Sikh wedding photography - Pre-wedding day

Sikh weddings can be lively events.  The ceremony in the gurdwara is usually followed by a reception with a few hundred guests and most of the time, nothing runs on time!

With the celebrations starting 2 days before the wedding itself, the official start of the wedding is usually marked about a week in advance with the “karahi charai”.  This is where the family will start to cook finger foods both savoury and sweet for their guests.  Nowadays, this can be catered for by the caterer but traditionally, all food was cooked by the family for their friends and acquaintances.

In India, a wedding can be held on any day of the week, but in the UK and other western countries, this tends to happen mostly on a Sunday but Saturdays have also become popular.  This is mostly due to people not working on the weekend.

Two days before the wedding, the bride and groom will partake in the maiyan (or haldi) ritual.  Turmeric is mixed into a paste and then applied to the bride/groom at their respective households.  This is usually done before midday.

The day before the wedding, there is another maiyan ceremony, usually early evening.  This is followed by a choora ceremony for the bride.  Henna (mehndi) is also applied the evening before the wedding.  Some families nowadays will have a pre-wedding party which can be a couple of nights before or a week before the wedding itself.

Rangoli for Maiyan ceremony

Sikh Wedding Photography - Sikh Wedding Day

On the day of the wedding, the bride and groom get up and bathe, after which they start to get ready for the day. Once ready, they make their way to the venue (usually a gurdwara) where the Anand Karaj (religious wedding ceremony will be held).

The families of the bride and groom greet each other with a milni and wedding guests are served sweets and savouries for breakfast.

The guests then make their way to the Darbar Sahib which is where the Anand Karaj will take place.

The groom will take his place in front of the Sikh holy book (the Guru Granth Sahib) and the bride will be escorted to be seated beside him by her brothers/cousins.  The ceremony then begins.

I have seen the Anand Karaj ceremony last from 35 minutes through to 1.5 hours but it probably averages about 45-50 minutes.  It constitutes of reading hymns from the Guru Granth Sahib, the bride being given away by her father, to the groom and the laman, of which there are 4, each signifying the individual’s commitment to God.  The bride and groom become husband and wife physically and spiritually.

They alone are called husband and wife, who have one light in two bodies. (Guru Granth Sahib, page 788)

The ceremony concludes after Ardaas followed by the bride’s parents blessing the couple with an offering of sweets and money, known as shaggan.

Bride's parents giving shaggan to bride and groom

After the Anand Karaj ceremony

The couple then travel to the venue where the reception will be held.  Sometimes, the reception will be held at the gurdwara where guests will be served langar after which the bride leaves for her new home with her groom.

Most Sikh weddings, however, have a reception where food and drink is served and guests are entertained, much the same as with any wedding reception.  Sikhs by tradition, are vegetarian and do not drink alcohol, but nowadays, there are Sikhs that drink and consume meat so it is generally accepted that both will be served at the reception.  Guests usually number into the hundreds, so one can imagine the amount of food and drink that is required.

The reception will last for a few hours – there is the cutting of the wedding cake, and the equivalent of the serving of the wedding breakfast is usually signified by the bride being the first one to eat so to speak.  This tends to happen less often now and food is generally served when guests are seated and settled because things tend to run over a fair bit (I have never been to a Sikh wedding – and there have been many – where the event has stayed on schedule).

Once the partying is over, the groom will make his way with a select few friends and family to his new wife’s current home in order to accompany her to her new home with him.

The groom usually must get past the bride’s family to be able to ‘collect’ her so there can be some haggling at the entrance to the home – it is all light-hearted and done in jest but the aim is to try and extract as much money from the groom as possible!

Once the groom is seated in his bride’s home, she is brought to him and the tone does become more sombre. The family is sending their daughter to her new home, so tears tend to be shed even though this is ultimately a happy occasion.  The bride is handed the bhalla again (which joins her to husband figuratively speaking).   The bride as her ‘final act’ to her paternal home, will throw rice in to the four corners of the room she is in.  This signifies her wishing her parents prosperity.  She then travels to her new home with her husband.

This marks the end of the day from the bride’s side of the family.  Guests will leave after the bride has departed and the wedding day has come to an end.

The groom’s side however, the wedding is still in flow.  The journey from the bride’s home to the groom’s home could be 20 minutes or more than 2 hours depending on where he lives.  The journey does give the bride and opportunity to re-compose herself and possibly have a nap if the journey is a longer one (after such a long day).

On arrival at the groom’s house, his mother will be waiting at the door to greet her son and daughter-in-law.  “Paani varna” is a ritual performed by the groom’s mother where a garvi is filled with milk and water.  The mother will hold the garvi above the bride and groom’s head and rotate in a clockwise direction and then she will go to drink from the garvi after each rotation and the groom will playfully try and stop her from doing so.  This represents a blessing for the couple.  Once complete, the bride and groom enter the house and sit on the floor on a chadar and drink from the same glass which is usually a glass of milk.  Sharing this drink signifies a strengthening of their relationship.

The wedding day is now more or less complete.  Some guests may still be around and there may be some more dancing for a while, after which everyone will start to retire for the night.  It’s been a very long day for everyone!