A Punjabi Wedding is an auspicious occasion full of delectable foods, traditional entertainment, colourful silks, vibrant music with lots of traditional dancing and singing. Those jubilant dance numbers in Bollywood Movies are the very essence of being a Punjabi. They celebrate every occasion with much enthusiasm and gusto. A Punjabi Wedding is an opportunity for the community to bless a newly married couple for their life together as husband and wife. So you can expect there to be hundreds, most likely thousands of guests, that even the bride and groom won't personally know them all.
Wedding Season, which is the cooler months of November through to February, is my favourite time of the year when in Punjab, as there is always a celebration happening. During the wedding season I tend to receive at least a few invitations each week. Being a foreigner is actually an advantage as many will personally request my attendance despite never having met the bride or groom.
Even when I am out and about Punjabi People will always approach me and sometimes extend me an invitation to their son or daughter's wedding. Punjabi's are very generous people and are always ready to welcome a stranger into their life. So if you are travelling through Punjab be sure to attend a Punjabi Wedding if given an invitation.
A wedding invitation in itself is a representation of the bride and grooms family and as such will always be just as elegant. It is tradition to hand deliver to each guest a box of traditional Indian Sweets with a beautifully handcrafted invitation. This is equivalent to the western wedding favour that is usually handed out after attendance of the reception. You can expect to find delectable traditional sweets such as Gulab Jamans, Rasgulla, Burfi or Laddu.
The key reason why you should attend a Punjabi Wedding at least once is simply because it is a nonstop celebration. The Punjabi's really know how to party with wedding celebrations commencing one or two weeks prior to the wedding day. So if you are fortunate enough to receive an invitation then expect to be attending at least two to four different celebrations. Be prepared to dress extravagantly as guests will all be dressed in their most colourful and glitzy Punjabi Suit, Lehanga Choli or Anarkali Dress. Whilst men will dressed in a smart blazer and tailored pants.
Depending on the region of Punjab and the family, will depend on what traditions are celebrated. Each tradition also varies slightly depending on the culture of that region. Though you can be sure that most family's will celebrate The Mehndi Ceremony, Vatna Ceremony, Jaago, The Rokka Ceremony, Sangeet, Anand Karaj, The Wedding Reception and Doli Ceremony. Typically guests are invited to participate in The Mehndi Ceremony, Jaago, Anand Karaj and The Wedding Reception.
Though it really depends on the personal preference of the family. Some opt to only invite close family and friends to Anand Karaj whilst others invite all their guests. There is no hard and fast rule when it comes to celebrating Punjabi Wedding Celebrations. Each of these celebrations are a fun and joyous occasion, and just as vibrant as the Punjabi Wedding Day.
The Mehndi Ceremony usually takes place two days before the wedding at the brides home. Professional Mehndi Artists will come to the home and apply intricate designs to the hands, arms, feet and legs of the bride and her sister's. Any female relative or friend is known as a sister in the Punjabi Culture. The groom also partakes although he will only have a small token design applied. It is a joyous occasion with lots of traditional entertainment and food.
The Mehndi Ceremony can also include the Vatna Ceremony where the bride is seated on a wooden plank called a patri and a red cloth is held above by four female relatives. The Vatna Ceremony is also known as the Haldi Ceremony. Female relatives of the bride or groom then take turn in applying a tumeric, flour and mustard oil mixture called vatna over their body. During the ritual women will sing traditional songs. The Mehndi Ceremony is the Punjabi equivalent to the western tradition of the Hens Party. So you will be in for a treat should you be fortunate to attend.
Jaago is a loud occasion full of dancing, singing, food and fireworks. Centuries ago invitations didn't exist and so relatives of the bride and groom would go around the village the night before with pots and candles on their head, singing and dancing as open invitation to attend the wedding. The candles were merely used for light. These days the ceremony is held at the Brides home the night before the wedding.
The brides aunt will wear a decorated brass vessel called khadaa on her head. All the ladies will then visit other friends and families houses dancing and singing carrying the khadaa. They are welcomed with sweets and drinks. You can expect an ever flowing supply of alcohol and food at Jaago, though be sure to get some rest in preparation for the Wedding Day as celebrations tend to go through the night till early morning. Most will hire a DJ to play loud Punjabi music, so you better have your dancing shoes ready. The evening usually is concluded with a loud spectacular display of fireworks.
The following morning after Jaago Celebrations is Anand Karaj where the bride and groom will officially be wed. Anand Karaj is the prescribed form of sikh marriage, the words literally translate as blissful union. It is performed by any respected Sikh at a Gurudawa which is a Sikh Temple. Only close friends and family are invited to attend Anand Karaj. It is the Punjabi equivalent of the western tradition of walking down the aisle. The bride and groom will walk in tow around The Guru Granth Sahib four times signifying that they accept each other as one soul in two bodies with the Guru at the centre of the marriage. At the conclusion of Anand Karaj the Bride and Groom will then make their way to their reception party.
The Punjabi Bride is a vision of beauty adorned in her heavily embellished or embroidered Lehanga Choli and Dupatta. She will be bejewelled in as much jewellery as possible with intricate mehndi designs on her hands, arms, legs and feet. The Punjabi Bride will typically require assistance walking as her attire can easily weigh 15kg in total. The Punjabi Groom is just as handsome in his traditional Punjabi Suit however many opt to wear a tailored suit with tie.
The Wedding Reception is typically held at a Palace so there is plenty of room for thousands of guests. A Palace is a Wedding Venue not dissimilar to a Palace with large marble columns surrounding the entryway. There is usually an indoor and outdoor reception area with colourful silks in contrasting colours draped throughout. You can be sure that there will be plenty of Indian Cuisines served at a wedding reception with a choice of two or three different buffets. Outdoors will generally be street food vendors serving traditional Indian fast foods.
A wedding isn't complete without traditional entertainment and music. Indoors there will be a large stage centred in front of rows and rows of seats where traditional dancers or singers will perform to the thousands of guests. Just below the stage is the dancefloor and DJ where you will find everyone dancing the banghera whilst throwing cash in the air. At a traditional Punjabi Wedding men and women are seated separately within the reception hall as women are not permitted to consume alcohol in the Sikh Faith. Though westernised weddings usually aren't as strict.
All the guests are eagerly waiting in anticipation for the newly wedded bride and groom to arrive at the reception. Upon arrival the bride is permitted entry into the reception with the groom left to partake in fun rituals to gain entry to the reception. This is a fun tradition known as The Ribbon Cutting Ceremony.
The bride's sisters will have a ribbon or sash tied across the reception entryway to prevent the groom entering. The sisters of the bride will only allow entry if the groom pays them a negotiated sum of money. There is lots of bartering and joking involved in the negotiations until they come to an agreement. The ribbon or sash is then ceremoniously cut and the groom is allowed to enter. As with any tradition there is no hard and fast rule with how The Ribbon Cutting Ceremony is performed.
The brothers of the bride and groom will then make their way down the isle of the reception hall following drummers and dancing the banghera to the beat of the dhol. The bride and groom follow in tow under a red veil held by their sisters. Once they arrive at the front stage they stand beside a may pole. The drummers will take one ribbon each which is attached to the may pole and dance around the couple, twining the ribbon around the pole. It is a festive celebration with confetti and cash thrown in the air. The bride and groom eventually make their way to a small stage usually situated beside the entertainment stage. They will take a seat on an elaborately decorated couch where they will remain for shagan which can be for several hours.
Each guest will approach the bride and groom on the stage to bestow upon them blessings for their life together as husband and wife. They will then gift them cash which is known as shagun. The cash is placed in a decorative net that is rested on both the bride and grooms laps. The Wedding Photographer will then take a photograph of each guests family as they pay their respects. After shagan draws to a conclusion the bride and groom are free to indulge in the buffet and dance the night away.
The bride and groom will then depart the reception and head to the brides home for the Doli Ceremony. Some choose to celebrate Doli after Anand Karaj or upon departing the reception however it is a personal preference. After arriving at the Bride's home the Bride will immediately go inside whilst the groom will partake in fun rituals in order to be allowed to enter the house. Similar to The Ribbon Cutting Ceremony the sisters of the bride will only allow entry if the groom pays them a negotiated sum of money. There is lots of bartering and joking involved in the negotiations until they come to an agreement. A large sash or ribbon erected to prevent the groom entering may then be cut.
Celebrations then continue inside with the bride and grooms family's who bestow upon them gifts of cash known as shagun whilst enjoying traditional sweets and tea. Before stepping outside the house, the bride will then throw handfuls of rice behind her. This act is symbolic of repaying the bride's parents for all they have done for her. The bride and groom then depart in a car decorated in roses. The brides brothers will then give the car a push to help their sister start her new life.
Upon arrival of the groom's house his mother will pour oil on both sides of the door before allowing the couple to enter. The groom’s mother then begins the Pani Bharna in which she attempts to drink water from a steel jug and her son prevents her from doing so. After the third, fifth or seventh attempt he allows her to drink it. The family then bestow gifts of cash to the bride to welcome her into the family.
These very traditions are why you should attend a Punjabi Wedding at least once in your lifetime. Whilst this wasn't an exhaustive list of all the traditions celebrated, it gives you an idea of what to expect. It is a vibrant and flamboyant celebration that will leave an everlasting memory. Now I might be a little bias when I say this given I am an honorary Punjabi myself, though a Punjabi Wedding is a lot more colourful and joyous than an Indian Wedding. I highly recommend if ever given the opportunity, you should definitely attend a Punjabi Wedding at least once!
If you are marrying into the Punjabi Culture or already have done so, and would like to share your story then be sure to contact me. I would love to share your fairy tale wedding with others as inspiration to take the leap of faith into a bi-cultural marriage.