The Significance of a Hindu Wedding
In India, marriage is an institution upon which the whole of society is based. It is Hindu philosophy that we must acknowledge in order to fully appreciate the true meaning and purpose of marriage. The symbolic union of two persons in holy matrimony through the Hindu wedding ceremony has withstood the test of time and has remained virtually unblemished and unchanged for almost 5,000 years.
The arrival of the bridegroom's party at the venue is heralded by special musical tunes played on the shehnai (flute).
The groom's party is formally welcomed outside by the bride's family and relatives before being led into the suite. The groom himself is treated to a ritual welcome at the entrance by the bride's mother. He is then escorted to the mandap (the fourpole canopy where the actual wedding ceremony takes place) while the rest of the party takes seats among the audience.
The groom is accompanied to the mandap by the best man and also a young girl, usually his sister, cousin or niece. Her job is to keep on shaking a small, metal pot, covered with a white cloth, containing coins and betelnut. The jingle is supposed to keep the groom awake during the ceremony. In olden days, weddings used to take place at night, lasting several hours, and the bride and groom were very young!
The bride, normally dressed in a white and red sari with embroidery in gold thread, is led to the canopy by her maternal uncle who blesses the couple and gives them a cash gift. Often the bride has another sari on top of her head which has been presented by the groom's parents usually accompanied by some jewellery. White is for purity and red signifies abundance and fertility. Garlands are then exchanged between the couple.
This Puja (prayer) is offered the morning of the wedding to Lord Ganesh, the deity of peace and remover of all obstacles on the road to harmony and tranquility, asking him to prevail during the ceremony and throughout the lives of the newlyweds.
Also performed in the morning of the wedding, it is done so to conciliate the deities of the nine planets. By following certain rituals, they infuse courage, peace of mind and inner strength to endure life's sufferings.
By placing the bride's hand in the groom's hand, the bride's parents give away the daughter to the groom.
The bride is presented to the groom by her parents. The groom's parents provide the same offering. Both are blessed by the parents and wished a happy and prosperous union.
Prayers are recited and blessings are offered. Garlands are exchanged by the bride and groom. This symbolizes the spirit of complete cooperation with which they embark upon their married life. They accept each other as a lawful husband and wife with mutual love and respect. The bride and groom further pledge their willingness to share life in all its forms and phases. The prayers ask the Lord (the witness and giver of the fruits of all actions), for his grace in helping their undertaking become reality.
The groom Places the Mangal Sutra (the sacred necklace), on the bride's neck thereby inaugurating the Hindu Marriage. The Mangal Sutra represents the couple's togetherness, love and sacred union.
Prayers are recited to Agni (fire) which is one of the five elements and manifestations of God. Ghee (clarified butter), rice, etc. are jointly offered to the fire to signify the spirit of sacrifice and equal partnership in all enterprises throughout their lives. Prayers are also offered for long life, health and prosperity.
The couple hold each others hands and walk around the agni four times while the maharaj chants mantras. Each round, they offer grains to the agni, representing their sacrifice of material possessions for God's blessings.
- 1st round: Dharma (righteousness-moral values-duties)
- 2nd round: Artha (Prosperity-material possessions)
- 3rd round: Kama (Happiness in Family-desire to enjoy)
- 4th round: Moksha (Spiritual-toward the path of God)
Mangal Fera is a vow to carry out moral duties & responsibilities toward each other, family and society; and to balance a life of material possessions and worldly desires with the continual striving towards spiritual liberation.
The sapta padi (seven steps) set the holy seal to the mutual contract of marriage. Seven forward steps are taken to symbolize the seven requirements for a happy married life which they will make together; starting a joyous journey of life on the path of dharma, invoking the grace of all divine factors.
- One--a step toward procurement of food and nourishment
- Two--a step toward health in all seasons
- Three--a step toward education, culture and virtues
- Four--a step toward energy and strength
- Five--a step toward life long happiness and friendship
- Six--a step toward a happy and united family
- Seven--a step toward happiness born out of wisdom
The groom places sindhur (red powder) on the bride's forehead. The sindhur is indicative of a blood union as well as the unmistakable mark of a Hindu married woman.
The newlyweds will seek the blessings of their parents, elderly relatives and other family members for a happy marriage and a long life.
Symbolism of Various Items Used in Hindu Weddings
- Fire-the element that dispels darkness
- Water-life nourishing element
- Rice-Dispeller of evil spirits (soil/land)