All the Indian Wedding Traditions You Should Know About

Attending an Indian wedding for the first time? Here's what to expect.
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 Nov 08, 2021

Indian weddings are generally over-the-top multi-day events so it can be hard to know what to expect if you're a first-time guest. From what each pre-wedding ritual represents to what food will be served and what you'll be expected to wear, we're taking a look at everything you need to know. Consider this the ultimate guide for first-time guests at a traditional Indian wedding.

While Indian weddings are predominately Hindu, there are also many Indian weddings that honor a different faith, like Jain or Islam, or even no religion at all. Additionally, weddings in India vary greatly based on geography. North Indian weddings, like Punjabi weddings, will look different than South Indian weddings or even Marathi or Bengali weddings. And at the end of the day, it's a couple's wedding to plan as they please. However, across the variety of religions, cultures and regions generally honored at Indian weddings, there are some traditions that are customarily celebrated at the majority of Indian events. We're taking an in-depth look at those customs and rituals guests can expect to see when attending a traditional Indian wedding.

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What to Expect at an Indian Wedding

While some pre-wedding and wedding-day traditions vary from region to region and across different religions, there are some standby wedding traditions that are customarily included in all Indian weddings. From the inclusion of turmeric paste to the presence of mandaps at the wedding ceremony, here are some details you can expect to see at the majority of Indian weddings.

Turmeric

At Hindu wedding celebrations this is called the Haldi ceremony and is a pre-wedding ceremony wherein the turmeric paste is applied to the couple for beautification and good luck. A similar ceremony referred to as Mandvo takes place at Bohri weddings. And Gujarati weddings practice this ceremony and refer to it as either Pithi or Mandvo. Meanwhile, Jain weddings have their own version of this ritual which is referred to as Bana Betai. And Vatna is the Punjabi version of Haldi. At Maharati weddings, the ritual is known as Muhurt Karane and involves five Suvasini, or married women, who are from the bride's family or friends or close relatives, applying a turmeric paste to the bride's forehead and face.

Though the ritual can be known by a variety of names, the purpose and practice has many similarities. It's a pre-wedding practice where a paste that contains turmeric is placed on the couple. The ceremony marks the beginning of the wedding festivities and symbolizes prosperity, peace, purity, good luck and a happy beginning to married life.

Mandap

Many Indian weddings, especially Hindu and Jain ceremonies, take place under a structure made of four posts known as a mandap. In the Hindu tradition, the four posts represent the four elements: earth, wind, fire, water. At Jain weddings there is a ceremony known as Mada Mandap that takes place to sanctify the space before the couple and their family members enter the mandap for the ceremony.

The mandap is considered a holy space and, therefore, shoes aren't to be worn inside it. As such, there's a tradition called Joota Chupai wherein "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 Amarjit Keshav, a certified destination wedding specialist with Destination Weddings Travel Group. "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."

Agni (Sacred Fire)

Many Indian wedding ceremonies involve a ritual fire. In Hindu weddings this is known as Saptapadi and involves the couple taking seven steps around the sacred fire. Meanwhile, Gujarati weddings generally refer to this part of the ceremony as the Mangal Phera in which the to-be-weds take just four circles around the Agni. And at Jain weddings this ritual is known as Pheras—the couple takes seven rounds around the fire before sharing their wedding vows.

Jewelry

Brides at Indian weddings generally don lots of gold jewelry. However, even within the custom of accessorizing heavily with gold jewelry, many regional differences can still be seen. For example, Punjabi brides often wear a gold nose hoop while Maharashtrian brides complete their look with a beaded headband.

Mehndi

Most Indian weddings involve a pre-wedding event where henna is applied, generally known as the mehndi, or mehendi at Jain weddings. "Henna or Mehndi can be considered somewhat auspicious in many cultures around the world, but for Hindus, it is a form of adornment," explains Keshav. "The night before the wedding, there is a celebration where all the ladies present get their hands tattooed with Henna. The bride has an intricate design that usually begins from her calves to her feet and then elbows to her hands. Traditions say the darker the color, the more the mother-in-law or husband will love
You!"

Sangeet

The Sangeet is a pre-wedding event that takes place at most Indian weddings. At Punjabi weddings the Sangeet is often referred to as Dholki. "The Sangeet ceremony is observed by most northern Indian communities; it is most popular among Punjabis and Gujaratis," explains Keshav. "The Punjabi sangeet generally includes performances of Bhangra and singing of Gidda songs. The Gujarati Sangeet ceremony is often accompanied by performances of garba, the traditional dance of Gujarat that involves women dressed in brightly colored cholis, clapping their hands, keeping in tune with the music and moving in circles. Also, Dandiya (2 sticks) can be used for performances."

Indian Wedding Colors

Weddings in Indian culture are filled with vibrant colors, especially bright reds and oranges. Especially in Hinduism, red is considered auspicious and, therefore, the color of choice for weddings.

What to Wear to an Indian Wedding

When it comes to Indian wedding guest attire and the ensembles you can expect to see the couple wearing, vibrant lehengas (or lenghas), saris and kurtas are commonplace. However, from region to region you can expect some differences. Notably, grooms at Bohri and Punjabi weddings may don a turban. Meanwhile, Maharashtrian brides will generally don a sari and beaded headband while other Indian brides often opt for lehengas. As for what guests can and should wear, let this in-depth manual be your guide.

Hindu Wedding Traditions

Close to 80% of India's population identifies as Hindu so many Indian wedding traditions are intertwined with Hindu traditions. From pre-wedding traditions like the Menhdi and Sangeet to wedding-day practices like the Baraat and Kanyadaan, Hindu weddings are steeped in tradition and beautiful meaning.

Baraat

This is the parade that accompanies the groom's arrival, generally upon a white horse, to the wedding venue. At Punjabi weddings this is generally referred to as Ghodi. "Baraat is a celebration performed by the groom's family prior to the marriage ceremony," explains Keshav. "The groom enters by riding a horse, and a Dhol player will normally accompany the
procession, along with all the family and friends. There is loud music, and everyone
celebrates the journey to the mandap—almost like a knight on a white horse!"

Tying of the Mangalsutra

"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," explains Keshav. "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/ or when the bride becomes widowed."

Jain Wedding Traditions

Jainism is the sixth-largest religion practiced in Indian, after Hinduism, Islam, Christianity, Sikhism and Buddhist, respectively. While Jainism is a minority religion in India, it is marked by many unique practices that set its weddings apart from those of the other faiths practiced in India.

Ghudchadi

Similar to the Baraat at Hindu weddings, the Ghudchadi at Jain wedding celebrations is the processional that involves the groom's Barat or Barati on his white horse. Prior to this, the groom's family will tighten his headwrap and apply tilak to the groom's forehead.

Kanyavaran

Traditionally known as the giving away of the bride, during this part of the wedding ceremony a rupee and some rice is placed in the bride's hand (this is similar to the Kanyadaan that happens at Hindu weddings). Following this, the Granthi Bandhan takes place and the bride will tie the ends of the groom's clothes.

Sva Graha Aagamana

This post-wedding ceremony takes place prior to the festive wedding reception. During this ritual, the couple visits a temple and offers alms to the poor.

Sikh Wedding Traditions

"There are notable differences or variations in wedding traditions depending on your faith," notes Keshav of Indian weddings. "For example, Sikh weddings do not need a haven with a fire. Instead, they have a sacred book, and the priest reads from that. The bride and groom only circle it four times as opposed to seven in the Hindu faith. Guests attending a Sikh wedding sit below the holy book, so oftentimes cushions are placed on the floor for guests to sit on. In Hindu weddings, this is not the case, so everyone can sit on a chair."

Muslim Wedding Traditions

When it comes to unique differences seen at Muslim Indian weddings, "Muslim faiths do not require the bride and groom to sit together initially," says Keshav. "Vows are carried out, and the fathers of both the bride and groom promise to accept all the blessings on behalf of the couple. After the marriage takes place and Nikaah is performed, then the couple can sit side by side."

Marathi Wedding Traditions

Marathi, or Maharashtrian weddings, begin with an engagement ceremony that involves sugar and coconuts known as Sakharpuda. During a Marathi wedding ceremony, a ritual called Lajahoma takes place as the couple recites mantras while offering grains to the holy fire. Four mantras are generally recited, three by the groom and the final one by the bride.

The final part of a Marathi wedding ceremony is Karmasamapti where the groom's family prays and performs Laxmi Pujan until the fire goes out. And as a humorous end to the ceremony, the bride may twist the groom's ear as a reminder of his duties in their marriage.

Bengali Wedding Traditions

Prior to a Bengali wedding, Ashirbaad takes place as a blessing on the marriage. Once the wedding comes around Gaye Holudali, similar to a Haldi ceremony, will take place with turmeric paste. During the wedding ceremony a ritual called Potto Bastra takes place wherein the groom, referred to as bor, is offered new clothes. Then Saat Paak takes place and the couple ritually completes seven circles. Then, the couple will sit and face each other and Subho Dristi takes place. At this time, the bride, referred to as kone, will cover her face with betel leaves and then remove them to symbolize togetherness with the groom.

Next, the couple exchanges floral garlands during Mala Badal (a similar ceremony is practiced at Punjabi weddings and known as Jaimala). Then, Sampradan takes place and a silver thread is wrapped around the couple's hand as the pandit or priest recites Vedic chants.

As the final parts of the ceremony, Yagna happens and the couple sits in front of the holy fire. They then practice Saptapadi and walk around the fire seven times, as is common with most Hindu weddings. Following Saptapadi, they give an offering known as Anjali and put puffed rice into the fire. To end the ceremony, the groom applies sindoor to the bride's forehead.

Punjabi Wedding Traditions

Prior to a Punjabi wedding, Roka, or a pre-engagement ceremony, will be performed to mark the official union of the couple. Then an official engagement ceremony known as Kurmai takes place where the bride is gifted gold jewelry. Right before the wedding, Jaggo takes place—this involves dancing all night, with no sleep, in celebration of the wedding day coming the following day.

Grooms at Punjabi weddings wear Sehra, or beaded veils, that cover their face. The veil is placed on the groom by his sister during a ceremony known as Sehrabandi.

Sometimes referred to as the Varmala, the Jaimala is a notable part of Punjabi Hindu weddings when the couple exchanges floral garlands, known as Mala. Another notable, and often emotional, part of Punjabi weddings is the Vidaai which marks the bride saying good-bye to her maternal home as she becomes a newlywed. During Vidaai she throws puffed rice over her head as a way of showering her family with gratitude.

South Indian Wedding Traditions

Each Indian state brings its own flavor to the wedding celebrations observed within their communities. While many South Indian weddings are Hindu and follow Hindu traditions, there are also unique customs that vary based on culture and geography. From the weddings celebrated by the people of Andhra Pradesh to those practiced in Tamil Nadu and Kerala, each region brings its own unique spin to wedding celebrations.

Andhra Pradesh Weddings

In the Indian state of Andhra Pradesh, there are three notable castes who each practice weddings a bit differently: the Telugu people, Reddy people and Arya Vysya people.

Telugu Weddings
Telugu weddings begin with an engagement ceremony known as Nishchitartham, followed by Pellikuthuru which is the Telugu version of a Haldi ceremony and involves putting both oil and turmeric paste on couple's faces. Another notable tradition at Telugu weddings is the Mangal Sanan wherein the to-be-weds take a holy bath on the morning of the wedding day. This helps them get ready for the wedding and for worshipping Ganesh Puja while also warding off evil spirits.

Reddy Weddings
A notable tradition that takes place during Reddy weddings is Vivaaham. This grand affair involves the groom being taken to the Mandap carrying an oil lamp. His feet are then washed and aarti is performed. Also, instead of the exchange of wedding rings, during a Reddy wedding the groom partakes in Sthaalipaakam and places a silver toe ring on the bride's foot as a token of their union.

Arya Vysya Weddings
At both Arya Vysya and Telugu weddings, a pre-wedding ritual known as Snathakam takes place. During this custom to prepare the groom for the wedding, a silver tread is placed on him.

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