From food and entertainment to flowers and decorations, there's much preparation and anticipation that revolves around a couple's wedding day. In Hindu culture, however, some couples put just as much effort into their engagement and pre-wedding ceremonies as they do the wedding itself—some may even hire planners!
"When describing Hindu weddings, I like to describe them as more of a festival because they consist of quite a few celebratory events leading up to the wedding," explains event planner Jignasa Patel. "These gatherings and events start off small and intimate, usually involving the families and relatives. Events close to the wedding day are larger and include family, relatives, as well as friends."
Meet the Expert
Jignasa Patel is a South Asian wedding expert and event planner with over a decade of experience. She is the CEO and creative director of K.I. Weddings, an event planning and design firm recognized for its understanding of South Asian traditions and ability to fuse them with American nuptial culture.
Note that not all Hindu couples participate in the same traditions—many of them vary from region to region in both name and practice, and it's a matter of the couple's personal beliefs and preferences. It's customary, however, for the engagement and days leading up to the wedding to be full of elaborate, ritual-rich celebrations.
Wondering what else you need to know before attending a Hindu engagement party or pre-wedding event? Here are some frequently asked questions.
- How long is the traditional Hindu engagement period? "We don’t have a traditional engagement period length in the Hindu culture, and this length of time varies between families," says Patel. "However, because Hindus get married based on auspicious times selected by priests based on the birth dates of each partner, there are specific dates within the year that are suitable, and this often guides when the couple gets married. In modern times, couples have to work their wedding date around their personal life and must especially consider the completion of their education prior to marriage."
- What should I wear to a Hindu engagement party? Similar to Hindu weddings, guests can wear traditional Indian clothes like saris or lehengas for women and long-sleeved tunics and pants for men. "Consider wearing traditional Indian attire with beadwork and embroidery to as many events as possible," says Patel. If you love color, don't be afraid to go bold! Reds, purples, oranges, and other bright colors are customary. Otherwise, choose a respectful outfit that you would feel comfortable wearing to a religious ceremony as there are many religious undertones to these pre-wedding events.
- Should I bring a gift? Gifts are not typically exchanged at Hindu engagement or pre-wedding events unless you are a member of the immediate family. You can, however, bring flowers or edible items like sweets, but all you really need to bring are your blessings to the couple and their families.
Read on for eight Hindu engagement and pre-wedding traditions and explanations of what they represent.
Mangni or Nischitartham
The mangni, as it is called in northern India, or nischitartham, as it's referred to in southern India, is the closest event to a Western engagement party. This event is often large and celebratory with all of the two partners' families present. At this party, several rituals are performed, a formal commitment is made between the two people getting engaged, and vows are exchanged to solidify the engagement.
During the mangni/nischitartham—after the groom's father gets permission from the bride's father to proceed with the wedding—the wagdaan ritual may be performed so that the couple becomes formally engaged. "The wagdaan ceremony is akin to a Western engagement ceremony for us Hindus, and it is when the groom’s family welcomes the bride's family into their home," explains Patel. "The ritual is performed differently within each family but most often includes an exchange of vows and a commitment with a ring to signify the engagement."
The to-be-weds also participate in lagna patrika, which is when the bride and groom exchange a written vow to one another that the wedding will take place at a later date and time. Typically, the date and time proposed during this ceremony will be the one printed on the invitations. Often, a pandit (Hindu priest) will be present to write down the details of the marriage, including the names of the engaged, their family members, and the proposed date and time of the wedding, with a red pen. Together, the wagdaan and lagna patrika are considered a formal announcement of the wedding, which will typically take place months later.
Days before the wedding, the couple will participate in the graha shanti, a ceremony intended to bring peace, prosperity, and happiness to the couple. This ceremony begins with haladi, a purification ritual that involves the married female family members massaging the bride and groom with fragrant oils and halad, a mixture of turmeric, oil, and water meant to bless the participants. "This is what I call a cleansing ceremony," says Patel. "A yellow turmeric paste made for the bride and groom to generally apply on the morning of their wedding has turned into a pre-wedding event to enjoy with friends and family. This paste is blessed during the creation and protects the couple from evil spirits." Next is the muhurtamedha, a ritual in which the upcoming wedding day is formally declared, and sankalpa, which involves praying for blessings.
"Most auspicious Hindu ceremonies involve a puja, which is a prayer ritual performed in praise of deities," explains Thusali Kashyap, who's from South India and was married in 2015. "Both families are present and there is usually an exchange of various items and gifts, such as outfits and accessories." There are numerous pujas completed, and each has its own meaning and purpose. Typically, they serve to bless the upcoming wedding and marriage. After the pujas, the couple is officially pronounced bride and groom, though they will not be married until several days later.
A mehndi ceremony is traditionally reserved for the bride-to-be and her closest friends and family members. The main purpose of this event is the application of bridal mehndi, or henna design, to her hands and feet. Henna is a brown paste that temporarily dyes the skin and is applied in intricate designs. The ceremony usually takes place the day before the wedding, as the henna application can take a while and requires the bride to remain seated for hours while it dries.
Traditionally, the designs have an ornamental floral theme, but contemporary brides-to-be opt for personal touches or even hide the groom's name within the design and have him try to find it. "A modern addition to this tradition is to customize the henna designs with something personal that means something to the couple," says Patel. "Some that I have seen and love are the couple’s own faces and a skyline of the city in which they met." Some believe that the darker the color of the dried design or the longer that it lasts on the skin before fading signifies how deep the groom's love is or how fondly the mother-in-law will treat her son's spouse.
Traditionally, the sangeet or garba ("similar celebrations for different regional backgrounds," explains Patel) takes place after the mehndi ceremony. The sangeet, which means "sung together," is essentially a pre-wedding party where family comes together to sing, dance, and celebrate the wedding festivities to come. It usually takes place at the bride's home or at a separate venue, depending on how many guests there are. It is typical for family members to break out a musical performance where the bride's family performs for the groom's family to welcome them. Believe it or not, in earlier times, the sangeet would last for ten days!
Consider the tilak ceremony the groom's counterpart to the mehndi ceremony. As you may have guessed, this ceremony is only for the groom-to-be and family members or close friends. During the ceremony, the bride's father and groom's father exchange gifts, such as sugar, coconuts, rice, clothes, jewelry, and henna. The groom-to-be is offered tilak, a paste painted onto the forehead, to ensure he will be a loving husband and father. The exchanging of gifts and the application of tilak at this ceremony are meant to symbolize the bride's father's acceptance of the groom into his family.