Wedding Vows and the Indian Wedding

Indian wedding ceremonies are incredible. At their core, they are a collection of beautiful, long-held traditions and religious rituals intended to both sanctify the joining of two people in matrimony and to prepare and bless the couple for their future together. However, most modern Indian wedding ceremonies also find ways to showcase unique aspects of a couple’s tastes or relationship. With the right officiant, they can also combine and include elements of almost every faith tradition.

One part of Western/Christian weddings which have always intrigued us are the vows, particularly vows written by the couple. Now, Indian wedding ceremonies do have vows, in a way, but they are typically a standard set of Sanskrit chants that the couple is prompted by the officiant to say. Usually, the couples and their guests have little sense of what these “vows” actually mean. In most cases, the couple isn’t even sure if they are saying the right words!

We think it’s high time that Indian couples start including their own written vows, spoken in English (or any other language of choice), in their wedding ceremonies. After all the rituals and events and dancing, the whole point of a wedding is to commit two people to each other for life. Wouldn’t it be great if couples could make that commitment in their own words, and in a way that their family and friends and understand?

So we say, go for it! Work with your officiant to find an appropriate time and manner for exchanging your own vows. We think you and your guest will find it meaningful and memorable.

Now comes the hard part: writing the vows! Good luck!

What to Wear to a Mehndi: American Clothes

We’ve covered mehndi parties a lot on this blog, but we’ve never looked at them from the perspective of a non-Indian person wanting to attend one and not knowing what to wear. So here you go!

Mehndi parties are a relatively casual event in the grand scheme of an Indian wedding. This is an event where most of the guests will have a colored paste applied to their hands, then wait patiently while the paste dries so they can resume normal activities. This is probably not the time to break out your floor-length BCBG Max Azria knit evening gown, unless the invitation says otherwise.

This is likely a time for a cocktail dress or sundress, and we’d lean more towards sundresses. If it’s winter when you’re attending a mehndi party, a sundress obviously won’t work for you, but you could probably wear a sweater dress or nice tunic with leggings and fit in just fine.

  

   

If you’re considering venturing into Indian clothes territory, this is a good time to discover the kurti, which is an Indian-inspired flowy top that pairs well with jeans or leggings. You can find kurti-adjacent tops by many American designers, like the ones we found below; think tunic tops and embroidery.

   

 

 

Ghori

You might hear people at an Indian wedding talking about a “ghori” a lot, especially when you’re starting the baraat. It might sound like they’re saying the word “gory” a lot. You might start to wonder why they think this beautiful festival of dancing and singing around a horse is so filled with gore. You don’t see any gore around here. Are they offended by horses? What is going on?

The “ghori” is actually the horse. In many traditional Hindu weddings, the groom arrives astride a white, female horse. This “ghori” usually has some decorations on her bridle, and may be wearing festive gear to celebrate the wedding.

Want to learn more about the baraat? Check out our other posts by clicking on the tags below!

What to Wear to a Mehndi: Indian Clothes

Indian weddings are a marathon of joyous occasions, a feast of color, and a whirl of festivities. One of the first events to kick off an Indian wedding is usually a mehndi party. We’ve written before about what to expect at a mehndi party (here) and what kinds of shoes you might want to wear to a mehndi party (here). Now we’re here to talk about what to wear to a mehndi party if you’re planning on rocking Indian clothes.

Mehndi parties tend to be more casual than the other elements of an Indian wedding. It’s not uncommon to see guests — or even brides! — in jeans or shorts for this event. After all, henna can be messy, and you don’t want it to ruin your nicest sari. Take cues from the wedding invitation, check the website for information about attire, or ask the maid of honor what is proper attire for the party. However, when in doubt, it’s better to be over-dressed than under-dressed.

Keep in mind that henna is a greenish paste that is piped onto your hands like frosting. While wet, the henna is staining your palms a deep red in the pattern that your henna artist has chosen. However, if wet henna touches your clothes, or your face, or the carpet, it will stain that, too. Even damp henna will transfer color to other objects. In other words, this is not the day to break out the $500 sari, unless you live the kind of life where a $500 sari is your cheapest sari, in which case we’d like for you to adopt us.

As a rule, we’d suggest something on the more casual end of the Indian clothes spectrum for a mehndi party. We love a salwar kameez or anarkali for the ease of movement and comfort level. Both involve a long top and pants, with an optional dupatta accessory. Examples:

   

Another casual alternative is to mix a kurti with jeans, shorts, a skirt, or leggings. This is the most versatile option, still looks dressy enough for a party, and has an Indian fusion aspect to it, which we love. Examples are below:

  

 

What do you think, readers? Are we right on track? Do you prefer to wear lehengas or saris to mehndi parties instead of more casual options? Or do you think Indian clothes in general aren’t necessary for such an informal event? We want to hear from you!

Sarbala

The groom in an Indian wedding will often participate in a flashy and energetic baraat, which we’ve written about before. And who tags along with the groom during his wedding processional? The sarbala.

In English, we might call him the best man. But really, he’s usually a young boy. Most grooms will choose their nephew, younger brother, or cousin to be a sarbala. If the mode of transportation allows it (e.g., riding in a chariot behind the horse rather than astride the horse itself), some grooms might choose to have multiple sarbalas.

The cutest part? Some grooms will opt to have their sarbala dress like them, so a mini-groom rides in with them to the wedding.

Sehrabandi

The sehrabandi, or sehra for short, refers to the face-covering headdress that many Hindu grooms wear to the ceremony. This headdress looks rather like a miniature hula skirt that is tied around the groom’s head and which shields his eyes during his baraat and the wedding ceremony. In a way, this is like a veil for the groom. The sehrabandi is tied to the groom’s head during a ceremony known by the same name. The groom’s sister or female cousins usually ties the sehra on his head, but in some cultures this differs.

The sehrabandi may be made of flowers, beads, or thin cords, and usually is some combination of white, gold, and silver in color. The veil is thought to protect the groom from evil, which is a nice sentiment. In some cases, the sehra will be removed before the wedding ceremony, mostly because it’s a mild annoyance to the groom.

Not all Hindu wedding ceremonies will involve a sehrabandi. This practice is most common in Punjabi weddings.

Sangeet

Typically held in the days or weeks before the wedding ceremony, the sangeet (sometimes called a “ladies’ sangeet”) is a night of singing, dancing, and merriment. This event was traditionally meant for women only, and was hosted by a bride’s family and friends to send her off to her wedding. The sangeet is the traditional Hindu wedding equivalent of a bridal shower, though gifts for the bride and groom are not mandatory.

In modern times, the sangeet is a co-ed pre-wedding event usually held the night before the wedding ceremony. This event will typically involve performances by guests for the bride and groom; in some cases the bride and groom will even perform themselves! Do you have a special talent, like guitar playing, singing, or dancing? If so, don’t be surprised if the couple being honored asks you to put together a brief performance for their sangeet.

Sometimes the sangeet is combined with the mehndi party (two birds, one stone), but it is also common to see these as two standalone events. If the sangeet and mehndi are combined, don’t be surprised to see women playing the dhol and singing folk songs which poke fun at the bride’s future in-laws and give her advice for how to be a successful wife and daughter-in-law.

Choora

The choora ceremony (also called chuda, chura, or chooda) describes the gift of wedding bangles to the bride by her maternal uncles before her wedding ceremony. This may occur the night before the wedding, or the morning of the festivities. The bride’s family sits on the floor, and everyone present covers their heads, including the bride and her uncles.

The choora are immersed in a mixture of milk and water, while the bride sits with her eyes closed, as she is not to see the choora before they are on her hands. Milk is used in many Hindu rituals, likely because of its link to the sacred cow, and because it is considered pure and cleansing. While the bride’s eyes are closed, her maternal uncles will place the choora on her wrists, and her female family members will gift her jewelry, clothing, or money to wish her well on her wedding day.

The bride’s family will also tie a red thread around her wrist, called a moli (or mauli). In addition, the bride’s unwed sisters and female cousins will tie kalire to her first choora on each hand.

Choora are special occasion bangles, not to be worn again. They are wider than most bangles, and because they are to be worn as a set they increase in size so the bangles farthest up the bride’s arm do not pinch her skin. Many modern brides will ask that their uncles match their chooras to their wedding outfits.

Traditionally, brides wore chooras for a long time — usually one year, or until their mother-in-law granted them permission to remove the bangles. This practice was a way of noting that the young woman was a newlywed even after her mehndi wore off, though it is less common in this age of engagement rings and wedding bands.

Kanyadaan

Kanyadaan is the literal “giving away” of the bride. This is an important part of any Hindu ceremony, as it captures the moment that the bride’s parents have consented to her marriage to her partner. Many ceremonies will commemorate the kanyadaan by asking the bride’s parents to literally place his daughter’s hands into her future spouse’s hands, or by asking the bride’s parents to pour water through the hands of both the bride and her future spouse. This is a beautiful but brief portion of the ceremony; you will likely see some Indian aunties wiping away tears when this ritual occurs.