Across India, through its mind-boggling diversity of cultures and languages, one thing remains more or less similar--the centrality of weddings as the biggest social occasions. While the customs and rituals vary, there are some threads that run through them all--Mehndi, red sindoor and saat pheras, for instance, in Hindu weddings. Ultimately, all those beautiful rituals and customs and the happy faces of the bride and the groom make for a great visual spectacle.
So we asked several real Indian couples to share photos and experiences of the most important day of their lives. The weddings were very different from each other, but some ceremonies are common to many. The haldi ceremony, a beautification ritual where both the bride and groom are slathered in turmeric, is common in many parts. The bidai that involves a family bidding their daughter farewell as she leaves to live with her new family after the marriage is also a feature in many communities.
The Bengalis and Assamese engage in ululation at the main ceremony to mark the end of the official ceremony. “A traditional Bengali wedding used to be arranged by ghotoks or matchmakers (professional or friends and relatives) who were presented gifts if a match was realised,” says Delhi-based Joyeeta Bhattacharya. The entire affair then begins with pati-patro to fix an auspicious time and date of the wedding. “An important ritual during the actual ceremony is the saat pak where the bride circles the groom seven times, while covering her face with betel leaves,” she adds.
Another common rite across several communities is the bridegroom making a show of anger and pretends to run away just before the wedding. "The to-be groom pretends to leave the house or run away from his future marital responsibilities,” says Saroj Malpani who married her son off in true Marwari fashion a couple of years ago. “The uncle of the bride then has to persuade him to come back.” In Kannadiga and Tamil traditions, this rite is referred to as Kashi Yatra (literally translated: a journey to Kashi, a place of pilgrimage), whereas the Marwari sect refers to this practice as Janev. “Marwari weddings traditionally start with a Ganesh pooja, followed with Mahira Dastoor, a custom where the maternal uncles of the bride and grooms distribute gifts in the house,” says Delhi-based Anuj Maheshwari.
South Indian weddings are generally less elaborate than their North Indian counterparts (although this varies depends on castes and communities), but have their own host of rituals: During Telugu weddings, for instance, the bride and groom dunk a gooey mixture of jaggery, ghee and cumin seeds on each others heads,” says Paridhi Gupta. “This ceremony known as Jilakarra Bellamu officially marks their union as husband and wife.” Talk about setting expectations low.
Dinaz Rustomji, who married her daughter off recently, reveals the reason behind serving fish at a traditional Parsi wedding feast: “It is a symbol of good luck, just like fire is an important symbol in our faith,” she says.
Here are pictures and snippets of various customs from different regions, religions and communities of India. This is by no means an exhaustive list, but we would love to see more in the comments.
"The bride and the groom dunk each other's heads in a gluey mixture of jaggery, ghee and cumin seeds (Myhairmyhairmyhair). Each has a significance which I have no clue about. It is then that they are pronounced man and wife" says Paridhi Gupta, the bride in this wedding photo.
Anup J Kat
"Before the Kashi yatra ceremony, (where the groom pretends to leave, renouncing all worldly pleasures) he is required to wear a silver thread around his shoulders - this basic ritual is known as Snatakam," says Nishita Medha, the bride in the featured wedding photo.
"After the main ceremony, 10 married women escort the bride out. Six of these ladies hold plates containing a mixture of rice and turmeric powder, while the others hold small lit lamps. Rice represents abundance, while the lamps symbolise light," says Anand Shahani, co-founder of wedding portal wedmegood.com
"The arrival of the groom and his family is called Ponkhvanu, and marks the official beginning of the Gujarati wedding," says Anand Shahani, co-founder of wedmegood.com
, a wedding portal.
Amit Gaur, ColorBlast
"A Gujarati groom has to break an earthen pot before he enters the wedding venue to show that he will overcome any obstacles as part of his husbandly duties," says Anand Shahani, co-founder of wedding portal wedmegood.com
Amit Gaur, Colorblast
An important custom in marwari weddings is Janev, where the groom has to don a white thread and then pretends to run away to get out of the wedding. "It is the maternal uncle's duty to convince him to come back," says choreographer Natasha Gogia.
Amit Gaur, ColorBlast
"The start of any marriage festivities begins with a Ganesh pooja to drive away any evils and bring blessings on the couple," says Anuj Maheshwari, who learnt this at his brother's wedding in 2013.
"I also learnt about the Mahira Dastoor custom: the maternal uncles of both the bride and the groom distribute lavish gifts throughout their own families to celebrate the upcoming wedding," says Ankur Maheshwari, the groom in the featured wedding.
"The varmala ceremony is when the bride and groom exchange garlands while atop the shoulders of their friends and family. In jest, the groom's friends try to prevent him from being garlanded as you can see from this picture (and vice versa)," says Ambika Agarwal, the bride.
"Sikhs are discouraged from consulting horoscopes or following any other superstitions pertaining to determining a wedding date or time," says Anand Shahani, co-founder of wedding portal wedmegood.com
Amit Gaur, ColorBlast
"The ceremony takes place in a gurudwara, where the bride is always seated on the left side of the groom," says Amit Gaur who photographed this event.
Before the main ceremony, the bride and groom have to offer 'Dakshina' to the elders, which is essentially betel leaves and an areca nut along with one rupee," says Vinay Aravind who photographed this event.
Amit Gaur, ColorBlast
"At the marriage ceremony, the bride who is usually seated on a low wooden stool called pidi is lifted by her brothers and is taken round the groom in seven complete circles. This is called Saat Pak," says wedding choreographer Natasha Gogia.
"After circling the fire, the groom holds the bride's hands from behind. The bride's hands are filled with puffed rice that is then poured by the couple into the sacred fire," says Sharmee, the bride in the featured photo.
Amit Gaur, Colorblast
"After the wedding, the groom's mother welcomes the new couple and washes their feet with milk and water. The bride is then required to enter the house after knocking over a tumbler of rice," says Amit Gaur who photographed this wedding.
Strange Sadhu Photography
"Antarpat is a silk shawl used to separate the bride and the groom. The maternal uncle of the bride brings her to the dias, where the mangalashtakas are recited. Then the shawl is removed and the couple sees each other for the first time and exchange garlands. At this moment they are showered with unbroken rice," says Anand Shahani, co-founder of wedding portal wedmegood.com
"The bunt ceremony begins with the bride walking in before the groom, surrounded by friends and cousins. The groom follows suit a few minutes later. Traditional bunt ceremonies don't call for a priest or a fire and so all of the proceedings were carried about by the parents and close family. After an exchange of garlands, the groom ties the Karyamani around the bride's neck, signifying that they are married," says Anutha Shetty, the bride featured here.
"The wedding ceremony is actually referred as Biya which roughly comes upto a week-long series of rituals piled up. The main events are known as Juroon, Biya and Reception," says Manish Grover, founder of ShaadiMagic.com
"During Juroon, the groom’s mother arrives at the bride’s place with loads of gifts along with her close female relatives, Yes women only! The ceremony is all about the bride being showered gifts from her mother-in-law that includes her bridal wear, jewellery and cosmetics, too. Before handing over the gifts to the bride the mother-in-law makes sure that each item has been touched by the groom."
"For the main ceremony, the groom dressed up in a traditional dhoti, kurta and cheleng (an assamese shawl) which are gifted to him by the bride," says the bride in the photo, Ratnashree Patowary.
"A part of the ceremonies is this event called Wanwun (also a popular event in Kashmiri tradition). Music sessions are held every evening at both the bride and groom's homes, and are attended by the relatives and neighbours from both sides," says Manish Grover, founder of ShaadiMagic.com
Rahul de Cunha
Neha and James Waters had two types of weddings: a typical Arya-Samaj wedding, and a Catholic wedding (featured next). "For me, the depth of meaning and symbolism which underscored even the smallest gestures during our ceremony was truly beautiful. I certainly felt I was being accepted further and further into another culture, which each tradition we followed. Of course it helped having a pundit who was translating everything,” says James Waters, the groom in the featured photograph.
Rahul de Cunha
“Writing our own vows was such a fun experience, as was choosing our music, having our bridesmaids and groomsmen on either side of us, my grandpa walking me down the isle and one of our closest friends being our officiant made it such a personal ceremony. It was truly amazing to see our family and friends coming together in one place to celebrate us!” says Neha Waters, the bride in the featured photograph.
Amit Gaur, ColorBlast
"An old tradition I have observed is that in Catholic weddings, the bride either walks in with the groom or both her parents," says Amit Gaur who photographed this event.
"Being a Sindhi girl, I was surprised to find out that the son's parents don't sit for the pheras (circles) and the bride is not required to don a mangal sutra (necklace)," says Khusboo Goel, the bride.
"Sindhi wedding rituals involve a Ghari pooja. While the married women of the house grind wheat as a prayer to keep the marriage prosperous, the mother-in-law of the groom carries a clay pot of water, assisted by her son-in-law as an assurance of his protection," says Mohit Sukhani, the groom.
"My dad is Christian while my mother hails from a traditional Oriya family. Although from two very diverse backgrounds, their marriage ceremony encompassed the traditions from both the religion, thus respecting each others beliefs, sentiments and families," says daughter Novena Bothaju, who sent in her parents' wedding photo to us.
"Before the wedding, an auspicious day is chosen for the wedding to clean the house. This ceremony is known as Livun," says Natasha Gogia, wedding choreographer.
"An important ritual in Kashmiri weddings is Posh Pooja: the bride and the groom are covered with a traditional Kashmiri shawl. Every couple attending the marriage steps forward to place flower petals on their heads. These resemble a Shivling (a symbol representing Lord Shiva)," says Abhivav Labroo, the groom. "This display represents the guests treating the couple's union to be as holy and important as that of Shiva and Parvati," says Sheetal Labroo, the bride featured in the photo.
"The cool thing about Parsi weddings is that groom is not supposed to look at bride for half the wedding ceremony," says Perzen Darukhanawalla Patel, the bride. "For a Parsi wedding, a stage is set in a baug or agiary, the Fire Temple. Here, before the groom steps on the stage, the bride's mother performs a ritual called Achumichu. She holds a tray containing a raw egg, supari, rice, coconut, dates and water. She circles all these items, except water, seven times around the groom's head and then throws them on the floor. The water is thrown on either side. This is repeated by the groom's mother for the bride. This is followed by Ara Antar, in which the bride and the groom are seated facing each other, with a cloth in between," says Manish Grover, founder of ShaadiMagic.com
"Fire is an important symbol in Zoroastrian faith. Candles are placed on either side of the couple at the main ceremony. After the priest's blessing, the couple also eats from the same dish (symbolically) -- this is rite known as Dahi-Koomro. At the wedding feast, fish, a symbol of good luck, is served," says Dinaz Rustomji, mother of the bride.
Certain Tamil weddings conduct something known as an Oonial ritual, where the married couple is given milk and bananas to eat while being seated on a swing," says Arjun Kartha, who photographed this event.
"It was a typical traditional Hindu wedding. I was too dazed to learn anything, except that some of the mantras were rather explicit (I learnt this much later). The procession in an open car was a disaster, as it started raining and they closed the hood," remembers V Ramnarayan.
"The marriage contract signed in a nikah includes a meher, or a formal statement that states a certain sum of money that the groom shall present to the bride," says Anand Shahani, co-founder of wedding portal wedmegood.com
"In ancient times, the first time the bride and the groom saw each other was after the wedding, through a mirror. This ritual is known as Julwa. Even though times have changed, the ritual still happens during the nikah," says Saba Khan, the bride in the photograph.
The carriage of the couple (or car) are worshipped by the bride's mother: she sprinkles sandalwood and flowers on it, and places a coconut under a wheel that is meant to be crushed," says wedding choreographer Natasha Gogia.
"At Jat weddings, the potter's wheel is prayed to," says Arjun Kartha who photographed this event.
"Kannada weddings are a simple affair, conducted like a Hindu wedding without too much aplomb and show," says Arjun Kartha, who photographed the event.
"The benefit of being a wedding photographer is meeting so many different people, and shooting in some of the most historically rich parts of the country. Also, we have witnessed weddings that start and end in a few hours with less than 100 guests in the room. In sheer contrast, there are grandiose weddings (like Punjabi weddings) that are about weeks of celebration with over 500 guests on the wedding day," says Deepanshi Chaudhary, who photographed this wedding.
"A wedding photographer is lucky to taste some of the most authentic food of different communities. From Luchi with cholar of Bengal to apam with chicken stew ( Coastal Indian food) , we have had a taste of rich Indian food across the country," says Deepanshi Chaudhary, who photographed this wedding.