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How to Conduct a Punjabi Wedding

If you imagine a wedding as bride and groom just saying their vows, your perfect picture is about to get shattered. A Punjabi wedding is the ultimate Big-Fat-Indian-Wedding which can be described in four ‘D’s- Dance, Drama, DJ and Drinks. It’s a four-day ‘pest[1]’. It is the most tortuous event leading to the ‘happiest’ day(s) of your life. It kills your bank balance, then your sleep, and finally attacks your heart.

The marriage proceedings must begin with the two families deciding the dates for different rituals. Once that is settled, the first step is to get the best dance floor and DJ. That there will be drinks goes without saying. Pump up Daler Mehndi[2] songs, throw paneer[3] in the food and pour alcohol in the glasses. Money? Of course you need money. Don’t have it? Take loans! BUT NO COMPROMISE ON THE ABOVE.

Chapter 1: The Engagement, the first of the huge affairs. If the previous engagement was for two days, make yours for four. Plan your invites but provide for gate-crashers. The number might double with unfamiliar faces in the dining area over-riding your invitees. Employ the costliest event manager; the praises you get are proportional to how much money he makes. Apart from the food, the next thing Punjabis care about is dance, so make the DJ a part of your entourage. Remember: you are a kind and considerate host. You must have a fleet of chauffeur driven cars to get the giggling giddy guests home. It’s an obligation.

After everyone is well-rested, you must host a Jagratha[4]– the event where the two families are ‘supposed’ to pray together from dusk to dawn. Apart from the classical musical instruments like dholak[5] and harmonium[6], there must be a DJ. What makes it pious is the blessed absence of alcohol. You must also be ready for the rare occurrence where the aged offer dances to the mata[7]. To survive this ordeal, provide a continuous stream of tit-bits throughout the nights- remember the paneer.

The next evening is special. If you are on the bride-side, then you have a function called Mehendi[8]. The bride gets tattooed with intricate designs of Henna from the tip of her fingers to the end of her arms. The bride’s sisters and cousins till the elbow, the aunts at the wrists, the mother with a palmful and the grandmother has to settle with her yearning. You must provide the ladies with a platoon of women who are proficient in the art of Mehendi. The DJ makes an appearance here too. Make sure there is enough space for the tattooed women to shake their hips to the DJ’s tunes. If you are on the groom’s side, then you have a function called Haldi[9]. The groom is applied with a paste of turmeric, cream and milk which is supposed to make him fair. Make sure you provide tins and tons of this paste; it is the most important thing (apart from the groom himself). Ritual demands that young women fetch water from the well for the groom’s bath after Haldi. Keep a well handy! You must provide for the comforts of the young girls on their journey. The ‘well water’ is just ritualistic you know, so be sure to gift the poor groom the comfort of a hot bath and some clothes. Apparently glowing, the groom throws his last Bachelor Party that night. By now, you know the four D’s required for the party.

For the last lap, conduct the reception and the marriage in that order and that order alone. Reason? Sacred timings for the marriage rituals in Punjabis are near midnight. If you keep the reception after the wedding, as it is supposed to be, then it would be at five in the morning. But after all that Mehendi and Haldi no one is going to get up so early in the morning and go through the elaborate process of dressing up. Of course, you don’t want groggy eyed guests at your wedding. So, the reception definitely comes first! No one wants to attend the boring wedding procedures.

If you find yourself with some money left, spend it on decorations. If you don’t have money, still decorate. Get magnificent thrones for the bride and groom. Cover every post and pillar in the vicinity with enormous artificial flowers and strings of bulbs. The bride must be hidden behind layers of make-up and sheets of gold while the groom must be stiffened in a strait-jacket called a sherwani[10].

When you have had enough of the guests, announce the sacred time of the marriage. Light up the fire and arm yourself with things that have to be thrown into it. And then follow the instructions of the pandit[11]. Look lovingly at the couple getting married, impatiently at the pandit and forlornly at the time. Till they tie the knot. That is when you finally begin to throw things. Before you get violent thoughts, I must inform you that it’s only flowers.

The marriage is not the end; the melodrama is the finale. Get the DJ to play some emotional tunes from Bollywood Bidai[12] scenes. It will make the tears flow generously. Keep a whole carton of tissues at hand. Photograph the tears well. They are seen only during Bidais. The last picture must be of the car moving out.

Here’s the ‘After the Wedding’ do- though bleary-eyed, sleep will evade everyone. So look for the nearest couch and revert to the well-ingrained habit that comes naturally to Punjabis. Gossip. You know Mrs. Sharma? What did she wear? How many times do you think Mrs. Kumar has worn that before? And that Simi, I think she spent the entire day in the parlour. Must’ve been some cheap parlour because she still didn’t look any better. Did you see Verma aunty’s Mehendi? I’m sure mine is longer.

With this best lullaby for these tired souls, the wedding comes to a snoring end.


[1] The Punjabi way of pronouncing ‘fest’

[2] A very famous Punjabi pop singer known for his fast tunes and energetic dance sets

[3] Cottage cheese

[4] A night long prayer to Goddess Durga, the deity of Punjab

[5] A musical instrument: a South Asian two-headed hand-drum

[6] A musical instrument: a type of reed organ that generates sound with hand-pumped bellows

[7] Goddess or female deity

[8] Literally, Henna. For rituals, it is the event where women get their limbs tattooed with Henna

[9] Literally, Turmeric. For rituals, it is the event where family applies turmeric paste on the groom

[10] A fusion of the South Asian ‘salwar kameez’ and the British frock-coat. Often made of heavier suiting fabrics.

[11] A Hindu priest

[12] An Indian wedding ceremony where the bride bids farewell to her maternal family



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