A Sikh wedding is fondly referred to as Blissful Union or Anand Karaj in Hindu. As I found out on the very first time, I attended such a wedding, it is for good reasons this wedding ceremony is called a Blissful Union. I enjoyed every moment I was there to witness two individuals happily tie the knot.
Why do Sikh weddings take so long? Sikh weddings take so long as there are many rituals and ceremonies to be performed before and after the religious part of the wedding, known as the Anand Karaj. The Anand Karaj is performed at the Sikh temple, the Gurdwara with other rituals taking place at a wedding venue, as well as at the bride and groom parental homes.
It is easy to get lost in these ceremonies if you are participating for the first time. It helps to be conversant with what to expect at every stage so that you are not confused.
Why Are Sikh Weddings So Long?
Sikh weddings are so long because many ceremonies and rituals need to be followed. These rituals have elaborate procedures that must be strictly followed for the wedding to be worth the name.
Should any of these steps be skipped or overlooked, then the wedding has certainly not met the standard Sikh wedding procedure. Again, no groom or bridegroom wants their wedding to be labeled as the one that disregarded the guidelines.
Therefore, as much as it depends on everyone involved, rules have to be obeyed. In fact, following the rules is the wedding itself.
The Sikh Pre-Wedding Rites
a) Parental Consent: The Roka and Thaka Ceremonies
A valid Sikh wedding cannot take place without the voluntary consent of the parents of both the groom and the bride. Getting that permission is crucial. Whether the two lovers met and fell in love on their own or their parents arranged it, the parents involved have to give them the go-ahead before the wedding plans could be initiated.
Roka and Thaka are the parental consent rituals that precede the wedding. The bride’s father visits the groom’s parental home to register his approval. He symbolically does it by applying a tilak on the forehead of the groom and then showering him with sweets, clothes, and other gifts.
The groom’s parents reciprocate the favor by repeating the same ritual to the bride.
b) The Engagement Ceremony
Known as Kurmai, the engagement ceremony usually occurs at the groom’s place, but it can also happen at the Sikh temple. The event is graced by friends and the families of the couple-to-be.
The ceremony begins with a short prayer from the priest. In most cases, the groom gives a ring to the bride, who graciously accepts it. In return, the bride’s family presents a steel bangle to the groom. It is the bangle that Sikh men must always wear.
The groom also receives a small knife known as Kripan, a symbol of the Sikh’s legendary heritage. A red scarf is then spread over the groom’s shoulders then some dried dates are placed on his hands.
The priest then instructs the bride’s grandfather to feed the dates to the groom. Once all the rituals are completed, the guests are then served food and drinks.
c) The Reading Marathon
The weekend that precedes the wedding date’s fixing is dedicated to reading the entire Guru Granth Sahib within two days. The ceremony is known as Akhand Paath.
The best readers from the bride’s family sit down at the temple or in a house to read to the bride and the groom the verses that touch on the value of religion and how to live peacefully in a society.
There will be non-readers about the reader to provide him with foods.
d) Kirtan Performance
It is considered a good omen to stage a religious music performance at the residences of the couple-to-be and this is known as the Kirtan.
e) Daily Prayers
As the wedding days draw near, the families visit the temple every day to pray for the wedding’s success and the marriage. Before they enter the prayer hall, they have to wash their feet and hands. They then open the Guru Granth Sahib at random and read or recite whichever page they open.
After the end of every daily prayer, a sweet Prasad is served to the attendees.
f) Chunni Chadana: The Wedding Outfit Presentation
A couple of days to the wedding day, the groom’s female relatives go the bride’s place to present her with her wedding day outfit. These include makeup kits, jewelry, and accessories.
The groom’s mother then covers the head of the bride with a religious headscarf called chunni to show that she welcomes the bride to join her family.
g) Maiya Ceremony
Within five days to the wedding, the bride and groom are purified or cleansed amid traditional wedding songs sung by females. The couple-to-be sit on a stool, and a cleansing oil is rubbed on their hair as turmeric paste is rubbed on their bodies.
A red cloth is also held on their heads.
h) Karahi Chadana Ritual
Five days to the wedding, yet another ritual that is to be observed by the Sikh families. A big Karahi or metal pot is placed in the kitchen, and all kinds of foods cooked in it. In the next five days, the guests eat the meals from this karahi.
i) Warna Ritual
Days to the wedding, the family members perform another ritual known as Warna. Currency notes of any value are waved around the bride’s head or groom in a clockwise direction. The currency notes are donated to charity groups. This ritual is meant to neutralize the evil powers that could be active around the couple-to-be.
j) Gaana Ritual
Gaana ritual is also done to protect the couple-to-be from evil forces. It involves tying a red thread on the bride’s left wrist and the groom’s right wrist.
k) Holy Water Bath Ritual (Gharoli)
In this ritual, the groom’s or bride’s sister-in-law goes to a nearby Sikh temple, fills a Gharoli (a special pot) with the holy water, which she takes to the house for bathing by the bride or the groom. The two can only bathe with this water after their Vatnaa.
l) Vatnaa Ritual
In this ritual, a paste of barley, turmeric, and mustard is prepared by house women. The bride or groom sits on a stool, then the married women relatives anoint them with the paste as joyous wedding songs fill the air.
m) Mehndi Ceremony
About two or three days to the wedding day, a Mehndi ceremony takes place. Beautiful patterns are painted on the bride’s hands using Henna paste by the women of the house. They also apply the patterns in their own hands.
Again, wedding songs fill the air amid fun and an atmosphere of celebration.
n) Chooda Gifts
The bride receives a set of 21 white and red bangles from her maternal uncle. Before the ceremony, the bangles (known as chooda) are washed with rosewater and curd to sanctify them.
The bride is not supposed to see the bangles once she has worn them, so they are covered with a shawl of silk.
o) Kalire Ceremony
Soon after the chooda gifts, the bride’s relatives go to her to tie metallic ornaments known as Kalire to her bangles. They also offer her blessings. All the yet to be married relatives and friends of the bride line up, and she moves along the line, bestowing a kalire on each girl’s head.
The Sikh Wedding-day Procedure
On the wedding day, there are still more ceremonies to be observed. Below is the Sikh wedding procedure on the wedding day:
a. Barat Goes to the Bride
Traditionally, the Gurdwara or Sikh temple where the wedding ceremony occurs should be near the bride’s house. So, if you happen to be part of the “Barat” or the party on the side of the groom, your day will start even earlier, especially if the groom leaves quite a distance from the bride’s home.
The procession should be on its way to the Gurdwara near the bride’s place by 8 AM.
b. The Arrival
Upon arrival at the Sikh temple, the Barat procession is heartily received by the bride’s side. This should happen before 10 AM. Immediately after they are welcomed into the temple, introductions (Milni) follow.
In the introductions, the male participants from the two families formally get to know one another. Fathers, grandfathers, uncles, and brothers of the bride and the groom get to meet and exchange gifts or garlands. A photo session should follow.
c. Snacks Time
In the Western world, the parties get to eat at the reception after the wedding ceremony. Not so with a Sikh wedding where the two parties take snacks in turn right at the temple hall before the actual ceremony commences.
The light meals served at this time consist of sweets, tea, pakoras, samosa, etc., and are taken while standing before tables. Only the elderly or the disabled who cannot afford to stand are offered the seats.
d. The Actual Wedding
By 11 AM, everyone should be seated at the main prayer hall for the ceremony’s formal part. You are expected to observe the temple rules so as not to offend the Sikhs. There is also the appropriate clothing for the ceremony to adorn.
Everyone entering the main hall has to remove the shoes and appropriately cover their heads. In the hall, the parties will sit on the carpet in the presence of Guru Granth for the formal part of the wedding, which usually lasts for two hours.
Men and boys sit together to one side while women and girls take the other side of the central aisle. You should ensure you sit decently, with your legs crossed and folded up.
Music has its rightful place in every ceremony so expect much singing in a Sikh wedding. Melodious sacred songs will greet you as you enter the darbar hall. The religious singers or ragis have their place right on stage in front close to the Guru.
Different songs will be happily sung before the Sikh wedding official finally presents the timetable for the next wedding events. Remember that up to this point no wedding has occurred, yet the seemingly unrelated procedures that have happened are tied to the wedding ceremony.
Through this, the bride and groom will have already bowed before the Guru Granth then sit next to each other at the front. Their parents then stand up to formally permit them to unite in marriage.
There will then be the Ardas prayers in which the bride, groom, and their parents participate while standing straight with folded hands. Ardas is a prayer for a happy, successful marriage. The rest of the congregation remains seated.
Once the prayers are done with, the next segment is the Palla, which is the handover part whereby the father of the bride presents the bridegroom’s sash into the hands of the bride. It is the sash the bridegroom wears over his shoulders.
As the handover takes place, songs fill the air. In this case, the singers sing “Palla tanda lagee.”
After the handover ceremony is the Four Wedding Rounds known as Lavan; the groom and his bride walk around the Guru Granth four times, with the groom to the left in the clockwise direction and the bride following him.
They both hold the ends of their palaa. In each round, the priest reads a Laav from the Guru Granth Sahib, and the singers sing the hymnal version of the read Laav as the groom and the bride circle the Guru.
After each round, they pause so that the priest could read another Laav, then the same procedure of going around in a circle is repeated.
The four hymns they sing represent the four phases of love. The hymns explain the gradual growth of love between husband and wife. At the same time, the hymns describe the human heart’s thirst for God.
After the fourth reading and circling, the bride and groom bow simultaneously before the Guru Granth, and the whole congregation rises to join in the ardas. After it, everyone bows and sits back. Then they join the Hukamnama after the priest has randomly read a verse known as hukam.
That done, it is the time for blessing the newly-weds. It is known as Sagaan. First, their parents will bless them in turn, followed by notable people from both parties. The newlyweds are showered with gifts in the course of the blessings. Meanwhile, the camera should be clicking photos.
Guests will line up to give gifts (money in most cases) to the bride and groom. Depending on the number of guests and relatives, this procedure can go on for more than one hour. Everyone wants to present his/her gift or sagaan in person.
To avoid long queuing and save time, a method has been found around this whereby the guests with gifts put it in the congratulation card and present it to the bride’s and groom’s parents. The new method is becoming popular because if the sagaan goes on for too long other pending programs could be affected.
Finally, the wedding’s formal part ends with the serving of the Blessed Sweet Pudding or Kara Parshad. A sacred sweet called Prashad is served as the two families wedding their members take the opportunity to thank the guests who turned up for the occasion or helped to make it a success. The newlyweds are also congratulated.
One element that is missing here is the dowry. The Sikhism is firmly against the culture of dowry payment during the wedding, as happens in other societies. The Sikhs believe the bride and groom both have equal rights, so none should be bought with a dowry payment.
But the end of the formal wedding doesn’t mark the end of the wedding ceremony, for it gives way to another procedure: the reception. Traditionally, the congregation takes lunch at the temple. However, in modern times booking separate venue has become common, and it is permitted.
So, the parties can opt to proceed to a commercial venue already booked and prepared for the reception. At the reception, there are more songs and dances. In fact, the reception ceremony could be livelier and more entertaining than the formal wedding itself.
This is where you dance without restraint, as food is generously served. The departure of Doli follows, whereby the bride receives new clothes from the groom’s family. She immediately wears the clothes, signaling she is now a member of the groom’s family.
The groom’s family can then give her a new spiritual Sikh name derived from the hukam.
She then formally departs from her parent’s home or house in an emotional ceremony. There could be another optional reception after this, but it can be carried forward to the next day.
It is another occasion of dinner and dance and is reserved for only the invited guests.
As you can see, for a Sikh wedding to be considered successful, enough time is needed to complete all the steps, rituals, and ceremonies.
Who are the Sikhs?
The Sikhs are believers in one God (monotheism). They also believe that there has to be a practical love of giving and receiving for a prosperous, peaceful life or society.
Although they are fearless warriors, Sikhs prefer peace to war, so they are among the most peaceful Indian communities. They base their love for peace on the sacred teachings of their revered Gurus.
One of the essential roles of a Sikh is to ensure that marriages and families are in order. Marriage is especially given special attention, not only because it is the foundation of legitimate families but also because through it, the parties involved get to experience God’s divine love and understand God.
The Sikhs wedding is a celebration of a union that spreads through many days of pre and post-wedding festivals and activities. These fascinating and elaborate wedding stages make a perfect case study for one interested in a rich culture.
A Sikh marriage was first recognized by the Indian government in 1909 when India was a British colony.