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The Essence of a Hindu Wedding – The cultural and emotional quotient

While the modern society has somewhat relaxed its stance on marriage, the great Hindu Wedding is still a very important event in one’s life here. Disagree? Ask the hoards of aunties and uncles ready to fix a suitable girl with the suitable lad. The wedding season brings about its woes- the nonstop function, the competition to outdo the previous big wedding, the functions, dresses and what not. Yet, we forget the very essence of the wedding that is the marriage of two souls or rather two families, to hold and respect and cherish for life, through thick and thin.

Hindu Wedding
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It is believed that when two people get tied down, it is so due to their karmic actions and thus their destinies are entwined to help them find mutual salvation in life.

Marriage as Dharma and Karma

While the basic purpose of a marriage is a continuation of the family name and life on the earth, Hindu Dharma recognizes Marriage as an institution that provides for the ultimate Dharma and Karma. It is believed to be an obligatory part of one’s life as well as a sanskara.

Under the Ashram system, the human life was divided into four periods. The goal of each period was the fulfillment and development of the individual.

  • Brahmacharya (student life)– represents the bachelor student stage of life
  • Grihastha (household life) –  represents the individual’s married life, with the duties of maintaining a household, raising a family, educating one’s children, and leading a family-centred and a dharmic social life. It I considered being the most important role sociologically as its the most intense physical, sexual, emotional, occupational, social and material attachments exist in a human being’s life.
  • Vanaprastha (retired life) – represents the retired life where the role of the household head is given to the next generation.
  • Sannyasa (renounced life) – represents the renunciation of material desires and prejudices and more focused on Moksha, peace and simple spiritual life.

In short, in Hindu religion marriage is a social and family obligation to perpetuate a divine centered life in which self-realization rather than sexual gratification is the reason for its continuation.

The rituals Involving Hindu wedding

While the modern society barely adheres to the traditional use of Janam kundalis to fix the date and eligibility of the marriage between 2 people, it is usually consulted after consent and an appropriate date is fixed.

Bengali Hindu Wedding
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According to Ashwalaayan GrihSutra, for a man and a woman, there are eight different ways of getting married; “Brahm Vivaah” is considered the highest form of marriage where we join the bride and groom in matrimony with full consent and active participation of all family members and friends. The ceremony is meant to integrate the lives of the marrying couple across the two families and many generations to come.

Since there are no single written rituals that follow the marriage ceremony since each is influenced by culture and influence of particular region be it In Nepal, South India, North India etc, so let’s discuss the basic rituals that involve a Hindu wedding.

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There are a few key rituals common in a Hindu wedding ceremony.

  • Kanyadaan – the giving away of daughter by the father
  • Panigrahana – a ritual in presence of fire, where the groom takes the bride’s hand as a sign of their union.
  • Saptapadi – is the most important ritual. It is called the seven step ritual, where each step corresponds to a vow groom makes to bridge, and a vow the bride makes to groom.

While the engagement, Roka, Mehendi, Haldi, and sangeet have more to do with the marriage making and entertainment for the guest as well as the family who has an emotional journey to look forward to during the actual ceremony. Each of these events is influenced heavily by the culture of the region and even Hollywood and Bollywood, as a matter of fact.

Kanyadaan in Hindu Wedding

In the Brahma Vivaah, the highest form of a Hindu wedding, Bride’s parents, “give away” the Bride as one of the noblest acts they will perform in their lifetime.

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The literal translation of the means – Kanya = Maiden and Daan = Donation, which may be seen as the Donation of a Maiden. Many believe the act to be misogynist but a tradition is an emotional act for the parents as well as the couple. It’s tradition where the bride’s father presents his daughter to the groom, entrusting him with her future wellbeing.

But if we look into the Vedas, the Kanya Daan is a recent addition to the age-old institution. During the Vedic times, consent of the women for marriage was given utmost importance. She had the final say about whom she wanted to marry. She entered into the union as the groom’s equal, the other half to his existence.

The concept of the father offering his daughter to the groom was unheard of. As time went by, the principles of Vedas evolved giving rise to the Manu Smriti texts that emerged as the foundation for modern Indian Hindu laws and jurisprudence. It outlines the tenets of Brahmanical dharma, covering each and every aspect of an ideal Brahmin life, elaborating the do’s and don’ts. After Hinduism evolved from Vedic traditions to accepting the treatise of Manus as the basis, the position of women changed in the Hindu society. The status of equality that women enjoyed during Vedic times was vastly curtailed, and they were stripped of any independence. They were placed under lifelong male guardianship – Father when unmarried, Husband when married and finally son when old and widowed.

Like all other Hindu traditions, fasting is mandatory for the individuals performing this ritual. It can be the bride’s father or may be some other elder male member of the family. Traditionally speaking, he is not to take any food or water before he has performed the ritual, but in most communities, water is allowed nowadays.

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Then groom extends his right hand upon which the bride’s right hand is placed. This ritual is known as Hastamilap or Joining of the Hands. Their hands are then joined by a sacred thread, or a piece of red cloth, betel leaves, betel nuts, and flowers are placed on top. Some customs also include money and a gold coin in this ceremony.

Image source – wikimedia.org

In Nepali culture, a small conch is also placed. The bride’s father or in some cases both the parents place their hand on top and sometimes pour Ganga Jal or a mix of Ganga Jal and Milk over the joined hands, all the while repeating after the priest chanting verses in praise of Kamadeva, the God of Love. The groom is then supposed to place his free hand on the bride’s right shoulder, which symbolizes him taking responsibility for her well-being. Their fates now linked together, the bride is no longer a part of her father’s household and is accepted into the groom’s family. From this point forward all the rituals that are to be observed are done according to the traditions of the groom’s side.

Symbolically speaking, Bride and Groom then commit to remain faithful to each other, while pursuing Dharma, Artha, and Karma. Bride’s mother pours holy water on bride’s father’s  palms, which flows into Groom’s and then into Bride’s palms, symbolizing the continuity of life, repaying the debt to their forefathers and the passing of the family heritage to the next generation.

Bride’s parents: Today, the bride is Lakshmi and the groom is Vishnu. By joining their hands in marriage, we will repay the debt to our forefathers by continuing the next life cycle.

Bride and Groom to each other: While pursuing Dharma, Artha, and The Kama, I will always remain faithful to you.

Panigrahana and the Sapthapadhi in Hindu Wedding

According to the Vedas, these are the most important part of a Hindu wedding. The ritual of Panigrahana comes after Kanyadana. Sometimes, this ritual is preceded by vivaha-homa rite, wherein a symbolic fire is lit by the groom to mark the start of a new household. The ritual of Panigrahana follows after the yajna. Bridegroom seizes the right hand of the bride. This ritual is symbolical of taking a girl’s responsibility.

Indian Hindu Wedding
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The bridegroom lowers his right palm and enfolds it over the bride’s right hand. Mantras are recited in praise of Bhaga, Aryama, Savita, Lord Indra, Lord Agni, Surya, Vayu and Goddess Saraswati while holding the hand of the bride. The closed fingers of the bride denote her heart. This ritual also symbolizes the bride surrendering her heart in the groom’s hand during the marriage.

Pushatvethonayathu hasthagruhyasvenoutvaa pravahathaangam radhena |

Gruhaangacca grumapatnee yadha so vshenetvam vtadhamaavadaasi ||

Meaning: Oh my life partner! After our marriage, I will take you to my house. You are the owner of the house. Lead the ownership of the house in all matters including ‘yajnas’ (in ancient we used to perform yajnas and Homas – a kind of puja, to please the God and make our wishes get fulfilled). Rule the house with right Courteous with all people.

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Saptapadi in olden days was the legal aspect of the Hindu wedding, as the word literally denotes seven steps around the fire.

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Sometimes called Saat Phere (seven rounds), other .couple conduct seven circuits of the Holy Fire (Agni), which is considered a witness to the vows they make together.In some regions, a piece of clothing or sashes worn by the bride and groom are tied together for this ceremony. Elsewhere, the groom holds the bride’s right hand in his own right hand. Each circuit of the consecrated fire is led by either the bride or the groom, varying by community and region. Usually, the bride leads the groom in the first circuit. In North India, the first six circuits are led by the bride and the final one by the groom.

In Central India and Suriname, the bride leads the first three or four circuits. With each circuit, the couple makes a specific vow to establish some aspect of a happy relationship and household for each other.

  • With the first step, we will provide for and support each other.
  • With the second step, we will develop mental, physical & spiritual strength.
  • With the third step, we will share the worldly possessions.
  • With the fourth step, we will acquire knowledge, happiness, and peace.
  • With the fifth step, we will raise strong and virtuous children.
  • With the sixth step, we will enjoy the fruits of all seasons.
  • With the seventh step, we will always remain friends and cherish each other.
  • After the seventh step, the two become husband and wife.

The inevitable Vidai ceremony

The bittersweet moment when the bride is whisked away from her house to her new house is exciting as well as nerve wrecking. The fact that a woman needs to leave the comfort and familiarity of her house and adjust to a new family and way of living is a daunting task.

Image source – Wikimedia.org

As the bride steps out of her parent’s house to be a part of her husband’s family, she pauses at the doorstep to throw a handful of coins and rice back over her head thrice. This denotes that as the manifestation of Goddess Lakshmi (the Hindu Goddess of prosperity and wealth) she wishes that her parent’s house always remains prosperous. Coins signify wealth, whereas rice is a symbol of health.

The final ritual in the Vidaai ceremony sees the couple move towards the vehicle to head towards the groom’s house. The bride’s brothers and cousins push their car from behind (or lift the doli) – a ritual which bespeaks them wishing her luck and pushing them towards a joyful life.

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