A Guide to Sikh Wedding Rituals and Traditions
I’ve often been asked what are the Sikh wedding rituals and traditions as over the years many have been added and/ or not practised anymore. This is why I have put together this piece of research to give you the idea of what a basic Sikh wedding involves.
- Roka/ Thaka
Be it an arranged marriage or love marriage, the consent of both sets of parents is very important in all Sikh weddings.
To show that he gives his consent, the bride’s father usually visits the groom with a few people of the family and gives his full support by applying a tilak on the groom’s forehead and giving him gifts of sweets and clothes and sometimes a kara or ring.
The same ritual is then performed by the groom’s father towards the bride either later on the same day or some days prior to the engagement ceremony.
2. Chunni Ceremony
This is the official engagement ceremony while the roka is an informal ceremony where both the girl and boy are recognized by both families as soon-to-be-wedded.
The groom and his relatives and close friends take an auspicious red outfit, jewellery, simple chunni and makeup as gifts to the bride so that she could wear them on the wedding day. It is usually the female relative who present the bride with the outfit and accessories. They would take her in a separate room and dress her up in the outfit and accessories then bring her back to where the rest of the congregation is gathered and is seated next to the groom.
The groom’s mother would then drape a simple red chunni across the bride’s head and shoulders and apply some mehndi on the palm of her hands and feed her some Indian sweets.
Some families would ask the groom to put a pinch of sindoor between the bride’s forehead. After this, the bride and the groom would exchange the engagement rings and conclude this official engagement ceremony.
The parents of both the bride and groom would then feed them both with Indian sweets. The rest of the guests and relatives will follow with this shagun tradition.
This is a ceremony that takes place either at the groom’s house or at the Gurudwara with close family and friends invited to celebrate.
The granthi would usually be the one to start the ceremony by offering a short prayer (Ardas) after which the groom’s sisters will put a palla (wedding scarf)around the groom’s shoulders for when the bride’s father puts a handful of dry fruits into this palla and puts a kara on his wrist.
The ceremony usually ends with the fathers of the bride and groom exchange garlands.
4. Shagun and Saaha Patr/ Chithi (Wedding Invitation)
The bride’s family would prepare a special wedding invitation that would be splashed with saffron. After this, a few of the key members of the family would take it to the groom’s house. They would deliver the invitation with gifts (usually different kinds of sweet treats, dry fruits, fresh fruits, clothes and a coconut). The purpose of this is to formally invite the groom’s family and to let them know to start the wedding preps.
5. Akhand Path
Usually, the family reads the entire Guru Granth Sahib within 48 hours non-stop before the wedding date is set. Both families hold these prayers separately. The whole purpose of this is to explain the importance of religion and the teachings from the Guru Granth Sahib outlining the way of living.
After the prayers are finished, kirtan is held where religious hymns are sung. An ardas is then offered to mark the end of the prayers and Karah Prasad are then distributed among the families and guests.
6. Ladies Sangeet
This an important event in Sikh and Punjabi culture. Punjabi folk songs are sung which is a method of storytelling that is passed down through generations. Weddings are celebrated by singing Punjabi folk songs and dancing with the new family.
Originally, sangeet was an event specifically for ladies but as times changed, so did the tradition. Now, men have become a part of this event to enjoy the modernized version of singing and dancing to DJ music. This event usually takes place in a ballroom that is chosen to accommodate the number of guests invited with dinner served at the end.
7. Maiyan/ Vatna
A square rangoli design is first made on the ground using coloured powder. The design could be as creative as you want or as simple too and it is usually made by hand by relatives of the bride and groom from the maternal side.
Next, a peeri (stool) is placed at the end of one side of the design(usually east — facing), which is where the bride and groom would sit.
The bride and groom are then brought to the ground while holding a decorative tray filled with the maiyan essentials that will be used for the ritual. A scented turmeric dough mix (vatna) that is made of barley flour, turmeric powder and mustard oil, is applied to the groom first by his family and friends after which it is applied to the bride by her family and friends. A fatti (a piece of decorated wood) on which the bride and groom usually place their feet while sitting on the stool. A bunch of gaaney (auspicious red thread with beads or sometimes plain) that are handed out to all the ladies and a red chunni that is held over the bride and groom by four women from each corner.
The relatives and friend then rub the vatna all over the bride and groom until they are fully covered with it. Once everyone has had their chance to apply this on the bride and groom, the mother attempts to feed rice and sugar mixture to the bride or groom while a sister-in-law playfully smacks the mothers hand away to prevent her from feeding the mixture. This is a comical feature of the maiyan ritual.
After this, the bride and groom are taken inside while holding the tray and all the maiyan essentials used. The mother then jumps over the rangoli design seven times and then by pouring a bit of water and collects the dough together forming a paste, after which she throws the paste over the house and then she leaves the handprint of the paste on the front side of the house to indicate that it is a wedding house.
Later during the day, after the mix has dried off, the bride and groom are showered with milk and water concluding the end of this ritual. This ritual is conducted three times (once a day over three days) before the wedding day.
Literally translating to ‘Wake up’, Jago is a tradition where the relatives of the bride and groom would go around the village dancing and singing with decorated pots with diyas on them. This was a way to invite all the villagers to the wedding in older times.
These days, Jago is a collaborated event with sangeet night. The bride and groom and all their relatives and friends usually dress up in traditional Punjabi attire. The entire purpose of the Jago is to make noise and party, therefore, not only are pots carried on the heads but long bamboo sticks are decorated and banged on the floor and chaj (bamboo tray) is hit on until it breaks.
As they reach the dance floor, the maternal and paternal sides of the families join in to sing mischievous folks songs to each other. The night carries on with lots of singing and dancing and commences with dinner.
This usually takes place two days before the wedding. Immediate female relatives and close friends of the bride are invited to take part in this tradition where henna is applied to their hands in various designs. The bride’s henna, though, is usually very detailed and more than the other ladies henna. It is applied to her hands and feet to indicate that she is the bride.
Once the henna is applied, it is let to dry after which a lemon juice and sugar mixture is applied with a cotton ball to deepen the colour once the dried off henna is scrapped off. The next morning, to deepen the colour more, mustard oil is applied as it generates heat once it is rubbed into the skin. Heat is the main factor to deepen the colour.
10. Choora ceremony
This takes places the evening before the wedding day where the bride is taken to sit under a tent in the garden where she is surrounded by her maternal uncles and aunts. Placed in front of her is a big, deep tray filled with milk and water. The maternal uncles will then open a set of the wedding bangles (choora) and place them in the milk and water mixture. Then, turn by turn, each maternal uncle will have the chance to put these bangles on the bride until she has a set on each hand.
The maternal aunts would give a hand in case the uncles need it. Once each bangle is put on, a kara or bangle that has coconut — shaped decorations hung on it is put on (kalire). To conclude the choora ceremony, the maternal uncles then place a red chunni over the bride’s shoulders and giving her jewellery. This is a gift from the maternal side of her family. After this, the maternal uncles and aunts are given milk to drink.
11. The Wedding Day: Part One
At the bride’s house, the bride wakes up and showers after which she has her hair and makeup done by a close relative/ friend or a professional. She is then escorted to the Gurudwara in a car by her family and close friends as she is expected to be at the Gurudwara before the groom.
At the groom’s house, after he has showered and put on his wedding attire, he is given a Kirpan (a sword) which he would keep hold of the entire day to symbolize that he would protect his wife to be throughout their marriage. This tradition is one that was started from a practical necessity during the Mughal rule on India. It was during this time when the bride’s were usually kidnapped during the wedding ceremonies and so the groom’s begun to carry a sword to protect both the bride and their honour.
After he is given the sword, he is assigned a sarwalla (best — man) who would accompany him throughout the day and help him where necessary. They are both dressed with haar (garlands) and fed Indian sweet by the groom’s parents. The groom’s sisters will then drape a palla across his shoulders. The palla is a very crucial element of the marriage ceremony at the Gurudwara.
After this, the groom’s sister-in-laws put surma (kohl) on the groom’s eye line deterring any evil eyes. Finally, the sisters then come back to pin the sehra(decorative bead strings to cover the groom’s face from evil eyes) on his turban and pin a Kalgi (majestic jewel) on the turban in the middle. The groom then leaves his residence with the family and friends (baraat) to go to the Gurudwara.
12. The Wedding Day: Part Two
The baraat is received by the bride’s family and guests at the Gurudwara. The bride’s sisters and close friends would be in front of the bride side holding a red ribbon from one end to the other of the entrance gate which the groom would have to cut. He would not be given the scissors up until he or his father place an amount of money into a glass filled with water. This amount could be as less as a cent but the sisters take this opportunity to tease their brother-in-law-to-be and ask for a larger amount.
The bride, at this point, is kept separate in another room until the main ceremony. This is to keep up the anticipation to see her.
Both families then congregate in a large and open area in front of the Gurudwara for the Milni ceremony. Milni is the formal introduction of the key members of both the families with the exchange of garlands. To start off the milni, the priest first recites a small prayer then calls the names of the corresponding relations from either side, beginning from the eldest, that is the grandfathers of the bride and groom. They would in the meet in the middle of the surrounding congregation and exchange garlands and a gift (this is the families wish to either give while exchanging or later) then hug and pose for a picture.
The baraat is then led into the langar hall where they would have breakfast and then head into the darbar (main hall) where the ceremony, Anand Karaj, would take place. Anand karaj is the blissful union of the bride and groom with the Sri Guru Granth Sahib (Holy Book) being the witness to this union.
The relatives and guests from either side of the family enter into the darbar and pay respect to the holy book by bowing down and then taking a seat in the room with ladies on the left side and gents on the right. The groom and his parents would be the last to enter. While everyone is paying their respects, a trio of priests is singing shabads (religious hymns).
The groom would enter holding a rumalla, a rectangular/ square silk decorated cloth for the holy book, as an offering and pay his respects and take his seat. After he has sat, the sisters of the groom would surround him from the back and remove his sehra and kalgi.
Just before the bride is requested to enter the darbar, the groom is led to sit in the front of the holy book. The bride would be escorted into the hall by her brothers and sisters-in-law. This is symbolic because brothers are considered the protectors of the sisters in the Indian culture. This particular tradition has developed over the years where the bride’s parents would also escort her along with the brothers.
The bride too, like the groom, would enter in holding a rumalla and would offer it and pay her respects after which she would take her seat next to the groom. Sisters and sister-in-law of the bride would sit behind her for support while the sisters and sister-in-law of the groom would sit behind him.
The priest then asks the parents of the bride and groom and the bride and groom to stand for an ardas. Everyone else would remain seated. After this, once they have sat down, the father of the bride is asked to come to the front and perform the palla rasam where he would take one end of the palla of the groom and either tie or give it his daughter’s hand to hold. This symbolizes the father giving away his daughter.
The brothers of the bride would then stand around the altar, with the Sri Guru Granth Sahib Ji in the middle, for the laavan (marriage hymns) where the priest would recite a hymn for each of the four laavs.
The four laavan are conducted to take the bride and groom through the stages of the journey that leads to a union with God and the union of a husband and wife. These are both teachings and vows that they take to seal their marriage union.
After the priest recites a hymn for each laav, the bride and groom would bow down and start walking around the altar clockwise. This is when each brother would take their turns to hold and guide her while the groom leads. This is a symbolic tradition where it shows that her brothers will be there for her whenever she needs them. They would do this walk for all the four laavs.
The first laav emphasises on the duty towards the family and the community.
The second laav signifies the stage of yearning and love for each other.
The third laav stresses on the stage of detachment from the world.
The last and final laav signifies the final stage of harmony and union in marriage when love between the couple blends into the love for God.
After the fourth laav is recited, another hymn is sung to mark the marital union, and a final ardas is performed by the priest with the entire congregation, including the newlyweds. This would conclude the Sikh marriage ceremony.
After this, everyone would sit down while the parents of both the bride and groom would put a garland around the bride and groom and give them shagun (money as a blessing). The rest of the congregation would take turns in doing this too. So mark the end of the this, the priest would announce that Karah Prasad would be distributed, therefore everyone should sit down again. They would then head for lunch in the langar hall.
After lunch, close relatives and friends of the bride and groom and the bride and groom would head to the bride’s paternal house for the doli (departure of the bride to her new home). The groom’s mother would not be part of this ritual.
When they are at the bride’s house, both the bride and groom would be sat together in the living room with everyone around. The parents of the bride would usually give a gift to the couple (usually a watch) and feed them some more indian sweets.
Now the bride and groom are allowed to go to their home. When they are standing up and walking, a bowl of rice is held in front of the bride and she takes a handful and throws it behind her, over her head, in each corner of the house. This marks the bride’s declaration that she is leaving her paternal home and taking nothing with her.
As they are walking to the wedding car, each relative of the bride takes a turn to bid farewell to her and wish her luck at the beginning of a new chapter of her life.
The father of the groom throws money (usually small change) ahead of the car while the car starts to move. At this point, the brothers of the bride would be pushing the car for a little distance. In the older times, the bride would be carried by her brothers in a palanquin to her new home.
14. Paani Varna
As the newlywed couple arrives at the groom’s house, his mother would be standing at the door to welcome her daughter-in-law and son. She would be holding a garvi which is filled with half water and half milk. She moves the garvi clockwise and attempts to take a sip after every turn while the groom playfully tries to stop her from taking the sip. She does this seven times and after the seventh turn, he lets her drink it. This is a way of blessing the bride and groom. The mother then proceeds to pour a bit of oil on either side of the door at the bottom.
This wedding ritual is both mischievous and also symbolizes the happiness in the wedding house with the arrival of a new family member and it also removes any evil eye from the bride and groom before they step inside. Once inside, the bride and groom are given a glass of milk to share. The sharing of food and drinks is considered to increase the love in a relationship.
This is the end of the night for the bride and groom as all rituals are done. Other members of the family and friends would stay longer to party.
In older times, the bride’s family would be the one to provide the groom’s family and guests a reception dinner as they would be the guests in the bride’s hometown or village.
These days, it usually the groom’s family who hold the reception dinner and it is not as simple as it used to be because many couples have started to make it a grand celebration that involves various entertainment features like dance groups, live bands and so on and then finish it with dinner and dance.
This celebration is done in various ways but the most popular way of starting the celebration is with a cocktail hour that usually lasts 30 minutes to an hour depending on the number of guests you have. Then the guests would be asked to take their seat for the formal program of the evening to begin. This would start with the formal introductions of the bride’s parents and siblings and any bridesmaids (if there are any) followed by the groom’s parents and sibling and any groomsmen (if any) and finally the newlyweds. Speeches and performances are part of the entertainment that follows.
So this is the end to the guide of Sikh Wedding Rituals and Traditions. I hope you have found it very informative and interesting.