Hindu Wedding Traditions
Hindu weddings are unlike any other weddings you will ever experience. They are filled to the brim with vibrant, cultural events, lasting over the course of several days. Several pre-wedding events like the Haldi, Mehndi, and Sangeet all play a very important role in the celebration of the union of two people. The culmination of all these events, however, is the wedding day, which in and of itself consists of significant moments of religion and culture that pull together to create a beautiful celebration of marriage.
While people in India practice a myriad of religions, including Buddhism, Islam, and Catholicism, among others, the vast majority of Indian people practice Hinduism. As such, Hindu weddings are quite common around the world. It is also interesting to note that various aspects of Hindu traditions have blended into Indian culture so that even those not practicing Hinduism still borrow traditions during important events like wedding ceremonies. In that sense, what was once rooted in Hindu tradition has become part of the wedding tradition observed by Indians of other faiths. In this guide, you will learn about several Hindu wedding traditions, from the Baraat to the Vidaai, among others, and you’ll find specialized photography tips that will help you anticipate each of these significant moments and capture them as they occur.
PLEASE NOTE: We created this guide to help prepare photographers to successfully photograph Hindu weddings. The information shared in this guide has been culled from our own experiences photographing Hindu weddings in the United States and does not proclaim to be a definitive guide that includes every possible Hindu wedding tradition. We recognize there may and likely will be traditions, however frequently or infrequently observed, that are not represented within this guide.
Hindu Wedding Timeline
While photographers do not usually create wedding timelines (a job handled more often by wedding planners & coordinators), they should familiarize themselves with the timeline so that they can anticipate the major events that are scheduled to occur throughout the day and plan accordingly.
PLEASE NOTE: The timeline presented below is intended to serve only as an example of what a timeline might look like for a Hindu wedding. Actual timelines for all weddings will vary.
05:00 am – Bridal party hair and makeup begins
07:00 am – Photographer arrives | Prep & details
07:45 am – Individual portraits of bride & groom
08:15 am – First look/Couples daytime session
08:45 am – Bridal party portraits
09:20 am – Ceremony site should be setup
09:30 am – Photographs of ceremony details
09:40 am – Bride hides away for Baraat
10:10 am – Baraat Begins
10:45 am – Baraat arrival at ceremony entrance
10:45 am – Milni
11:05 am – Ceremony begins
01:00 pm – Ceremony ends
01:05 pm – Vidaai
01:30 pm – Lunch break for guests
02:15 pm – Couples session
02:45 pm – Bride & groom downtime
04:00 pm – Hair/makeup for reception
04:15 pm – Family portraits in Reception Outfits
05:00 pm – Cocktail hour
05:00 pm – Nighttime/Reception couples session
05:30 pm -Reception details (Photographer)
05:45 pm -Doors open to the reception
06:45 pm – Grand entrance, Dinner, programming, performances, speeches, and other reception programming
09:30 pm – Open dance floor
10:00 pm – Sneak away session
10:30 pm – Cake cutting ceremony/dessert
10:45 pm – Dancing continues until conclusion
**There may be a grand exit, but not always.
Hindu Wedding Glossary
Here is a quick reference list of terms you should know before photographing a Hindu wedding:
A Dhol is a percussion instrument played during the groom’s Baraat, usually in addition to a music mix played by a DJ.
Churas, though not specifically Hindu, are commonly worn by Hindu Indian brides. Like a wedding ring, the churas announce to the world that the wearer is married. Brides traditionally wore their churas for up to a year, but modern brides typically wear them for 40 days.
The arti is known as the ‘ceremony of light.’ During Hindu weddings, the arti is part of welcoming the groom and involves the mother of the bride waving lighted wicks soaked in camphor around the groom before walking him to the mandap to begin the wedding ceremony.
An antarpat is an auspicious cloth used to conceal the bride from the groom at the start of the wedding, at least until specific mantras have been recited. Because the antarpat separates the bride and groom, its use symbolizes the couple’s individual lives prior to the marriage.
During the ashirwad, the bride and groom touch their parents’ feet or embrace in a hug to show respect before receiving blessings and concluding the ceremony.
In Hindu and Sikh weddings, the groom is led to the marriage venue in a procession known as the baraat. Family members, groomsmen, and friends of the groom that accompany the groom during his baraat are known as baraatis.
B I N D I & M A A N G T I K K A
A bindi is a small sticker worn on the forehead above the nose, traditionally by married Hindu women. The maang tikka is a piece of jewelry that features a hanging ornament on one end and a hair pin on the other. These items are also worn as fashion accessories by unmarried women.
A dupatta is a scarf or head covering worn by South Asian women, and an essential part of the bride’s wedding outfit. The dupatta is seen by many as a symbol of modesty.
In the Hindu religion, Ganesha is the god of beginnings and is widely known as the remover of obstacles. Ganesha is easily identifiable with an elephant head, and statues or images of his likeness are commonly found at Hindu weddings.
Kalires, which are commonly found in Punjabi culture, are said to symbolize wealth and prosperity. These elegantly designed golden bridal accessories are tied to the bride’s chura by her family and friends.
A ghodi is a white horse that is often ridden by the groom during the Baraat.
Before the ceremony begins, the priest invokes Lord Ganesh, the Hindu elephant God that removes all obstacles, as a precursor to nuptials about to take place.
Joota is embroidered Indian footwear (also known as mojari) worn by the groom on his wedding day, usually stolen by the bride’s family during the wedding ceremony (a jovial ritual known as “Joota chupai”) to be returned later for a fee, which is paid by the groom.
During the kansar, or exchange of sweets, the groom will feed his bride sweets, a symbolic gesture to represent the couple sharing their first meal.
The kanya aagaman marks the arrival of the bride and represents her first appearance at the wedding.
The kanyadaan is the ‘giving away’ of the bride. The bride’s father places his daughter’s right hand in the groom’s right hand, signifying his acceptance and approval of giving his daughter away.
Laaja homam translates to ‘the offering of puffed rice to the sacred fire’ from its Sanskrit origins. This ritual takes place towards the end of the ceremony and allows family members to show their support as they offer rice to the holy fire to bless the marriage.
In Hindi, mandap translates to a covered structure with pillars. In essence, the mandap serves as the altar for Indian weddings, specifically for Hindu and Jain ceremonies.
A lengha is an elaborately embroidered long,skirt worn by women in South Asia. Unlike a sari, one doesn’t have to form pleats but may simply ‘tuck and drape’ the lengha. The lengha is usually accompanied with a choli (midriff-baring blouse).
The bride and groom will circle the holy fire four to seven times (depending on the region or branch of Hinduism), with the groom leading first and the bride leading the final circle. Each circle carries significant meaning.
Similar to a ring in a ring exchange (and usually preceding the ring exchange), the mangalsutra is a necklace that the groom will tie around the bride’s neck to symbolize that she is a married woman.
The milni, which means “a coming together,” occurs after the baraat when the two families unite at the ceremony site. The men from both sides of the family exchange garlands and gifts. The bride’s mother then greets the groom before he approaches the mandap.
Muhurtham is an auspicious time designated for the ceremony and it also involves the first look, or the first time the bride and groom will see each other on their wedding day.
SAFA & SARPECH
Safas are wedding turbans, and they vary in color, fabric, and adornments. The sarpech is the peacock feather-shaped ornament that grooms typically attach to the front of the safa.
The saptapadi, or seven steps, follows the tying of the mangalsutra. For this part of the ceremony, the bride and groom will take seven steps; each step represents one of the seven vows and promises they are making to each other.
Before the bride arrives to the mandap, the groom’s parents place a tilaka (mark) on his forehead using a fragrant powder or paste, such as vermilion, similar to the sindoor.
Sindoor is a red paste or powder made of turmeric or vermilion that a groom applies as a dot on the bride’s forehead and a line at the parting of the her hair during the wedding ceremony, marking her as a married woman.
A sari is a garment consisting of a long piece of cotton or silk that is wrapped around the body with one end and draped over the head or over one shoulder.
Coconut, or ‘shriphal’ in Sanskrit (meaning ‘God’s Fruit’), is commonly used in Hindu rituals, including puja (prayer/worship) rituals and homa (fire) rituals, among others.
The varmala ceremony, also referred to as jaimala, is the commencement of the Hindu wedding. The bride and groom meet for the first time at the mandap and exchange garlands to start the wedding ceremony.
The vidaai marks the end of the wedding ceremony and the beginning of the bride and groom’s journey as husband and wife. Friends and family, specifically the bride’s parents, will gather with the couple to wish them farewell as they depart the ceremony site.
The vivaah homa (sacred fire ritual) is performed in order to indicate the purity of the upcoming rituals, all conducted with the help of fire.