Traditional Sikh wedding is also called “Anand Karaj” or “Blissful Union”. As in most of world cultures Sikhs have traditions held before the wedding ceremony, at the ceremony and those held after the wedding ceremony.
“Kurmai” or Engagement is not organized at every Sikh wedding. When it is held, then it is done a week before the wedding in the “Gurudwara” or in the groom’s home. A Gurudwara or “the doorway to the guru” is a Sikh place of worship (temple).
If Kurmai is performed in the groom’s home, the bride arrives there with “kara” (metal bracelet), “kirpan” (ceremonial sword) or traditional sweets. She also brings objects that are believed to be good omen. These are coconut, “chhuhare” (dry dates), sugar and money. Bride’s family gets a traditional suit and some sweets for the bride.
Maiya” is a traditional belief stating that the bride and groom are not allowed to leave their homes or change clothes few days before the wedding.
“Gana” is a red thread tied to the groom’s right wrist and the bride’s left wrist. 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.
Few days before the wedding “vatna” or scented powder which is applied on the bride’s and groom’s body. The powder is made of barley flour, turmeric and mustard oil. After that there is a ritual bath. On the evening of the wedding or as Sikhs would say “mehndi ki raat” the henna tattoo is made on bride’s hands and feet.
“Gharoli” ceremony is held in morning of the wedding day in the groom’s house. During the ceremony the groom’s sister-in-law with some female relatives go to a well or Gurudwara to fill a “gharoli” or a special decorated jug with water. The water is later used to bath the groom.
“Kahare Charna” is yet another of pre-wedding ceremonies. The groom is sitting on a stool doing his bath and four girls are holding a cloth over his head.
Bride’s maternal uncle or “mama” takes the bride for the “chooda” ceremony. She wears a “chooda” or set of red and white ivory (nowadays many used bone or plastic) bangles. These bangles have been dipped in “kachchi lassi” or buttermilk.
The tradition is to wear 21 bangles, but today most brides wear 7 or 9 bangles. Today the bride wears the chooda for month and a quarter. Traditionally it would be for at least a year. Bride’s close female relatives tie “kaleeren” or golden metal danglers to the bride’s wrist. The maternal uncles put the “nath” which is a traditional nose ring for the bride. In the past big Shikarpuri rings were popular. They covered large part of the face.
“Sehrabandi” is held in the groom’s home. Groom’s sister tie a “sehera” or ceremonial floral veil to the groom’s forehead. It is believed that the sehra brings the status of “Vishnu” (the creator) on the groom. Traditionally Sikh groom must wear a turban, sehra and carry a sword. He also has to sport a beard. Then some of groom’s close relatives put garlands made of paper money on groom’s neck.
The groom mounts a decorated mare. He is accompanied by “sarvala”. The sarvala is a single younger brother or friend who “protects” the groom. The groom’s wedding party or “baraat” then goes to the bride’s home. There is lot of fireworks and dancing of the “bhangra”.
Both families gather at the “milini” ceremony held in the bride’s house. Elders of both families are embracing each other. Special breakfast is served. While the procession is entering the Gurudwara shabads (devotional songs) are sung. Shabad called “hum ghar saajan aaye” is especially popular at such an occassion. Shabads are performed by a professional “raagi” who is kind of local bard.
The Jaimala is what follows. The groom goes to a decorated platform. The bride enters the room accompanied by her sisters, friends and “bhabhis” (sisters-in-law). She joins the groom standing at the platform. The bride and groom exchange flower garlands. This is done with some humour. Both sides try to avoid the bowing of the groom when getting the garland. Why? Well, it is believed that if bowing at this ceremony he would also continue to bow to her for the rest of their lives.
The wedding ceremony or Anand Karaj held in the morning of the wedding day. The ceremony can be held in the Gurudwara or at some other place. If the ceremony is organized out of the Gurudwara the “Guru Granth Sahib” (the Sikh holy book) must be there too. The ceremony starts with the singing of “kirtan” (first hymns) by the bride and groom sitting in front of the Guru Granth Sahib. In these hymns God is asked to keep this ceremony pure.
Then the bride and groom chant a prayer. What follows is the ceremony of Anand Karaj performed by the “granthi” (Sikh priest). The ceremony includes readings from the writings of the fifth Sikh guru, Guru Arjun Dev. The ceremony is performed in four parts.
Sikh bride and groom
The main “topics” of this parts are matters of karma, dharma or faith and blessing. After each part the bride and groom bow to the Guru Granth Sahib and then circle around it. This act is called “lavan”. Then there is a performance of the “Ardaas” and “Shukrana” prayers. The wedding ceremony ends with “Hukunama” or proof statement of the marriage showing that everything was done in a proper manner.
“Juti Chupai” is a funny tradition held during the wedding ceremony. Girls from the bride’s family try to steal groom’s shoes and hide them. But there is also the other side. Boys from the groom’s family try to prevent it. 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.
“Doli Muklava” is what follows next. After the lunch held at bride’s home the baraat is getting ready to leave with the bride. Everything is full of emotions with performance of “bidai” songs. The bride is going to a new home. This departure is called “muklava”.
In the past she used to leave in in a “doli” or decorated palanquin. Nowadays the bride and groom leave in a decorated car. To show love and support to the couple bride’s brothers push the car as long as they can.
The groom’s mother welcomes the bride in groom’s home. She does it by waving of a special bowl held in a bed of jamun leaves or grass over the heads of bride and groom. She sips from it until the groom asks her to stop.
As an act of welcoming a mustard oil is poured at the entrance door. The next tradition is performed by the bride. She kicks the bowl containing wheat, grains into the house showing symbolically that from now on her food, whole life is in this house and that her arrival is going to bring prosperity.
She enters the house. She is welcomed by relatives, friends and neighbours. Each of them feeds her with some “laddoo” (laddu) sweets. They also give her some money or “Mukh Dekhai”. As part of Mukh Dekhai she gets some jewellery by the groom and his mother.
All the dowry and presents bride brought to her new home are put into a “sandook” (big trunk make of tin). The groom’s sister is the first who is given a chance to choose some dresses in the trunk. This tradition is called “Sandook Khulwai”.
As part of the welcoming in the new family the bride and groom are asked to play some games. Here is one of these games. It’s called “go fish”. The bride and groom take off their rings and put them in a pot of milk. The couple then tries to find them. Person who find them first will be the boss in new household.
The wedding reception is organized by the groom’s family. After the reception there is the “Suhaag Raat” or the night when the marriage is consumed.
On the next day the couple goes to the bride’s parents. This tradition is called “Phera”. Special meal is prepared. Both the bride and groom get some presents.
THE ESSENTIAL GUIDE TO SIKH WEDDINGS: WEDDING TRADITIONS
The Sikh Wedding rituals themselves often take place in a temple, such as a gurudwara. The marriage hall is called the pandal; it is where family and friends gather to watch the bride and groom officially join together as a married couple. The ceremony is often held in a gurudwara, or a Sikh temple.
Sikhism does not permit for priests, who may become too filled with ego. Rather, a custodian of the Guru Granth Sahib will read the relevant passages of the book and marry the couple.
After the groom is dressed in his wedding attire, he mounts a white horse – decorated with colorful adornments as well – to the pandal. The horse must be white, as it represents peace and submissiveness of the powerful horse to the groom. The groom looks truly royal during the baraat, as his family sings folk songs and dances before his departure.
Nowadays, many Sikh grooms only ride a short distance to the wedding hall, or arrive in a flower-decorated car instead. The guests who are involved in the baraat have a privileged status and are often members of the groom’s family or close friends. The men will usually cover their heads for this formal occasion.
After the groom dismounts, he is welcomed by the bride’s family with prayers, sweets, and cheers.
After reading the prayers from the Ardas, the bride’s father welcomes the groom and gifts him an envelope of money. Only male relatives participate in this warm welcome.
The officiating custodian brings out a Guru Granth Sahib decorated in beautiful cloth. All guests in the marriage hall remove their shoes and cover their heads. Guests will all bow to the Guru Granth Sahib, and some offer token money.
The bride’s family guides both the groom and then the bride to a cushion, mattress, or raised platform (mandap) where the ceremonies will begin. In ancient custom, the bride has her face covered by a veil to protect her from the evil eye, but the groom removes his sehra at this point.
The officiator reads prayers and sings hymns to weclome the blessings of God for the marriage. The bride’s father helps her tie the groom’s dupatta or free-flowing cloth to her pallu, as a symbol of unity.
The bride and groom will both bow to the Guru Granth Sahib at the beginning and end of each phera read from the holy book.
After the reading, the bride and groom walk around the Guru Granth Sahib, joined together by the tied cloth. The first four pheras represent the warding off of evil by purifying the holy book.
The ceremony concludes with singing the Song of Bliss, Anand Sahib. It takes about an hour to complete, and karah prasad is eaten immediately afterward.
The four lavans explain the four stages of married life. The first verse is about the performance of duty towards family and community; the second verse acknowledges mutual love between the bride and groom; the third verse celebrates detachment together in the midst of hectic family life; and the fourth verse speaks of the final stage of harmony, where human love translates into love for God.
The couple may exchange rings after the prasad has been distributed. The groom’s father then puts a garland of flowers on the couple, followed by the groom’s mother, and then the bride’s parents.
After the garland ceremony, lunch is often provided within the marriage hall itself. Sikh wedding ceremonies are often performed in the morning and take a few hours, ending around noon.
After the marriage ceremony, the bride’s sisters may tease the groom by stealing his shoes and demand a bribe of money for their return. This ceremony can be done either before or after the wedding, but is usually done in jest after the formal rituals are complete.
The post-wedding formalities vary by modernity and preference but generally begin after the official rituals are completed and the couple is legally wed.