Planning a South Asian Wedding by Vicki Singh
There are numerous customs within the South Asian wedding celebrations; too many to list here in full, but, as a planner, this should give you a general overview of what South Asian weddings entail.
The best way to truly understand South Asian weddings is to sit down with the couple and their families, just as you would with any other wedding for which you are the planner.
The only difference here is that you will most likely conduct your meetings with other family members, predominantly the bride and groom’s mothers and fathers, and often a sibling or two.
It’s best to find out who your points of contact will be at the beginning of your working relationship, as well as who will ultimately make final decisions.
As you get more involved with South Asian weddings, it’s important point to keep in mind that, although RELIGION and CULTURE are different, there is a lot of overlap when it comes to celebrations.
Religious protocol is particularly important when it comes to the actual marriage ceremony. Many of the wedding celebrations, however (excluding the pre-marriage prayers), are mostly based on the family’s personal traditions.
Each family will have their own take on the timing of celebrations, and how they are carried out. They will usually incorporate guidance from their family elders (grandparents), too.
Pre-Wedding Celebrations: You will find that most South Asian weddings share the following elements. If it is a destination wedding, these events will occur within a span of 3-4 days.
We will detail here a few key events that you will most likely be planning. There will also be a number of rituals embedded within each of these events, which is where you will consult with the family or reach out to another planner for advice.
Engagement: An engagement might last anywhere from a year or more in advance, to the day before the wedding (this is different than the proposal between the couple).
The celebration might involve something as elaborate as the actual wedding reception, with guests of 700+ in attendance, or as intimate as a gathering at the home of either the bride or the groom.
The bride and groom are gifted items from their in-laws. There might be a ring exchange (optional and up to the family), which is typically followed by a party (food and dancing).
If it is a destination wedding at at a resort, this usually takes place on the first day.
Beautification Ceremony: Typically held a day or two before the wedding, the beautification ceremony (sometimes called a Pitti or Vatna) may occur separately at the home of the bride and groom.
If the couple has opted for a destination wedding, this is usually done jointly. Friends and relatives take turns symbolically beautifying the bride or groom by applying a paste of turmeric (which is known to help create a glowing complexion) and oil, which is prepared in advance.
This paste will be placed on the bride or groom’s hands, palms, legs and feet. Most brides prefer NOT to have it rubbed on their face, so as to avoid an unwanted acne breakout shortly before the wedding. This ceremony typically takes place during the day, and can get a bit messy, specifically when it’s the groom’s turn.
If weather permits, holding the beautification ceremony outside is a great option.
Mehndi Night (Henna) & Sangeet (Song & Dance): Regardless of religion, this celebration is common amongst almost all South Asian weddings. Most henna artists suggest having henna applied at least 2-3 days before the wedding, as that is when the colouring appears most vibrantly on the skin. Typically these events are held on two different evenings; however with demanding work schedules and limited time both events can be held on the same evening.
These customary celebrations usually takes place in the evening, during which family members sing, dance and feast. Traditionally, this event was a ‘ladies only’ party. However, all close members of the family are invited these days. The celebration can be small or hosted at a hotel or banquet venue. In the past, the bride’s in-laws would bring her the henna to be applied as a symbolic token, but now it’s about finding the right henna artist. In regards to a destination wedding, the bride might choose to fly in a local artist, someone she has sourced and tried out. It’s important to allocate enough time when creating a schedule for your bride. Some bridal henna patterns can take anywhere from 2-4 hours, depending on how experienced and how fast the artist works. Advise your brides to ready themselves for the long haul, and encourage them eat and use the washroom beforehand. Sometimes it’s more convenient to have the bride’s henna done the day before the Mehndi night party, in the privacy of her own home and without the distractions of others. This also gives her the option of enjoying the party with her guests, as she might otherwise be confined to sitting and waiting for her henna to dry.
Wedding Day: On the morning of the wedding, a series of customs will take place at both the bride and groom’s homes before they leave for the ceremony. These are more customary rather than religious but will often entail a prayer before the families depart for the ceremony. These traditions and which ones are carried out will depend on the family’s’ preferences.
Arrival of the Groom: Regardless of religion, the groom’s usually have a procession before the marriage ceremony. Depending on the groom’s tastes, he may opt to make an entrance upon a horse (usually white), or in a specially rented vehicle. He will be received graciously and grandly by the bride’s family. If your couple decides on a horse, be sure the groom practices mounting it before his wedding day to ensure that he is safe and comfortable. Also, look into incidents and insurance when selecting a company. Exchange of Garlands: Depending on the religion and cultural preferences, this can take place before the wedding or after and may take place at the ceremony location. Again, this is something to go over with the family. Usually, the garlands are made of fresh flowers. Be sure to remind the couple that they should choose flowers that don’t stain, and also be sure that they are not allergic to them. Sometimes, families will hold a formal introduction. The officiant will introduce family members who will also exchange garlands. For example, the father of the groom will exchange a garland with the father of the bride. The officiant will be leading this part of this custom. Morning Reception: This tradition is usually followed by morning snacks and tea. Wedding Ceremony: This is where most of the ceremony will be focused on religious protocol.
In Canada, the three most common religions within the South Asian community are: • Sikhs • Hindus • Muslims
There are different denominations within the Hindu and Muslim religions, and, therefore, there may be slight variations on how the actual marriage ceremony and accompanying rituals are performed. Again, this is where you will need your couples to explain the details to ensure that all the elements are in place.
Below, you will find a brief overview of each type of ceremony.
Sikh Weddings: Ceremonies are typically expected to start around 10:00 am and conclude before noon. This is followed by a vegetarian lunch. Guests are seated on the floor, which is usually carpeted or covered in sheets. All attendees must cover their heads. As a planner, it is best to ensure that the couple makes the arrangements for head coverings, which often coordinate with the wedding’s colour theme, or that the temple provides them. There is absolutely no smoking or alcohol permitted on the temple grounds. Dress codes are usually conservative, and it may be helpful to remind guests that they will be seated on the floor and should dress comfortably. The holy book used is called the Guru Granth Sahib. The couple will walk around the Guru Granth Sahib four times (being guided) by the officiant each time as prayers and hymns are recited.
Hindu Weddings: The wedding’s timing is often dictated by Hindu priests, and is based on astrology. This means the ceremony can take place at any time, according to auspiciousness (even in the middle of night). Most Canadian couples, however, opt for more convenient times that work better for them and their guests. Guests can be seated on chairs or on the floor, depending on where the wedding takes place (at a Mandir or other venue). Only the immediate family members or close friends are usually close to the mandap (the four pillars under which the ceremony takes place). Fire is an important element of the wedding and, therefore, your venue should be aware that this will be a requirement. Some venues don’t allow this, so it’s an important factor to mention when scouting locations. The ceremony can be long (several hours) and in Sanskrit so having a translation printed for guests to read is useful. The bride and groom are usually seated on small stools under the mandap and will be instructed by their officiant (also know as a Pundit or Pujari). Anyone seated close to or under the manap should remove their shoes. The groom will place a black and gold beaded necklace around his bride’s neck, and a red vermilion on her forehead to announce that they are officially married. Again they will be guided by the officiant as to when to walk around the fire and what to say.
Muslim Weddings: Called a Nikkah, the wedding can be held at home, at a mosque, or set up on a beach. There are usually two witnesses close to the bride and groom, who will be at the front with the officiant. There will either be chairs set up, or guests will sit on the floor, and it is possible that the men and women might be seated on separate sides of the room or even separate rooms. The bride and groom will say “qabul” three times when asked by the officiant. In Arabic this means “I accept.” The marriage contract is then signed. The holy book is called the Quran. It is important to know who will be the witnesses and who will be holding the marriage contract in advance. Ring Exchange: Most South Asian weddings entail a ring exchange. However, where and when they decide to do this is up to them. For some families, it is at the engagement party, while others might choose to do so at the marriage ceremony. It is also possible to formalize the exchange at the reception after the wedding cake is cut.
Two Ceremonies On the Wedding Day, Following the Wedding: The bride will depart, formally, from her home. The groom and his family will come for her. The bride then arrives at the groom’s home, where a number of customary rituals will take place. While creating a timeline, keep the distances of the bride and groom’s home in mind along with arranging transportation. This is very important if the reception is being held on the same day.
Reception: When planning a reception, keep food options in mind.
Muslim weddings will require Halal food and no pork is to be served.
Sikh weddings do not serve Halal, and the menu can be vegetarian or non-vegetarian, but typically will not include beef.
Hindu weddings may also be vegetarian or non-vegetarian, depending on the family and event, but, again, there is no beef.
Most couples do not typically visit each table, but it is a nice gesture to incorporate. The couples will usually be seated on a small stage, and guests will go to congratulate them. Often, cards containing money will be gifted to the couple or the groom’s mother, as the groom’s family typically hosts the event. Receptions tend to follow the same pattern as western weddings. This is where you, as the planner, can really exercise your creativity and ensure that the couple includes things like cocktails, an official entrance, a first dance, subsequent dances, speeches, introductions of family members, and lots of celebrating and eating. Don’t forget the emcee and DJ, and set time aside for the cake cutting.
After the Reception there will be a Return Visit: The couple will formally return to visit the bride’s family. Depending on family traditions and preference, this can be anywhere from the next day to the fourth day or even after the couple returns from their honeymoon.
Conclusion: Keep in mind that every family is unique. Be sure to discuss everything thoroughly so that it all unfolds in the best way possible.
Please note that this article is meant to provide a general synopsis only, and therefore we can not be liable for any errors or omissions. If you have any questions or comments please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org