The last thing you would expect to see at a wedding is the bride covered in turmeric from head to toe. But that is just one of the many surprises you will stumble upon if you are ever fortunate enough to attend an Indian wedding.
In India, spices, herbs, sugar and other foodstuffs stretch far from the kitchen, making their way into bridal ceremonies around the country. Getting married entails a number of fascinating rituals that are simply unheard of in Western cultures.
Some of the rituals include not just the use of turmeric, but also mustard oil, buffalo milk, rice and sugar, among other things. To fully grasp Indian culture is to understand that spices are a way of life. A new guest is welcomed with a splash of mustard oil at the entrance of any home, a newlywed couple is greeted by the groom's mother with fresh buffalo milk, and so forth.
Below you'll find a list of spices commonly used in weddings across India but specifically in the northwest region of Punjab where Sikhism is the main religion. It's important to note that the pre-wedding rituals are gender specific, so the families of the bride and groom perform them separately. The bride and groom only partake in rituals together after they become husband and wife.
Known as haldi, turmeric is rubbed onto the bride and groom before the wedding in a ceremony referred to as mayian. It symbolizes purity due to the spice's proven antiseptic and antibacterial properties. Relatives takes turns applying a mix of turmeric and water to the bride/groom's entire body. Not even the face is spared.
The preferred cooking oil in the region of Bengal, mustard oil is widely used in Ayurveda and is essential in weddings. This oil is used as a mosquito repellent and is beloved for its anti-inflammatory properties. Along with ghee, it's the oil used to light clay pots at temples. On the day of the wedding the bride and groom apply it to their body after their morning bath. After the wedding, mustard oil is poured at the entrance of every home before the newlyweds make their grand entry.
Used mainly in coffee and to eat cookies in West, milk takes on a complety different identity in India. In northern regions like Punjab, which is rich in farmland, milk symbolizes wealth and prosperity. In Punjabi weddings, the bride's bangles are soaked in buffalo milk and roses the night before the ceremony.
Buffalo milk plays a big role when the newlyweds arrive at the groom's home after the wedding. Before entering the home as a married couple for the first time, the groom's mother holds a carafe of milk above their heads as part of a ceremony called pani waran. The milk is swirled four times around their heads, and the mom must take a sip after each go around. This symbolizes the drowning of their future sorrows - if the bride and groom were to ever have a problem, the groom's mother preffers to 'swallow' their misery. A caring son, however, will tell his mother not to drink the milk.
In the West, the bride and groom are often showered with rice upon leaving the church where they've just gotten married. In India, it's the opposite. Before leaving her home, the bride throws a handful of rice behind her as she walks away, as if to say ''may my family always be well and have something to eat in my absence.
Sugar and Flour
Following Sikh wedding tradition, the first Sunday after the wedding the bride and groom must visit a special temple. After prayer, the newlyweds step outside and are handed a bag of sugar and a bag of flour. Together, they must each sprinkle five handfuls of sugar and five handfuls of flour on the ground near the temple. This symbolizes sweetness and prosperity in their life together. This is done five times as a way of remembering Guru Gobind Singh, the 10th guru of their religion.
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