The Hindu Wedding Ceremony celebrates the start of the Vivaha or marriage. This commitment is among the sixteen samskaras; a group of sacraments that mark and sanctify our passage through life.
The samskaras enable us to pursue a happy, fulfilling life. They also prepare us to live and thrive in the four aspects of human pursuit:
- Dharma: Moral sense to lead a good life
- Artha: Financial prosperity
- Kama: Blessing for strong, virtuous children and to share the responsibilities of home
- Moksha: Self restraint and eternal physical, mental and spiritual strength
In Hinduism, as in any other culture, marriage is a commitment with deep ethical and moral roots. In fact, in Vedic scripture, it is the merging of two souls until they become a harmonious whole.
Moreover, marriage marks the transition between the first and second stages of life. The first —devoted to education and learning— gives way to one devoted to building a household and raising children. Hence why marriage is considered one of the most significant samskaras.
Finally, the Hindu Wedding does not only entail the union of the bride and groom. It means the integration of both families for many generations.
OVERVIEW OF THE HINDU WEDDING CEREMONY
The Hindu Wedding is the representation of a romantic story. The bride and groom arrive to the mandap and they fall in love. They ask for the permission of their parents to get married and become aware of the implications of this commitment.
During the wedding rituals the couple pledges to be faithful to each other. They recite their vows before the guests and a ceremonial fire (Agni), which represents the Divine. Then they walk seven steps, committing to seven vows for their joint life and prosperity.
Finally, the family and friends shower the couple in blessings and good wishes, and they leave the mandalap.
STAGES OF THE HINDU WEDDING CEREMONY
The bride’s family welcomes the bridegroom’s party.
To start the Hindu Wedding, the bridegroom arrives at the bride’s house in a palanquin carried by men. He stands outside the gate of the house facing east. Then, a company of women bearing lamps and jars full of water welcome him.
The mother of the bride receives the groom by applying a tilak on his forehead to bless him. The tilak is made of red kumkum powder and uncooked rice, and means good luck.
This steps signifies the importance of forging strong family ties. Both sides of the family greet each other over milni offerings.
Afterwards, the bridegroom and his parents approach the mandalap, guided by the priest and the bride’s parents. There, they take their seats.
Finally, the bride enters the mandap, a pillared pavilion, accompanied by her maternal uncles. The bride’s seat is to the right hand side of the bridegroom.
ACHAMAN AND ANGASPARSHA
The bride offers the bridegroom a small amount of water for him to drink (Achaman). This step is purificatory. It ellicits peace of mind.
After, the Angasparsha takes place. In this step, the groom dips his middle and index finger in water and touches his limbs with them. The purpose of Angasparsha is praying for physical strength and alertness.
The bride’s parents offer madhuparka to the bridegroom.
Madhuparka is a combination of honey, curd and ghee, or clarified butter.
This stage is symbolic of the sweetness and joy the bridegroom hopes for his married life. Honey symbolizes the sweetness of eternal love. The curd and ghee represent the bridegroom’s good health and nutrition.
After receiving the madhuparka, the bridegroom spirits away part of it. He uses his fourth finger and thumb, and does this three times.
Kanya means daughter and Daan means giving away.
During Kanya Daan, the bride’s parents entrust their daughter to the bridesgroom. As they do this, the priest recites eight hymns from the Vedas to invoke the blessings of various deities.
This stage is the start of the Grahasthashrama –the second life stage– for the couple.
It consists in the performance of Homa, which is a sacred fire ceremony.
During Vivaah-homa, the couple lights the Agni, a holy fire that symbolizes light, power and knowledge. Agni serves as a witness to the ceremony. The bride and groom repeat the sacred pledge of marriage to Agni, who then serves as a messenger for their prayers to several Gods. These are:
- Santati: children
- Sampatti: wealth and prosperity
- Deergharogya: long and healthy lives
The Homa is done to start the auspicious undertakings in an atmosphere of purity and spirituality. During it, the bride and bridegroom engage in Achaman and Angasparsha.
The bridegroom accepts the bride as his wife.
He raises his hand and promises to protect her and their children, follow a righteous path and overcome all obstacles, so that they may live happy life and meet their spiritual goals together.
The bride and groom walk together four times around the sacred fire. Each round represents the Vedic scheme of life, expressed by dharma, artha, kama and moksha.
The couple take solemn vows of loyalty, steadfast love and life-long fidelity to each other.
Shila means stone and Arohan means stepping upon.
During this step, the mother of the bride helps her step on a stone and gives her advice for her new life. The bridegroom encourages his bride to be strong as a rock as they face difficulties together. Friends and family sprinkle rice and flowers on the couple.
The couple present offerings to the sacred fire.
The brother of the bride puts puffed rice in the bride’s hands as an offer to Agni. Half of it slips onto the bridegroom’s hands, which are under the bride’s. Then, they pour the rice in the fire. They do this three times. The bride prays to Yama, the God of death, for her husband’s long life, happiness and prosperity.
The couple walk clockwise around the fire four times
They do this to honor Agni, who acts as the bride’s custodian after the first fourteen years of her life.
Hindus believe that the moon protects the bride for the first seven years of her life. The sun protects her the following seven and Agni guards her afterwards.
For the first three rounds, the bridegroom guides his bride, seeking God’s blessings and help. The couple promise to take care of their children. Then, in the last round, the bride leads the groom around the sacred fire, promising to live her life according to Dharma and Satya (devotion and truth). Finally, they sit down, with the bride to the left hand side of the bridegroom.
The Agni-Pradakshina, along with the Saptapadi, legalizes the marriage.
The priest ties the end of the bridegroom’s scarf with the bride’s dress. This symbolizes the marriage knot.
Then, they face north and the groom places his right hand on the right shoulder of his bride. They proceed to take seven steps in the northeast direction.
Each of this step means a different aspect of marriage that they hope to uphold together:
- Nourish each other.
- Grow together in strength.
- Preserve wealth.
- Share joys and sorrow.
- Care for children.
- Be together forever.
- Remain lifelong friends, the perfect halves and to make the perfect whole.
Afterwards, the wife sits back at her husband’s left hand side. Now the couple is officially married. He gifts her with a garland and she returns the gesture.
The husband puts a sacred necklace around his wife’s neck, which represents their happiness and prosperity. He then applies sindoor (vermillion powder) in the parting of her hair and asks the audience to bless them.
ABHISHEKH, SURYA DARSHAN AND DHRUVA DHYAANAM DARSHANAM VA
The priest sprinkles water on the couple, who ask the sun for power to lead a creative, useful and meaningful life. Husband and wife then meditate on the Pole Star and the Arundhati Star.
The Pole Star symbolizes the couple’s strength and firmness in keeping their vows.
Arundhati was the devoted wife of the sage Vashishtha. The couple meditate on the Arudhati star to consolidate their devotion for each other.
The couple make food offerings to the sacred fire while chating Vedic Havan Mantras. Afterwards, they feed a morsel of food to each other. This is sign of mutual love and affection.
The final step of the Hindu Wedding. During Ashirwad, the priest blesses the newlyweds, followed by other elders.
This stage is very emotional, as the parents of the bride wish her a harmonious and long married life. From now on, their daughter no longer belongs to them.