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India is truly the most secular country in the world. The country has nearly one billion people hailing from a number of religions. Although all religions have their own customs for marriages, the basic aspects are largely the same.

All traditional Indian marriages are ‘arranged’ marriages. This means that the groom and the bride are made to come together through the parents, relatives or traditional matchmakers. In some religions, the bride and groom are not allowed to meet each other till the day of the marriage. They depend on their parents’ choice completely. In the more liberal ones, the bride and groom are allowed to date for about a month before they tie the knot. However, before being allowed to date, they are engaged to each other, which implies that they are as good as married. Breaking of engagements is very uncommon and is not looked at favorably. Indian marriages are truly ‘made in heaven’.

Marriages are done within the religion and preferably in the same community. Either the boy’s parents or the girl’s parents initiate the proposal. Traditionally, a ‘pundit’ matches the proposed couple’s ‘kundlis’. ‘Kundlis’ are horoscopes, which are made out when the child is born. A ‘pundit' is a religious person who carries out the prayers for the marriage ceremonies. After the ‘kundlis’ are matched, both the families come to a mutual agreement and the girl and boy are made to meet. This meeting is a mere formality because the parents’ have already agreed to the proposal. On the same day, the engagement date is fixed, which is the earliest auspicious day available. The ‘pundit’ informs the families about these auspicious days. Immediately, wedding preparations begin with the whole family getting together to help.

The girl’s family has a lot more to do for the wedding preparations. Also, most of the wedding expenses are borne by the girl’s family.

There are a number of ceremonies for an Indian wedding. The main functions are the engagement, the ‘mehndi’ party, the wedding and the reception. Besides these functions, there are numerous small functions like the boy’s family inviting specific close relatives from the girl’s family over for lunch or dinner, vice versa, small specific ceremonies relating to specific religions followed by either of the families and close relatives inviting the wedding families over.

On the engagement ceremony day, the groom’s relatives come over to the bride’s house with some jewelery, ‘sarees’ and ‘puja samaan’. They adorn the bride with the jewelery, carry out a ‘puja’ after which the bride and groom garland each other. (See below for translations of these words.) This implies that they are now engaged to each other. A party follows this where the relatives are present, there is music and food.

The bride’s family always undertakes the ‘mehndi’ party. All the girls have ‘mehndi’ applied on the palms of their hands. There are professional ‘mehndi-wallis’ appointed to apply the ‘mehndi’. The bride has ‘mehndi’ applied on her feet and her hands and arms. The groom’s relatives present the bride with a gift on this day.

There is a ‘navgraha puja’ conducted one day before the wedding day. This ‘puja’ is carried out at both the bride’s home and the groom’s home separately. On the same day, in the evening, a ‘sagri’’ party is arranged where the groom’s sister adorns the bride with flowers and dresses her up. In return, the bride presents the groom’s sister with a gift.

The big day, the wedding day, starts with a small ‘puja’ done separately in the bride and groom’s homes. After the ‘puja’, the bride and the groom are made to remain home til they are ready to leave for the wedding hall. The clothes worn by them on the wedding morning have to be discarded and cannot be worn again. The bride’s sister-in-law takes a ‘puja thali’ in which she carries some ‘surma’, ‘kajal’, perfume, red ribbon and a comb and goes to groom’s home to adorn the groom’s mother. After this, the groom, with the rest of his family, goes to the bride’s home to fetch her. On reaching the bride’s home, there is a ‘puja’ and the bride and groom are bonded with each other with a ‘pullo’. They then proceed to the marriage hall. The ‘pundit’ conducts the wedding ‘puja’. After the wedding is over, the bride goes to the groom’s home. Before entering his home (for the first time), she has to kick some ‘kunni’’ across the entrance of his house. A ‘dhakni’ is placed over the bride’s head and she is given milk and water to spread all over house. This is done with a belief that this will make the groom’s home prosperous. After the bride actually enters the groom’s home, a ceremony called ‘dattar maan’ is conducted, where the bride exchanges salt three times per person with all members of the groom’s house. The pundit repeats a few ‘shlokas’ while this is happening. The belief here is that exchanging salt with the house members will create harmony between the bride and the members.

Footnotes:
Mehndi – a cosmetic preparation applied on the hands.
Saree – a traditional outfit for women, which is a long clothe tied in a particular manner around the waist and worn with a figure-hugging blouse.
Puja – prayer.
Puja samaan – religious items used for prayers.
Mehndi-wallis – women who apply mehndi on a professional basis.
Navgraha puja – a special kind of prayer.
Sagri – a specific function, which is part of the wedding functions.
Surma – a cosmetic that is applied on the eye lashes.
Kajal – same as surma.
Pullo – a cloth, usually part of a saree that is draped on the shoulder.
Kunni – salt.
Dhakn – a steel or aluminum plate.
Shlokas – religious sayings.