What Happens at a Hindu Pre-Wedding Ritual?

by Rachel Alexander

One of the customs of the mehendi ceremony is to hide the husband's name in the mehendi design on the bride.

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Hindu pre-wedding rituals consist of all the customs and traditions that go on before the wedding to prepare the bride and groom, and their respective families, for marriage. The rituals are largely done according to the two families’ personal traditions, local customs and regional variations.

Engagement Ceremony

The engagement, or sagai ceremony, solidifies the formal engagement contract between the two families. A priest is sometimes present to conduct the ceremony that is generally held at the bride’s home. After the two families exchange gifts and blessings, they hold a formal ring ceremony to sanctify the engagement. The families announce the details of the wedding after completing the ceremony.

Tilak Ceremony

The main objective behind the tilak ceremony is to develop the bond between the two families that are joining through marriage. Only male family members attend this ceremony, which is held at either the groom’s residence or at a temple. The ceremony begins with a pooja, or prayer, during which both families pray for the happiness of the new couple. After the pooja, it is customary for the father of the bride to offer gifts to the groom’s family. In exchange, the groom’s father sends gifts of sweets, clothing and jewelry to the bride and her family.

Mehendi Celebration

The Mehendi celebration is organized by the bride's family to bestow blessings on the bride. Mehendi is a turmeric-based paste that is decoratively applied to women's hands, arms and feet during festivals and ceremonies. The celebration is often a private function held at the bride’s house, attended largely by women, immediate family members and close friends of the bride. There is a festive atmosphere to the function as women sing and dance to traditional songs about marriage and union. A significant relative applies the symbolic first mehendi marks, and then a professional continues the application covering the bride's hands, arms and feet with traditional decoration. Popular lore states that the darker the bride's mehendi turns out, the more her new husband will love her. The bride cannot leave the house after the mehendi ritual until the wedding commences.

Sangeet Party

If the couple desires to maintain tradition, they will hold the Sangeet party as a separate event, otherwise they will combine it with the mehendi celebration. In addition, they can either hold it as a traditional women-only function, or invite both male and female relatives and friends. The celebration takes place at the bride’s home, where people play a traditional drum and sing folk songs. The atmosphere is a mixture of delight and sadness as the songs detail the joys of starting a new life with the despair of the bride leaving her family home.

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About the Author

Rachel Alexander is a cultural and political area specialist of South Asia and the Middle East. She received the State Department’s Critical Language Scholarship in 2011, and again in 2012, to live in northern India and study advanced Hindi. She holds a Bachelor of Arts in international studies from Loyola University of Chicago.