Punjabi weddings are full of numerous ceremonies and formalities. So, I’ll be breaking the main day into three parts. This first part will take you through the morning of the wedding on both the bride’s and groom’s homes.
The bride’s house
Centuries ago, the bride would bathe on her wedding day morning with water that was
fetched by her sisters from the local gurdwara well. The water was considered pure because it was from the gurdwara and during this historical time, houses were not equipped with water facilities.
The maternal uncle (mama) would carry the bride out of the bath once she is dressed, even if this is very brief. He would cover her head with the bridal scarf (dupatta), which was traditionally a phulkari design. This is the trademark embroidery of Punjab.
The groom’s house
Centuries ago, the groom’s pabhi (brother’s wife) would consider it an honour to fetch water from the local gurdwara on the morning of the wedding for the groom to bathe with. This tradition is still adopted by some communities in modern Punjab.
Once the groom has dressed he also carries a kirpan (sword), which he will keep hold of all day. This is to symbolise that he will protect his future wife throughout their marriage. This tradition grew from a practical necessity during the Mogul rule on India. At this time, brides were often kidnapped during wedding ceremonies. Grooms began to carry a sword to protect both their bride and honour.
Before the boy leaves his home for the gurdwara, where the marriage ceremony is conducted, there are several other customs remaining. He is assigned a sarwalla (best man) whose role it is to accompany the groom throughout the day and assist him where necessary. The sarwalla and groom are dressed with a haar (garland) each, which is considered auspicious. They are both fed ladoo (Indian sweets) by the groom’s parents. It is considered auspicious to give something sweet at happy occasions.
The groom’s sisters will then drape the palla (wedding scarf) across his shoulders. This is a crucial element of the marriage ceremony in the gurdwara. Traditionally, the sisters would clutch hold of this as the boy leaves his home, and walk with him to the gurdwara, still holding on to the palla. The groom’s mother will place a whole coconut in his palla.
The penultimate ritual before leaving the groom’s home is for his pabhi(s) to put surma (kohl) in his eyes. Putting some black kohl on a person is an Indian custom thought to deter the evil eye. So, the pabhi applies surma to her brother-in-law’s eyes both as a compliment and also to ward off jealousy. She then feeds him ladoo (Indian sweet). The pabhi usually demands money from the groom’s parents for this.
And finally, the sisters will tie a sehra across the groom’s turban to cover his face. This is again to ward off the evil eye and maintain anticipation for the wedding guests to see the groom. In India, the sehra is a ritual still practiced. Elsewhere, this is a dwindling custom. Instead, most families opt to just apply a kalgi (turban pin), which was traditionally considered a majestic jewel worn on the turban.
- 2 haar (garlands)
- Surma (kohl)
- Whole coconut
Next time, find out what happens when the bride’s and groom’s families meet as we climax the wedding ceremony in a Guide to Punjabi Weddings.