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The engagement ceremony is an important pre-wedding ritual in Indian cultures where the would-be-bride and the bridegroom-to-be come face to face and are formally betrothed to each other by their families. The Hindu tradition of ‘Vagdanam’ dates back to Vedic ages, and it involves the groom’s family giving their words to the bride’s family that they will accept their daughter and will be responsible for her future wellbeing. It is sort of an exchange of pledges between the families and a chance of getting to know each other’s customs or rituals. In historic times, this ritual involved elaborate announcements in case of Royalties. In Rajput traditions, this betrothal generally takes place soon after the birth of a girl so as to ward of other suitors.
Engagement ceremonies are uniform across most religion and ethnicities across India, differing in nuances and details of the rituals. In some cases, the engagement ceremony marks the formal announcement of the betrothal, while in others it marks the ceremony where the official date of the wedding is determined. In some cultures the engagement precedes the actual wedding by as much as a year whereas in others they are held a day or two prior the actual wedding. Exchanging of rings is not mandatory in all cultures across the country, but it is almost always involves the ritual being the formal announcement of the impending nuptials.
Muslim Engagement Ceremony
In India, Muslims generally follow the marriage customs as delineated in the Holy Quoran. The traditions of wedding and pre-wedding functions have been handed down by the invading Sultans and Mughal rulers. Muslims consider marriages to be an act of worship and obedience to Allah, following the rituals of utmost devotion. The engagement ceremony is termed as the Mangni in traditional Islamic wedding rituals, and generally takes place the day before the wedding after the Istikara and Imam-Zamin rituals have been completed. During the Mangni ceremony, the groom’s family visits the bride’s house with gifts of clothes, sweets and fruits. The bride’s dress for the occasion is presented by the Groom’s family along with jewelry. The betrothed couple exchange rings and pledge their intention to solidify the union during Nikaah.
Christian Engagement Ceremony
Christian weddings are not like wedding ceremonies from other cultures across the country if compared in terms of duration and ostentatiousness. It is generally a one-day affair with the wedding and reception happening on the same day. In Christian traditions, the engagement ceremony consists of the sole pre-wedding ritual. The function is generally hosted by the bride’s parents and the guests include the closest friends and family. The bride and groom-to-be exchange rings and there is generally a party after the ceremony is over. The event is announced in the local churches and sometimes it is advertised in local newspapers as well. In case of Christians, the engagement is the formal announcement of a couple’s intention to marry and the following engagement period may vary from weeks to years, depending on the date set for the wedding.
Hindu Engagement Ceremony
Hindu engagement ceremony traditions vary across different states and ethnicities. There are various terms associated with it like Mangni, Sagai, Ashribaad, Nishchayam etc. Major cultural traditions across various provinces are outlined below:
The formal engagement ceremony among the Kashmiri Pandit community is known as Kasamdry. The dates for the occasion are fixed by the family priests according to Kashmiri Calendar. The elderly of both families meet at a temple and exchange flowers to signify the purity of the process of formalization of betrothal in front of the idol. This is followed by a traditional Kashmiri meal being served to the groom’s family by the bride’s family. In the house of both the boy and the girl, an elderly female relative, preferably an aunt prepares a special rice pudding known as Var, which after feeding the bride/groom is distributed among relatives and neighbors. Modern traditions include the boy and the girl to accompany the elders to the temple and exchange rings.
In Himachali traditions, the Roka or Thaka marks the formal announcement of the wedding and is the equivalent of an engagement ceremony elsewhere. The boy’s father visit’s the girl’s residence accompanied by a priest and presents her with jewelry and clothes, offers his blessings and performs a puja with the priest.
The formal engagement ceremony in both Punjabi Hindu and Sikh traditions are termed as Kurmai or Shagan. This event may take place either several days before the wedding day or just the day before. This ceremony either takes place at the groom’s place or at a Gurudwara. The bride’s family visits with gifts of clothes, sweets and dry fruits. In Sikh practices, the bride’s father presents the boy with a Kada (traditional Sikh bangles), a gold ring, and gold coins. This seals the betrothal and generally a feast follows (Langar in case of Sikhs).
The engagement ceremony here is referred to as the Sagai. It also refers to the period of engagement prior to the actual wedding. On the day of the engagement the groom and his close relatives visit the bride’s home and present a ring to the bride. The bride wears this engagement ring on the ring finger of her left hand and this mark the bride as a betrothed woman.
The Marwari engagement ceremony is known as the Mudha Tika ceremony. The groom’s family visits the bride’s home. They carry with them a silver thali containing essential items for the ceremonial puja which includes rice, jiggery, sweets, dry fruits, flowers, a diya, vermillion, and a diamond ring. Other gifts include the outfit for the bride including lehenga and jewelry. The groom’s sister puts a vermillion tika on the bride’s forehead, feeds her jiggery and presents her with the ring. The bride’s family in turn showers the groom’s sister with cash gifts or jewelry. The process is repeated with the bride’s brother doing the same for the groom and presenting the ring to him.
The engagement or the ‘Tilak’ ceremony of the Rajputs of Rajasthan is similar to the Marwaris, but along with the engagement ring, the groom is also presented with a sword or sword replica.
The Gujarati engagement ceremony is known as the Gol Dhana or Gor Dhana. It literally translates into coriander seeds and Jaggery. The bride and her family visits the groom’s place with gifts of cash and clothes and sweets made out of coriander and jiggery. The couple exchange rings, seeks blessings from elders of the family, particularly five married couples, and are fed the traditional sweets mentioned before.
In Bihar and parts of Uttar Pradesh, the engagement ceremony is known as Cheka. The groom and either seven or nine or eleven members of his family visit the bride’s house with gifts of clothes, jewelry and sweets. The bride is presented with a ring from the groom’s family and the accompanying elders bless her with cash gifts or jewelry. The same ritual is repeated the next day when the bride’s family visits the groom’s home and presents him with the ring.
The Marathi engagement ceremony is termed as Sakhar Puda which literally means worshipping the sugar. It marks the first puja of the wedding celebrations and can take place several weeks before the wedding date. The puja is done by both groom’s and bride’s families together and at the end of the puja the families feed each other sugar as a celebration of formalization of the union.
In Odisha, the formal engagement ritual is termed as Nirbandh. More than a ring exchange ceremony it marks the formal announcement of the impending wedding. Incidentally, this ceremony takes place without the presence of either the bride or the groom. It takes place at the bride’s house and the heads of the families from both sides take an oath to marry their children on the mentioned date. It is generally accompanied with a puja and a small feast.
In Bengali traditions, the engagement ceremony does not involve exchange of rings. The ceremony is termed as Ashirbaad which translates as blessing. Elders of the groom’s family visit the bride’s place and offer their blessings along with a token which is generally cash or a piece of jewelry. Same procedure is repeated by elders from the bride’s family to the groom. Sometimes the ceremony takes place on a separate day than the wedding; otherwise it is generally done on the wedding day just prior to the commencement of wedding rituals.
The formal engagement ceremony is termed as Varapuja or Kanya Nishchayam. Varapuja is where the bride’s side presents the groom with the ring and other gifts. Kanya Nishchayam id the groom’s family doing the same for the bride. Theis generally takes place at a temple and on the day the date of the wedding is fixed after consulting the Lagna Patrikas of the bride and groom.
The engagement ceremony in the Hindu communities of Tamil nadu is known as Nichayathartham. The ceremony begins with worshipping of the Almighty Ganesha followed by exchange of clothes and gifts between the two families. The bride and the groom then change into the new clothes. The groom’s sister applies tilak of kumkum and chandan on the bride’s forehead and offers her a garland while the bride’s brother does the same to the groom. The bride and groom then exchange rings and seek blessings from the elders.
The official term for engagement ceremony in Karnataka is known as Nischay Tamulam. It takes place either in the bride’s place or at a temple. The groom’s family presents the bride with a saree, accessories, a coconut and five types of fruits. The bride’s family presents the groom with a dhoti, coconut and five types of fruits. The ritual of exchange signifies betrothal and a priest chants mantras to seal the union.
In Kerala, the Hindu engagement ceremony is termed as Nishchayam and takes place at the bride’s ancestral home. The engagement platter or the nishchayam thamboolam is exchanged between the two families following a puja. The ceremony is sealed off with a traditional malayalee feast.
North East States
The north east is a mix of seven states where cultures vary greatly across each state. While states like Mizoram follow Christian traditions, states like Assam do not have a designated engagement ceremony. In Meghalaya, during engagement, the rings are exchanged in bags of betel nuts. In Manipur, the formal engagement ceremony is known as the Heijapot ceremony. Certain tribes in Nagaland, send the engaged couple on an expedition with a set of tasks to be completed upon which they are permitted to marry.