By Gary Singh
Hindu wedding ceremonies are carried out according to shastra (scripture). With Hinduism being one of the world’s most ancient religions there are many variations of how the details of wedding ceremonies have been interpreted into practical methods.
We have, therefore, tried to explain the main rituals and the meanings behind them in order to help you understand what is done and why. It is recommended that you seek out an English-speaking priest who can meet with you and talk through his own methods, while taking yours and your fiancé’s personal choices into consideration.
As with all auspicious Hindu occasions the wedding day starts with a prayer to Lord Ganesh. He is believed to be the remover of all obstacles and the Ganesh Puja is carried out to ensure successful completion for the day’s itinerary.
This normally takes place at the wedding venue under a mandap (four-post canopy) and is carried out by the bride’s parents, under instruction from your priest.
Hindus believe that the stars and planets have a profound influence on the paths we take during our lifetime. The graha shanti is a prayer to the nine planets of our solar system to bless the bride and groom with inner strength, courage and peace of mind.
Again, this prayer is usually completed by the bride’s parents under the mandap.
This is when the groom enters with his best man beside him. The bride’s mother will welcome them either at the entrance of the venue or at the top of the aisle. She then leads them into the mandap where the bride’s father will wash the groom’s feet. This may seem a little strange but the idea behind it is that on your wedding day you are the embodiment of the Lord Vishnu. So the bride’s father appeals to the goodness in you by treating you with the utmost respect.
The bride enters
Throughout the wedding morning the priest will be reciting various slokas, these are Sanskrit verses designed to engulf the surrounding atmosphere with positive energy. When the priest announces ‘Kanya padharo sawdhaan’ this is the cue for the bride to enter, escorted by her maternal uncles and whoever else she chooses to be part of her grand entrance.
It is customary in some variations of the ceremony to hold up a white cloth in front of the groom so that he cannot see the bride as she enters. The couple exchange flower garlands once the bride takes her place opposite the groom under the mandap.
This is the giving away of the bride. The bride’s parents will announce that they are entrusting you with their daughter who represents Lakshmi (the goddess of prosperity). The bride’s parents will then place her hand in yours for what is known as the hasta melap where the couple vow to accept each other in an equal partnership of love and respect.
Not to be confused with the jaimala (flower garland), the varmala is a cord made up of 24 cotton threads – each one representing a different characteristic of human life. This will be placed around the couple as they prepare to enter into a new life together as one.
Either the sister of the groom or the priest will tie the groom’s stole to the bride’s saree or chunni (scarf). The knot represents that they are bound to each other in mind, body and soul for the rest of their lives.
The priest will light a small fire in a copper vessel known as an agni kund. The fire is invoked to act as a pure and sacred witness to the vows that are to be taken by the couple.
The bride places her right foot on a stone and vows to be equally as strong in order to protect and preserve the peace of her new home.
The couple will circle the fire four times. Each round represents one of the four ultimate goals of life: dharma (righteousness), artha (wealth), kama (desire) and moksha (salvation).
The bride’s brother brings the couple parched rice or barley which they offer into the agni kund. They will do this each time they circle the fire praying for long life, health, prosperity and happiness in return.
Mangal sutra & sindoor
The mangal sutra is a necklace that the groom will gift his bride with. It is usually made of gold with small black beads which represent the sacred union between them. You place the mangal sutra around her neck and applies sindoor (vermillion) to the parting of her hair. These are both physical symbols that make her recognisable to the world as a married woman.
The couple then take seven steps together, making the following seven vows:
- Let us take the first step to sharing the responsibility of providing for our household
- Let us take the second step to strengthen our mind, body and soul to accomplish life’s needs
- Let us take the third step to accomplish wealth and prosperity through righteous means
- Let us take the fourth step to acquire happiness through mutual love, respect and trust
- Let us take the fifth step to raise strong, virtuous and courageous children
- Let us take the sixth step towards spiritual values and longevity
- Let us take the seventh step to stay best friends in this lifelong wedlock
The married couple will finally take blessings from both sets of parents and any other family elders by touching their feet.