, they're encouraged to avoid housework for as long as the stain stays on their hands, which can be for up to three weeks.

"The mehndi ceremony is hosted by the bride's family and typically takes place a day or two before the wedding," explains Gretchen Culver of Rocket Science Events. "This tradition is supposed to bring the bride good luck and good health as she begins married life. The mendhi party is akin to a bridal luncheon, and a great way for the important women in the bride's life to gather, share advice and memories, and bond. Traditional mehndi ceremonies involve just female family members but male family members are welcome to join after the bride has received her henna. Some grooms are getting henna as well these days."

5. Sangeet and Garba

The Hindi word sangeet translates to "sung together" and represents the song- and dance-filled prewedding event where the festivities truly begin. This prewedding event may also be referred to as garba in Sanskrit. While other parts of the wedding, like the haldi, are more solemn, religiously focused wedding elements, the sangeet is all about having fun. The goal of the sangeet is to revel in the joy and happiness of the occasion. During the sangeet, friends and family will generally perform dances and songs they've prepared.

Amarjit Keshav, a certified destination wedding specialist with Destination Weddings Travel Group explains that this prewedding event "signifies the coming together for both families. This event helps to take the stress away from the seriousness of the actual wedding." Culver goes on to share that "while Western tradition has a rehearsal dinner, Indian tradition has the sangeet. Historically the Sangeet was a multi-day affair but nowadays it is just one day. Sangeets are full of joy. The purpose of a sangeet is twofold, first to celebrate the couple and second to connect the families coming together through marriage. It's a great chance for families to get to know each other. There's lots of music, special songs, and choreographed dances by family and friends. The guest list for the sangeet is often the same as the wedding, making it a large party in scale and scope.

6. Baraat or Vara Yatra

The baraat, sometimes referred to as vara yatra, is the groom's arrival to the wedding ceremony, amid much pomp and circumstance. There is typically lots of dancing and singing as he enters with a parade of loved ones. "The baraat is a meeting of the families and includes festive music, drummers and much dancing," explains Haley. "It begins with the groom's processional to the ceremony. He is decked out in Indian garb, and all of his nearest and dearest join him. Depending on the area of which the family is from, traditionally, the groom rides in on a horse or elephant and, in modern times, a fancy sports car. Upon arrival, the groom and the group are welcomed by the bride's family, and the couple continues with the wedding ceremony." Valorie Falvey of Kirkbrides Wedding Planning concurs, explaining that "the baraat is the exciting beginning of the actual wedding day, where the groom rides in, sometimes on a horse, and his family members congregate and dance around him, accompanying him to the entrance to the wedding venue."

7. Pokwanu and Tilak

Pokwanu takes place after the baraat and, traditionally, signifies the bride's family welcoming the groom. During this welcoming ceremony, tilak, which is Sanskrit for "mark," will be applied to the groom's forehead.

8. Kanya Aagman

Following the groom's entrance into the wedding and his acceptance with tilak, the bride traditionally enters next during kanya aagman. Kanya aagman is the Hindi phrase for "the girl's arrival." During the bridal processional the to-be-wed will often enter underneath a canopy. Loved ones, often the bride's maternal aunt and uncle or possibly the bride's brothers, will generally join the procession.

9. Mandap

Kanya aagman ends with the bride's arrival at the mandap, which is the location where the wedding ceremony takes place. Jaime Kostechko of Wild Heart Events notes that "while the mandap serves as the structural altar for Indian weddings, it also signifies a fruitful married life. There are many interpretations as to the representation of the four pillars of the structure such as representing the parents of the couple, the four stages of life—Brahmacharya, Grihastha, Vanaprastha and Sanyasa, or the four important aspects of a human life—Dharma, Artha, Kama and Moksha but regardless of what you believe, the structure itself has become the focal point of the wedding. Even with modern interpretations of Indian wedding designs, more is more when it comes to the mandap and we are here for it!"

Keshav elaborates, sharing that "this is the ceremony structure that is used for the sacrament of Hindu marriage. Just like a Chuppah, it has four sides and is covered. Hindus use a small Haven that has a fire, which wards off all evil. The ceremony begins with the priest chanting the prayers, and the wedding couple will circle the fire seven times. The four sides of the Mandap are known to represent the earthly elements as well as the parents from both sides, which are seen as the pillars of this new foundation forming in a marriage."

10. Joota Chupai

"When the groom reaches the mandap, he must remove his shoes to enter, as everything in the mandap is considered holy, so no shoes are to be worn," explains Keshav. "This is the golden opportunity for the brides' sisters, cousins, etc. (all females) to steal the grooms' shoes! It is a fun tradition, and he will not get his shoes back unless he pays the girls some money to retrieve them afterward."

11. Ganesh Pooja or Puja

Some Hindu ceremonies begin with an invocation to Lord Ganesh, or Ganesha, the Hindu god of wisdom and salvation. Ganesha is depicted as having an elephant's head. By invoking him, he removes any obstacles from the wedding ceremony. The ceremony may then be performed without hindrances.

12. Granthibandan

The granthibandan part of a Hindu wedding ceremony is when the couple "ties the knot." During this ritual, the groom's scarf is tied to the bride's shawl while they chant prayers to Lord Shiva, Goddess Parvati, Lord Narayan and Goddess Laxmi Devi asking for a strong and healthy marriage. Tying the shawl and scarf together symbolizes the couple's souls being joined together in new life through holy matrimony.

13. Havan and Agni

A sacred fire ritual, known as havan or homan, is a central element in the Hindu wedding ceremony. To honor Agni, the god of fire, the couple will offer handfuls of rice, and sometimes ghee, to the fire during the wedding ceremony. The havan is performed in a square-shaped altar called a kunda.

14. Kanyadan and Hastamelap

Kanyadaan means "giving away the bride" in Sanskrit and is a symbolic ritual that takes place during Hindu wedding ceremonies. First, the bride's father will take his daughter's right hand and place it in the groom's right hand. This symbolizes the request for the couple to enter into marriage as equal partners. Additionally, the ritual symbolizes the parent's acceptance of the marriage and represents letting go. After kanyadan, hastamelap takes place. During this, the bride's mother pours sacred water onto the couple's hands.

15. Jai Mala

During jai mala, alternatively known as milni mala or varmala, the couple exchanges floral garlands. The garland is typically made up of jasmine flowers, roses or marigolds and is often brightly colored.

16. Saptapadi

Keshav explains that during a Hindu wedding ceremony the couple will take "7 steps around the holy fire, otherwise known as saath phera or saptapadi, are the vows that the couple take while circling the sacred fire. Each vow and step signify a stage in the marriage that the couple will encounter. These vows are part of the Hindu/Vedic rituals and are to be taken very seriously. These vows sanctify the union between the two souls." Haley goes on to note that "the seven steps around the holy fire are the most significant portion of a Hindu wedding ceremony. The steps are taken together, and each step represents seven different prayers: food, strength, prosperity, family, offspring, health, and friendship. Once the final step is taken together, the couple is considered married."

17. Mangal Sutra and Sindoor

According to Keshav, "the mangal sutra is a sacred necklace that is put on the bride; it is worn as a symbol of dignity and signifies the promise for the couple to always be together. It protects against evil and consists of black and gold beads and nowadays can be a fashion statement. It shows people that you are married, and it's only to be removed if/when the bride becomes widowed." After tying the mangal sutra onto the bride, the groom will then apply sindoor, a traditional vermilion red or orange-red colored cosmetic powder, to the bride's head.

18. Aashirwad

During aashirwad, the couple receives a blessing from their families at the end of the ceremony. This is part of the grand finale of the wedding. Upon being blessed by their families, the couple will recess away from the wedding ceremony, often while guests shower them in flower petals.

19. Vidaai

Following the recessional, the couple generally makes a grand exit farewell and drives away from the wedding ceremony. During vidaai, also know as bidaai, the couple's families bid the newlyweds a fond farewell.

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