The Ultimate Guide to Sikh Wedding Ceremonies, Rituals and Traditions

A Sikh wedding ceremony at Nanaksar Gurdwara Walsall features a couple and guests standing together during Ardaas.

Do you want to learn about Sikh wedding traditions and customs?

We are delighted to provide our clients with guidance and assistance in understanding the complexities of Sikh wedding ceremonies, based on our extensive experience documenting numerous Sikh weddings and deep study. Our goal is to assist you in being ready for each of the rituals that are part of a Sikh wedding.

Punjabi pre-wedding rituals and customs are remarkably similar across religious groups, including Hindu, Sikh, and Muslim weddings. Though most Sikh weddings follow the Sikhi code of conduct, Namdhari marriages differ.

Wedding Day Rituals

Once the pre-wedding rituals are complete, the bride and groom prepare for the most important day of their lives. 

The groom generally wears a shirvani or kurta to the Anand Karaj, and the bride wears a red salwar kameez or anarkali suit, as Akhaal Takht has recently implemented a rule that prohibits brides from wearing lehengas.

Sehra Bandi

A person ties a cream colour Pagh or Turban on Sikh Groom's head at High Wycombe.
A sister places a Kalgi on the groom's Pagh before the barrat in Wolverhampton.
Sisters hold a groom's palla before the barrat in Coventry.

After the groom is dressed, his father ties a Pagh or turban, on his head. The father then gives the groom a sword, known as a kirpan or talwar, to carry during the marriage ceremony. This sword symbolises the groom’s commitment to protect his wife throughout their married life, as it was the tradition to carry the sword for protection.

The groom’s sisters then attach a Sehra, a thread of beads, to the groom’s pagh (turban). Once the sister has tied the Sehra, other guests and relatives also bless the groom with more shagun, or token money. (Not many grooms in the UK wear a Sehra these days, but tradition is still cherished in different Punjabi cultures in India and around the world.).

The groom’s sister-in-law applies kohl to his eyeline, while his mother gifts money to every sister-in-law for warding off evil forces. A diamond jewel called “kalgi” is attached to the centre of his turban, but it must be removed before entering the Sikh Temple, as it violates Sikh tenets. However, this depends on the gurdwara, so consult with them before hand.

The groom’s mother also places a whole coconut in a palla on his lap. After the groom receives the kirpan, his parents assign him a Sarwalla, or best man, who stays with him throughout the day. The groom and the best man are adorned with garlands and fed sweets by the groom’s parents.

The sisters of the groom then place a palla over his shoulder. When the groom leaves the house, the sisters follow him, holding onto the palla until they reach the wedding car or white horse.

Baraat

The groom is dancing at the Sikh Wedding Baraat at Nanaksar Gurdwara Walsall premises.
A joyful Indian family dances outdoors in a Sikh wedding barrat with raised hands, joined by dancing guests by Sri Guru Singh Sabha Southall.

The groom leaves his home with his family and friends (baraat) to attend the Gurudwara ceremony. Traditionally, the groom travels on a white horse with his family and friends, who follow behind him near the Gurudwara. Some gurdwaras don’t allow bands and grooms on the horse at their premises.

Ardaas and Milni

Sikh Groom and his family perform an Ardass before the Milni ceremony at Guru Gobind Singh Gurdwara Bradford

The bride’s family warmly welcomes the groom upon the barrat’s arrival. An Ardas takes place before the Milni ceremony. Outside the Gurdwara, both families gather for an informal family meeting. The ceremony consists of introducing each other by putting a garland around the neck and hugging, followed by taking a picture in the middle of the congregation.

Anand Karaj

A Sikh groom walks down the aisle in the Gurdwara Hall to present his gift at Guru Gobind Singh Gurdwara Bradford.
A bride in a red lehenga holding a rumalla being escorted by two men during Anand Karaj at Guru Gobind Singh Gurdwara Bradford.
A Sikh bride in traditional Punjabi red attire, hands folded in worship at Sri Guru Singh Sabha Gurdwara Kettering.

The Anand Karaj translates into ‘blissful union’. In the Darbar hall, family members and visitors from both sides bow down to the Guru Granth Sahib Ji before taking their seats, with males on the right and females on the left.

The groom enters the Sikh wedding ceremony hall holding a decorated cloth known as rumalla, which he offers to Maharaj (Guru Granth Sahib ji), bows down, and takes a seat with other men at the front. The first ardas is then done before the bride’s entrance. (Kalgi and Kurmai take place before the bride enters.) The groom sits in front of the Guru Granth Sahib ji before the bride’s entrance.

During Anand Karaj, the bride arrives with her family holding a rumalla to offer Maharaj. The brides choose to have bridesmaids, then the bride sits left of the groom in the presence of the Guru Granth Sahib. A baptised Sikh conducts the ceremony.

Following this, the Granthi instructs the couple on the significance of their duties to one another and the significance of marriage and union. The granthi then calls out the names of the bride, groom, and both their parents, asking them to stand for the second ardas with the couple. This is to begin the blessings of the four Laavan’s ‘4 hymns’.

Palla Ceremony

A Sikh couple sits beside each other while the bride's father gives Palla to the bride during the palla ceremony at Guru Gobind Singh Gurdwara Bradford.
At Kettering Sikh Temple, a bride holds her husband's palla with wearing intricate henna designs, red bangles, and gold jewellery.

The Granthi then begins to read the first stanza of the Laavan, ‘Tau palle Tande Lagi shabad’. This is where the father of the bride gives one end of the ‘Palla’ to the bride for her to hold, or he ties it to signify he is giving his daughter away to him.

4 Laavans

A bride in a red lehenga holding a palla and a groom in a white sherwani during the Lavan Ceremony at Nanaksar Gurdwara Walsall.
A Sikh couple behind the Guru Granth Sahib Ji during the Lavan ceremony at Sri Guru Singh Sabha Southall.

The Laavan is the becoming of one soul in two bodies who are subsequently wedded to God. Starting with the Laavan, the couple bows before the Guru Granth Sahib Ji, ready to start the phere. During this stage, the bride’s brothers take turns leading her around the Guru Granth Sahib Ji/altar in a clockwise direction while the groom leads, and the bride holds onto his ‘palla’. However, some gurdwaras don’t encourage the bride’s brothers to lead her during Lavan.

After completing the walk around the altar, the couple must stand facing the Guru Granth Sahib Ji and wait for the Laavan hymns to finish. Once the first Laavan hymn is completed, the couple must bow down to the Guru Granth Sahib Ji and prepare for the second Laavan, repeating this process for the remaining three. 

The four Laavans serve as a guide for the couple through the different spiritual stages of their marriage as husband and wife, as well as their relationship with God. By making these promises and following these teachings, they bind their marriage together. The Laavan symbolises the spiritual marriage of ‘one soul in two bodies’ to God. There are four lavas’ path and shabads. The couple stays in front of the Granth Sahib Ji during the path, and the couple walks when the Ragi Jattha sings Lavans Shabads.

The couple then exchanged wedding rings in front of Maharaj (Guru Granth Sahib Ji) and all the guests while remaining seated. Most Sikh couples have their registration ceremony at the Gurdwara. Some they have during the ceremony, after the Lavan, and other gurdwaras have a separate room for the register ceremony.

Some gurdwaras have different rules for the Anand Karaj and Laavan. Some gurdwaras don’t allow or encourage the bride’s brothers not to lead her during the Laavan. Some also advise the couple to remain standing after each Laavan finishes. Gursikhs exchanged Karas rather than rings for the wedding.

Outdoor Sikh Weddings or Destination Weddings

In recent years, Akhaal Takht has declared a ban on taking the Guru Granth Sahib Ji outside of the Gurdwara, especially at beaches and resorts. The Anand Karaj can only be performed in a Gurdwara. The Sikh Council U.K. made this decision in response to complaints of religious conduct violations. Read more about this on the Sikh Council U.K. website.

The Four Laavan Pheras

The word ‘Laavan’ means to break away, since the bride is breaking away from her family and uniting with her husband’s family. 

The first verse of the Lavn hymn says that marriage is encouraged as the best life situation for a Sikh and emphasises the duty towards family and the community.

The second verse of the Laavan conveys the awakening feelings of love a bride and groom must have for each other.

The third verse stresses detachment from the world and possessions.

The fourth verse talks about a spiritual union of love and devotion where there is no feeling of being apart. This is when the love between the couple merges with God’s love.

Anand Sahib

Following the completion of the fourth Laavan, the couple is pronounced husband and wife. The marriage ceremony concludes with the offering of the ardaas. The ragi jattha sings a hymn while the kharah prasad is distributed to the congregation. The couple stays seated while both their parents put a garland around them and give them shogun (money as a blessing). The rest of the guests line up behind the newlywed and each family takes turns giving Shagun. 

As a photographer, I do not recommend giving shagun at the gurdwara because it can get very crowded, and the pictures and video may not turn out well. The wedding venue is a better location.

Wedding Reception & Langar

The ‘roti’ ceremony is a significant event in a Sikh marriage. It marks the bride’s first meal as a married woman. The bride’s family brings her a platter of food, some money, and other presents during the ceremony. The bride and groom then share a meal at the venue. Some brides have a doli at the gurdwara rather than at home.

Conclusion

Being experts in photography and videography, Sikh weddings are known for their deep respect for family and cultural traditions. From capturing pre-wedding rituals to post-wedding celebrations, every step holds great significance. To truly grasp the depth of this culture, it’s important to understand these traditions. Your wedding day holds significance, making it a perfect opportunity to preserve these moments forever with beautiful photographs. 

Frequently Asked Questions:

Q. What happens on a Sikh wedding day?

Normally, Sikh weddings are full of cultural and traditional ceremonies from the morning until the evening. But the main ceremonies, called Anand Karaj, take place in the Sikh temple. 

The wedding day starts with the bride and groom’s morning preparations. The groom has a lot more Punjabi traditional ceremonies than the bride. You can read about those ceremonies in more detail above. 

Sehra Bandi, Surma, Palla, Barrat, Milni, Anand Karaj, Shagun, Roti, Reception, Doli, Panivar, and Kangna

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