Punjabis are a community originally hailing from the state of Punjab or the plains of Northern India but now are dispersed all over the world. Punjabi weddings are among the most lavish, colorful and perhaps even the most boisterous among Hindu weddings.
Punjabi pre-wedding customs
A Punjabi wedding can be considered to start with the roka or rokna ceremony where the match between the prospective bride and groom is announced. This takes place at the bride’s house where after a short puja or invocation to the family deity, gifts are exchanged between both families as a symbol of the match being fixed and approved. A more formal engagement usually takes place later - may be a few days before the wedding. This is known variously as Mangni, Sagaai or Kudmai which involves an exchange of engagement rings between the prospective groom and bride in the presence of priest, family members as well as close friends and relatives. The wedding day would normally be fixed after the 'sagai'.
Yet another pre-wedding ritual consists of the Sagan and Chunni Chadana wherein the prospective couple is blessed by the family elders and the bride receives gifts from her future in-laws. These days both ceremonies are combined for the sake of convenience and usually conducted in a banquet hall or a club. The priest performs a havan or a ceremonial offering to the sacred fire. The father of the bride-to-be applies tilak on the forehead of the groom-to-be. Close female relatives form the groom's home go the bride's home with a basket of gifts known as the 'suhag ki pitari' These usually include 'mehendi' or henna for a subsequent ceremony, clothes, jewelry, fresh fruits, dry fruits, dried coconut, 'chuaare' or dried dates, bangles, 'sindoor' or vermilion powder and a red 'dupatta' or veil. Her prospective mother-in-law feeds her boiled rice and milk as part of the ritual. During this ceremony the ladies sing wedding songs to the beat of a 'dholak' or small drum and decorate the bride-to-be by dressing her up and draping the red 'dupatta' on her.
The next day the bride has her feet and hands decorated with elaborate henna patterns as part of the ‘mehendi’ ceremony. This ceremony is usually performed by the ladies of the family and the bride's friends. First the henna is passed around to all present for their blessings and each one leaves a few rupees in the platter. It is then smeared on the palms of the bride after which she reaches back and leaves the impressions of her palms on the wall behind her. The henna is quickly washed off from her hands and only then the professional henna artists take over the application of the design for the wedding.
Yet another characteristic pre-wedding custom among Punjabis is the Sangeet. Originally this indicated a time of music, dance and gaiety among the ladies of the bride’s family as they sang several songs to tease her future mother-in-law and other members of the groom's family. However today and especially in urban areas, the 'sangeet' is a mixed party held at night and can even be hosted separately by both families on two consecutive evenings. Amidst a lot of drinking and feasting, the celebrations often continue till the wee hours of the next morning.
The wedding day
On the morning of the wedding day, a sacred thread or ‘mouli’ is tied to the wrist of both the groom and bride. This ceremony takes place in their respective houses and maybe accompanied by a ‘puja’. The thread has several objects tied to it to denote good fortune like an iron 'challa' or bracelet, turmeric sticks, 'supari' or betel nut and 'kaudis' or cowrie shells. The thread has to have as many knots as possible in order to symbolize the strong nature of the marital bond.
The Chuda Charana, literally the decking up with bangles is one of the most important rituals in the bride’s house. According to this the chuda or a set of red and cream ivory bangle are touched by all members of the family to signify their blessings and good wishes for the bride-to-be. The bride is then helped to don the bangles on her wrists. This is followed by an iron bangle for good luck with shells and beads, and a mauli or sacred threat that the priest ties around her wrist. Flower petals are showered on the girl after the ceremony and Prasad is distributed among the guests present. The girl's maternal uncle and aunt, friends and cousins tie kaliras which are silver, gold or gold plated traditional ornaments to the chuda. Before departing for her husband's home, the bride must tap one of her unwed female friends or cousins with her kaliras. According to popular belief, the one who is tapped thus will be the next one to marry.
Yet another important aspect of the wedding preparations is the ghara gharoli ceremony. According to this water from a nearby temple or well is collected in an earthenware jug to be used for the ritual bath for both the groom and bride. For the bride, the ritual bath is preceded by an application of vatna or uptan - a paste of powdered turmeric and mustard oil- on her body by female relatives and friends. On the groom’s side an important dressing up ritual is the sehrabandi wherein his sisters tie a sehra or 'veil of golden threads onto his turban. The groom is escorted to the richly caparisoned mare on which he will ride to the wedding venue.
After the groom’s family arrives at the venue, they are ceremonially greeted by the bride’s family in a ritual known as the ‘milni’. This is followed by the exchange of flower garlands between the bride and groom known as the jaimala or varmala. At the auspicious time or the mahurath, the priest conducts a “puja” wherein the couple and their parents also participate. Then the bride is given away by her father in a ceremony called the kanyadaan. This is followed by the pheras where the bride and groom together circle the sacred fire seven times. At the end of the ceremony, the newly-weds touch the feet of the groom's parents and the elders present to take their blessings. The bride changes into the clothes presented by her in-laws, while her relatives apply tilak on the groom's forehead.
Punjabi post-wedding traditions
After the wedding rituals are over, it is time for the bride to leave for her husband’s home. Before this however, she either lights an earthen lamp or turns on all the lights in her parents’ home. Originally the bride would be taken to her marital home in a doli or a palanquin but these days a richly decorated car is arranged to take the newlyweds to the groom’s house. The wedding reception is usually hosted by the groom’s family during which friends and other guests wish the new couple good luck amidst a lot of feasting and celebrations.