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Sikh Marriage

One soul in two bodies

“They are not said to be click and wife, who merely sit together. Rather they alone are called husband and wife, who have one soul in two bodies.” (Guru Amar Das, Pauri, pg. 788)

A roka ceremony is a simple event usually attended by close family. Families begin the ceremony with a small puja or ardaas (prayer), to mark the first step towards the wedding. This is followed by the groom and his family visiting the bride, which is often referred to as the thaka ceremony. The couple are given sagan together. There is often an exchange of gifts and sweets such as fruit, Indian sweets or dry fruit (meva). It represents the beginning of a relationship between two families, who will then discuss a wedding date.

Kurmai  starts with the tikka ceremony and it takes place about 7 to 10 days prior to the wedding when the probable bride’s family members come to the groom’s place with tikka material and various gifts : a silver tray with a few grains of rice and saffron in a tiny silver bowl, 14 chuharey (dried dates) covered with silver foil and a coconut wrapped in a gold leaf. The father of the girl applies ‘tikka’ on his son-in-law’s forehead and gives him his blessings and some money. In return, the girl’s family receives baskets of seven dried fruits: almonds, cashewnuts, chuahara, coconut pieces, raisins, khurman (dried apricots) and phoolmakhana, at the kudmai (sagai or engagement).

Kurmai Checklist

Generally, the girl’s family will go to the kurmai with the following:
– Gold kara (or whatever other gift they opt to give the boy)
– Large amount of ladoo, which could be displayed in a box, tray or basket
– Small box of ladoo – to feed the boy during the kurmai
– Baskets of fruit in an odd number (3 or 5)
– Dry fruit made of an odd number of ingredients (5, 7 or 9) including almonds, raisins, mishri (crystallised sugar lumps), cardamom, cashew nuts, coconut flakes or dates.
– Garland for the milni

The boy’s family should be equipped with the following:
– Palla for the boy
– Small box of ladoo or mithai to feed the boy during the sagan
– Large box of ladoo or mithai to gift to the girl’s family before they leave
– Ramallah, if the kurmai is held at the gurdwara
– Garland for the milni

The girl’s family prepare a wedding invitation for the boy’s family, which is splashed with a few drops of saffron. In India, the local barber is asked to take this invitation to the boy’s family and he is rewarded with clothes for doing so. Being asked to “be the messenger” is considered an honour for the barber. Although this is now a dwindling custom. Today, it’s usually key family members and/or the “middle person” (or matchmaker, otherwise known as bachola or bacholan), who will go to the girl’s house with the invitation. They may take gifts such as Indian sweets or dry fruit.

Saahe Chithi Checklist

– Indian sweets – usually laddoo or mithai
– Dry fruit could also be taken – this is usually in odd quantities of the ingredients, for example 3, 5 or 7 ingredients mixed together.
– Saffron
– Gaana, which is a red thread used at many Hindu or Sikh ceremonies as a symbol of starting something new. This is sometimes tied around the invitation.
– And of course the wedding invitation.

The ceremony involves the boy’s family visiting the girl’s house or venue that they have arranged to accommodate the guests. The boy’s family bring gifts comprising of fruit, Indian sweets, meva (dry fruit) and a complete outfit for the girl. Women who are closely related to the boy, usually his sister or sister-in-law, present the girl with a red outfit. Once the girl is dressed, she is brought back to where all the guests are congregated. The boy and girl are seated together, which is when the crucial ritual of the chunni charauna takes place. The boy’s mum places a red “chunni” (scarf) that corresponds to the outfit the girl has been dressed in, and places it on the girl’s head. Then she or other significant women in the boy’s family adorn the girl with other gifts they have brought – traditional jewellery set (which is usually gold), bangles, a red accessory in the hair and mendhi on her hands. The boy’s father will put handfuls of meva into the girl’s “jholi”. The boy’s parents will feed the girl a whole dry date.

Chunni Checklist

– Red outfit – could be lengha or sari but is usually a salwar suit
– Fruit, which is usually presented in a basket
– Meva (dry fruit) that must be made of an odd number of ingredients (5, 7 or 9), which could include almonds, raisins, mishri (crystallised sugar lumps), cardamom, cashew nuts, coconut flakes and dates
– Indian sweets – ladoo are traditionally fed to the boy and girl but other Indian sweets could be gifted additionally, and/or chocolates or sweets.
– Accessories with the red outfit – traditional jewellery set (usually made of gold), bangles, bindis, red ribbon for the hair
– Mendhi
– Sindoor – optional and depends on the family
– Make-up, which usually consists of lipstick, eye-liner and lipstick although it is not limited to just these cosmetics.
– Bag and/or shoes – optional to add additional accessories to the girl’s outfit although some traditional families may not favour the idea of gifting their prospective bride with shoes before marriage.
– A simpler red chunni that the girl could wear when her outfit has been changed but before the boy’s mother has put the official chunni on her head
– Red handkerchiefs (or something similar) for the bride and groom to hold their sagan money.

A rangoli design is made in the garden or veranda of the wedding home. This design incorporates rangoli (coloured powder), flour and rice. This is usually done by relatives from the boy or girl’s maternal family. A peeri (stool) is placed beside the design. This is where the boy or girl will sit and this should be east-facing. The boy or girl are brought out to where the rangoli design has been made carrying a thaal (tray), which has vatna (mixture of turmeric powder, flour and mustard oil that is kneaded into a moist dough-like consistency), a fatti (traditionally a rectangular piece of wood), gaaney (auspicious red thread) and dupatta (Asian scarf). They are sat down on the peeri, the fatti is placed under their feet so it is adjacent to the rangoli design. The dupatta is held above them by four people from each corner. The mother or any other elder in the family, wipe mustard oil on the boy or girl’s head with a few grass strands. Family and friends then begin rubbing the vatna on the boy or girl. This is concentrated on the face, arms, hands and feet. Then the mother attempts to feed a rice and sugar mixture to the boy or girl. Their sister-in-law (brother’s wife) playfully tries to stop the mother from doing this by smacking the mother’s hand away. All guests are given a gaana (auspicious red thread), which they tie around their wrist. The boy or girl is then led away with the tray in their hands and dupatta on their head, and suggested to feed any singletons the remaining rice and sugar mixture as good luck for them to get hitched soon.The boy or girl’s mother then clears the rangoli after she steps over the design either side seven times. She will then leave three handprints on the house, because her hands would be stained after clearing the rangoli.

The maiya is conducted three times. This usually takes place two days before the wedding day, when it’s customary to start before midday. The second time is in the morning of the day before the wedding and finally, it is applied that night too. Both the boy and girl undergo the same process and after this they are traditionally confined to remain at home and not change their clothes.

Maiya Checklist

– Rangoli – the quantity and range of colours depends on your design choice
– Flour (just a handful)
– Rice (just a handful)
– Peeri (stool) – available to rent from Epic Events
– Fatti (rectangular piece of wood) – available to rent from Epic Events
– Vatna – made of turmeric powder, mustard oil and flour kneaded to a moist dough
– Gaaney (auspicious red thread) – the number depends on how many guests you’re expecting
– Thaal (tray) – available to rent from Epic Events
– Boiled rice and sugar mix
– Dupatta (scarf) – Punjabi’s tend to go for a traditional fulkari design
– A few strands of grass
– A few drops of mustard oil

The last major function before the wedding is the mehendi. Mehendiwallis are called to the respective houses of the boy and girl and they apply mehendi to the palms of the female family members, and the hands and feet of the bride. There is a sangeet function hosted by the girl’s family, in which just a few close members of the boy’s family are invited. The girl’s family play the dholki (an elongated tabla) sing songs in which they tease the boy and his family. After this, it is the boy’s turn to retaliate, which they do in another sangeet function hosted by them. Though these are the traditional sangeets, many families opt for live bands or a disc jockey to churn out one dance track after another as guests shake a leg on the floor.

Jaago literally means “wake-up”. The jaago night begins with another maiya ceremony. Traditionally, the maternal family bring gifts, which is known as naanki shak. If it is a girl’s wedding; the next big aspect of the night is the choora ceremony. This is when the maternal uncles will put wedding bangles (choora) on the bride by dipping them in a milk and water mixture first. This is followed by adding coconut-shaped decorations that hang from a bangle or kara. During this ceremony, the maternal aunts will also gather around and assist the uncles in putting the bangles on. This is followed by dressing the bride in a red chunni (scarf), and gifting her jewellery (often silver or gold). This is the wedding gift from the maternal family. The maternal uncles and aunts are then given milk to drink.

The aim of the night is to make noise and party, so not only will jaagos be carried (pots decorated with lights), decorated sticks (jaago sticks) will be banged on the floor and even a chaj would be banged (as pictured). The maternal and paternal families will often sing mischievous folk songs to each other.

Jaago Night Check list

Maiya accessories
– Oil – to pour at the entrance when greeting the maternal family
– Jaagos
– Chaj
– Jaago sticks
– Traditional novelty outfits

For girl’s weddings:
– Choora (bangles)
– Kaleeray
– Bowl with water and milk mixture (to dip bangles)
– Red chunni
– Blanket (to sit on during choora ceremony)
– Indian sweets (to be fed to the bride and maternal uncles)

The Final Countdown

The bride’s family waits at the entrance to greet the baarat (the groom and his family), who reach singing and dancing. The father, brother, uncles and grandfathers of the groom embrace the corresponding members of the bride’s family. While embracing, they try to lift each other up. as a show of strength and superiority, amidst much laughter and cheer. When they enter the venue the bride is brought out and the couple exchange garlands. The groom, who is usually taller than the bride, is not supposed to bend while she is garlanding him, to tease the bride as if to say she is the one who would have to compromise in the relationship; he will not bend.

Milni and reception of barat

The barat (groom’s family) is received at the gurdwara by the bride’s family. At this point, the bride is kept separate until the main ceremony, to keep up the anticipation to see her.

Both families will congregate in a large area, usually outside the gurdwara for the milni (meeting). Before the actual milni begins, an ardaas (prayer) is carried out, which is auspicious to begin any happy occasion. The milni is a formal introduction of key relatives from each family.

The milni, or meeting, involves the priest to call the names of corresponding relations from each side, beginning with the eldest, which are the bride and groom’s grandfathers. They meet in the middle of the surrounding congregation, put a haar (garland) on each other, hug and pose for a photo! It’s become commonplace for each side to compete by trying to pick each other up when they hug as a playful gesture.

Then the barat are invited inside the gurdwara for breakfast. However, the bride’s sisters take this opportunity to tease their soon-to-be brother-in-law. The groom or his father have to try to put money into a glass of water held by the bride’s sisters. But they will resist and aim to get as much money as possible. They also tend to hold up a red ribbon, which the groom will cut to enter. As soon as money is placed in the glass, the bride’s family have to let the groom in.

Anand Karaj (blissful union)

jjdsladasds-330x220The Sikh marriage ceremony is the anand karaj, or blissful union. This takes place in the gurdwara darbar (main room). Relatives from both sides will pay their respects to the Guru Granth Sahib (holy book) and take a seat in the darbar.

The boy will come in with a ramalla, which he offers to the Guru Granth Sahib as he bows down to pay respect. He then takes a seat with his sarwalla (best man) and close family. At this time, priests are reading shabd (hymns).

The bride’s sister will remove the kalgi (turban pin) and/or sehra, if he is wearing it. They will also remove the whole coconut that was placed in his palla that morning, and give this to the bride’s mother.

Just before the bride is brought into the darbar, the groom is told to sit in front of the Guru Granth Sahib. When the bride comes in, she is escorted by her brothers, which is symbolic because brothers are considered protectors in the Indian culture.

She will also offer a ramalla, bow down and sit next to the boy. Her close relatives, such as her sisters and sister-in-laws will set behind her for support. Likewise, the groom’s sisters or other close relatives will sit near him for support.

The bride’s father is prompted to do the kanyadaan, or palla rasam, which is symbolic of the father giving his daughter away. He will tie the palla, which the groom is wearing to the bride’s wrist or she will hold it.

Four laavan are conducted, which take the bride and groom through the stages of the journey that lead to a union with God and union of a husband and wife. These are both teachings and vows that they take to seal their marriage union.

The gyaani will recite a hymn for each laav, after which the bride and groom will bow down, and start walking around the altar (where the Guru Granth Sahib is) with the groom leading. The palla is linking them both and as they take a journey around the altar.


Screen-Shot-2014-12-02-at-10.21.32-PM-e1417581287612First laav emphasises duty to the family and the community.
Second laav signifies the stage of yearning and love for each other.
Third laav stresses the stage of detachment from the world.
Fourth laav signifies the final stage of harmony and union in marriage when love between the couple blends into the love for God.

The groom leading does not imply he is in control or any superior. Him leading is to symbolise his role as the carer and provider of his wife. Also, the bride and groom are equally distant from the Guru Granth Sahib this way by taking circular journeys around the altar.

After the bride and groom complete each laav, they take a seat and the gyaani recites the next hymn for the corresponding laav. After the fourth laav, a hymn is sung to mark the marital union. A final ardaas is performed by the gyaani with the entire congregation including the wedding couple.

This is the end of the formal wedding customs. The groom’s parents will then put a haar around the couple, give them money for blessing and feed them barfi. The bride’s parents will follow suit and place the whole coconut back in the groom’s palla. The rest of the congregation will take it in turn to give them sagan (money as blessing).

bride-grain-throwOnce this is done the boy’s father sprinkles water on the newly-weds to say that if there are misunderstandings between them, he will help calm them down – not add fuel to the fire. The bride then makes a tearful farewell to her new home in what is known as the ‘bidai’. Traditionally she would sit in a doli (palanquin) which would be carried by the bride’s brothers. Even now some brides sit in a doli, which takes her to the getaway car, where the groom and a few members of his family are waiting to escort her home. She gets in, and zooms off to her new home – and new life.

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