If it’s your first time attending an Indian wedding, no one’s expecting you to be able to recite the entire Khutba (you’ll know what that is by the end of this article), but it does help to have a general idea of what’s what. Unlike most Western wedding ceremonies, guests are expected to participate in the wedding rituals before and during the nuptials at Indian weddings, so knowing a Baarat from a Bidhai will def come in handy.
Here’s your guide to the rituals and traditions of an Indian wedding.
Achkan: This is the long jacket grooms wear at Indian weddings. If you’re looking for what to wear to an Indian wedding as a guest, try a local South Asian market or bazaar for traditional Indian ware.
Agni: The Hindu god of fire and an essential part of Hindu weddings. Couples promise their love to each other in the presence of open fire and to Agni during a Hindu wedding ceremony.
Baraat: Indian grooms and their best friends and male family members process with flourish and dancing to meet the bride or groom during the baraat. It’s not uncommon for the groom to be on horseback during this processional.
Bindi: A decoration worn by Indian women between the eyes. Sometimes associated with the “third eye,” or a divine connection, it’s common for Indian brides of all religions and their bridal parties to wear elaborate bindis with beads and stones.
Haldi: Think of this as sort of a single-sex wedding shower. Each partner gathers at their family homes with their closest friends and family for a pre-wedding application of haldi paste, or turmeric, which becomes bright yellow in paste form. The paste is made by elders of the respective families and is used to ward off evil and bless the couple a couple of days before the wedding.
Manjha: Similar to haldi, but celebrated by Muslim women before an Indian wedding. Unlike the haldi, there is no male counterpart.
Mehendi: Otherwise known as henna, mehendi is a paste that’s applied to the bride’s hands and feet in beautiful, intricate patterns the night before her wedding. Members of the bridal party as well as important women in the bride’s life will gather for this ritual, which is said to bring good luck to the bride and her marriage. Men are sometimes invited to join the mehendi after the henna has been applied.
Nikah: A marriage ceremony performed by Muslims. A religious elder reads a contract to the couple and guests as well as reciting a sermon, or Khutba, from the Quran.
Saat Phere: A recitation of wedding mantras at Hindu weddings as the couple walks around a fire seven times, just before they are officially married.
Sangeet: This is traditionally a ladies-only party that occurs before a Hindu wedding with women from both sides of the family. In modern times, guys are sometimes invited to these joyous occasions as well. Unlike the haldi or mehendi, this isn’t about blessing the couple or warding off evil, but it’s really an excuse to sing and dance before the official wedding singing and dancing. If you’re invited to a sangeet, expect an elaborate party that might include a pop culture theme (similar to bridal showers), choreographed dances and fun extras, like a photo booth.
Saree: An elaborately designed drape of fabric women wear to Indian weddings.
Sikh weddings: If the Indian wedding you’re attending will be Sikh, be prepared to remove your shoes and cover your head before entering the house of worship. Also, the couple and their guests sit on the floor, cross-legged, during these ceremonies.
Sindoor: A red powder applied to the bride’s scalp after the couple is blessed by their parents.
Varmala: An exchange of garlands between the couple. This happens after the processions.
Vidai: Sometimes spelled bidhai, this literally means “good-bye” and it’s a tearful farewell to the bride, who will be leaving her family to join her new spouse’s family. (Don’t worry! You’ll see her again at the reception.)