Westerners may understand how Christian weddings go, but Hindu weddings are usually very different. Some similarities tie the traditions together, and some Christian-Hindu couples choose to mix and match the important parts of each ceremony for their wedding. But do you really know how they’re different?
Hindu and Christian weddings contain certain similarities, but they can be very different in tone. Obvious differences in the rituals surrounding these weddings include:
- the role of guests
- what the bride and guests wear
- how long the ceremony takes to complete
- and more!
Here, we’ll take a look at the standard required steps in both Hindu and Christian weddings. After, we’ll check out the major differences, why they matter, and what significance they have.
A Standard Christian Wedding
A Christian wedding usually takes place over a single day. There is a ceremony in a church or chapel (though this is not always the case; some people prefer to be married outdoors, on beaches, or elsewhere).
The groom waits inside the church, near the altar, with the ordained priest or minister. The wedding guests are seated inside, where they await the arrival of the bride. When the doors open, the bride enters the church and the ceremony begins.
She is marched down the aisle to the traditional wedding march, usually played on a church organ. She wears white to symbolize purity. Her father or closest male relative leads her down the aisle and ‘gives her away’ to her new husband. Once at the altar, vows are read by both parties, rings are exchanged, and the marriage is sealed with a kiss.
After the formal ceremony, there is usually a reception. This is a party and a meal that features the wedding cake, music, and all of the wedding guests coming together to celebrate the joining of the two newlyweds. After the reception, the new husband and wife sometimes go on a vacation to start their life together, called a Honeymoon.
While there are deviations from this formula (especially in modern times), this is the standard accepted sequence of events that takes place in a Christian wedding.
A Standard Hindu Wedding
Much like a Christian wedding, there are standard practices that must be observed during a Hindu wedding. A Hindu wedding takes place over three days. There are several ceremonies and rituals to be observed during these three days.
The ceremony begins with a ganesh pooja, or a prayer to the deity Ganesh. This can be done at the wedding ceremony itself, but traditionally this is done on the first night of the wedding and includes just the couple and their relatives.
On the second day, a traditional Hindu wedding will hold a mehndi ceremony. Here, the bride and her female family and friends have henna applied in intricate patterns to their hands and feet. That night, there is a sangeet. This party includes the wedding guests, the families of the couple, and more. There is a meal, dancing, and other entertainment.
The third day includes the main ceremony. The groom arrives with a parade of his guests, on a white horse that has been decorated for the occasion. There are dancing and music. The bride and her family greet the groom, shower them in rice, and exchange floral garlands (jai mala) that symbolize that they accept each other.
The priest, couple, and the bride’s parents sit beneath a canopy called a mandap. There is a fire (agni) burning in the center of the canopy. The bride’s parents give her away in a process called the kanya daan. The couple then circles the fire in a ritual called the mangal phera.
The final step to a Hindu wedding is the saptapadi. It is this step that is considered the ‘sealing’ of the couple together. These seven steps include vows and a tying together of their wedding garments. Then, the groom applies red powder to the bride’s forehead (or scalp) and gives her a black beaded necklace. Together, these things symbolize that she is now married.
Though many weddings deviate from these steps, this is the traditional format for a Hindu wedding.
Major Ceremonial Differences
Now that we have some understanding of what happens in both of these ceremonies, we can examine some of the ceremonial differences between them. While both weddings are essentially celebrations with religious underpinnings, there are some differences in the tone, small traditions, and expectations for both the guests and the couple involved.
Here are some of the differences we’ll be looking at today.
- Wedding tone
- The wedding dress and other attire
- Ceremony length
- ‘Sealing’ the wedding
- Wedding Guests
- Wedding Gifts
- The Importance of Family
The celebration has its time and place, and sometimes those are very different between Christian and Hindu weddings. In a Christian wedding, the ceremony officially starts when the bride arrives at the church. Her walk down the aisle is a somewhat somber affair, with a loud march. The bride takes measured steps, and her male relative gives her away. The guests are silent during this procession.
Besides, this is the first time that the groom is seeing the bride for the day. Certainly, it’s the first time he’s seen her in her wedding dress. It’s a defining and emotional moment for both parties.
On the other hand, a Hindu wedding procession is more celebratory. The groom arrives at the wedding venue with a parade of people. Music and dancing are a huge part of this process (called the baraat). The groom is greeted by the bride’s family and then he and the bride ‘accept’ each other before the ceremony begins.
The bride’s father still gives her away, but this is a separate part of the ceremony.
It isn’t until the Christian weddings’ reception that the party begins. The tone is still celebratory in these two ceremonies, but the celebration windows vary greatly.
The Wedding Dress and Other Attire
The next major difference that is noticeable immediately is the difference in the way the couple and the guests are dressed. Christian weddings are usually very muted, with colors that the bride and groom can choose beforehand being at the forefront. Men usually wear tuxedos, while women traditionally wear dresses, but they cannot be white.
That’s because the bride is wearing white to symbolize her purity. In Christian weddings, the guests mustn’t dress as well as the bride. They must still wear formalwear, but they have to try to wear colors and styles that don’t upstage the bride on her special day.
On the other hand, Hindu weddings are extremely colorful. Men usually wear long-sleeved shirts and pants, whereas women wear the traditional sari or modern lengha.
Guests are encouraged to wear elaborate outfits with bright colors, beading, and embroidery. The outfits get progressively more lavish as the wedding ceremonies progress, and the outfit worn on the last day should be the grandest.
Brides, on the other hand, wear a red sari or lengha embroidered with gold. In Hindu culture, red symbolizes fertility and love and may reflect the rising sun as well. In sharp contrast, a Hindu bride would never wear white – white is the color for death and funerals in Hindu culture.
In a Hindu wedding, there is less of an emphasis placed on avoiding upstaging the bride. Guests are encouraged to stand out.
Another massive difference between these two weddings is the length of the ceremony. A Christian wedding has a single ceremony and a reception. Both are held on the same day, with the reception usually following immediately after the ceremony. There are several hours of ceremonies and rituals, but it is over by the end of that same day.
Hindu weddings last for several days. Traditionally, ceremonies are spread over three days, though that may not be the case in every instance. Some several smaller ceremonies and rituals must be observed at a Hindu wedding. The bride and groom are often not considered to be married until these rituals are observed.
‘Sealing’ the Wedding
Both Christian and Hindu weddings contain a step that must be completed for the couple to be officially married. At a Christian wedding, vows are said and rings are exchanged. The minister or priest tells the groom to kiss his bride, and then they are ‘pronounced’ husband and wife.
However, Hindu weddings are often not as open with their affection. Traditionally, they are more conservative when it comes to affection – they may not kiss at all. Instead, they tie their wedding garments together during the final ritual, the saptapadi. This is the final step that seals the wedding.
After this ritual, the groom applies red powder to the bride’s scalp and forehead. He presents her with a special beaded necklace that indicates she is now married.
This necklace is called the mangala sutra, and it ensures the bride receives many blessings throughout her married life. Instead of a ring and a kiss, these presentations mark her as a married woman.
The groom may also present his bride with the formal red dot between her eyes, another sign that she is married.
You may have heard that Hindu weddings are larger than Christian weddings and that everything is done on a grand scale. Most of the time, this is true.
Even the smallest of Hindu weddings my host up to 200 wedding guests, though some weddings are much larger. Rather than just inviting friends and relatives, Hindu couples may invite the entire population of their hometown to the wedding. These ceremonies can be extremely elaborate and have hundreds of guests.
On the other hand, Christian weddings can sometimes be very small. Intimate weddings can have as few people as the bride and groom wish to invite. Even at a larger wedding, the guest list may not reach 200 people.
Further, guests are expected to behave more conservatively in a Christian wedding. They can’t upstage the bride or the groom on their special day, and certain behaviors are considered ‘taboo’ to perform at a wedding.
But that doesn’t mean that guests aren’t invited to participate. The minister or priest who is ‘marrying’ the couple asks if there are any objections to the union before making it official. Besides, there is a bouquet-throwing tradition, where the bride tosses her wedding flowers behind her and the first unmarried woman to catch the bundle is said to be the next to marry.
At a Hindu wedding, guests are encouraged to wear vibrant colors and participate in the dancing other festivities. Guests must refrain from kissing or dancing with the bride, but otherwise, they are encouraged to upstage each other.
Guests at a Hindu wedding are also required to wear a head covering during the religious ceremonies at the core of the wedding. There is no such headwear required at a Christian wedding, outside of the veil that the bride can choose to wear during the main ceremony.
Hindu weddings and Christian weddings also deal with wedding gifts differently. In a Christian wedding, it is an accepted practice to bring a gift for the bride and groom. If a guest shows up without a gift, it may be considered rude.
On the other hand, guests are encouraged to send gifts by mail or show up only with envelopes of money if they choose to bring something. It is not required at all. Most Hindu couples will specify that they would prefer not to receive boxed gifts at all during their wedding.
The Importance of Family
Simply put, a Christian wedding is a celebration of the union between two people. A Hindu wedding has certain processes and rituals that emphasize the joining of two families.
In Christian culture, there is usually a divide between the bride’s family and the groom’s family, even after the wedding and throughout the couples’ married life. There are, of course, exceptions to this rule. Sometimes fast friends are made between different sides of the family.
For the most part, the bride’s family and the groom’s family don’t meet outside of family situations. Sometimes, the couple will choose one family to spend holidays with; their parents and extended families usually don’t come together in a single place very often.
On the other hand, Hindu families truly merge when the couple is married. They are now one big family, and they tend to treat each other like they are part of that family. There are special rituals during the wedding parties that help bring the families together to get to know each other better, mingle, and form relationships.
Take, for instance, the rituals surrounding the groom’s arrival. The bride’s family meets the groom during his parade procession and accepts him by a special throwing of rice. Afterward, the bride’s father gives his daughter away in a ritual called the kanya daan. This is more involved in a Hindu wedding than the same process in a Christian one.
In a Christian wedding, the bride’s family usually sits on one side of the aisle, while the groom’s family sits on the other. They are separated by tables at the reception and usually don’t intermingle. The bride arrives and is given away by her father in a less complex ceremony.
There’s a further facet of the importance of family in both instances as well. In a Hindu wedding, there is a closing ceremony called the Vidaai. This is an emotional and symbolic ritual where the bride says her last goodbyes to her family, as she is now officially part of the groom’s family.
Similarly, there is a ritual called the grihapravesa afterward, where the groom’s family welcomes their new daughter. Usually, the bride’s sisters accompany her to meet the groom’s entire family (especially his female relatives).
While the family is important in both Christian and Hindu weddings, there is an emphasis on the familial shift that occurs more prominently in Hindu weddings.
The final difference between these two weddings occurs in the timing. Christian weddings are scheduled by the bride and groom. Conceivably, a Christian wedding can take place on any day of the year (though most avoid major holidays).
In a Hindu wedding, the timing of the wedding is determined by careful astrological planning. Using star charts and the position of the planets, the families determine when the couple should be married based on when it is most favorable according to the stars.
While there are many surface and religious differences between Christian and Hindu weddings, both ceremonies are celebrations of the couple, their union, and their new life together.
Far beyond the prayers that they say, the dresses they wear, the way they are joined together spiritually and legally, weddings are a celebration of two people starting a life. Both Hindu and Christian practices mirror that sentiment throughout the duration of the ceremonies.
Couples who choose to mix Hindu and Christian wedding practices have a large pool of traditions and rituals to choose from when it comes time to tie the knot.
Can a Catholic participate in a Hindu wedding? There are no restrictions from the Catholic Church, so a Catholic can participate at a Hindu wedding. Likewise, from a Hindu perspective, there are no restrictions in allowing a Catholic to the wedding, as long as they respect any religious elements of the wedding.