The betel leaf holds a special place in Hindu religious texts and also in Ayurveda and according to South Asian traditions, paan symbolises compatibility in marriage, which is why betel leaves are so commonly found in weddings across South East Asia
It's no coincidence that you spot betel leaves or paan in almost every Hindu ritual, be it a pooja or a wedding. Paan leaves are considered a symbol of prosperity in certain cultures and in Ayurveda, paan is considered to be a healing element.
Much like the Tulsi plant, paan is also considered sacred in several rituals. Despite the significance of paan in the country, it does not have its origins in India. Food historian KT Achaya wrote in his book, Dictionary of Indian Food, that betel leaves are of Southeast Asian origin.
Although some other texts have traced back the paan’s origin to Indian roots. Tambul, tamalapaku, nagavalli and nagarbel, the paan is known by different names in different Indian languages. The ancient sixth-century Hindu text Skanda Purana, mentions paan leaves in the story of Samudra Manthan, the churning of the ocean by the Indian gods and demons. Out of all the objects that promised the nectar of immortality one of them was the betel leaf.
Perhaps the most famous religious legend is the one in Mahabharata which has led Hindus to believe that deities actually reside in different parts of the betel leaf, specifically, Shukra and Indra, who reside in the leaf’s top half. Goddess Saraswati is present in the middle, while Mahalakshmi occupies the lower tip and Vishnu lives inside the leaf, while Kamdev and Lord Shiva reside outside of the leaf. Yama, the God of Death is said to reside in the stalk, the part of the leaf which is usually shunned.
Another story in Ramayana says that the time when Hanuman reached Lanka to convey the message of Lord Ram to Sita Devi, the overwhelmed Sita gave him a betel leaf garland since she couldn't find anything else to offer him. This is a big reason why paan leaves are used to worship Shri Hanuman to this day.
Another big reason why paan is deemed so important in weddings is because according to some Southeast Asian traditions, a combination of paan leaves and Areca nuts symbolises loyalty in love. It's customary in some South Asian families to offer paan leaves when the families sit together to discuss wedding plans for the first time.
A famous Malayan saying goes, "bagaikan pinang dibelah dua" which means a couple is as compatible as a betel leaf when divided in half. In Assam, paan and betel nuts are offered to wedding guests along with the invitation cards, while in West Bengal, brides walk up to the mandap covering their faces with betel leaves.