Talk about a Punjabi wedding and images of extravagant wedding ceremonies filled with fun, food, loud music, dance and vivid colors conjure up in your mind. But wait, there’s more to a Punjabi Shaadi (wedding) than these. From rituals that are unheard to common ones and from simple ceremonies to the more lavish ones, all packed in one.
Their list of rituals have a deep meaning and are never ending. From the bangle ceremony to chunni, haldi to ghodi, the list keeps going. You’ll even notice things that are quite interesting. For instance, the groom wears a garland of cash notes when he leaves for the wedding and the oh-so-bling outfits of the female relatives or people throwing money while dancing.
Here is a comprehensive list of the wedding rituals, customs and traditions that you’ll enjoy in a typical Punjabi Hindu wedding.
Roka and Thaka Ceremony
The first ritual of the union. The word Roka comes from the word ‘Rokna’ or to stop, which indirectly means that now an alliance has been made and the bride and groom can stop considering other wedding prospects. In Roka, the bride’s family visits the groom's house with lots of gifts including sweets, clothes, dry fruits, jewelries, money, etc. which are referred to as shagun. The bride does not attend the roka. Similarly, the groom's family visits the bride’s family on a separate day to bless the bride and give her and the family the shagun. The couple is also made to sit together and showered with gifts and blessings and are officially considered engaged.
Chunni ceremony marks the official engagement of the two partners. The groom's family visits the bride-to-be to give her a red-colored outfit like a saree or a lehenga-choli. She is also gifted jewelry, traditional sweets and mehendi. However, an important gift for the bride at this ceremony is a red scarf called chunni which is placed over her head. This ritual is called chunni chadana and marks the acceptance of the bride by the groom’s family.
Often, the sagai or engagement takes place the same day as the Chunni chadana ceremony. Amidst a celebratory ambience, the bride and the groom exchange rings. Some families like this event to be a private and intimate affair while others prefer inviting lots of guests for an elaborate event. This ceremony often precedes the wedding by at least some months.
Mehendi is a quintessential part of every Indian bride. Moreover, it’s an indispensable part of Punjabi weddings. It’s believed that the darker the color of the mehendi, the more the groom loves the bride. Cheesy, isn’t it? This ceremony is held a day or two before the wedding. The bride usually goes on selecting the best customized designs for herself first. She sits down on a special stool and gets mehendi (henna) paste applied to her hands and feet by mehendi artists. Moreover, the groom’s initial letters are also hidden amidst the intricate and elaborate patterns. Other female members of the family too get mehendi applied.
The groom’s family also celebrates this function at their home with close family and friends. In some families, the groom applies mehendi too, not as elaborate as the bride though.
Sometimes the sangeet ceremony takes place on the evening of mehendi function and in some cases on a different day altogether. The bride’s side organizes this function. Both the bride and the groom’s families get together for this fun-filled event. Friends and cousins of the bride and groom also prepare dance numbers on popular Punjabi and Bollywood songs. It’s an evening of a musical extravaganza filled with fun and merriment.
This is the first ritual performed on the morning of the wedding day at the respective houses. The bride and the groom attend a pooja. After the pooja, the priests tie a sacred thread called mouli on the wrists of the bride and groom. It’s considered a good-luck charm and works as a protection from evil eyes. The couple has to keep it on until it falls off on its own.
This is one of the most emotional moments for the bride. The bride’s maternal uncle has an important role to play. He gifts the bride a set of 21 bangles mostly in red/maroon and ivory white combination. The bangles are first purified in a mixture of milk and rose petals. Other elders of the house touch the choodas and give their blessings. The bride sits with her head and face covered as she is not supposed to see the bangles until her wedding. Now, the maternal uncle and his wife slip the choodas to her hands. Immediately after, the bangles are covered in white cloth.
This is done immediately after the chooda ceremony. The bride’s sisters and friends tie kaleere on her wrist. These are umbrella-shaped ornaments usually encrusted with coconut, dried fruits or betel nuts. Traditionally, the bride has to shake the kaleeras over the head of unmarried girls, who she wishes to see getting married next. If the fruit or the betel nut falls over to any one’s head then it’s believed that she would be the next one to tie the knot. Aren’t you reminded of the bouquet toss in a Christian wedding?
In the Haldi ceremony, the married ladies of the respective family apply a paste of haldi (turmeric), sandalwood, mustard oil and rosewater on the body of the bride and the groom. This is done with the intent of making them glow on their wedding. The family members use the leftover paste to smear each other. There is a lot of laughter and fun included.
Once the haldi paste dries off, it’s scrubbed off the body. The sister-in-law of both the bride and groom go to their nearby temples to fill a pitcher with water. The water is used by the couple to bathe before getting ready for the wedding. In some families, the bride along with her sisters and close friends visit a temple. A pitcher full of water is poured on her. She then seeks blessings from the presiding deities at the temple. Later, she returns home and takes a proper shower to get ready for the main events ahead.
After the bridegroom is all dressed up, his family assembles for pooja in his honor. The turban and the headgear called sehra (it has strings, pearls or flowers hanging down that partially covers his face) that the groom would wear is first sanctified by the priest. Then his father or a very senior male family member wraps the turban around his head and ties the sehra before leaving for the wedding.
Ghodi chadna is the ceremony when the groom mounts the mare called ghodi to leave for the wedding venue with his baraat or procession. But before he sets off the ghodi is fed by the groom’s sisters and female cousins. The sister-in-law of the groom applies surma (a black powdery item that’s similar to an eyeliner) to the groom’s eyes as a lucky charm to ward off evil eyes and to make his journey safe. The procession is accompanied by a band that plays upbeat music, and the members of the family dance to the tunes as they proceed. Sounds fun?
Punjabis are known for their warm hospitality. and this is evident when the baraat reaches the venue. The bride’s entire family stands at the gate to give a warm welcome. The two families greet each other with much love and hugs. This meeting of the two families is called milni.
After Milni, the groom is led towards the stage of the wedding hall. Later, the bride makes her entrance to the stage. And the couple exchange garlands. At this moment you’d notice something fun. A competition begins between the two sides. Each party starts to lift the bride and the groom higher to make it harder for the couple to put the garland over each other.
This is considered one of the most important and sentimental rituals of the Punjabi wedding ceremony. The father of the bride gives away his daughter to the groom through Vedic mantras and requests him to take care of his daughter and to treat her with love and respect. The groom reciprocates with a strong promise on his part.
Time for the holy rounds. In this ceremony, the ends of the couples’ dupattas are tied in a knot and the two have to circle seven times around the sacred fire. The first three rounds are led by the bride and the groom leads the remaining rounds. With every round the two souls take their marriage vows, while the priest chants the Vedic mantras. After the completion of the rounds, the groom applies a sacred thread called mangalsutra around the bride’s neck and lastly applies sindoor on his bride’s hair parting. The two souls are now officially considered husband and wife.
Not exactly a ritual but an old tradition that is still followed in most Punjabi weddings. In any Hindu mandap, the shoes must be taken off before carrying on the rituals. And just when the groom is busy performing the wedding rituals, the bride’s sisters and female cousins take advantage of this opportunity and hide his shoes in what is called joota chupai. What follows is fun to watch! The sisters start negotiating with the groom and his cousins and friends to pay a suitable ransom in exchange for his confiscated pair of shoes. The groom has to finally oblige.
After this, the baraat is served a lavish dinner. Food is a high point at every Punjabi wedding. Often, there are multiple cuisines, live food counters, and separate stalls serving different kinds of delicacies.
Vidaai and Doli
Every bride’s heart-wrenching moment, bidding farewell to her family and kins. As she walks out, the bride throws a handful of rice over her shoulder towards her family to express her gratitude to them for raising her and taking care of her for so long. She then sits in her groom’s car and sets off to her new home. Doli is the return procession when the groom brings his new bride home.
Once the Doli arrives, the groom’s mother performs an aarti of the bride with a pitcher of water. After each circle, the mother-in-law tries to take a sip of water, but the bride stops her from drinking, until the seventh attempt. The bride then gently overturns a pot of rice called Kalash with her right foot to enter the house. Then the couple together is led to the worship room to seek the blessings from the deities.
After the prayers, the bride is seated and lifts her veil so that she gets acquainted with her new relatives. The elder members of the family bless her and showers her with gifts, cash and jewelry.
The groom’s family hosts a lavish reception party in honor of the newlyweds. A Punjabi reception is filled with sumptuous meals, elaborate music and dance, joyful laughter, and lots of meeting and greeting. Who wants to give it a miss?
A Punjabi bride is a sight to behold. She is a beauty resplendent in a heavily-embellished and gorgeous lehenga, lots of fashionable jewelry, a nice updo, and make-up. Punjabi brides even go all the way to find the perfect bridal attire. And why not? After all, it's her special day! Other than the preferred red color, brides nowadays go for other colors like gold, fuchsia, orange, green, etcetera etcetera. A matching dupatta goes with the attire to cover the bride’s head. A lot of jewelry goes with the look, some are gold while some are heavy costume jewelry. You will not see a Punjabi bride without maang tika, bangles, nath (nosepin), chooda (the red and ivory bangle set from the chooda ceremony), and anklets.
The fashion statement of a Punjabi groom is no less either. Traditionally, the groom wears Kurta Pyjama to the wedding, but Sherwanis have become the standard attire. It’s paired with a pyjama or churidar pants. Cream or off-white is the preferred color with gold and silver thread work and other decorations. The groom also carries a matching dupatta around his neck. He wears a jooti (traditional Punjabi shoes) to complete the look. In addition, a special decorative headdress called Sehra is tied around his forehead to cover his face.
It’s no surprise that the splendor of a Punjabi marriage will leave you mesmerized. Besides, its deeply symbolic and philosophical rituals will touch your heart.