You’re Invited! A Guide to Hindu Weddings, Guyanese Style!
The Caribbean is a tapestry of culture and vibrance, where many ethnic groups originally hail from India, Africa, and parts of China and Europe. Guyana is a Caribbean country sitting on the northern coast of South America where nearly 40% of the population is of East Indian descent and 25% of the country actively practices Hinduism. The Indo-Guyanese people are a testament to cultural preservation and resilience in the face of colonization and the Guyanese legacy of indentureship. Nearly 184 years later and the country’s Hindu wedding rituals still thrive, and continue to be practiced abroad as Guyanese people make homes in the diaspora.
A typical Guyanese Hindu wedding consists of four major events celebrated over the course of four days: the Maticoor, the Wedding Ceremony, the Reception, and the Kangan.
Read on to learn more!
Pre-Wedding: Maticoor Night is for Ladies to Get Away
The night before the wedding, the women of both families gather at the family homes of the Dulhan (bride) and Dulha (groom) to partake in the Maticoor. Dig Dutty is performed by the married women of the families, a short ceremony where homage is paid to Mother Earth by turning over soil nearby the wedding house, and Dharti Puja is performed. The women sing and dance to the beat of tassa drums and form a procession to and from the wedding house as they carry back the soil. Hindu culture in the West Indian context is full of symbolism that honours the elements personified by deities such as Bhumi Maa (Mother Earth). Dharti Puja is a form of prayer and ritual that signifies the respect and thanks for the earth that we use on a daily basis. The Dulhan and Dulha sit for this special puja separately in their respective homes. Prayers are performed, haldi is rubbed on the Dulhan and Dulha, and the two families gather at their respective wedding house to cook traditional Guyanese delicacies to be enjoyed at the wedding.
The Wedding Ceremony: Vivah Sanskara
It is thought in Hindu culture that marriage is a sacred union between not just two individuals, but two families. The Vivah Sanskara (Hindu wedding ceremony) consists of several deep and meaningful rites, and every object used during the marriage ceremony is beautifully symbolic.
Baraat Swagat and Vara Mandap Pravesha
The Dulha and his Baraat (wedding party comprised of his family members and close friends) are greeted by the parents and family of the Dulhan. This is a lively time as both families embrace each other and express joy at the upcoming union, dancing to the celebratory sounds of tassa drums. The Dulha proceeds to the mandap (ceremonial canopy) with his parents.
Vadhoo Mandap Pravesha
The wedding guests all rise to witness the arrival of the Dulhan. Here, the Dulhan makes her grand entrance while adorned in a traditional red lengha choli or saree and opulent bridal jewelry, mehndi, and bangles. As the wedding guests watch the Dulhan’s arrival, she is escorted to the mandap by her parents and close loved ones.
The wedding ceremony officially begins as the Pandit offers a prayer to Ganeshji, the remover of all obstacles. Ganeshji, the elephant-headed god, is believed to bring prosperity to those who worship him. Offering prayers to this deity and invoking His presence at the very beginning of the Vivah Sanskar (wedding ceremony) ensures good fortune for the couple.
The Dulhan is offered yogurt and honey by his soon-to-be mother-in-law and father-in-law. This signifies sweetness and strength that should pervade the couple’s married life.
The parents of the Dulhan formally offer the right hand of their daughter to the Dulha. He is now entrusted to love, honour and protect her as the brother of the Dulhan pours ganga jal (holy water) over the couple’s clasped hands.
The shawl adorning the Dulhan and the Dulhan’s dupatta are tied together in a knot. The tying of the knot represents that they are bound together in mind, body, and soul.
The Dulha and Dulhan circle around the holy fire, proclaiming their loyalty, love, and respect for each other. This symbolizes energy and purity and agreement to work together to meet the goals of life.
The Dulhan places her foot on a stone, which the Dulhan symbolically tries to remove. This represents the Dulhan’s firmness and resilience in the face of life’s many challenges and changes.
The brother of the Dulhan assists his sister in offering puffed rice to the holy fire. This ritual pays homage to Lord Agni, the Fire God and ultimate witness to the marriage. Lord Agni is believed to bless the couple with happiness and prosperity. The offering of puffed rice also symbolizes the Dulhan’s wish for her husband to lead a long and happy life as her companion.
Sapta Padi and Saat Vachan
Together, the couple takes seven steps in the Sapta Padi ritual. Each step represents a marriage vow. The couple vows to nourish each other, grow together in strength, preserve their wealth, share their joy and sorrows, care for their children, be together forever, and remain lifelong friends. The Dulhan then takes her rightful place on the left side of the Dulha for the first time.
The Dulha and Dulhan present each other with an elaborate mala (flower garland). Dozens of fresh flowers are intricately woven together to create these long, grand garlands that cascade down the necks of both the Dulha and Dulhan. Flowers are symbolic of one’s heart and the purity of love and devotion. This sweet, cherished moment is a poetic ritual that symbolizes the couple giving their hearts to one another, and is a cultural way of saying “I do” as the Dulha and Dulhan accept each other as life-long partners
The Dulha and Dulhan look toward the sun in prayer for inspiration and guidance. The sun is regarded as the deity Surya (the sun god), who blesses His devotees with a creative and passionate life, and guidance throughout the life of the couple.
Touching each other’s hearts, the Dulha and Dulhan are saying to each other “I take your heart into our vows because God has given us to each other to live together in a wedded life.”
Sindoor Daan and Mangal Sutra
The Dulha applies sindoor (red powder) to the Dulhan’s hair parting and gifts her a mangal sutra (gold necklace) signifying she is now a married woman.
The Dulha and Dulhan exchange wedding rings, symbolizing everlasting love.
Ashirvaad and Closing Prayers
Everyone stands and showers the newly married couple with flowers and blessings.
Post-Wedding: After Aarti is Party
The Wedding Reception
The third day of the festivities is a lavish party celebrating the new couple and the union of the two families. Influenced by Western customs that date back to the mid-1900s, the Dulhan wears a white gown for the Reception and the Dulha dons a suit or tuxedo. The Wedding Reception is similar to what we see here in North American Reception traditions, where the couple is received by the two newly joined families and accompanied by a traditional wedding party of bridesmaids and groomsmen. The Reception celebration lasts until the early hours of the morning and, in true Guyanese style, is a feast for the senses. After a sumptuous formal dinner, family members and friends of the couple dance the night away to the sounds of chutney-soca music, tassa drums, dancehall, reggae, and classic Bollywood, with drinks in hand and waistline wukkin’.
The fourth and final day of this grand celebration is the Kangan (also called Kakan), a post-wedding gathering and party that takes place separately at the Dulha and Dulhan’s respective family homes. At the Kangan, a Guyanese-style bush cook is underway. Meat is consumed at this celebration and savoury curries such as duck, lamb, goat, and chicken are cooked in great big karahis simmering outdoors over makeshift stoves and open fires. The meal is cooked together by family members, with everyone pitching in to make dhal puris, roti, rice, and dhal to accompany the curries. The families relax, reminisce, and unwind as they cook one last celebratory meal to be enjoyed with each other, and send off the Dulha and Dulhan into the next chapter of their adult lives.