Sikh Wedding Customs and Traditions

Sikhism is one of the youngest religions in the world. It is thus practiced with a large degree of uniformity even though the Sikh population is spread all across the globe. The essence of a Sikh wedding is the Anand Karaj ceremony, which literally translates as Blissful Union and is performed at the Gurudwara of the main place of worship in Sikhism. While the Anand Karaj is rather a straightforward and homogenous ceremony, a traditional Sikh wedding incorporates a lot of preparations which make it a highly colorful and festive affair.

Engagement ceremony

Some Sikh families begin wedding preparations with Kurmai or an engagement ceremony even though it is not compulsory. When held, it takes place around a week before the wedding at the "Gurudwara" or at the home of groom. If performed at the Gurudwara or the Sikh place of worship, the ceremony would include the  "Ardaas" or the common Sikh prayer, "Kirtan" or hymns from Sri Guru Granth Sahib and "langar" or the community meal. If performed at the groom’s house, the Kurmai would involve the arrival of the bride wearing the "kara" or metal bracelet and  "kripan" or the ceremonial sword. She and her family would also come bearing traditional sweets and objects that are believed to signify good fortune like coconut, "chhuhare" or dry dates, sugar and money.

Pre-wedding customs

Few days before the wedding "vatna" or a scented powder made of barley flour, turmeric and mustard oil is applied to the bodies of the bride and groom. This is then followed by a bath which is as much a part of the ritual cleansing as the traditional beautification process. On the evening of the wedding, the bride’s hands and feet are decorated with ‘mehendi’ or henna designs. Also , “gana" or a red thread is tied to the right wrist of the groom and the left wrist of the bride. The gana worn by bride often has objects like cowrie shells, an iron key chain, pearls and a small silken bundle with some sugar attached to it.

On the morning of the wedding, the “Gharoli" ceremony is held at the groom's house. In this ceremony, the groom's sister-in-law with some female relatives arrive at a well or Gurudwara to fill a "gharoli" or a special decorated jug with water. The water is later used to bathe the groom. At the bride’s home, her maternal uncle or "mama" leads her to the "chooda" ceremony. She wears a "chooda" or set of red and white bangles originally made of ivory or bone but nowadays substituted by plastic. These bangles are supposed to have been dipped in "kachchi lassi" or buttermilk. The bride's close female relatives tie "kaleeren" or golden metal danglers to the bride's wrist. The maternal uncles put the "nath" or a traditional nose ring as yet another bridal adornment.

The main decoration ceremony for the groom is the "Sehrabandi" during which his sisters tie a "sehera" or ceremonial floral veil to his forehead. Traditionally a Sikh groom must wear a turban, sehra and carry a sword as he leaves for the wedding. Also some of groom's close relatives put garlands made of paper money on groom's neck.

The wedding ceremony

The main wedding ritual for Sikhs is the Anand Karaj ceremony performed at the Gurudwara. After the families and wedding guests have settled down, the bride and groom bow before the Guru Granth, and then sit side by side at the front of the hall. The couple and their parents stand up to signify that they have given their consent for the wedding to take place.
Everyone else remains seated while a Sikh offers Ardas, a prayer for the success of the marriage. Hymns sung by ‘ragis’ or musicians seek God’s blessings on the couple and hope for a successful marital union that is achieved through grace. Next it is the turn of the Sikh priest officiating at the wedding to read out verses from the Holy Book not only as spiritual chants but also as a way of counseling the bride and groom on the essence and duties of marriage. The Bride and groom together affirm the acceptance of their marital obligations and bow before the Guru Granth. The bride sits to the left of the groom directly in front of the Guru Granth. After this the  bridegroom’s sister or any other female relation drapes a long scarf, shawl, or length of turban cloth, called a ‘palla’ around the groom's shoulders, and places the right end in his hands. The other end of the cloth is taken by the bride’s father (or one acting in his stead) and arranged over the bride's shoulder who is given to hold the left end. Meanwhile the ragis sing another hymn symbolizing the joining of the couple by the ‘palla’ to each other and to God.

Next follows the Lavan or the Four Wedding Rounds. As the ragis sing the four Lavan hymns celebrating the four stages of marital love, the bride and groom walk around the Guru Granth four times. The entire congregation sings "Anand Sahib", the "Song of Bliss". The hymn emphasizes the fusing of two souls into one as they merge with the divine. The formal wedding ceremony ends with "Hukunama" or proof statement of the marriage showing that everything was done in a proper manner. Finally the married couple and their families express thanks to all present for taking part in the celebration. The wedding party guests congratulate the married couple. Everyone gathers in the langar hall to partake of a communal feast.

Post-wedding rituals

These usually take the form of enjoyable informal festivities which even involve some good-natured competition between the bride or groom and the new in-laws. One of these is the “Juti Chupai" wherein girls from the bride's family try to steal groom's shoes and hide them even as the boys groom’s side try to prevent such an eventuality. The girls usually succeed when the groom takes off his shoes before sitting down in front of the Guru Granth Sahib. To get his shoes back the groom gives the girls rings called "kaleechris" and some money. However the most significant post-wedding customs involve the ‘Bidaai’ or the bride’s farewell to  her parents’ home and then her welcome at the groom’s home.

The wedding reception is usually hosted by the groom’s family and here the newlyweds are again presented with gifts by families and friends. The ‘Suhaag raat’ is the bridal night when the marital relationship is consummated.