According to Hindu beliefs, marriages are made in heaven and once the marriage is solemnized, the two souls are joined for seven lifetimes. The seven vows of marriage are the seven promises which the bride and the groom make to each other for a happy and prosperous life. They are bound together by an unseen bond protected by these promising words. Without exaggeration, the seven vows can be said to contain the crux of an ideal marriage that is to be practiced by the bride and groom. A traditional Indian wedding lasts an average of three days.
On the first night, a priest will often perform the ganesh pooja, a ceremony that usually happens at home with only the couple, the bridal party and close relatives in attendance.
The second day begins with a mehndi ceremony. For this, the bride and her female friends and family members will have intricate henna patterns drawn on their hands and feet. That evening, the sangeet takes place. Every wedding guest is usually invited, and it involves an introduction of the couple's families, mingling, a meal and dances or other performances.
On the third day, the main ceremony, cocktail hour and reception take place. You may be invited to the last day of the events, or to any part of the three-day celebration. Your invitation should clearly state what you're being asked to attend.
One of the first things that might surprise Western guests is the baraat, or groom's procession. For this, the groom arrives to the ceremony on a decorated white horse. Guests dance around him to the beat of a dhol, an Indian drum. After that, the bride and her family greet the groom, and the couple exchanges floral garlands to wear around their necks to symbolize their acceptance of each other.
For the ceremony, the priest, groom, bride and bride's parents sit beneath a mandap, a canopy similar to a Jewish chuppah. The ceremony starts off with the kanya daan, in which the bride's parents give her away. Then the couple joins hands and circles around a small, enclosed fire (the agni) in a ritual called themangal phera. Then the couple will take the saptapadi, or seven steps, as they vow to support each other and live happily together. Finally, the groom will apply a red powder to the center of the bride's forehead and tie a black beaded necklace around her neck, symbolizing she's now a married woman.