Carrying onto the second part of this Sikh-Punjabi weddings explained series, by the lovely Grewal Twins. You can catch the first segment explaining the difference between Punjabi and Sikh weddings here. Diving straight in, over to the girls…
Below are some of the events we did choose to include in our family festivities.
Sahe Chitthi /Ghand– Formal Wedding Invitation
A few weeks before the wedding, the Bride’s family personally send a wedding invitation card and Laddoo (remember that Indian custom of not going to someone’s house empty-handed!) to the Groom-to-be’s family, essentially inviting him and his family to the wedding.
Historically, up to a month or two before the wedding, the village Barber always sent the invitation. The family of the groom-to-be (dispersed in the various villages) would then gift the Barber with food and clothes. It’s worth mentioning that over a hundred years ago, there was no actual wedding card. Instead, the Barber would deliver a rope with threads tied onto it, and each thread represented how many days were left until the wedding itself. This form of ‘invitation’ was called ‘Ghand’ (knot) serving as a literal countdown to the wedding, and was more useful than an actual wedding card since the villagers were predominantly illiterate.
Over time, the Ghand has been replaced with Sahe Chitti (a formal letter), but in some remote villages the practise of sending a Barber with a Ghand is very much prevalent.
We, of course, chose to go with the Sahe Chitti!
Mehndi – a few days before the Wedding
A special dye (also known as ‘Henna’ paste, from the plant of the same name) is applied in the form of intricate patterns onto the Bride’s hands, (and arms and feet, if such is her preference!)
Traditionally, the Mehndi paste was actually applied in a circular shape in the centre of the Bride’s palms, and fully covered the tips of her fingers too. This is because Mehndi paste has natural cooling properties; so when applied in the palms of a nervous Bride, it helped to keep sweaty palms and fingers at bay!
Mehndi is also typically applied onto the hands of female friends and family of the Bride. The Mehndi ceremony is an occasion that usually takes place at the Bride’s home as an informal affair, but some families choose to combine the Mehndi ceremony with the Sangeet (see below) – which can take place either at the Bride’s home or in a party venue.
These days, a Mehndi artist is also asked to attend the Groom’s home to apply Mehndi on the hands of his relatives too.
Sangeet – either two days or the night before the Wedding
This is arguably the part of the pre-wedding ceremony that we enjoy the most!
The word Sangeet is Sanskrit in origin, and it means ‘singing together’.
It’s also referred to as ‘Ladies Sangeet’. As was custom, the ladies of the entire village were invited to the Bride’s home (sometimes up to a month before the wedding) to sing and dance to their heart’s content, away from the gaze of the male members of the family. It was a rare chance for the ladies of the village to come together to express personal feelings about their own marriages and in-laws, all under the guise of songs they would compose together!
The Sangeet took place at both the homes of the Bride and Groom.
In modern times, the Sangeet takes place in a tent at home in the garden, or at a party venue. You can typically expect a DJ playing traditional and modern Punjabi songs, live Boliyan Singers (the customary songs of personal expression, as mentioned above), plenty of Punjabi food and lots of dancing…well into the night!
Maiyan – face and body cleansing ceremony
Both the Bride and Groom independently partake in this ceremony in their respective homes.
This ceremony usually happens a few days before the wedding, and serves quite an interesting purpose!
In a time when soap was practically non-existent, the Bride and Groom would have a thick. Turmeric –based paste applied to their face and body in an effort to cleanse their skin from any dirt and impurities. The special paste is called Vatna and is made from mixing together flour, mustard oil and turmeric, and then kneaded into a doughy-paste consistency.
When applied three times a day for a few days, the Vatna cleansed and provided an appealing glow to the skin. It was custom to leave the Vatna on all night and not change your clothes, (which would be heavily stained by the yellow Tumeric) until the paste was ready to wash off the morning of the wedding.
Next, mustard oil was applied to the hair and left overnight. When washed in the morning, the hair would be clean and shiny (some would say greasy!) Back when shampoo wasn’t widely available, mustard oil did the trick. In an effort to keep this tradition alive, only a few drops of mustard oil is applied to the hair…using blades of grass tied together with an auspicious red thread called ‘Gaani’.
During this whole process, a canopy (in the form of a traditional Punjabi Phulkari Bagh) is held at all four corners by family members, usually women, over the Bride/Groom’s head. Phulkari Bagh is an embroided flower-art fabric, often passed through the family as an heirloom.
Under the canopy, the Bride/Groom (in their respective homes) sit on a low wooden stool called, ‘Peeri’ with their feet placed on a wooden slat called, ‘Phatti’ in-front of a Rangoli design (a pattern made using coloured flour).
Lastly, sweet rice is fed to the Bride/Groom (because weddings are a time to indulge!) and the remainder of the sweet rice is fed to any single men and women of the house, in the hope that they’ll be married soon!
Choora Ceremony – Auspicious Red Bangles
The Choora (Bangles) ceremony happens at home the night before the wedding, and is when the Bride’s maternal uncles help place the auspicious red bridal bangles onto the Bride’s wrists. Before this though, the bangles are dipped in a bowl of milk and water to ‘soften’ them, as they would often be made of glass or ivory. At my wedding, in the absence of maternal Uncles, my sisters, brother-in-laws and all my cousins (both male and female) placed the bangles on my wrists.
After this, hanging decorations called Kaleeray (which are shaped like coconuts) are then tied to the bangles. From a culturally historical viewpoint, Kaleeray were actually made from coconuts, and served a practical purpose for a Bride in a society where her marriage was arranged to a family she had never met.
After her wedding, the journey to her new home with her husband and in-laws would have been a long one, and it’s believed the new Bride would have been too shy to request food from her new family. The coconut decorations were a source of food for her along the journey, which she could nibble away at without the supposed shame of asking for food.
Of course, coconut Kaleeray have no place in today’s society; but in honour of keeping the tradition alive, Kaleeray now serve an aesthetic purpose and are made from gold or silver (or whatever design to compliment the Bridal attire).
However, the Choora Ceremony itself is apparently a relatively new custom and no-one knows for certain whether it’s been around for a short or long while. Our NanniJi (maternal Grandmother, who was married in the 1950s) told us that a Choora ceremony was unheard of in her day. Many other women from this time, who we have spoken to, confirm that on their own wedding day, they wore Kangan (gold bangles) instead of the red Choora we see today. They claim that the Choora ceremony perhaps became a cultural practice from the 1960s onwards. There is much uncertainty as to the origins of the Choora, with some other women we have spoken to claiming that it’s been around for a very long time. It’s the classic case of our parents not knowing why we follow certain cultural practises, because they never questioned their own parents!
Jaago – one last party before the wedding
Jaago means ‘Wake up’.
In recent times, especially in the diaspora, the Sangeet and Jago have been combined together for convenience. But traditionally, the Jaago occurred the night before the Wedding when the family of both the Bride and Groom made their way around their respective villages with a clay pot on their head filled with candles; all in an attempt to wake up the other villagers through song and dance announcing that a wedding was taking place in the morning!
Officially, the hollow clay pot is called Gharra; but out of habit it’s now referred to as the Jaago itself. For health and safety reasons, if a Jaago is carried indoors at a party venue, then it’s made out of stainless steel with LED candles on top. These days, women can be seen leading this procession into the party venue, and some have even led the procession into neighbourhoods with a large South Asian residential concentration.
All in all, it’s another excuse to party!
Featured image photography: Kunaal Gosrani0