Weddings in the Hindu tradition very much favor weddings in the Sikh tradition since both religions share much of the same history. There are, however, a few differences between the two, mostly involving location and atmosphere.
The primary difference between a Hindu wedding and a Sikh wedding is how the event is viewed by the participants. A Hindu wedding is festive, often held in a banquet hall around a sacred fire with many idols in place, while a Sikh wedding is a more somber event held in the Sikh version of a temple with no idols in view.
To the uniformed observer, these differences may seem minor. Petty, even. But they are extremely important to the adherents of each faith. We will now look at why these differences exist between the two faiths that otherwise share so much.
Viewpoint Makes the Difference
The differences between a Hindu wedding and a Sikh wedding is based on their view of god. Hindus have multiple deities, each with their own special role in the life cycle.
Sikhs believe in only one god with many attributes. This difference dictates everything about the marriage ceremony, and all other facets of life for both faiths.
Hindu Weddings Are Lively
Hindu weddings are festive affairs with each idol in his place to bless the newlyweds. If an idol is missing the wedding is not considered valid, or at best, the couple is left at risk in some area. It is extremely important that every nuance of the ceremony is in picture-perfect order.
Brighter Is Better
These events will often be held in a brightly decorated banquet hall with the atmosphere of a party.
Singing and dancing mark the entire proceedings from the arrival of the groom at the wedding venue to the reception after the wedding which usually carries on long into the night.
Rituals Are Important
Many pre-wedding Hindu rituals and customs are observed leading up to the ceremony itself, each one considered an important component of the overall process.
The long-standing traditions historically span three days, but in modern times it is increasingly difficult to set aside that much time from busy schedules. So, some couples choose to shorten the time required by holding several of the rituals the night before the wedding, and the rest on the day of the wedding.
Tying the Knot Hindu Style
The wedding ceremony itself is unique in that it usually begins with a prayer to Lord Ganesh who is represented as an elephant and is believed to remove all obstacles to the wedding. This may be done the night before the wedding.
Then the nine planets are called by name and a blessing from each is placed upon the couple.
Their Lives Are Threaded Together
As the couple is joined, their right hands are placed together and bound with a thread, symbolic of an unbreakable bond.
Vows Made by Fire
They walk around a sacred fire seven times holding hands as they make their vows. The vows are considered essential to a Hindu wedding. The marriage is not valid without them.
Sikh Weddings Are Quiet Affairs
Sikh weddings, by contrast are regarded as serious, even holy events. Since Sikhs believe in only one god, there are no idols present and there is no sacred fire. Instead, the ceremony is centered around the Sikh holy book, the Guru Granth Sahib.
The Temple Marks the Spot
Sikh weddings are almost always held in the Gurudwara, the Sikh temple. The Guru Granth Sahib is placed in a prominent location, and the bridal couple bow to it, symbolizing the acceptance of its governing influence over their lives.
Vows Are Unspoken
In lieu of spoken wedding vows, the couple walks slowly around the Guru Granth Sahib as stanzas from the book are recited. At the end of each stanza, they complete another turn around the holy book.
He Is Tied to Her
A thread is tied to the groom’s right wrist and the bride’s left wrist to protect them from evil spirits. There is an air of reverence and sobriety throughout the ceremony.
Party Follows Piety
The singing and dancing are reserved for the reception, which is usually held at the groom’s parental home, but more recently is sometimes held at a location near the temple.
The Stars Set the Date…Or Not
Hindu couples set their wedding date on “auspicious dates” calculated by the priest and based on the bride and groom’s birth dates. This is considered important to ward off “evil eye” on the wedding day.
Sikhs nurture no such superstitions. The families of the bride and groom simply meet and pick a date that works for both families.
Is a Dowry Desired?
It has long been the custom in Hinduism for the parents of the bride to provide a dowry to the groom. This could take the form of money, but more often is in the form of goods or property that will help the couple get started.
Purportedly, the original intent of this practice was to compensate for less-than-fair inheritance laws. The property given was supposed to always be the bride’s. But, as always when value is a factor, things did not go the way they were intended to go.
The amount of the dowry is decided by her caste. The higher her caste, the more ample her dowry. As one can imagine, the highest girls on the totem pole have no shortage of suitors, if only for their dowry. By the same token, this would make young women from the lowest caste system almost unmarriageable because of their poverty.
In fact, this practice has led to abortions of female fetuses and even infanticide because parents knew they could not pay a dowry.
Sikhs do not provide a dowry. The practice has long been discouraged because of human greed. Too often, the groom or his family would be less than satisfied with the dowry they received, and shortly after the wedding, they would begin to demand more and more dowry.
If their demands were refused, or the bride’s family had nothing left to give, the bride would be beaten or killed by the greedy groom.
In view of this, Sikh have encouraged their marriageable young women to ask their fathers only for the Lord’s name as their dowry. All else is considered a sign of false ego, one of the five sins Sikhs are taught to avoid.
Two Become One…But Which One?
With the ideology of god being so diverse in the two cultures, they are theoretically incompatible. How can a monotheist cohabitate with a polytheist? How can one who rejects idols contemplate joining themselves to one who worships many idols?
Yet, as fate would have it, sometimes a Hindu and a Sikh fall in love with each other and wish to marry. Now, serious differences must be settled. What to do?
One Could Convert
Well, one obvious solution is for one party to convert. This is arguably the easiest route to take; either the Sikh become a Hindu, or the Hindu becomes a Sikh.
But sometimes this option is not palatable to everyone involved. If both parties are truly devoted to their religion, converting to another religion is out of the question.
So, short of conversion, what can be done?
You Could Agree to Get Along
It’s important that the whole family on both sides is on-board with the idea of the two faiths joining; otherwise, one party might find themselves pretty much disowned by their family. In modern times, the two communities are more open to learning how to co-exist peacefully and even mesh with each other.
If the two families agree to an inter-faith marriage, the couple usually just celebrates two wedding ceremonies: one Hindu, the other Sikh. This makes everybody happy and a crisis is averted.
You Could Run Away
Parental approval is considered of supreme importance to both Hindu and Sikh weddings. So, getting Mom and Dad to approve an inter-faith marriage is highly desirable, but not always easy to procure. Sadly, some parents just will not accept an inter-faith marriage as an option.
They believe strongly in their traditional faith and cannot reconcile themselves to the idea of their child converting to another religion, accepting someone of another faith into their family, or any future grandchildren being taught any religion but their own.
In these cases, particularly in recent years, many young people simply elope with their choice of a mate. This option is not encouraged because of the familial havoc it creates. Sometimes hard feelings persist for years because of this choice.
After the Wedding, Then What?
Getting past the hurdle of different wedding customs is not the end of all the problems associated with an inter-faith marriage.
There are many issues on which the couple will have to work out a compromise, such as
- Use of alcohol
- Monotheism vs polytheism
- Celebrations of special events
Is Alcohol Allowed?
Hindus allow the use of alcohol in limited fashion, mostly for medicinal purposes. Sikhs do not permit the consumption of alcohol for any reason. So, in an inter-faith marriage this can become a bone of contention between husband and wife.
Will the Children Be Hindu or Sikh?
Any children born to the union will surely ascertain at some point that their parents differ on core beliefs. One of the problems an inter-faith couple will have to solve is whether the children will be reared according to Hindu religious customs or Sikh religious customs.
This can be a sticky problem, especially if one side views their religion as superior to all others. As well, grandparents can make this issue worse by putting pressure on their son or daughter to rear the children according to the tradition in which they themselves were raised.
Are Idols Acceptable?
Hinduism is known for its many idols associated with every facet of life. Most Hindus have idols in their homes. In fact, it is a rare Hindu home indeed which does not have at least one idol enthroned somewhere in the house.
Sikhs, however, reject idols and the worship of such since they believe in only one god. So, in a Hindu-Sikh marriage where each partner clings to his or her native religion, the question must be answered as to whether idols will be allowed in their home.
Again, this can become a serious issue because the Hindu feels unprotected without the presence of his/her idols. The Sikh feels offended or, worse yet, worries about offending his/her god by the presence of idols in the house. This is probably one of the most difficult points for inter-faith couples to resolve.
Is There One God or Many?
Hindus worship a vast array of deities; Sikhs worship only one. So, when a Hindu marries a Sikh without one of them converting, they must decide, will they teach their children there is one god, or will they teach them to respect and revere many gods?
It can be confusing to the children to be taught respect for many gods while at the same time hearing teachings from the Guru Granth Sahib that promotes the idea of only one god.
Similarly, it is just as confusing to be taught there is only one god when, obviously one parent prays to, worships, and makes offerings to many gods.
Which Celebration for Special Events?
Sikhs mark special days with a paath, which is a reading or recitation from their holy book. This can be select passages, or the book in its entirety.
It is used to mark
- Death days
To celebrate the birth of a child
- To celebrate a promotion
Hindus mark special days by a puja; usually an offering made to one of their gods. The puja is used in much the same way as the Sikh paath.
In an inter-faith marriage, the decision will have to be made whether the birth of their children will be marked by a paath or a puja.
The conflict here is not just preference. These rituals are seen as significantly impacting the future of those involved, so it can be quite upsetting to one parent if their beliefs are not observed in special circumstances.
It Is Not for The Faint of Heart
There are no easy answers to these questions. Each couple will have to work together to figure out what is best for their family going forward.
Hinduism rarely issues a blanket list of do’s or don’ts; instead, the idea of balance is promoted. The core teaching of Hinduism strives to help one understand the principles that govern the universe and to teach its adherents how to live in harmony with those principles.
The Sikh religion, on the other hand, tends to set absolute rules that must be observed by its adherents, such as
- Not Cutting One’s Hair
- Not Eating Ritually Sacrificed Meat
- Not Using Any Form of Drugs, Or Alcohol
Obviously, blending the two religions would require infinite patience and a lasting commitment to making the marriage work.
Other Differences Exist
Despite their mutual place of origin and their many shared customs, there are other ways in which the Hindu and Sikh communities differ from each other.
- Women’s Equality with Men
- Child Marriage
Are Women Equal or Dependent?
Hinduism teaches that a woman must always depend on either her father or her husband to advance spiritually. Widows are regarded as having no status at all.
By contrast, Sikhs believe that women are in all ways equal to men, possess the same rights, and viewed by their god as equally important.
Caste Is A Factor…Or Maybe Not
Hinduism ranks people according to a strict caste system into which one can only be born. There is no chance of “marrying up” or converting to a higher caste system. The only way to advance through the ranks is reincarnation. In some places, Hindus are not permitted to marry outside their caste.
Sikhs, however, view everyone as equal, and their youth are encouraged to marry without regard to caste.
No More Child Brides
Until recent years, Hinduism permitted marriage to underage children, particularly young girls. Thankfully, this practice has been made illegal through the passage of legislature, although some reports say that it is still practiced in the poorer regions of the Hindu community.
Sikhism has never countenanced child marriage. Marriage, in their view is a sacred duty that should be entered into only by mature adults who fully understand the responsibilities they take on with such a decision.
Are They Too Different to Blend?
Considering all the differences between the Hindu and Sikh religions, is it possible to successfully blend the two in a marriage? Apparently, yes.
There are plenty of Hindu-Sikh couples who seem to be making a go of it. The obstacles are many, but it just goes to show anything is possible if you are deeply committed to making it happen. It all depends on how much you love someone.
Differences Make Us Better
Each wedding ceremony is beautiful in its own way, whether Hindu or Sikh. The way in which the ceremony is conducted is important to the participants; even the differences between them are important.
For the Sikh, it’s important to start the marriage out on the authority of the Guru Granth Sahib. For the Hindu, it is important to have every god attendant at their wedding.
Regardless of which tradition is followed, it is a day to be remembered.