TRADITIONAL PANJABI WEDDING

There are so many nicknames that you are about to learn. Panjabis known for their zest for life, vivaciousness and off course, the bhangra (traditional panjabi dance) know how to pull all stops when it comes to celebrating. What is better occasion to celebrate than a wedding in the family?

Roka

heir soulmates and will look no further for a life partner", is held. The bride's "mama" (mother's brother) gives her the "nath" (rose ring) which she will wear on her wedding. The origin of this ceremony lies in the arranged marriage normally when the parents would let out the world that they are looking for a suitable match for their son or daughter. Once they had found that match, their search had come to and end. Through rings are not exchanged, the couple stand unofficially engaged after this ceremony.

Sagai

The wedding celebrations begin with the tikka ceremony, held a week to ten days before the wedding (depending on the number of functions to follow) in which the family of the girl visits that of the boy's carrying beautifully wrapped gifts and the tikka material: 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 bride applies tikka on his son-in-law's forehead and gives him his blessings and some money. In return, the bride's family receives baskets of seven dried fruits, almonds, cashew-nuts, chuharey, coconut pieces, raising, khurman (dried apricots) and phoolmakhana (popped lotus seeds), at the kudmai (sagai or engagement). Nowadays the tikka ceremony is usually combined with the engagement. First the bride is draped with a chunni (stone) which is usually very ornate. The bride is also presented with jewellery, which her mother and sister-in-law help her wear. A tiny dot of mehndi is applied to her palm for good luck, and the function is sealed with the exchange of rings. Everyone present congratulations the couple by feeding them sweet.

Sangeet

After this function start the fun and dance. There is a sangeet function hosted by the bride's family, in which just a few close members of the groom's family are invited. The bride's family play the dholki (an elongated dram) sing songs in which they tease the groom and his family! telling them to thank their stars they were lucky to find such a wonderful girl. After this, it is the groom's turn to retaliate, which they do in another sangeet function hosted by them. Through these are the traditional sangeets, many families have live bands or a disc jockey to churn out one dance track after another as guests shake a leg on the floor.

Mehndi

The last major function before the wedding is the mehndi. Mehndiwallis are called to the respective houses of the boy and girl and they apply mehndi to the palms of the female family members, and the hands and feet of the bride. A basket containing bindis and bangles is handed around so girls can choose those that match the outfit they plan to wear to the wedding.

The final countdown

Three days before the wedding, the bride is not supposed to leave the house till the wedding day. These days are meant for complete relaxation. She is not even supposed to meet the groom (if he can stay away!). The morning of the wedding, "batna" a paste of flour and turmeric, is applied to the face, hands and legs of the bride. This is believed to beautify the skin. She then has a bath and sits for "puja" which is a religious ritual. She wears the bridal "chura" red and white ivory bangles that signify her status as a bride. Her relatives then tie a "kalira" (jingle) on these churas, which convey their good wishes and blessings. The eligible girls line up and the bride lightly bangs her kaliras on their heads. It is believed that by doing this, these girls would be the next to get married.

Similarly the groom's relatives also apply banta, more as a jest than a serious ceremony. This is followed by a puja, after which his mother ties a "sehera" (veil of flowers) on his turban, praying that his life ahead will be as beautiful and fragrant as the flowers. He is then seated on a female horse and his sisters tie a "mauli" (sacred thread) on the reins of his horse. They also detain the horse in the tradition known as "baagpakdai", saying that they won't leave its reins unless their brother bribes them. Once they are satisfied with the cash or jewellery bride, they release the reins so the groom can gallop off to fetch his bride.

At the venue

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, uncle and grand fathers of the groom embrace the corresponding members of the bride's family. While embracing, they try to lift each other up, as a show off strength and superiority, amidst much laughter and cheer. When they enter the venue the bride is brought out and 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. Another game played is by placing a ring in a plate filled with milk. The bride and groom dip their hands in the plate and the one who comes out with the ring will dominate in the marriage.

The wedding continues with the couples vows in front of the sacred fire. The bride's parents give her hand to the groom in marriage in what is known as the "kanyadaan". In the earlier days, in exchange for the bride, her in-laws would donate a sacred cow "gaudaan"! Nowadays money says it all. A donation is given to the "pundit". The couple take four rounds of the fire, and seven steps to the north to signify advancement as they walk together through fire. Then the bride puts a foot on a stone as she says no matter what problems come their way, she will be stable-solid as a rock. Her brother pours "kheel" (a sweet) into her hands, which she pours into her husband's hand. Just as the kheel cannot return to it's original state of grain, neither can the bride return to her earlier state of daughter of the house.

Once this is done the groom's father sprinkles water on the newly-weds to say that if there are misunderstandings between them, he will help calm them down. Then bride then makes a tearful farewell to her new home "bidai". Traditionally she would sit in "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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