Hindu Ceremonies – Punjabi

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This north Indian state sees one of the liveliest of the Hindu marriage ceremonies with activities beginning weeks before the actual ceremony in an almost carnival-like atmosphere. Events begin with roka, the betrothal ceremony, where you and your groom meet with your closest family at your (or your parents’) house for a ceremony and celebration meal.

Gifts are exchanged as part of roka and your groom’s family will probably give you a sari and a gold chain whilst your family present him with money and, possibly, clothes. Both sets of parents also receive money and the date for your wedding is set.

Sagan is one of the most important of the pre-wedding ceremonies and usually performed at your groom’s house, or, if there are a large number of guests a banquet hall or hotel. Like roka, gifts are presented but, this time, to confirm you engagement. Your father applies tikka (red dye) to your groom’s forehead and the rest of your family bless him. All of your relatives and friends offer him mithai (sweets) and give him money. In some families, the priest or your groom’s parents tie mauli (a sacred thread) to your groom’s wrist.

Your turn comes with chunni chadan where your groom’s relatives visit your home. Traditionally, your sister-in-law to be or your groom’s sister-in-law (bhabhi), is the first to greet you and present you with something red such as a chunni (scarf), sari or even a ribbon, as red represents wealth and fertility. You are dressed in clothes brought by your groom’s family and led to where the ceremony is to be held, where your future mother-in-law presents you with gifts and adorn you with jewellery. She also gives you boiled rice and milk (shagoon) to eat, sometimes actually feed you with it.

You exchange rings and are given money and gifts by all of your groom’s party. The gifts vary but include clothes, shoes, a purse, jewellery, a vanity case full of cosmetics (such as bindhi, hair oil and powder) a comb, lal paranda (red thread for plaiting the hair), mithai (sweets), seasonal fruits and dry fruits. Traditionally, food is eaten by the bride and her younger brothers, siblings, cousins and close friends but not by the older members of the party.

There are nightly sangeets with singing, dancing and general celebrating at both of your houses. More elaborate sangeets include catered food and professional entertainment such as singers or DJs. Both of your families exchange food and gifts on the most important sangeet evenings, which are held either jointly or separately by you and your groom where you are expected to invite each other’s families and friends.

The Mehendi ceremony where your hands and feet are decorated with henna, supplied by your groom’s family as part of his kwar dhoti (ceremonial gift to you which also includes a sari). The traditional decorations used to be painted after the chuda (bangle) ceremony or on the night before your wedding but can now happen on any day preceding the wedding as long as you have mehendi on your hands and feet before the wedding itself. While you are being decorated by a relative, friend or professional, your friends and relatives sing, dance and celebrate your coming marriage.

The Bangle Ceremony
Ivory and red bangles denote purity, wealth and fertility. The chuda ceremony is performed at your home and your maternal uncle (mama) plays an important role in adorning your wrists. Bright colours such as red, orange and magenta are generally worn, as they are believed to be lucky.

Traditionally, you are not allowed to wear the chuda until your future parents-in-law have given you the ceremonial gift of kwar dhoti, which includes a sari, white dhoti (coat) to give to the priest, dried fruits, sweets, bhindi (red spot for the forehead), oil and cosmetics.

The ceremony begins with the priest praying and takes place either in the morning or a time deemed auspicious by the horoscopes. You are not allowed to see the set of bangles but everyone present is supposed to touch them to offer you luck. Lightweight ornaments in beaten silver and gold (kalira) are tied to the bangles with which your maternal aunt and mama had covered your wrists, although the kiliras stop you from performing any housework. When you are leaving, hit one of your friends and cousins with the kiliras and they will be the next to marry!

You may choose to follow tradition here and wear the same clothes for a couple of days (or more) to increase the glow on your face. If this sounds too unhygienic, you could follow a more modern method of achieving a beauty-enhancing glowing face by sitting in front of four lamps whose oil is topped up to increase their heat. Your brother and his wife or sister and her husband fetches some water in a jug from a local temple or, if not, your neighbour’s house. This is added to your bath on the eve of your wedding and your family reward those who fetched the water with clothes and money. Some of your friends and relatives help you to apply vatna or uptan (turmeric powder and mustard oil) to parts of your body as this is supposed to purify you for the wedding. You have a bath once this is done and your old clothes are given to the sweeper – or, in England, the bin men.

Your groom has his own rites to perform. For some Punjabi castes, the groom must wear the sacred thread before he is married and this is performed in the seant ceremony where worship is performed. Your groom’s mama plays an important part in this ceremony and, afterwards, your groom’s sister or sister-in-law (bhabhi) applies uptan (turmeric paste) to his face and arms.

The females of the house arrive, accompanied by your groom’s bhabhi who has a ghara pot on a cushion on her head that is filled with water from a nearby temple. Your mother welcomes the newcomers to the house and is required to offer an auspicious amount of sweets to the bhabhi. Your groom is ritually bathed and given new clothes by his mama, his old clothes being given to the sweeper.

Traditionally, your groom wears a light-coloured achkan safari suit and a young nephew or cousin, known as sarbala, may also wear the same clothes. The sarbala receives clothes and cash from your groom’s family.

One of the most important pre-wedding rituals is sehrabandi. Before your groom leaves for your house and after he has bathed and changed into his new clothes, puja (worship) is performed. Either your groom’s father or an elderly relative ties the sehra (a silver crown with a lucky number of flower ladies or gold-plated strings attached) on your groom’s pagdi (headdress) after it has been touched and blessed by those present. The sehra does not have to be lavish but could be made solely from flowers or from gold thread and beads whilst the pagdi can be yellow, pink or white with splashes of saffron. Once the sehra has been tied, all of your groom’s relatives give your groom gifts, usually money, and bless him.

Various rituals are performed as your groom leaves his house for the ceremony. His bhabi puts eye shadow (surma) around his eyes and he thanks her with jewellery and cash. Traditionally, a groom travels to his wedding by horse and his sisters and cousins who feed it chane ki daal (bengal gram lentils) are given a cash gift. His sisters also perform vag goondti where the horse’s mane is braided with gold strings and are given cash and other gifts for this service. If a car is being used instead of a horse, the gold strings are tied to the car’s bonnet. Whilst these rituals are taking place with much singing and playing, your groom’s mother and elderly relatives keep small amounts of money to protect your groom from the evil eye (buri nazar). This money is given to the poor.

The Ceremony
Your relatives greet your groom’s wedding party (baarat) in a ritual known as milni where both sets of relatives meet formally. Normally, this only occurs between a specified odd number of male relatives. An important part of milni is the presenting of shagoon (a gift) from your relatives to your husband’s. This is a cash gift of an auspicious amount, with the highest amount given to your groom’s father.

Your father may also give additional gifts such as a shawl or pagdi to your groom’s father, grandfathers and brothers at this time. Throughout milni, your groom remains on the mare (or in his car) and, only once the ritual is over, is he allowed down, helped by your brother.

Amidst much joking and comments from both sets of friends and relatives, you garland your groom who reciprocates in a ceremony known as varmal or jayamala. You also have the chance to relax and make informal introductions amongst your two families and sets of friends while they are eating although, traditionally, you, your groom and your parents are supposed to fast until the wedding ceremony finishes.

Your horoscopes determine the actual time of the ceremony, generally after dinner. As the mahurat (auspicious hour) approaches, your groom is be led to the altar (vedi) where the priest performs puja (worship).

The first few mantras are recited solely for your groom and it is traditional at this point for your sisters, or other friends or relatives, to steal your groom’s shoes and sell them back to him later. It is not the same in all communities, but, before being led to the vedi to join your parents and groom, you may be required to change into clothes, which is presented to you by either your maternal grandfather or mama.

Your father gives you to your groom by kanya Danam (handing over ceremony), where, in a Punjabi variation on the typical ceremony, he places a ring on your groom’s finger before placing your hand in his.

The Seven Steps
Your groom’s sister ties your veil to your groom’s pagdi (headdress) using the pink or red scarf used in the earlier ceremony. One end of the scarf is laden with foodstuffs such as dry dates (chuara), sugar candy (misri) and almonds (badam), along with a silver coin. This refers to the time when the sarbala would have stood beside the holy fire with a bundle (gathri) of food, which would have been left at the bride’s house and distributed amongst her friends and relatives. In his other hand, he would have held a small pot (ghara) filled with water as a gift. If this custom is retained, the ghara should be put next to the altar after the prayers.

Traditionally, you will be ‘tested’ on your culinary skills on your first day in your new home when you are expected to cook something, preferably sweet like halwar and, in this way, establish yourself as the mistress of your kitchen. Nowadays, whatever you cook is more akin to a symbolic gift (shagoon) and another opportunity for you to receive clothes and jewellery from your new family. You also return to your old home to visit your parents on your first day as a wife. If your brother had accompanied you to your new house after the wedding, he returns to your parents’ house with you or, if he has already returned, he fetches you for this next step in your life. Your parents hold a lunch in your honour and your parents-in-law and other close relatives may also be invited.

Your parents give both you and your husband clothes and jewellery and you may also receive gifts for your new family, including a sari from your mother-in-law, clothes for your father-in-law, brother or sister-in-law, appliances for the house and sweet boxes for everyone there.

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