The Hindu Wedding
The traditional Indian wedding customs were established more than 35 centuries ago. Each ceremony, occasion, and ritual has a deep philosophical meaning and purpose. The ceremony is performed in Sanskrit, the most ancient surviving language.
The act of marriage is the onset of Grihastha, the householder stage of life. Hindus believe that this is one of the most challenging and difficult stages of the four stages of life.
There are many versions of this marriage ceremony, each based on one of the Vedic scriptures. However, most have these common features in some order.
Significance of the Ceremonial Events
The auspicious wedding day begins with the Mangal Vadya, the playing of the Shahenai, a traditional reed flute- like wind instrument of Indian Classical Music, and the Noubat, the small drums.
Swagatam (Welcoming the Bridegroom)
The Groom arrives with his family and friends at the entrance to the wedding hall where he is warmly greeted by the Bride’s family and friends.
The Groom is first greeted by a young maiden, the Bride’s younger sister or niece, holding a water pot to quench his thirst as well as to ward off evil spirits. Next, the Bride’s mother welcomes the Groom. She performs the ceremony to ward off the evil spirits he may have encountered on the way to the wedding. He is then asked to break the Saapath (the earthen clay pot) symbolizing his strength and virility. Then he is led to the Lagna Mandap (Stage) where the wedding ceremony is performed.
The Bride is brought to the Lagna Mandap by her Mama (maternal uncle) and is seated behind a white curtain, a symbol of traditional barriers. After the bride’s father thanks the Gods, the curtain is removed and the couple exchange flower garlands. Vermala, made up of cotton threads, are bestowed upon the Bride and the Groom to proclaim acceptance of each other.
Ganesh Puja (Invocation to the Lord Ganesh & Other Gods)
The wedding ceremony begins with the worship of Lord Ganesh, the remover of all obstacles. The ceremonial offerings are also made to Varuna, Lord of the Seas. A copper vessel containing water, flowers and coconut is worshipped. This is followed by the worship of the Lords of five basic elements of creation, namely fire, earth, water, air, and light.
Kanya Daan (Giving away of the Bride)
The Bride’s parents invoke the Gods and tell the Groom, “On this Holy Occasion, we will give our daughter who is a symbol of Lakshmi, Goddess of Prosperity, to you in the presence of the Sacred Fire, friends, and relatives.”
Hasta Melap (Joining of the Hands)
The couple is united by placing the Bride’s right hand in the Groom’s right hand. The ends of the scarves worn by the Bride and the Groom are then tied together signifying unity. The couple vows to remember the Divine; to look upon others with sympathy, love, and compassion; to be strong and righteous; and to show goodwill, respect, and affection to each other’s families.
Mangal Fera (Circling the Sacred Fire)
The marriage is solemnized before the Lord Agni (the Sacred Fire). Lord Agni is the symbol of light, power, and purity and acts as the principal witness to the ceremony. The invocations and offerings are also made to Lords of the nine planets to remove all obstacles and bless the Bride and the Groom.
The Bride and the Groom circle the fire four times. The Groom leads the bride in the first three rounds. The Bride, representing Shakti, the Divine Energy, leads in the last round. At the end of each round the Bride’s brother or cousin gives offerings for the Sacred Fire. The first three represent the material wealth of cows, silver, and gold. The last one represents the gift of the Bride herself to her new family.
At the end of the ceremony, the bride stands to the groom’s left, where she has taken a place closest to his heart.
Mangal Sutra and Sindoor
The Groom offers Mangal Sutra (a sacred necklace made of black beads) to his wife and places Sindoor (a red powder) on her forehead. Both signify the mark of a married woman and symbols of his love, integrity, and devotion towards her.
Saptapadi (The Seven Steps)
The Bride and the Groom take seven steps around or toward the sacred fire representing the seven principles and promises to each other:
- Together, we will acquire energy to share in the responsibilities of married life.
- Together, we will fill our hearts with strength and courage to accomplish all the needs of our life.
- Together, we will prosper and share our worldly goods and we will work for the prosperity of our family.
- Together, we will cherish each other in sickness and in health; in happiness and in sorrow.
- Together, we will raise strong and virtuous children.
- Together, we will fill our hearts with great joy, peace, happiness, and spiritual values. And
- Together, we will remain lifelong partners by this matrimony.
The Bride and the Groom are now united and seek blessings from Lord Vishnu the Preserver and his consort Lakshmi, The Goddess of Wealth.
The couple seeks blessings from the Gods, parents, and elderly relatives by bowing to their feet. Married women from the family bless the bride by whispering “Akhanda Saubhagyawati Bhav” (blessing for abiding marital happiness) in the Bride’s right ear.
The last ritual of the ceremony is where the Bride begins an important role in her life as a wife and a member of the Groom’s family. She throws a handful of rice so that the house of her childhood remains prosperous and happy.