Planning a Sikh wedding is critical to ensuring the wedding goes as planned with many ceremonies now taking place over a number of days. It’s important to have some sense of control over what is happening.
As I planned my own Sikh wedding, I gained first hand experience of what to expect and the steps to take to ensure things went as smoothly as expected. I did get a little help from some of my family and friends but all in all, I was proud of all the work I did in ensuring my big wedding day went as smoothly as possible.
In the following parts of this article, I’m going to detail what I did for the key wedding ceremonies. You might not necessarily want to do the same things I did, so take what I’ve written as a guide that’s not set in stone. One you can adapt to how you want your wedding to be.
The engagement would be the start to the rituals of a Sikh wedding, with parents on both sides basically agreeing to the union of their children. This is normally a low key affair and can easily be carried out at the brides’ family home. It mainly consists of the immediate family of both the bride and groom.
Food can be cooked at home, to be a little more cost effective and make this more of an intimate affair. Drinks can easily be bought on budget at a wholesaler. There may be occasions where a separate venue is hired to cater for more guests than the immediate family. These in themselves can become quite lavish affairs.
Regardless whether the marriage is arranged or not, the groom will officially put an engagement ring onto the brides finger. The brides family will give an item of gold to the groom, this really could be anything of your choice. You can give as much or as little as you wish but do stick within your means.
The Sangeet night, as the name suggests takes place in the evening. It is normally a day or two prior to the actual wedding day. Depending on the number of your guests, you could hold this at your family home, normally at the family home of the bride.
Once again, costs can be kept to a minimum, but for a more elaborate Sangeet celebration, you could hold this at a venue of your choice. It really depends on you and of course the number of guests you want to invite.
When I got married, I kept it simple. We erected a marquee in the garden and hired the caterers who were going to cater for our wedding. This meant that my mum could actually enjoy the evening too, instead of having to worry about cooking large quantities of food and ensuring there was enough for everyone.
The marquee we hired was plain and simple and we didn’t feel it actually needed any additional decorations as it already had lights around it. We kept the invitations to only close family members and friends. It was a great way for both sides of the families and friends to get to know each other in a very informal evening.
The Dhol (Indian drum) was provided by one of the family members and my aunts sang some old wedding folk songs. In the songs, the groom and his family are teased in a fun and loving way.
Depending on your requirements and funds, the Sangeet can also be held at a venue, with professional dancers, singers and maybe even a DJ. You can even set a theme for the evening; the choice is completely yours. The Sangeet night is normally incorporated with mehndi.
Brides can and normally do hire a specialist Mehndi artist for this special ceremony. Being professional these Mehndi artists can provide a variety of mehndi designs and styles. The bride should decide upon her pattern prior to the evening, thus, saving valuable time.
You can choose to have one Mehndi artist who primarily concentrates only on the bride and have one or two more, depending on the number of guests, who can do designs on your family and friends.
Family members could do mehndi on each other, this adds to the fun of the evening. Mehndi stencils can also be bought easily from stores or on the internet which everyone can use with ease. This could be one way of cutting costs instead of hiring a Mehndi artist.
Brides can have as much Mehndi as they deem appropriate or wish for. From their forearms to the tips of their fingers, from their toes to their calves. There is no wrong or right amount, it is very much a personal choice.
This is the very first step towards getting married and the Milni takes place outside of your chosen wedding venue, be it the Sikh temple to specialized wedding venues. The Milni is predominately carried out between the male family members of both bride and the groom.
The Milni provides a great way to get to know the immediate family on both sides. The family members greet by hugging each other and then putting garland necklaces around each other necks and exchanging small gifts.
To start the day, sometimes the brides’ family may arrange breakfast for both the bride and grooms’ immediate family. This could either be snacks, such as pakora, samosa served with sweets, tea or soft drinks.
If you want to offer your guests something a little more filling, then you could always serve:
- aloo paratha (stuffed chapati’s with spiced potato mixture)
- bhatoora (large flour based chapati which is lightly fried) served with cholay (chick pea curry).
Sweets and non-alcoholic refreshments will also be served. This will set everyone up for the day especially for your guests who have had an early start to the day.
Anand Karaj (Wedding)
This is your big day, your actual wedding day, with the Anand Karaj being the focal point of the wedding, as it is the religious part of the whole wedding ceremony. Under which the union of bride and groom can be made official under the terms of the Sikh religion.
The day will start either at a Gurdwara (Sikh Temple) or at a venue of your choice. I decided against getting married in a Sikh temple and elected to be married in a Manor House. A room was set up for the Anand Karaj, where Sikh rules around covering heads, to the wedding guests sitting cross legged to the front to wearing no footwear were observed.
A Sikh priest, the Granthi then conducted the Anand Karaj by reading relevant scriptures of the Guru Granth Sahib, the Sikh holy book. The Granthi can be a man or a woman, someone who can read the holy book.
The groom will normally be sitting close to the Guru Granth Sahib at the front. The groom will have his sisters take off his sehra, (decorative head piece) when he sits down. The bride will make her entrance and sit to the left side of the Groom. The bride will make her entrance once the groom is seated.
Before the wedding ceremony actually starts, parents of both the bride and the groom will stand for a small ardas (small prayer), together with the bride and groom. The brides father will then put the end of the grooms scarf into the hands of the bride. This symbolizes that the father is giving his daughter away.
During the lavaan, which basically means breaking away, as the bride is moving away from her family and joining her husbands family, the couple will walk around the Guru Granth Sahib four times. The groom leads the bride, with the brides’ brothers and first cousins standing and guiding the bride around the Guru Granth Sahib.
Traditionally the bride covered her face to keep her away from the evil eye, so the brothers were on hand to guide her around the Guru Grant Sahib. Now not so many brides follow the ritual of covering their face but, they do follow the ritual of being guided around the Guru Granth Sahib by their brothers to continue.
The meaning for the four verses of the lavaan, are briefly outlined below:-
- The first verse affirms that for Sikhs, marriage is encouraged, and they believe this to be the way to lead your life
- The second verse is for the bride this shows her love for her husband whilst leaving her former life
- The third verse again is for the bride, states that she will be devoted only to her husband whilst foregoing any and all outside influences
- The fourth verse, the final verse confirms the bride and groom are now married, as two people united as one, with love and devotion to each other.
Once the wedding ceremony is completed, everyone can now relax and enjoy the festivities of a wedding reception.
Depending on your jurisdiction, a civil wedding may also be required to make the wedding official under the eyes of the local laws. We had to do this to get a marriage certificate and had a civil wedding ceremony two days before our actual wedding ceremony.
I remember dressing in a beautiful salwar kameez type wedding dress along with the other females at the civil wedding wearing traditional dresses, with the men, wearing smart suits. It was a great day almost like a dress rehearsal for the Anand Karaj a few days later.
Wedding receptions can take place either at the Gurdwara or at a venue of your choice. It really depends on the choice you have made. Wedding receptions that take place at the Gurdwara will only consist of vegetarian food and non-alcoholic drinks will be served.
This is a great way to stay traditional and curve your spending at the same time. The food that can be served at the Gurdwara can be somewhat limited in choice and number. It is normally a buffet type meal, where all the guests help themselves to what they wish to eat. There is no real set courses as everything is served in one go. The following are some options which may be served:-
- Vegetarian Pakoras
- Vegetarian Samosas
- Lentils (Daal)
- Paneer Curry (cottage cheese)
- Sabzis (vegetable dishes such as cauliflower with potatoes)
All dishes will be accompanied with salad, chapatis, rice to yogurt. Sweet dishes will also be included, perhaps, a fruit salad with ice cream, halwa (sweet dish using carrots), Kheer (rice pudding) to ludhoos and jalebis.
It is more common now for the wedding receptions to take place away from the Sikh temple at a venue like plush hotel to specialized wedding venues catering for large scale Indian weddings.
Having your wedding reception at a venue removes all restrictions with regards to the type of food and drinks you want to serve. You could have a table service for your guests, depending on your budget, you can pretty much have what you want.
The food served at a venue can be vast and varied. At all wedding receptions, held at a venue, will consist of both vegetarian and non-vegetarian foods. Served with both alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks.
If you do opt to hold your wedding reception at a venue, then it is normal practice to serve your guests, at least a minimum of three course meal. Obviously depending on your budget you could increase to four, five or more courses.
- Samosas (sometimes as a chaat)
- Paneer pieces (tikka style)
- Pakoras (onion bhajis)
- Kebabs (vegetarian)
- Saag (generally with paneer)
- Sabzis (cauliflower, egg plant are popular choices)
- Cholay (chick peas)
- Lamb Kebabs
- Chicken Tikka pieces
- Lamb Tikka pieces
- Fried spiced fish
Non-Vegetarian Main Course
- Chicken curry (mostly butter chicken)
- Lamb curry (Rogan josh or masala)
- Fish dish (masala)
- Minced lamb dish with peas (keema muttar)
The guests are served chapatis, naans along with salad, rice and yoghurt to have with the meal. There can also be a dessert which will include a slice of the wedding cake when this has been cut. Typical desserts can include:
- Traditional ice cream (generally an assortment of flavors)
- Indian ice cream (kulfi)
- Indian sweets (gulab jaman, ludhoos, barfi, gajjar ka halwa to jalebis)
- Fruit salad
At my wedding, my mother had made arrangements for a chocolate fondue where a continuous fountain of warm chocolate was part of the dessert. Guests could dip pieces of fruit on the side in the chocolate and then take back this chocolatey dessert back to their tables.
Organizing how guests are seated is important and planning this is an essential part of ensuring the wedding reception goes to plan. The main family members, the parents of the bride and groom will be seated at the head table, sometimes this is extended to include the bride and grooms siblings.
The tables in front of the main table will then be allocated to immediate family members like aunts, uncles and cousins. With friends and other guests allocated tables further away from the main family tables.
Having a table plan, ensures you can control the number of guests that arrive but inadvertently more guests can end up arriving than invited. Especially if the invitation states only the head of the household and their spouse are invited but instead the whole family arrives.
Planning a Sikh wedding is no mean feat but it’s easily achievable as I found out, with a little help from some of my family. Large Sikh weddings may mean it’s more difficult to plan, so a wedding planner may be required but this wholly depends on the budget set aside for the wedding.
It’s important to focus on the key wedding ceremonies from the engagement, Sangeet to the Anand Karaj and wedding reception. As getting these right will make the overall wedding more enjoyable, especially if there’s a requirement for a civil wedding ceremony where you live.