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Wedding Traditions

Indian customs

Indian weddings are very bright events, filled with ritual and celebration, that continue for several days. They are not small affairs, often with 400-1000 people attending (many of whom are unknown to the bride and groom). Though most marriages are arranged, some couples in urban areas have love marriages. The true indian wedding is about two families getting wedded socially with much less emphasis on the individuals involved.

Wedding traditions vary across religion, caste, ethnicity, language, region, etc. This article will touch on a traditional Hindu wedding.

Traditional Indian weddings are generally structured into pre-wedding ceremonies, wedding day ceremonies (consisting of the Baraat, the Varmala and the Phere), and the Vidaai.

An example of the complexity of an Indian wedding can be seen from the various phases of a wedding in the North. The following events take place in a typical Eastern Uttar Pradesh Hindu marriage:

Before the wedding day
Bariksha (Var-iksha probably) is when the bride's parents have informally shown intentions that they want a particular groom, and the groom and his family have agreed. Retracting at the end of this stage is frowned upon but is acceptable.

Tilak is when the bride's parents travel to the groom's place to formalize the relationship. A large feast is organized by the groom's family to celebrate this occasion. Only a nominal number of members of the bride's family are present (usually only very close relatives, often in tens of numbers. Typically, female relatives from the bride's family are not present.) After this stage, the retraction of the marriage proposal is very rare.

Wedding ceremony
Varmala/Jaimala is the next phase of the marriage ceremony. In older times, varmala was a part of the main marriage ceremony. Practical considerations have forced weddings to take this new approach. Eastern/North Indian weddings usually take place late in the night, often starting at about midnight and lasting until the early hours of morning. The main wedding event usually is accompanied by the groom arriving with his family/friends in a procession called a Baraat (baa-raat.) Owing to the fact that the wedding ceremony is usually accompanied by a reception and a feast, the main marriage ceremony has been split into two parts. Varmala+Reception and then the more ritualistic part involving a priest.

Wedding in Bangalore, ritualistic part involving a priest.Immediately after the groom has arrived with the Baraat, the groom and bride meet and exchange garlands in the Jaimala ceremony. Once this ceremony has finished, the well wishers congratulate the groom and the bride and present gifts to them. Food is served during this ceremony, and pretty much everyone except closest relatives leave once the ceremony has finished.

The main part of the wedding starts after the Jaimala ceremony has finished. The groom and the bride sit beside the fire and the priest chants shlokas (hymns) and the groom and the bride exchange vows in front of many gods and goddesses. Towards the end of the marriage ceremony, a ritual called Phere (pronounced: Fair-ey, meaning "revolutions") is performed. In the Phere ritual, a part of the groom's attire and the bride's attire are tied together (symbolizing that they are now united) as they go around the ceremonial fire seven times. Each round about the fire symbolizes a part of life. The bride leads in first three rounds symbolizing that the earlier part of marriage is led by the bride. The groom leads in the last four rounds symbolizing that the later part of life will be led by him. Sometime during the ceremony, the groom puts a little sindoor (red powder) in the parting of the bride's hair and puts a mangalsutra (necklace) around her neck. These tasks symbolize that she is now a married woman, as all married Hindu women are supposed to wear sindoor in the parting of their hair for the rest of their married lives.

On the morning following the Varmala/Phere, the groom has a final breakfast at the bride's place, and the bride leaves her parents' house escorted by the groom. Traditionally, this phase is accompanied by the bride's family shedding many tears and throwing raw, white rice as she parts from the home where she grew up to start a new phase of her life. This part of the marriage ceremony is called Vidaai.


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