Sikh weddings are known for their extravagance and colourful, fun parties. They are also relatively longer than other weddings and can last up to a few days or even weeks. This is because there are elaborate traditions and ceremonies involved in a Sikh wedding. Other than the actual day wedding and receptions, these pre-wedding events are also highly regarded.
To them, a Sikh wedding is a celebratory occasion for the parents as much as the bride and groom. Marriage is viewed not just like the bond between two individuals but instead a culmination, and even fulfilment of a parent’s purpose in life. Hence, some of these traditions and rituals can be carried out in various ways and hold differing symbolisms to different families. These practices can also be modified in accordance with each family’s own beliefs and morals.
Here’s our video highlights we did of a Sikh Wedding in Singapore.
If you’re invited to a Sikh wedding for the first time, these are some guidelines for you to ensure you are polite and do not disrespect anyone unintentionally. They also show your goodwill in respecting their traditions and customs.
Greet the couple or elders with a “Sat Sri Akal”. It is a respectful greeting that translates roughly to “True is the name of God”. The saying comes with your blessings towards the couple on their big day. You can also greet ladies with “Sat Sri Akal, Aunty Ji” and men with “Sat Sri Akal, Uncle Ji”. These greetings are likely to be met with smiles from them.
When someone offers you food, you should not decline even if you do so politely. Punjabis hold a strong regard to hospitality and will not leave you alone until you eat something. While you may be unfamiliar with the cuisine presented at the wedding, it’s always a good opportunity to try them out.
Engagement Ceremony (Kurmai)
The engagement ceremony can take place a year to months or even days before the actual wedding. It symbolises the joining of two families and will be a relatively small ceremony with about a hundred guests. It can take place either in the family’s house or at a banquet hall.
The bride’s family will bring dry fruits or Ladoo (Indian sweets) as an auspicious offering to the groom’s family. Sometimes, gifts in the form of other sweet goods and money (known as shagan) may also be exchanged. For guests, it is customary to always bring something edible with you, be it in the form of sweets or dry fruits.
When held at a banquet hall, the groom will make a formal entrance onto a stage platform where he awaits his bride-to-be. The stage decor can be elaborate with intricate patterns and details according to each family’s preference. These elements usually hold sentimental meaning for the family.
As the bride enters, she will be escorted in by her brothers or father. After the groom puts on the engagement ring on the bride’s finger, they will sit down on the main chairs of the stage. Like a proposal, the groom will typically kneel on a knee to place the ring on the bride’s finger. When they’re seated, they will be fed shagan by their parents. These are sweet goodies that the bride family has brought earlier.
Next, the bride’s parents will place a palla (long scarf) on the groom. Other family members and guests will continue offering shagan into the palla. The significance is to show a declaration of approval for the couple to be together and also as a public announcement for the groom to be the son-in-law for the bride’s family.
The groom’s family will bring jewelry and mehndi (temporary henna tattoos). A chunni (head scarf) will be placed over the bride’s head by the groom’s family. It will remain there until the end of the ceremony. They will also present the bride more sweets, jewelry as a form of reciprocation.
This ceremony will come to an end when all family members and friends have had a chance to offer their own shagan to the newly engaged couple. It will usually be brief as only close family and friends will be invited but it can also be time-consuming depending on your number of guests. Afterwards, dinner will be served. You can also always expect dancing and lively music to end off this joyous night.
Traditionally, the sangeet is a ladies-only singing party. Nowadays, a few close family male members can also join in on the fun. It can take place either at the family’s house or at a banquet hall. As ‘sangeet’ translates to ‘sung together’ in Sanskrit, it is a fun and energetic event for those invited to come together for a night of singing and dancing.
Ladies will form a circle and begin singing traditional marriage songs. These songs can include ‘jokes’ about in-laws, about the bride leaving her parents’ home and on how to have a successful marriage. With catchy and addictive tunes, it is sure to get guests on their feet moving to the music. The couple can also have their own unique dance number which showcases each couple’s distinct personalities and characters while paying homage to their traditional roots.
The Mehndi ceremony is considered a form of artistic celebration that is held the night before the wedding for the bride. Mehndi is a plant-based paste that is used to create temporary henna tattoos. It seeks to bring good luck and positive energy to the bride and will be applied in intricate designs onto the hands and feet of the bride.
As it is a time-consuming event, this ceremony is traditionally only attended by the bride’s close female friends and family members. Sometimes, other women in the family may also get mehndi applied on their limbs. To personalise each mehndi, the initials of the groom may be hidden in the design if desired. During the application of the mehndi, it also allows for the bride to have heartfelt conversations with her loved ones.
Every family will also have their own meaning and beliefs for the mehndi traditions. There’s a saying that believes that the darker the henna stain is, the deeper the groom’s love for the bride. Another believes that the darker stain symbolises a stronger bond between the bride and her mother-in-law. Some also say that if the groom fails to find his own initials in the mehndi design, the bride will be the dominant one in their relationship.
This ceremony is usually performed a few days before the wedding in the same fashion for both the bride and groom. Closely related females will work together to create a rangoli (vibrant design) on the ground. It is an art form created using materials such as coloured rice, dry flour, coloured sand or flower petals. While it’s aesthetically pleasing, it also represents strength and good luck. This design is placed at the feet of the bride or groom during the ceremony.
The Mayian ceremony kicks off when the bride or groom enters with a thaali (tray) sweet containing yellow rice. There will be 3 items on the thaali – vatna (a paste of turmeric flour and mustard oil), a fatti (a piece of wood), and a dupatta (red scarf). The family will sit the bride or groom onto a peeri (wooden plank) facing eastwood, which is where the sun rises.
The fatti will be placed at their feet and the dupatta is extended over the bride or groom and held by their close family members. Respective mothers will begin the ceremony for their child by tying the gana (red thread) to their child’s wrists. The vatna (paste of turmeric flour and mustard oil) will be applied first by the parents and then followed by the remaining family and friends. It will be applied to the faces, arms, and legs of the bride and groom.
It gets messy but it is also an exciting and lively experience for family and friends to take turns rubbing the paste onto the couple’s bodies. This paste is meant to bless the couple and also has exfoliating and moisturizing effects. It aims to rid off any bad vibes and leave their skin glowing for their big day. As the ceremony proceeds, the mother of the bride or groom will also tie the gana (red thread) around the wrists of all the guests. It is a symbol of having attended the mayian ceremony.
The mother will conclude the ceremony by jumping over the rangoli (vibrant design on the ground) 7 times. Then, she gathers the rangoli with water and marks a wall with her hand 3 times. This is to mark that the occasion has occurred. Next, the bride will leave the ceremony. The bride’s mom will then step over the rangoli design, gather the rice and mark her home. Once again, this ceremony will be followed by lively singing and dancing.
The choora ceremony may take place after the maiyan ceremony immediately. However, it can also occur on a separate date based on the couple and their families’ preference.
The bride is given choorae (a set of red and white bangles). This is for her to wear on her wedding day. Some Sikh brides will even wear these bangles for at least the first month of their marriage. Traditionally, this period of wearing the bangles can go up to even a year. If the bangles were to fade in colour weeks after the wedding, it is also the responsibility of the in-laws to get them re-dyed.
While these shiny bangles look stunning, they actually hold a deeper meaning. Together with mehndi (henna), these bangles are worn as a sign to others that the bride is a newlywed. They are also a sign of fertility and prosperity.
The ceremony starts off with the bride being covered by a red chunni (scarf). The bangles are bathed in lassi (milk and water mixture). The lassi is believed to help purify the bangles and make them easier to be worn by the bride. In Sikh tradition, the cow is considered to be a sacred animal. Therefore, milk is considered a pure and wholesome substance.
These bangles will be put onto the bride with the help of the bride’s maternal uncle. The ceremony is usually considered an emotional one as it signifies the departure of the bride from her parental home. The bride will also receive jewelry from her uncles as gifts. To symbolise the end of the choora ceremony, the bride and maternal uncles will each drink milk.
On most occasions, it happens after the maiyan ceremony. However, it can also occur at the sangeet as well. This is a ceremony that can be performed more than once. The word ‘jaago’ means to ‘wake up’. In essence, it seeks to rouse a festive mood in everyone. It is usually celebrated into the late hours of the night.
In the past, relatives of the bride or groom would venture into their villages and sing songs known as boliya. They would do so while dancing with decorated pots known as jaago on their heads. The pots would also be decorated with candles to bring light to the dark village. With bright and colourful traditional clothing, it also brings out the creativity in each and every guest.
Now, it is usually held in a banquet hall and will begin with an entrance from off-stage. It will be a night filled with energetic dancing and cheers on the whole crowded dance floor. Although rare in Singapore, they can also take place outdoors as the family walks around the block. The ultimate goal of the jaago ceremony is to foster dancing and celebration. Today, the ceremony is initiated by the bride’s side of the family.
Since the wee hours of the morning, the bride will be up preparing her glamorous look for her big day. After her hair, makeup and jewelry are done, she will have her chunni (head scarf) pinned on. Sikh brides will usually don plenty of stunning and dazzling pieces of jewelry that can include heirloom pieces as well.
From their head right to the feet, the bride dresses up in various detailed and intricate accessories to truly become the most eye-catching one on her big day. Although there are plenty of embellishments, they should also come together in harmony to bring out the natural beauty of each bride. These details are also different from family to family and shows the bride and family’s distinct tradition and character.
Unlike the bride, the groom can wake up later at around 7:30am to prepare for the wedding. There will also be relatively more guests at the groom’s home as more traditional rituals occur on the groom’s side. Before getting ready, the groom will be presented with shagan (gifts) by his uncle.
The groom will begin by having his turban tied. A Sikh groom will typically don an Indian sherwani which is a long embroidered coat. He will also carry a kirpan (ceremonial sword or dagger) throughout the day. It acts as a form of protection, specifically for the groom to protect the bride. Like the bride, he will wear the male form of a long and red scarf, the palla.
Throughout the wedding day, the groom will be assisted by a sarbala (best man). Both of them will be dressed with haar (garland). This auspicious garland will also be used in the upcoming milni ceremony. His sisters-in-law will apply kohl (dark makeup) to his eyes. This step is carried out to protect the groom from the evil eye and jealousy. Afterwards, his sisters will also pin a sehra (embroidered veil) onto his turban. Like the kohl, this is also done to safeguard the groom from the evil eye.
To end off, a kalgi (pin) will be put onto the turban. In olden days, a kalgi was only worn by kings and royalty. Hence, wearing one would signify that the groom is someone of high regard and status.
After preparation is complete, they will head for the temple. Traditionally, the arrival of the groom can be via a limousine, a vintage vehicle or on a decorated horse. However, in modern Singapore where cars are readily accessible, they are chosen. The most important point is for the family and friends (known as the baraat) to surround the groom with song and dance as the groom heads towards the temple entrance.
Once he enters, he will receive shagan again. Shagan is offered to the groom multiple times as a form of blessing for a sweet and prosperous marriage life ahead.
The big day is finally here and it is also one of the most hectic yet joyous ones for the couple and their families.
Starting off early in the morning with the milni, both families will greet and welcome each other warmly. The word ‘milni’ is derived from a Sanskrit expression that means ‘a coming together’. Hence, it seeks for a unification between the two families. A baraat (large procession) with its own band and dancers will come to kick start the grand wedding with a bang.
A priest conducts this ceremony and will do so by beginning with ardas (a solemn prayer). The two families will stand across each other as the priest stands in the middle. According to the status of the family members, beginning from the oldest members, male members of the bride family will welcome men from the groom’s side. From grandfathers, then fathers, then uncles and finally brothers, they will exchange flower garlands, money and gifts. With this order, it also shows guests how each member is related to the bride and groom respectively.
Traditionally, this is a ceremony for the male relatives to take part in as a form of introduction to each other. Nowadays, it is becoming more common for female members to join in as well. There is also a competitive and fun element to it as relatives jostle around and try to lift one another into the air. Through this exciting process, it showcases the acceptance of both families and the strong bond and trust created.
Later on, a breakfast of the typical chai, samosas, pakoras and barfi will follow. After the milni, the groom will be presented with shagan again before proceeding into the temple.
Prayer Hall and Guru Granth Sahib
Traditional wedding ceremonies take place in a Sikh temple where the couple will be seated in the presence of the Guru Granth Sahib (sacred scriptures of the Sikhs).
Together with his family, the groom enters holding a ramallah (decorative cloth used to encase the Guru Granth Sahib). He will place the ramallah down and kneel in front of the scriptures to pray. The groom will also have his kulgi (pin on his turban) removed by his sisters to be given to his mother. This removal can be done either before entering the temple or while he is seated. Similar to the groom, the bride arrives next with her own ramallah and sits next to her partner.
It is customary to show your respect by removing any footwear and putting on head coverings while inside the temple. As guests enter, they make a small donation and kneel in deference to the Guru Granth Sahib. Males will be seated on the right while females sit on the left. When everyone has taken their seats, the priest begins by reciting the official wedding ceremony hymns.
For couples who opt for venues like hotels or beaches, they often follow the same customs and arrange a separate altar for the Guru Granth Sahib. This entire ceremony will take around 3 to 4 hours and would most likely be completed before noon. As the ceremony comes to an end, it is important to note that clapping is also not allowed in the prayer hall.
After the hymns are recited, it will be followed by ardas (prayers). During the ardas, the couple and their parents will rise up. Happening right after the hymns, the priest will also conduct the prayers to seek God’s blessing for the wedding. The priest will guide the father to place the palla (scarf) over the groom’s shoulders and into the bride’s hands. This key movement signifies the handing over of the bride to the groom.
The Four Lavan
The word ‘laavan’ is a spiritual term used for the reunion of the bride and groom. Each laavan will also have its own verse associated with it that describes the various stages of the marital love and the importance of a wedding. The couple will walk clockwise around the Guru Granth Sahib for each laavan. After each laavan, the couple will knee in deference to the Guru Granth Sahib and are seated. If the couple completes recitation of all four laavan by noon, it is considered by the Sikhs to be particularly auspicious.
After the 4th laavan, rings are exchanged and the wedding certificate is signed.
The Final Ardas
Finally, ardas (prayers) are performed again but with everyone standing this time round. It will take a few minutes. After that, karah parshad (sweet pudding) is served to all the guests to conclude the formal portion of the ceremony.
As a blessing to the couple, parents and guests will extend shagan. Garlands are placed and sweets are offered to the newly married couple. This seeks to wish them a sweet marital life ahead. Shagan can take more than an hour depending on how many guests you have.
Once everyone has offered their shagan, they proceed to the langar. This is a vegetarian meal that is served in the langar hall. It serves as the lunch for the couple and all the guests.
Even after the wedding ceremony in the prayer hall, there are more ceremonies for the couple to attend. The doli ceremony is exceptionally emotional for the bride as it marks the end of her life as a daughter and establishes her new role as a wife to her groom. During this ceremony, the groom must obtain permission from the bride’s sisters to enter her parental home. It usually involves fun games to create a lighthearted atmosphere.
A doli is a palanquin or cot for the bride to sit in during the olden times. In today’s society, it is usually replaced with a decorated car. The bride will be led out by her male relatives and seated into the car by her father. This is an emotional moment for the bride to bid farewell to her family. While doing so, the bride will throw 7 handfuls of rice behind her. This ritual conveys her good wishes for her parents. Traditionally, male relatives will carry the palanquin with the bride seated inside to symbolise them supporting her as she starts a new chapter in her life. Today, the bride’s father may throw coins towards the car, demonstrating his happiness as the bride leaves with the groom.
Pani Varna Ceremony
During this ceremony, the bride will go to the groom’s house where she is greeted by her mother-in-law. The mother-in-law will pour oil on the edges of the doorway entrance to ward off any evil eyes that may affect the couple. She will also have a steel cup of water of milk in her hand to circle it around the bride. She will try to drink the water but her son, the groom will try to playfully stop her from doing so. After the 7th try, the groom allows his mother to drink the water. This mischievous manner is meant to symbolise the joy and happiness in the wedding house at the arrival of a new family member.
As they enter the house together as a couple, they will bow down and touch the feet of their elders. This is to signify the couple seeking blessings for their marriage. Afterwards, they will sit together and is once again presented shagan by the groom’s parents. The night ends off with lively with newlywed games played with their family and friends.
A Sikh wedding doesn’t come to an end without a festive and extravagant wedding reception. With over hundreds of guests in attendance, they are treated to sumptuous food to fuel their energy for the dancing that will continue into the early hours of the morning. These receptions are also gorgeously decorated with complex and mesmerizing designs that capture the Sikh culture.
Most couples will make a formal entrance and commence the cake cutting ceremony. Some couples might choose to arrive early and greet the guests. Other evening segments include speeches to extend their gratitude to their family members.
Performances are also a staple in every Sikh wedding. Some couples may choose to engage professional dancers for their wedding receptions. Bhangra and belly dancers are popular choices to liven up the atmosphere. After these performances, the couple will perform their own slow dance.
Immediately afterwards, Bhangra music will be blasted and continue throughout the entire night for guests to dance around freely. Many will choose to form circles and dance together on the dance floor.
Sikh weddings are filled with energy and fun, with people coming together to celebrate the love and union between two families. With meaningful ceremonies and rituals slightly different for each Sikh family, it is always polite to ask around when you’re unsure of certain customs.