Hindu-Punjabi Indian Wedding Traditions

Many people think that Indian wedding ceremonies are the same across the many Indian sub-cultures. While there are many similarities between Hindu and Jain wedding ceremonies across India, they do somewhat vary by region.

And Sikh, Muslim, and Buddhist weddings are totally different.

I am going to breakdown the traditions specific to Hindu-Punjabi weddings. And before we dive in, let’s just break down what each of those words means.

Hindu = the Hindu religion
Punjabi = a descriptor for the state of Punjab in Northern India

So…Hindu refers to a religion and Punjabi refers to a physical place.

{Why Catering Sales Managers Should Pay Attention to the
Different Types of Indian Weddings}

For Catering Sales Managers, knowing this info and being able to talk about it when you do site visits and meetings with clients, will make an impactful and positive impression on your clients. Clients will appreciate when catering sales managers not only know about Indian weddings in general but also the more nuanced info about the Indian sub-cultures. This can make the difference in closing a deal.

ProTip: at the very least couples expect catering managers to know the basics of Indian weddings, especially at large venues that have hosted them before. As they say knowledge is power and the difference between knowing your stuff and not is huge when you make that first impression on clients.

Download ShaadiShop’s Indian wedding type cheat sheet for catering-managers.

{Background on Indian Wedding Traditions}

Each of the 29 states in India has its own sub-culture. And while Hinduism binds millions of people, how it’s practiced varies across religious sects, much like the many sects of Christianity, therefore wedding ceremonies vary as well. For example, below I describe the sehra bandi tradition that you’ll encounter in Hindu-Punjabi and other North Indian weddings, but it’s not something you’ll see in Gujarati, nor South Indian weddings.

And the reason why it’s useful and important for Catering Sales Managers to make these distinctions is because there are scheduling and space implications for the ceremonies and traditions which lend directly to how you and your banquets team are selling and implement the event.

{So How Do You Know Who’s Hindu-Punjabi?}

Here’s a list of very common Punjabi last names with the religions. There are thousands of last names so it’s not possible to list them all, but these are very common ones that you might see:
Bedi – Sikhism
Bhalla – Hinduism or Sikhism
Chopra – Hinduism
Deol – Hinduism or Sikhism
Jain – Jainism (some people with last name Jain are North Indian but not Punjabi; ask)
Jindal – Hinduism or Sikhism
Kapoor – Hinduism
Lal – Hinduism or Sikhism
Malholtra – Hinduism
Sidhu – Sikhism
Singh (the mean wear turbans and follow the Sikh religion)
Tandon – Hinduism or SikhismYou’ll have to ask the client if they’re Sikh or Hindu but at least off-hand you will know they’re Punjabi vs. Gujarati or South Indian etc.

Please note:

These are generalities. I’m sure you can understand that religious and cultural practices are very personal and if/how an individual decides to practice religion is as well. The information in this guide is meant as a quick guide to help you in your sales of Indian weddings, but there will ALWAYS be exceptions.

{Steps of a Punjabi Hindu Wedding Ceremony

FYI, I’m just focusing on the wedding day in this article because this article is meant for Catering Managers at venues. You probably know that Indian weddings are multi-day events. But the actual wedding and reception day is by far the biggest day and that’s the day that’s usually hosted at a large venue, such as hotels, resorts, golf clubs, convention centers, and banquet halls. (though we’d love to see more wedding venues host the sangeet too!)

{Ceremonies Before the Baraat}

Sehra Bandi: is there ceremony where the groom’s face is covered by tying a multi-stranded garland to his paghadi (turban).

“Sehra” is the actual garland headgear and “Bandi” means to tie.

So the garland is tied to the groom’s turban by the groom’s sister-in-law (bhabhi) after she applies kajal (eyeliner) to the groom which is believed to ward off evil spirits. Afterwards, she’s presented with a monetary gift or jewelry.

Pronunciation: “sara” as in the ladies name Sara and bundy…as in Al Bundy.

Applying kajal (eyeliner) to ward off evil spirits; PC: Randery Imagery
The groom’s and groomsmen’s turbans. PC: Randery Imagery
Tying the groom’s sehra to his turban. PC: Greycard Photography

{Sehra Bandi Pointers for Venue Catering Sales Mangers}

Aside from increasing Catering Sales Managers’ knowledge of Indian weddings, the sehra bandi has a slight impact on the wedding day schedule. The sehra bandi ceremony should really only take a few minutes and it happens before the groom gets on the horse/elephant/in the car, to start his baraat.

Note for the super curious: The garland covers the groom’s face and traditionally functions similarly to a bride’s ghunghat or the scarf draping that covers her face – which symbolizes modesty. Most brides in the United States and Canada have let go of this old tradition and have adopted the Western tradition of walking down the aisle, making her first public appearance, dazzling all the guests with her head-to-toe beauty.

PC: Arjun Mahajan Photography

{Ceremony Before the Baraat: Ghodi Sajaana & Chadna}

Ghodi = horse
Sajaana = to decorate
Chadna = climb

So this translates to, decorating and getting on the horse (or elephant, or in a car) before the baraat starts. The Ghodi Saajana and Chadna is applicable not just to Hindu-Punjabi weddings but all Indian weddings that are going to have a baraat.

ProTip: It’s spelled baraat, not bharat. I’ve seen some outside catering packages with this word misspelled. Everyone will understand what you mean, but FYI bharat (Bharat) literally translates to “India” in Hindi.

{Ghodi Sajaana & Chadna Pointers for Venue Catering Sales Mangers}

This really shouldn’t take more than a few minutes but still allot 5-10 minutes for this to be extra cautious.

Reha-Vijay-Newport-Beach-Marriott-South-Asian-wedding-Indian_wedding-Hindu-Jain-North_Indian-Gujarati-baraat-horsePC: Aaron Eye Photography

Red Ferrari baraat at an Indian wedding
Many grooms opt for a car for the baraat instead of an animal. PC: Greycard Photography

Note for the super curious: In Hindu-Punjabi weddings there is a sarbala. Have you ever seen a groom ride on the horse with a child? That child is called the sarbala. Back in the day, wedding ceremonies took place at the bride’s home. The groom and his entourage (called the baraat) would baraat their whole way there. The sarbala was a young male cousin or nephew of the groom whose job was to protect the groom since the braatis (people in the baraat) were carrying lots of gold, jewelry and money, so it was not uncommon for baraats to be targets of thieves.

In short, he was a back-up. He dressed similarly to the groom and should anything happen to the groom along the way he would step in and take the groom’s place. It sounds unfathomable to us now, but so it was.

Today, since most weddings don’t run the risk of getting robbed during the baraat it’s a chance to involve adorable babies and kids (like the little guy below).

Getting ready for the baraat to start.
The ‘chota dulha’ getting ready to ride with the groom. PC: Global Photography

{The Baraat at Hindu-Punjabi Weddings}

The baraat is the ceremony you’re familiar with! The groom and his entourage dance to lively music as the groom arrives makes his way to the wedding venue.

I get asked a lot, “does the animal come inside the property?” NO! The horse, elephant or any other animal the groom might want to have for his wedding does not enter the property. At most venues the baraat takes place outside in front of the hotel in the valet area, ending in the porte-cochère. Or some venues have a pathway on the side where the baraat can take place.

The baraat is a celebration and people like to have fun with it!

{Baraat Pointers for Venue Catering Sales Mangers}

It’s important to remind prospective clients to allot time for the baraat. How much time will vary for each client. I’ve seen some grooms take an hour for the baraat whereas others have a 15-minute procession. It takes time to assemble guests, get the mode of transport setup, the groom in the car or on a horse or elephant and then the procession can start.

Protip: Before or after the baraat it’s common for guests to gather in a hotel/resort lobby or central area. I recently went to a wedding where the pathway to the ceremony venue took us through the lobby, and wedding planner and venue staff directed traffic and kept guests moving along as it was the busy summer season so there were lots of non-wedding guests there too!

Groomsmen baraat fun! PC: Aaron Eye Photography
Dhol player at the baraat of an Indian wedding in Malibu
Dhol player (drummer) during the baraat
Tearing it up during the baraat! PC: Aaron Eye Photography

{Agwaani & Milni}

Agwaani (pronounced ugg-waa-nee) is when the groom and his family arrive after the baraat and and they received by the bride’s family.The groom’s future Mother-in-Law does some ceremonies to welcome and bless the groom.

{Agwaani Pointers for Venue Catering Sales Mangers}

Allot 5-7 minutes for this. More importantly is deciding where this will take place. At most venues it’s at the entrance point of the ceremony site vs. right after the baraat finishes since that’s usually a public space that you don’t want to have clogged. It’s important to define this space though, as you can see in the photo below, families like to decorate that area with an archway.

Mother-of-the-bride blessing the groom when he arrives after the baraat; PC: Paul F. Gero Photography

{Milni, After the Baraat}

Milni (pronounced mil-nee) is a derivation of the word, milan” which means to meet.

The milni is an Indian wedding tradition that takes place right after the baraat arrives and the two families…meet. Indian and all South Asian weddings are marriages between two families. The milni is a great way to honor extended family members and help the families get to know one another.

In a series of exchanges (one-at-a-time), the couples’ corresponding family members greet each other and exchange gifts. A family member will be in charge of calling out who is to go to the center aisle to meet ie. grandfathers, uncles, fathers, brothers. It is usually done in descending order by age, so the grandfathers on each side would start, then fathers or uncles etc.

Where it gets fun is how wacky some of the greetings can get. Traditionally milni is restricted to males only.

{Milni Pointers for Venue Catering Sales Mangers}

The milni can take anywhere from 10-30 minutes depending on how many relatives there are, how many posed photos are taken and how organized it is. Defining the space where the milni will take place is important as you need enough space for the families to gather and have a bit of an aisle where the actual meeting can take place. So for instance, it would be difficult to do milni in front of the mandap as there isn’t a lot of space between the mandap and that first row of chairs. Remember, this article is about Hindu-Punjabi weddings, if you’re hosting a Gujarati wedding, milni won’t be a part of their tradition.

Milni fun! PC: Wedding Documentary Photo + Cinema
The eldest family members doing milni when the baraat arrived. PC: Wedding Documentary Photo + Cinema

{After the Milni, The Ceremony Starts}

After the milni, the groom takes his place in the mandap and the guests take their seats ceremony starts. There a series of traditions and ceremonies that take place within the wedding. One of the first traditions after the bride has made her entrance is the varmala, or exchange of garlands. The exchange represents the acceptance of both parties of the union. Brides and grooms like to have a bit of fun with this and you’ll often see antics like the photo below!

PC: Gloria Gonzalez Fotografia

{Ceremony Pointers for Venue Catering Sales Managers}

The ceremony is the heart of the event. Most Hindu-Punjabi wedding ceremonies are anywhere from 1-1.5 hours. At outdoor venues it’s really important to ensure there is a back-up space in case the ceremony has to be moved indoors. And the venue must allow the ceremony flame (indoors), should it have to be moved indoors. It’s really important to discuss this with your client before any contracts are signed.

FYI, the flame is a vital component of a Hindu wedding ceremony. There are ALOT of misperceptions about this as a lot of Venue Managers assume this is a big bonfire, type of fire…it’s not. Scroll through the photos below to see different ceremony flames. ALL of these were are from real Indian weddings that took place at venues in the United States.

Clients are happy to work with you and the venue’s policies on how big the flame can be – again as you can see below. It would be a shame to miss out on hosting these profitable weddings due to misperceptions.

ProTip: Read our guide on what Venue Managers need to know about the ceremony flame.

As you can see the ceremony setup requires:

  • a stage
  • theater style seating
  • most venues setup at least 1 water station as well
  • most Indian weddings have a DJ at the ceremony so venues’ sound equipment is not necessary

Protip: If your venue has a firepit, please DO NOT suggest that to your clients. It’s a wedding, not a camping excursion.

{What Is A Mandap?}

Definition: A mandap is the equivalent of the altar. Traditionally, it’s a 4-pillar structure setup on a stage. At most hotel and resort venues they provide the staging and the decorator assembles and decorates the structure. At many golf clubs and banquet halls the decorator is responsible for the staging in addition to assembly and decor.

click to hear how mandap is pronounced.

PC: Lin & Jirsa
It’s a small flame; photo: NST Pictures
Having a flame indoors at a Marriott in San Diego was fine. PC: Randery Imagery

{Post-Ceremony Hindu-Punjabi Traditions}

{Joota Chupaii: Stealing/hiding the Grooms Shoes}

Joota = shoes
Chupaii = to hide

Before the groom enters the mandap he is required to remove his shoes. There’s a game played in Hindu-Punjabi weddings that’s a rivalry between the groom’s and bride’s sides. Each side attempts to steal and hold onto the shoes until the end of the ceremony where they’re returned to the groom in exchange for monetary and/or other gifts.

This is all good fun and a great way for cousins and friends to be involved.

{Vidai After the Ceremony}

After the ceremony, it’s common for brides and grooms to staying the mandap area to take photos with family and friends. Often for weddings where they’re serving lunch, the guests are off having lunch while this is taking place. After photos the families may do a vidai (pronounced vi-die).

The vidai is a ceremony to bid adieu to the bride as she’s officially leaving her parent’s home; as her husband’s home is now her home. Traditionally, Indian people lived in nuclear families where the parents, sons, their wives and all of their kids all lived together. Nuclear families are not common in the USA and increasingly so in India too, but this tradition in Indian weddings has not changed. Today it’s thought of as passing on the torch as opposed to literally giving one’s daughter away.

It can get pretty emotional, as many goodbye’s often are. Below you can see the bride hugging her family members.

Note for the super curious: In one photo below you see the bride throwing rice behind her. Rice is food – a symbol of prosperity. In Hinduism girls are considered embodiments of the Hindu Goddess Laxmi, who is the Goddess of prosperity and fortune. Throwing the rice behind her symbolizes that even though she is leaving her parental home, she hopes that prosperity and fortune maintain in the home.

The bride and groom leave by car driven by the groom’s family member to symbolize that he’s taking his groom away to his home. Most couples might drive around the area for a few minutes and head back as they have to get ready for the reception!

{Post-Ceremony Pointers for Venue Catering Sales Managers}

The post-ceremony photos in the mandap can take anywhere from 30-40 minutes. The vidai is usually around 15-20 minutes and takes place outside the ceremony venue or in front of the venue where the couple can ride off. After the vidai the ceremony is complete and now it’s time to get ready for the cocktail hour/reception!

The bride and groom driving away after the baraat. PC: Braja Mandala Wedding Photography


Indian bride hugging her cousins during the vidai after her Hindu wedding ceremony
The bride saying goodbye to her cousins; PC: Greycard Photography
Photo: Aaron Eye Photography
The bride throwing the rice during her vidai
The Laxmi of the house leaving behind blessing her family for fortune and prosperity while her brother holds the rice basket during the vidai. PC: Global Photography
Photo: Randery Imagery

{Take Aways}

This article is for Venue Catering Sales Managers to walk them through the Indian wedding traditions of a Hindu-Punjabi wedding. The more you know the more you and your banquets team can sell and plan for these celebrations.

Closing the deal: For Catering Sales Managers, knowing this info and being able to talk about it when you do site visits and meetings with clients, will make an impactful and positive impression on your clients which can make the difference in closing a deal. Clients will be REALLY impressed if you can talk not just about Indian weddings in general but if you know the differences between a Sikh, Hindu, Muslim wedding and for the cherry on top if you know the differences between a Hindu-Punjabi vs. Hindu-Gujarati wedding, or a South Indian wedding.

Wedding-Day Traditions: Even though Hindu-Punjabi weddings are multi-day celebrations, this article specifically focused on the wedding day itself as that’s the largest day in terms of number of guests and number of events. Additionally it’s the day with the most cultural nuances and details that impact the scheduling and setup – which is important for Catering Managers to know.

Here’s a quick listing of the Hindu-Punjabi wedding ceremony traditions. For more details on any of these, please scroll up.

  • sehra bandi
  • ghodi sajaana & chadna
  • baraat
  • agwanni & milan
  • ceremony
  • vidai

Above, there’s a list for Catering Sales Managers with a list of common Punjabi last names to help you identify prospective clients. Use this info to steer the conversation and ask questions when you do client calls and site visits.

This is part of ShaadiShop’s series:

Check out more articles, guides, and tips for Catering Executives on our blog!

I hope this article has been helpful to you. If it has, please let me know in the comments; and you might like to follow us on FacebookInstagramTwitter, and Pinterest – whatever your preferred media is, as we frequently publish articles to help make  planning an Indian wedding just a little bit easier.

Samta Varia Founder & CEO ShaadiShop: Indian Wedding Venues

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Cover image: Randery Imagery

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