Sikh weddings are colorful, extravagant and boisterous, not to mention, lengthy affairs that may last days, even weeks. Early on, as a wedding photographer, I realized that the meaning of the traditions involved in a Sikh wedding were not only a mystery to myself but also, at times, to the wedding couple and their guests. Over the years, I have come to recognize and appreciate, just how important it is to understand the history and traditions comprising Sikh weddings. As such, awareness profoundly influences your ability as a photographer to capture impactful images.
I’ve highlighted 8 photographs that a wedding photographer must capture during a Sikh wedding. These photos showcase the important traditional and cultural aspects of a Sikh wedding. It is also important to understand that every family values the traditions in their own unique way. Nonetheless, it is the photographer’s responsibility to understand what is important to capture.
1. The Bride’s Traditional Attire
Bridal prep is obviously not unique to Sikh weddings. However, the bride having her chunni placed on her head is a critical moment. The chunni is a traditional head covering for the bride. The chunni itself often has a sentimental meaning for the bride and her family. The person placing the chunni on the bride is usually a person of significance in the bride’s family. Here is a tip: Typically I use natural light for this type of image, however, I have used video light as well when natural light is not available.
2. The Bridal Shot
Like any other wedding, a portrait shot of the bride is essential. In Sikh weddings, however, tradition plays a significant role in determining the bridal portrait shot. The opinion of the bride’s family is often critical in capturing this shot. Feel free to be creative when photographing the bride, however also be aware of the type of portrait the bride desires and be sure to include that in your workflow.
3. The Tying of the Turban
The first item the groom will have put on is his turban. A turban is a traditional head covering for Sikhs. Everyone who attends a Sikh wedding ceremony must cover their heads’. The person tying the turban on the groom is often a person of significance in the groom’s family. Feel free to pose the groom as you need to obtain the best possible shot.
4. King for a Day
The groom will also wear a pin called a kulgi on his turban. The kulgi traditionally is worn by princes and people of high importance. The kulgi will be pinned by family members who are significant to the groom. There can be many people involved in this process making it difficult to photograph. Personally, I try to stay as close to the groom as possible and use a wide lens that allows for some flexibility.
5.The Formal Family Greeting
After arriving at the temple the milni ceremony will take place. The word milni translates to “greeting” in Punjabi. This ceremony occurs before the families enter the temple. It is important to be ready to capture this ceremony as it takes place quite quickly. The two families formally greet each other. The ceremony begins with the eldest family members. The milni ceremony can become quite playful. This is an excellent opportunity for capturing candid and emotional images.
6. Giving Away the Bride
A scarf known as a palla is worn by the groom. During the wedding ceremony the father of the bride will hand one end of the palla to the bride. This symbolizes the father of the bride ‘giving away’ his daughter to the groom. This is often a very emotional time for the bride and her father. It is important to position yourself in the best position to capture this moment. The bride will not release the palla until the ceremony is over.
7. The “Vows”
The Sikh wedding ceremony must take place with the holy book, the Guru Granth Sahib, present. The lavan are the core of the Sikh wedding ceremony. Each lavan is a verse recited by the priest from the holy book. There are four lavan and during each lavan, the bride and groom will walk clockwise around the Guru Granth Sahib. Each lavan is a commitment by the bride and groom.
It is important not to intrude on the couple’s space as they are walking. You will also have to maneuver around videographers and guests. Plan your shots accordingly.
8. The Epic Bride & Groom Photograph
As with every wedding, the photographer must capture memorable and unique photos of the newly wedded couple. Sikh weddings are beautiful and majestic events. The couple’s attire is also intricate and colorful. This allows for breathtaking images of the couple.
These are just a few of the many tradtions unique to Sikh weddings. I have had the pleasure of photographing Sikh weddings for many years and these weddings still continue to amaze and inspire me.
For more information about photographing Sikh weddings, please refer to my book, Sikh Weddings: A Shot by Shot Guide for Photographers available on Amazon. The book provides extensive knowledge about all the ceremonies asscociated with a Sikh Wedding.
About the Guest Contributor
Gurm Sohal has embraced a passion for photography for over 15 years. His work has taken him from his home in Vancouver to Paris, China and Italy. Gurm’s artful eye and skilled editing earned him multiple international awards from Wedding Portrait Photographers International (WPPI) for his Sikh wedding photography. He has married his knowledge of Sikh culture and tradition with his love of film and photography to provide services that are culturally relevant, modern and dynamic for his clients. When he’s not capturing newlyweds with his camera, Gurm is creating memories with his wife Alice and his 1 year old daughter Katelyn.
To purchase his book, click here.