Indian and South Asian Wedding Traditions

I’ve been writing a lot lately about diverse wedding traditions and customs and today I want to explore a few more. Today I’ll focus on rituals from India and parts of South Asia.

If you have every experienced an Indian wedding ceremony you have been a part of something amazing. Just search for photos of Indian weddings and you will see something quite beautiful and elaborate. Indian culture spans more than 4,500 years, so naturally the beliefs and practices have deep roots and are quite diverse. Four religions are practiced by the majority of India’s 1.2 billion people: Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism and Sikhism, but there is also Judaism, Zoroastrianism, Christianity and Islam.

Among these you will find many traditions that work beautifully for anyone, even if it is not your culture of origin. Here are a few of my favorites:

Mehendi, or the Henna Ceremony, is the adoring the hands and feet with intricate designs of stain made from the henna tree. This custom is traditionally celebrated by the bride’s family and friends before the ceremony. Many American women, Indian or not, especially love this because of its body art element, similar to tattoo, but not permanent.

One of my beautiful brides.

Weddings in India are a huge family affair. They begin with the arrival of the groom. However the Barat Nikasi – the groom’s processional – may be a bit harder to adapt. This tradition is from northern Indian regions, and consists of the groom entering the wedding on an elaborated decorated horse or elephant, surrounded by drummers and dancing family members!

The Jai Mala, exchange of garlands, is a great tradition. It is simply the bride and groom exchanging floral garlands, signifying their acceptance of one another. This custom is also popular in some African countries and reminiscent of the use of the lei in Hawaii.
Saptapadi, The Seven Steps, is the most beautiful part of the wedding ceremony itself. The couples takes seven steps together, sometimes around a fire, with a sacred vow for each step.

1. Together we will live with respect for one another.

2. Together we will develop mental, physical and spiritual balance.

3. Together we will prosper, acquire wealth and share our accomplishments.

4. Together we will acquire happiness, harmony and knowledge through mutual love.

5. Together we will raise strong, virtuous children.

6. Together we will be faithful to one another and exercise self-restraint and longevity.

7. Together we will remain lifelong partners and achieve salvation.

 

I have enjoyed facilitating this ritual with couples and also variations on this, especially using the Jewish Seven Blessing in concert with it.

This is just a little taste of Indian wedding customs, but words also matter. Here is a lovely poem from the Hindu tradition:

 

You have become mine forever.

Yes, we have become partners.

I have become yours.

Hereafter, I cannot live without you.

 Do not live without me.

Let us share the joys.

We are word and meaning, unite.

You are thought and I am sound.

May the nights be honey-sweet for us.

May the mornings be honey-sweet for us.

May the plants be honey-sweet for us.

May the earth be honey-sweet for us.

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