Sikh weddings are recognized as joyful yet simple and religious ceremonies with plenty of delicious food, foot-tapping rhythms and the famed, peppy dancing. Typically known as ‘Anand Karaj’, which literally translates to ‘Blissful Union’, Sikh wedding rituals are jubilant, festal and above all, extremely family-oriented. Most wedding rituals take place over a period of three days and follow a predefined structure, starting with the Rehat Maryada, the Kurmai (engagement ceremony), Sagaan (exchange of gifts) , the Langar and finally the Anand Karaj. The religious ceremony has to take place in the Gurdwara or in presence of Guru Granth Sahib, where both sides of the family and friends are heavily involved. As per Sikh tradition, most Sikh weddings take place in the morning and are completed before noon. Sikh marriages back the duty of parents to arrange for and contribute to the marriage of their offspring. However, today, love marriages are also accepted in the Sikh community, provided the couple show respect and seek the approval of elders, much like in the other communities in India. Explore this article if you would like to learn more about Sikh wedding rituals.
Sikh Wedding Customs, Sikh Marriage Ceremonies
Like most Indian weddings, the date of the wedding is set after the mutual consent by both parties, sans the astrological or horoscopic readings, which are usually evaded by Sikhs.
The Roka/Thaka ceremony is the formal announcement of the engagement, where the families of both the bride and the bridegroom get together, exchange gifts and offer ‘Ardas’ (prayers) along with other relatives and close friends. Traditionally, the groom’s mother presents gifts to the prospective daughter-in-law and her parents. The bride’s parents give the groom’s parents ‘shagun’ (token gift), usually in the form of sweetmeats or money.
In most Indian weddings, a formal engagement takes place before the wedding, which includes the formal ‘asking’ of the bride’s hand in marriage by the groom’s family. Laden with fine clothes, accessories and jewelery, the families from both sides arrive for the ‘kurmai’ or ‘magni’ ceremony, where refreshments are served. The rituals then commence with ‘kirtans’ or prayers in the presence of the ‘Guru Granth Sahib’. This is followed by the bride’s mother offering the groom a silver platter laden with symbols of the Sikh faith, including saffron, flowers, sweetmeats and an expensive gift, most often a watch or a gold chain. The groom then slips the engagement ring to the bride’s father and the bride reciprocates. All this takes place at the Gurdwara, which is closely followed by a high tea, lunch or dinner, which may also include non-vegetarian food. The ‘tilak’ ceremony follows, with a ‘bhaiji’ or a preacher from the Gurdwara reading sermons.
Mehendi & Sangeet
The Mehendi and Sangeet are probably the most flamboyant rituals in Sikh culture. The Mehendi (Henna) ceremony is mainly for the ladies in the family and all the bride’s friends. Similarly, a simple ‘mehendi’ ceremony is conducted in the house of the groom. In both the homes, ladies sing and dance with the traditional ‘dholak’ playing in the background, when both the bride and the groom get henna applied on their hands. The Sangeet is another popular custom where family and friends from both the sides dance and sing to catchy tunes and indulge in a lot of eating and probably even drinking! In urban communities, the Sangeet is combined with a party held at night, with celebrations continuing till the wee hours of the next morning.
The morning of the wedding is marked by the gharoli ceremony at the groom’s residence. Here, the groom’s sister-in-law, with the other relatives, go to a nearby well in a Gurdwara, to fill an earthen pot/gharoli with water, which is later used to bathe the bridegroom. This is followed by the ‘choora’ (bangle) ceremony at the bride’s house where the girl’s maternal uncle takes the bride for the ceremony. She is made to wear a set of red and white bangles before the wedding along with the ‘kuvaar doti’, the last ensemble she will wear as a maiden. After the ‘vatnaan’ or the turmeric application ceremony, the bride is sent to get ready and on the other side, the bridegroom mounts a ‘ghodi’ (horse) in a ceremony commonly known as the ‘baraat’.
At the Gurdwara, the bridegroom’s family is received by the bride’s family and the ‘Ardas’ is recited. The couple meets each other for the first time after the sangeet in a ceremony called the ‘milni’, where they exchange garlands. This is followed by the ‘Anand Karaj’ in the presence of the Guru Granth Sahib, followed by the ‘Asa di Vaar’, a popular hymn, which is recited. The groom leads the bride four times around the Holy book, interspersed with blessings and hymns in between. The religious ceremony concludes with the ‘Ardas’ and the ‘Karah Parshaad’ is distributed among family.
The bride-send-off ceremony or the ‘Doli’ ceremony is one of the most emotional rituals with the bride being led out by the male members of her family, while she bids a tearful farewell to her family and friends. Her father seats her in her ‘doli’ (palanquin) or a car, where she leaves her maternal home and proceeds towards her marital home.
Reception & ‘Phere Pauna’
Following a few rituals at the bride’s new marital home, a celebration is held in the evening, commonly known as the reception party. The groom’s parents usually host the wedding reception, which is a formal introduction of the newlywed couple to extended family and friends. The following morning, the bride and the groom visit the bride’s parental home and receive gifts and blessings before embarking on their honeymoon.
A traditional Sikh wedding is one that is colorful and blissful and is always looked as a partnership of two equals, which is not just a mere contract, but a sacrament. Today, Sikh weddings are interspersed with modern culture and rituals such as cocktail parties or bachelor parties. However, the Sikh rituals are almost always religious and are rich in customs and ethos.