The Hindu Wedding
Marriage is viewed as a sacrament and not a contract in Hindu dharma. To a Hindu, marriage is a life-long commitment of one wife and one husband, and is the strongest social bond that takes place between a man and a woman. Grahastha Ashram (the householder stage), the second of the four stages of a Hindu's life begins when a man and a woman marry and start a household. For a Hindu, marriage is the only way to continue the family and thereby repay his debt to his/her ancestors. In their view, marriage is not a concession to human weakness, but a means for spiritual growth. Man and woman are soul mates who, through the institution of marriage, can direct the energy associated with their individual instincts and passion into the progress of their souls.
Mahendi and Peethi - Pre-Marriage
A day before the wedding the palm and feet of the bride are decorated with "Mahendi". A canopy or mandapa decorated with flowers is erected at the place of wedding.
On the wedding morning, various ablutionary rituals are performed on both the bride and the groom in their own homes. Their bodies are anointed with turmeric, sandalwood paste and oils, which cleanse the body, soften the skin, and make it aromatic. They are then bathed to the chanting of Vedic mantras
The Marriage Ceremony
In a mandapa - canopy or marriage stage decorated with flowers and and with a fire as witness the Hindu marriage ceremony begins. It is a long and elaborate ceremony, with every step rooted in vedic tradition, signifying various aspects of life that is to follow after the marriage. The various steps in the marriage ceremony include :
Baarat - Wedding Procession
The Bridegroom arrives for the wedding along with his family and friends in a procession. They are received by the bride's family and friends
Commencement of Marriage
The priest commences the marriage under a canopy that is specially decorated for the ceremony. The priest invokes blessings of God for the couple to be married. The bride offers yogurt and honey to the groom as a token of purity and sweetness. The bride greets the groom by placing a garland around his neck and the groom reciprocates. Both are congratulated by guests. The priest invokes the memory and blessings of forefathers of the bride and the groom for this auspicious occasion.
The bride accepts her change of status from an unmarried woman to a wife by spreading turmeric powder on her hands. Kana Danam is performed by the father (or uncle of guardian) of the bride in presence of a large gathering that is invited to witness the wedding. The father pours out a libation of sacred water symbolizing the giving away of the daughter to the bridegroom. The groom recites Vedic hymns to Kama, the God of love, for pure love and blessings. As a condition for offering his daughter for marriage, the father of the bride requests a promise from the groom for assisting the bride in realizing the three ends : dharma, artha, and kama. The groom makes the promise by repeating three times that he will not fail the bride in realizing dharma, artha and kama.
Vivaaha - The Wedding
The bride and the bridegroom face each other, and the priest ties their garments (the bride's saree to the groom's shirt) in a knot, symbolizing the sacred union. The bride and the bridegroom garland each other and exchange the rings. Next the nuptial fire, symbolizing the divine witness, and the sanctifier of the sacrament, is installed and worshipped. Both the bride and the groom grasp their hands together and pray to God for His blessings. Samagree, consisting of crushed sandalwood, herbs, sugar, rice, ghee (clarified butter), and twigs is offered into the sacred fire to seek God's blessings for the couple.
Paanigrahana - Holding the hand
The bridegroom stands facing west and the bride sits in front of him facing east. He seizes her hand and recites Vedic hymns for happiness, long life, and a lifelong relationship When the bridegroom takes the bride's hand he says : "O Sarasvati, gracious one, rich in off spring, you whom we hymm first of all the Gods, may you prosper this marriage." "I seize your hand."
Laya Homa - The oblation of parched grain
Here the bride offers sacrifice of food (poured into her hands by her brother or someone acting in her brother's behalf) to the Gods for their blessings. "This grain I spill. May it bring to me well-being and unite you to me. May Agni hear us." He then causes the bride to spill the grain into the fire, saying: "This woman scattering grain into the fire, prays: Blessings on my husband. May my relatives be prosperous. 'Svaha!' "
Agni Parinaya - The circumambulation of the fire
The bridegroom holds the bride by the hand and both walk three times around the nuptial fire. Both offer oblations and recite appropriate Vedic hymns to Gods for prosperity, good fortune, and conjugal fidelity. They touch each others heart and pray for union of their hearts and minds. While walking around, the bridegroom repeats: "First now they bring to you in bridal procession this Surya, guiding her steps in circular motion. Return her now, O Agni, to her husband as rightful wife, with hope of children to come." Then the entire rite is repeated twice more, beginning with the rite of the fried grain. At the fourth round she pours into the fire all the fried grain from the mouth of the winnowing basket saying: "To Bhaga svaha!"
Asmarohana - Mounting the stone
At the end of each round of nuptial fire, both the bride and the groom step on a stone and offer a prayer for their mutual love to be firm and steadfast like the stone. The bridegroom says the words while the bride stands up: "Come, beautiful one." And lets her put the tip of the right foot on the stone, saying: "Come, step on the stone; be strong like a stone. Resist the enemies; overcome those who attack you."
Saptapadi - Seven Steps
This is the most important rite of the entire ceremony. Here the bride and the bridegroom take seven steps together around the nuptial fire (Agni) and make the following seven promises to each other : As per the Vedic rituals, the bridegroom sings the following: "With God as our guide, let us take: the first step to nourish each other, the second step to grow together in strength, the third step to preserve our wealth, the fourth step to share our joys and sorrows, the fifth step to care for our children, the sixth step to be together forever, the seventh step to remain lifelong friends, the perfect halves to make a perfect whole." After the seventh step he makes her remain where she is and says: "With seven steps we become friends. Let me reach your friendship. Let me not be severed from your friendship. Let your friendship not be severed from me." The Spatapadi ceremony ceremony concludes with a prayer that the union is indissoluble. At the end of this ceremony, the bridegroom and bride become husband and wife. In some communities such as Gujarati, instead of seven, only four steps, signifying Artha, Dharma, Kama and Moksha are taken.
Hradayasparsha - Touching the Heart
The bridegroom then comes over to the bride's right shoulder and touches her heart saying: "I hold your heart in serving fellowship, your mind follows my mind. In my word you rejoice with all your heart. You are joined to me by the Lord of all creatures."
Mangal Sutra Dharana
The Mangala Suthra Dharana is the tying of the thread containing the marks of the Vishnu or Shiva in the neck of the bride by the groom.
The groom places sindhoor (red powder) on the bride's hair symbolizing her as a married woman.
The groom's parents bless the couple and offer cloth or flower to the bride (now their daugher-in-law), symbolizing her joining of the groom's family. All those assembled shower flowers on the couple and bless them completing the marriage.
Post Marriage Ceremonies
After the main wedding ceremony is over, the bride and bridegroom must now complete their post marriage ceremories. The bride and bridegroom go to their new home, and begin their new lives with the following ceremonies :
Grahapravesha - Entering the Home
The couple depart from the girl’s house after the vidai , for the groom’s house. They carry behind the couple the sacred fire in a vessel. They should keep the re constantly alight. When they reach his house, he says: "Enter with your right foot. Do not remain outside." The bride enters the home placing the right foot - considered auspicious, first. When the bride and the groom enter the groom's house, the mother of the groom welcomes the bride by doing an aarati. They sit in silence until the stars are visible.
There are several regional variations to this ceremony. Aeki-BekiThe above is typical in a Gujarati marriage. In the groom’s house a game called aeki-beki is played, by placing a ring and several coins in a tray of water which is colored by vermilion and milk. It is said that the person who finds the ring four times, will rule the house. TalambraIn many South Indian marriages, rice mixed with the turmeric is poured over the heads of groom and bride by each other. After this there are ceremonies of name calling, singing and other games aimed at the bringing the bride and the groom closer.
Arundhathi Darshana is the showing of the Saptha Rishi Mandala and the small star Arundhathi underneath the star of Vashistha. These seven sages and their families are the originators of the Vedic Lore of the Hindus. In memoriam of these great sages the seven stars in the Great Bear constellation are named after them. The significance of this ritual is to remind the couple of the cosmic responsibilities they have to fulfill. Darshan of these Great Sages is intended to remind the couple the heritage they have to carry and the debt to the sages they have to pay.
After sunset he shows her the polar star, saying: "You are firm and I see you. Be firm with me, O nourishing one! Brhaspati has given you to me, so live with me a hundred years bearing children by me, your husband."