From food to entertainment, and clothing to flowers, 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 for the wedding itself. "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." Note that not all Hindu couples participate in the same traditions—it's a matter of personal beliefs and preferences. For those that do, however, it's an elaborate, ritual-rich celebration that takes place before the wedding itself.
Meet the Expert
Jignasa Patel is a South Asian wedding expert and event planner with over a decade of experience in the industry. She is the CEO and creative director of K.I. Weddings, an event planning and design firm recognized for their understanding of South Asian traditions and flawless fusions with American nuptial culture.
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 lenghas 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," advises Patel. "Dressing the part will create an unforgettable experience." 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. And don't be afraid of bold and vibrant colors! "If you like ornate, bold, rich colors you will find lots of them while attending Hindu wedding festivities," adds Patel. "Each event is known to have its own color palette from a design and floral aspect." If you are attending a mehndi ceremony and intend to get a henna design, make sure to wear short sleeves so that your hands are exposed. Err on the side of comfort as you may be sitting for a long time and remember that henna can stain clothing.
- 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 six 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, in southern India, is the closest event to a western engagement party. After the groom's father gets permission from the bride's father to go forward 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 woman'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 a written vow to each other that the wedding will take place at a later date. These two are considered a formal announcement of the wedding, which will typically take place months later.
Days before the wedding, the couple will participate in a pre-wedding ceremony called the Graha Shanti, a ritual 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 in 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 an event traditionally reserved for the bride-to-be and her closest female friends and family members. The main focus of the event is the application of the bridal mehndi, or henna design, to her hands and feet. The henna is a paste intended to temporarily dye the skin in intricate designs 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. The ceremony usually takes place one day before the marriage will be held, as the application takes a very long time.
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-party for the wedding where family comes together to sing, dance, and celebrate the wedding festivities to come. 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.
Consider the tilak ceremony, the male counterpart to the mehndi ceremony. As you may have guessed, this ceremony is only for the groom-to-be and male family members or close friends. During the ceremony the bride's father and groom's father exchange gifts and the groom-to-be is offered tilak, or paste painted onto the forehead, to ensure he will be a loving husband and father.