From Traditions, Rituals, Lights and Flowers A Walk Through The Indian Hindu Wedding Ceremony

The charisma and sanctity of an Indian Wedding Ceremony is known far and wide. In fact, thousands of couples from all over the world fly to India in order to solemnize their weddings. The sacredness of a Hindu wedding can be gauged from the fact that two souls come together with their families and perform numerous ancient rituals with utmost care and honor.

Formerly, the spouse selection process was an "arranged" affair, as love flings were considered "taboo" in the Indian Society. But with the changing trends (due to an increasing Western Cultural Exposure), people have become more open-minded. They are gracefully accepting the "love" relationships.

No matter an "arranged" or "love" marriage, the traditions revolving around the matrimonial ceremonies remain the same:

Selecting the Mangal Mahurta:

Once the relationship has been affirmed, both the families come together before a priest to decide a "Mangal Mahurta". The priest, after having studied the horoscopes of the bride and the groom, decides an auspicious date and time for the actual wedding ceremony.

On The Wedding Day:

- The Wedding Procession or "Baraat"

The wedding ceremony kicks off with a bang, as all the family and friends of the groom come together to dance and sing as they head towards the Wedding Venue. Usually, a live band plays music, while the groom rides on a white horse (Knight on a Horse!) or in a decorated car. Fireworks are also lit giving it the perception of a perfect light and sound show!

- Welcoming the Baraat:

The groom, with his entire clan, makes his way to the entrance of the house/ hotel/ hall where the ceremony is supposed to take place. The bride's family welcomes them with garlands and kum-kum tikkas. The bride's mother, welcoming the groom, performs a special Aarti for him. This is the formal meeting of the two families on the Wedding Day.

- Jaymala (Exchange Of Garlands) :

Once the groom has made his entrance, the bride comes forward, accompanied by her bridesmaids, to welcome the groom. During the Jaymala, the bride and the groom exchange flower garlands. In some Hindu cultures, both the bride and the groom deliver vows promising to stay together forever during Jaymala.

It is said whoever manages to put the garland on their partner first will have an upper hand in their marriage.

- Walking Down The Altar:

The groom walks down the altar to enter the Mandap, where the main wedding rituals will be performed along with the vows. In the Mandap, the bride's father gives the groom "Madhupak" (a bowl of yogurt and honey) as a symbol of a respectful welcome.

Sometimes, some families present the groom's family with gifts like jewelry, clothes, gadgets etc. This is known as "Gau Daan".

This ritual was formerly a part of dowry, but nowadays, both families exchange presents.

- Kanya Pratigrahan (Giving Away Of The Bride):

Initially, the groom performs some rituals with the priest. Thenafter, the bride either walks down the altar or is brought to the "Mandap" in a "Doli". The groom's mother gives the bride a "Mangala- Sutra"- which is a necklace made with black and gold beads.

The father of the bride places the bride's hand in the groom's hand. He affirms that the bride's family has accepted the groom as their own and wishes for the groom's family to accept his daughter in the same manner. This is "Kanyadaan". During Kanyadaan, the bride is considered to be a form of Goddess Laxmi and the groom as Lord Narayana.

These traditions illustrate that parents from both sides are supportive of the union of their children.

- Vivah-Homa (Sacred Fire Ritual):

After "Kanyadaan", the priest lights a fire in the "Havankund". This fire is considered sacred in the Hindu Wedding Ceremony. It is a direct prayer to Agni Devta- who is a divine witness of a Hindu marriage. The priest, while chanting Vedic Mantras, offers sandalwood, Ghee, Herbs and Rice to this sacred fire.

- Paanigrahan (the Marriage):

The priest's prayers are repeated by the couple- these are promises to remain faithful to each other. The groom takes his bride's hand for Paanigrahan-, which is a symbolic representation of the groom promising to be husband and wife thereon.

- Rajaham (Sacrificing Rice to The Sacred Fire) :

The bride cups her hands in the hands of the groom and the bride's brother pours rice into her hands. Together, the bride and the groom, offer these rice to the fire.

- Shilarohan:

The bride stands on a stone to demonstrate her strength and determination to perform all her duties as a wife and as a future mother. She vows to be the glue that holds their entire family together.

- Gath- Bandhan (Tying of the Nuptial Knot):

The "Chunari" of the bride is tied along with the groom's scarf-, which is symbolic of their union.

- Mangalpheras:

The pheras are the most anticipated moment of any Hindu wedding. During this, the bride and the groom walk four rounds around the "havankund" in a clockwise direction. Flower petals are showered upon the couple as they march forward during the mangalpheras.

The four pheras represent the four goals in life: Dharma (religion), Artha (prosperity), Kama (earthly/ worldly pleasures) and Moksha (salvation or liberation). The bride leads the first three pheras- which shows her determination to stand like a rock beside her husband through thick and thin! The groom leads the last phera which is a reminder to him of his responsibilities towards his life.

- Saptapadi (Taking Seven Steps Together):

  1. Generally, the first step is for respect and honor towards each other as a couple.
  2. In the second step, the couple seeks their union on all levels, be it mental, emotional, spiritual, social as well as financial.
  3. The third step is for asking for the prosperity of their new household, including blessings for good upbringing of their children.
  4. The fourth step is to beseech Agni Devta for wisdom to live by the values of their family and maintain healthy relationships with all.
  5. In the Fifth step, the couple seeks blessings for their progeny, while in the sixth the couple asks for a healthy and disease- free life.
  6. Lastly, in the seventh step, the couple pledge their love, trust, and companionship towards each other. They are united together forever, and will stand by each other no matter the hardships.

In some Hindu cultures, the bride touches seven stones or beetle nuts with her right toe during Saptapadi.

After the Saat Phere, the newlyweds bow down to the Sun God seeking blessings for a passionate and creative life. They also bow down to the North Star for a steadfast journey together.

- Aashirwada (Blessing of the couple):

The groom also applies Sindoor powder in the mid-line parting of his bride's hair and strings the Mangal-Sutra around her neck. Both, sindoor and mangalsutra are signs of a married Hindu woman.

The bride and the groom then seek blessings of both their parents, by touching their feet. They also touch the feet of other elders in their family, asking for blessings for a prosperous future together.

December 16, 2016
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