What to expect at a traditional North Indian Wedding

I have always been fascinated by the cultures of other countries, their traditions and believes. During my adventures through India I came across weddings many times but I never had the luck to take part in one and observe it from the inside. Last year, must have been October, I received an email from my good friend Sandeep whom I met in India and who took care of me when I feel ill with food poisoning. His message to me was that his sister was getting married in November and I was invited to the wedding! I didn’t think too much before saying “yes” and started to look for flights from London to New Delhi.

One month later, on the 23rd of November, I found myself at Heathrow Airport checking in for my flight with luxury Etihad (surprisingly, the cheapest option at that time).

“Why are you staying in India only 3 days?” the checking desk lady asked me surprised.

I was indeed going to India for three days only, flying almost 10 hours each way. I was so excited though to see a real Indian wedding that it didn’t really matter that I was flying so long to be there only for three days.

The flight went on without any problems and 10 hours later I was landing in (what I thought to be) foggy New Delhi. Back in autumn New Delhi has just been declared the most polluted city in the world, and what I thought to be fog was actually a very thick layer of smog covering the entire atmosphere. It was so bad that at landing, it was almost impossible to see the buildings underneath the approach.

I went through immigration very fast compared with other times and got out of the airport in less than an hour. Sandeep was waiting for me.

The wedding was taking place in Sandeep’s home town, Bhiwani, 2 hours North from Delhi, in Haryana state.  However, we wondered around New Delhi for a bit, so that Sandeep can sort out the last shopping for the wedding and to pick up his own suit from a shop in Connaught Place, the centre of the city. We had time to enjoy a cup of chai by the side of the road and also have parathas for breakfast.

As soon as I arrived I found out that the wedding was actually starting that evening with the ladies’ Sangeet (Girl’s Night). Even if I had fallen asleep in the car, I needed a few hours of rest so after I’ve met Sandeep’s family who greeted me warmly with a delicious homemade lunch, he drove me to the hotel where I was staying for the next few days. It was a new hotel, very basic, that wasn’t actually opened yet but which was hired entirely for Sandeep’s family, for the wedding guests.

Ladies’ Sangeet is similar to a Bachelorette Party to which all the brides’ family is invited. It begins with the bride getting her bridal mehndi (the henna applied to her arms and feet). This takes a lot of time and the woman needs to stay still until it dries out. It is said that the darker the henna, the deeper the groom’s love is for the bride.

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As the night came, the party moved into a tent outside the house, where all the girls came together to sing and dance traditional wedding songs. A DJ was also playing Bollywood songs while photographers were capturing the entire party on their cameras. Outside, the men of the family were gathered in a circle, smoking hookah and talking between themselves. Sometimes younger men would also join on the dance floor and also throw money in the air above their relatives who dance very well or who don’t dance that often.

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I was wearing a dress borrowed from Sandeep’s sister in law, to blend in with the locals. It was fascinating to watch how good the girls were dancing, with typical Indian moves that I have only seen in movies.

We were only three non-Indian guests and everyone treated us like VIPs. All the girls wanted to teach us how to dance (I am hopeless when it comes to dancing) and they wouldn’t let us sit down at all. If we did, they would ask us if we are not enjoying the party. In a hidden dark corner, outside the tent, someone brought it some drinks, which helped a bit with the courage of stepping onto the dance floor. The party didn’t finish until 2am.

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The next morning started with the arrival of the extended family to the bride’s house, with women from different villages wearing their traditional colourful clothes, some with their heads completely covered by scarfs, some carrying pots on their heads. The mother of the bride welcomed all her brothers first, starting with the older one, in a ritual which involved applying tilak (paint) on their foreheads together with rice, the symbol for prosperity. The ceremony is called Bhat, which comes from the Sanskrit word “Bhratr” (bother).  The brothers are bringing gifts and money for their sister, as a gesture of their involvement in the wedding. In a traditional Indian household, the mother usually stays home and takes care of the family while the father is the one who supports it. By bringing money, the brothers are showing their support as a sign of respect. The amounts will be written on papers and kept for years in their homes.

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After that, all the women gathered around the bride and blessed her, one by one, in the Pithi ceremony, a ritual for good luck. Pithi is a turmeric, chickpea, flour and rose water paste that the family applies on the bride’s skin and hair. This tradition comes from the past, when there were no hairdressers and the brides would use turmeric and yogurt in beauty rituals. Once they finished, the father of the bride together with the brothers of the mother and the priest conducted another blessing ceremony.

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I would watch fascinated how the bride stood still and welcomed everyone with kindness and humility. Her hands were opened, to receive the blessings. She was wearing a yellow scarf covering her hair under which I could notice her radiant smile and the sparkle in her eyes.

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After lunch I went in the centre of the village to buy a dress for the evening, the main ceremony of the wedding. I have to mention that the wedding was an arranged one, the bride and groom only seeing each other about 3 times before the wedding. Both families are organising different ceremonies for the wedding, different from each other so I can only tell you about what happened on the bride’s side of the family.

It was quite funny going to get the dress, in an Indian non-touristy village. I could swear that the entire bazaar stopped and started to stare. It was quite overwhelming, especially when even a man passing by in a rickshaw stopped his driver and started to stare.

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The time passed faster than I could have imagined (thanks to the jet lag as well) and the evening arrived soon. The wedding ceremony took place in a very large garden that could probably easily accommodate 1000 people. The entire open hall was decorated with pink and white, with an impressive entrance and waiters welcoming us with coffee and snacks. On both sides of the building there were cooks, each of them serving a different type of Indian food.

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The wedding was a vegetarian one but there were at least 30 different delicious choice to try out. The selection of dishes included the delicious palak paneer (my favourite – a sweet spinach based curry with cheese), pani poori (a crisp round deep fried indian bread filled with flavoured water), alloo gobi (a dry cauliflower and potato curry) but also a lot of sweets, like gulab jamun (spongy balls drenched in cardamom syrup) or rasmalai (cottage cheese balls soaked in syrup and milk and flavoured with saffron and pistachios). There was no alcohol at the wedding but plenty of soft drinks, coffee and lassi (a delicious milk based typical Indian drink). If you love Indian food, this was heaven! There were so many different types of food that I didn’t really manage to try them all in one night!

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The wedding ceremony started when the groom arrived together with his family and friends, in a ritual known as baraat. He was sitting on a high chair decorated with hundreds of garlands of flowers, while everyone else was dancing and singing around him, leaded by dhol (large bass drum) players. He met the family of the bride who welcomed him with tilak and rice.

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Soon after, it was time for the bride to walk down the “isle”. The groom was responsible for the wedding dress and he delivered it earlier the same day. She was so different from the first time I’ve met her, on the terrace of the house, getting her hands and feet covered in henna. I could notice a lot of emotions on her face, happiness but also shyness and maybe a little bit of fear of the unknown of the new life she was just about to step into. She looked beautiful in her red dress covered with jewellery from head to toes. She walked slowly on the red carpet accompanied by all her family and friends, with her brothers leading her towards the arms of her soon husband to be.

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The groom took the brides hand into his and they climbed together the seven sacred steps towards a platform which lifted them into the air. Just before that, they’ve put red flower garlands around each other’s necks. The seven sacred steps talk about the vows the two are taking for each other, each step representing a life value: respect, spirituality, prosperity, happiness, children, devotion and lifelong partners.

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All the guests gathered around the platform to support and be there for the new couple. As soon as they descended, they moved towards their assigned seats, on a stage, from where they greeted and received the gifts from all the guests. This part of the wedding lasted for a couple of hours as each guest posed for a photo.

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The bride and groom moved underneath a mandap (a temporary porch set up for weddings, decorated with flowers) where the priest was waiting to perform the union ceremony. This part of the wedding can last for hours but in Sandeep sister’s case it only lasted for about 20 minutes.  The priests starts a fire and the new family walks around it four times keeping in mind the four aspirations in life: Dharma (devotion one to each other, family and God), Artha (prosperity), Karma (passion) and Moksha (salvation). The bride will lead three times while the groom only once. The bride’s brother puts rice in her hands after each round, to show that he will always be there to protect her. Meanwhile, the girls are throwing with rose petals. When they return to their seat, they exchange places, the bride sitting now on the left side of the groom, close to his heart. The groom then applies a red powder on her forehead, changing her status from a single to a married woman. There are three things that represent the union in marriage of the two: the red color, the necklace and the rounds around the fire. It is believed that if the marriage promises are broken, the fire will burn you.

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This is the end of the ceremony. The reception continued for a couple more hours, until the bride and groom left together in a new car, a gift from the wedding. If I remember well, I think the wedding ended at around 5 am. By this point I was so tired that when I arrived back to the hotel I fell asleep immediately and did not wake up early, as planned. But that was ok, as neither anyone else.

My return flight from Delhi to London was very early, meaning that I had to be at the airport before 6am. I was so tired after three days of activities that I slept almost for the entire flight. I remember waking up for breakfast, taking a bite from the sausage and thinking that it’s not that good, and then falling back asleep. When I woke up again my entire tray was cleaned and put back up. And I was sitting by the window. The passengers next to me noticed how tired I was and they cleaned it for me when the flight attendant passed by with the rubbish bag.

The entire experience of the wedding was fantastic, three colorful days filled with excitement and joy. A traditional Indian wedding in a tiny Indian village it’s a one in a lifetime experience! If you want to see an Indian wedding but you don’t have an invitation, you might be lucky by visiting the Golden Temple in Amritsar, where this kind of events often take place.

Traveler. Dreamer. Cat lover. Wondering around the world with my backpack and my camera. Contributing to make the world a better place.

74 Comments

  1. What an incredible experience and looks like a fun wedding! My best friend is Hindu and getting married next year. I can’t wait for her wedding and wearing a traditional outfit

  2. What a beautiful wedding ceremony! I didn’t know very much about the traditional Indian wedding, so this was really fascinating to read. It must have been such a wonderful experience x

  3. Your photos are gorgeous! What a fun experience this must have been. I’ve never been to an Indian wedding but everything I hear about them makes me wish I could experience one at least once!

  4. Wow how breathtaking does she look in her Indian dress, absolutely stunning and it is lovely that Sandeep invited you to the wedding what a nice man. I love aloo gobi and rasmalai, was there any lassi at the wedding as well? x

  5. Wow 🙂 I’ve always wanted to go to India. It looks so great. The culture and everything and I love Indian food as well!

  6. The ceremony looks absolutely gorgeous. I love seeing pictures of wedding dresses from around the world. They are all so unique and beautiful <3

  7. I am an Indian (Christian) and have always wanted to attend a North Indian Hindu wedding. They look so grand and so much fun. While reading your post, I felt like I was present at the wedding … so detailed and descriptive. I absolutely loved the backdrop they chose and of course the yummy gulab jamun. And you looked gorgeous in the Indian outfit 🙂

  8. In my career job I manage a team in India. Just a few days ago one of the members got married! He was so excited he could hardly contain himself. I wanted to ask more about what the wedding would be like .. but didn’t. Instead said “please send photos” The cool thing is now I know a little more about what his big day would have been like! What a celebration

  9. I love a good wedding. This looks like so much fun. The intricate detail on the henna is amazing. What a wonderful way to celebrate love.

  10. Never attended an Indian wedding yet but I would love to! They have an amazing culture. Thanks for sharing your post. Now I got an idea on how their weddings are.

  11. That is indeed a memorable experience for you! Very good of Sandeep to have invited you over to witness the wedding. You have done a wonderful job with capturing the highlights of the wedding. 🙂

  12. Hi, I am an Indian and I just got married this year on 22 January 2017, I could have called you for my marriage had I known you earlier 🙂 , I am sure you would have had a gala time. I am not a North Indian though, I am from Kolkata (East India). Our traditions are also long but they are a bit different from the one you had. We are big time non vegetarians, no alcohol in the marriage though. And mine wasn’t an arranged marriage, I had known my boyfriend for the past 8 years. I have many though who did arranged marriage, but, after the ‘confirmation’ they used to meet each other almost every single day till the marriage. Things are strict in North India I believe. Your co-passenger in the plane was very kind I suppose.

  13. Such a lovely post! I’m always curious about the culture, especially wedding tradition in each country. I would love to attend an Indian wedding.

  14. This is so interesting to read as I am going to my first Indian wedding in July although I don’t get to go to India, it’s being held in Birmingham. I am so excited for the whole three days x

  15. AH! being a North Indian, I throughly enjoyed reading this. North Indian weddings, especially Punjabi wedding sometimes stretch to a week! 😀 I pity the groom and bride, standing all night for the reception then staying awake through the wedding. hehe. I am sure you had a great time!

  16. It looks so incredible. This is what weddings should be like – a big colourful party. I would love to go to one.

  17. I have a few Indian friends and have heard from them about Indian Weddings they do sound amazing although probably very tiring too. I love the use of so many vibrant colours it all looks so pretty!

  18. What an awesome experience! I love all the colorful dresses, and it sounds like it was quite the party. I went to an Indian wedding in the US a couple of years ago, and there was also a lot of dancing there and the party went on into the wee hours of the morning. So fun!

  19. What a great post! I’ve always been fascinated by Indian culture and traditions. Thank you for sharing!

  20. I have never seen an Indian wedding before, it looks really amazing, so many beautiful colours and traditions, so much work but so beautiful…. On in a lifetime experience for sure !

  21. I am sure you must have had a great experience witnessing a North India wedding. You have rightly explained every part of it. North Indian weddings are always full of color, drama and fun. Its more than a celebration. 🙂

  22. Oh my gosh, the food sounds insane! I’d love to go to an all vegetarian wedding. Palak Paneer is one of my favs!

  23. Oh my, it looks so majestic! And the clothes reminds me of Alladin! I want to attend an Indian wedding once in my life xx
    ♥ xoxo My Life as Foteini / Foteini Karagianni ♥

  24. I have never seen an Indian wedding before so you have no idea how much I have enjoyed reading this article and seeing all those photos!! This was a great post!!!

  25. I love the pictures in this post! Learning about different cultures is so much fun. That surprises me about all the smog, though! I didn’t know about that.

  26. Wow how beautiful was the Indian wedding you attended. I’ve only attended one Indian wedding but it was here in the states, but they incorporated several of the customs and it was amazing to experience.

  27. I heard before that Indian Wedding is luxurious… looking through these i could say it really is. It was such a lovely experience to have witness a wedding like this. Beautiful! Indians are beautiful people too.. we have Indian friends here in the Philippines and they are sweet and kind and it always shows in their clothing and style how luxurious their culture is.

  28. Awwe, every wedding would always have an individual feel but any weeding would always have a heartwarming touch. This is my first time to be walked through on how a wedding on India is celebrated from the bridal shower to the arfter-party. It’s great to know new traditions. Never tried a vegetarian after wedding party, but I bet that was equally amazing as the rest. 🙂

  29. Experiencing different culture through celebrating a special event like weddings is sure one for the books. I had fun reading your article for I get learn so many things about Indian culture (esp. their weddings). You’ve got some lovely photos too. The emotions of the people you photograph resonates through us, the readers. Thank you for sharing this article. 🙂

  30. It’s such a nice experience to immerse yourself in another country. Experiencing their culture is such a big thing! (Well for me, it is!) I have a friend who has experienced an Indian wedding too. I was mesmerized by her post as well. When you mentioned mehendi, I instantly imagined how the artist did it. With all the details, he/she must be patient! Your photos really captured what we could not see for ourselves just yet.

  31. I haven’t experienced or seen an actual Indian wedding. Though if seeing one in documentaries and books counts, then good. Though it never occured to me that such ceremony would take hours. And I must say it is pretty based on tradition and culture as there are so many practices needing to be done before the actual blessing of the bride and groom started.

  32. So many things happened! I wonder how many hours the ceremony took place in total? But seriously speaking, it’s admirable they have wedding traditions like this that they can still keep even in the modern times. My Indian friend got married last month and the ceremony was non-traditional. If I have a an Indian friend who is engaged, I’d love to experience his/her traditional wedding in India first hand. I think it is an enriching experience!

  33. I envy you a little bit. This is such an extraordinary experience!! I wish I could attend such a ceremony with all the preceding and following celebrations. I fell in love with their culture and tradition.

  34. Now, I want to have a goal of attending an Indian wedding. I can see those kinds in books and I was really in awe with their outfits and all. You also look great on your outfit. The accessory on her nose was just a little disturbing for me but overall, she looked pretty.

  35. India´s tourism campaign, Incredible India is definitely about this. Rich culture and tradition, that up to this date they still practice. This must have been so surreal and unique experience. I´d love to witness something like this as well, maybe not Indian but any traditional celebration of union.

  36. Wow! What an extravagant wedding ceremony! I literally went to a chapel one day and got married. My mom and dad were the only guests lol

  37. What an amazing and meaningful experience! It is always fun to see and experience how different cultures do things! Their wedding ceremonies are amazing!

  38. Looks like you had a blast! I always wanted to attend a traditional Indian wedding. Their culture is fascinating! I’m traveling to India this upcoming October 🙂 Safe travels. – Mariella

  39. This looked amazing!!!!! I’ve always wanted to attend an Indian or Moroccan wedding. It seems like so much fun. Thanks for enlightening me through your wonderful photos 🙂

  40. I think this is a lovely experience! I’ve never been to an Indian wedding before. The tradition is very much intact which makes it even more amazing. It’s colorful, lively, and exciting!

  41. Omg! This was like everything I wanted to know. The hotel I stayed in recently was hosting an Indian wedding & I was fascinated by how it could possibly last three days

  42. I have only been to one wedding before, but would have loved to attend more. I think that it would be a lot of fun to attend one that incorporates cultural traditions. Oh wow, the wedding ceremony space and the decorations are mesmerizing! The color scheme is so pretty!

  43. Woah awesome candid photos, fantastic. Especially the one of the women all lined up, really powerful.
    Thank you for taking me back to the month I spent there, my God the sweets were so delicious, but it was the people that got me, so so lovely and generous. 🙂

  44. You know, I’ve always been so fascinated with traditional Indian weddings! Not only are everything so beautiful and intricate but also because every detail, every part of the program and even the tiniest piece of clothing to be used are so well thought of and planned. It’s amazing how this tradition has been kept alive and I wish I could experience being in one, once in my life. The photos are stunning! 🙂

  45. I’ve always been fascinated my wedding traditions in different cultures, so this was really eye opening for me. Everything little intricate details have a meaning and a place. It’s beautiful.

  46. I had the privilege of attending one Indian wedding in the United States. The rituals are so beautiful. What a blessing for you to be involved.

  47. What a fantastic experience. I love the colour and that henna is just stunning. However, I think my favorite picture is that chap in the rikshaw, I understand what it’s like to stand out in a non-touristy area and recognise that look! Happy travels.

  48. Happy to see that you enjoyed the vibrancy and colour of a traditional north Indian wedding. Great of you to come down just to attend the wedding. What is really unique about Indian weddings is that the customs and rituals undergo changes from region to region. You may want to be part of a South Indian wedding next time around 🙂

  49. Seems Like you had a lot of fun. So nice of Sandeep to invite you to experience an Indian wedding. I am south of India. Our weddings are bit difference but the vows and rituals remain the same. Weddings are a wonderful way to experience culture.

  50. These are really precious moments and it seems like you had an heartwarming experience at the wedding. And, that is the real magic of Indian weddings, it feels so amazing even when you read or write about Indian cultures and traditions. Thank you for sharing your lovely moments with us.

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