23.3: HINDU WEDDING - A BRIEF NOTE

Though the wedding is between a man and a woman, Hindu weddings have a larger umbrella of understanding. A normal wedding in the Hindu cultural ethos is actually a wedding of two families – the bride’s and the bridegroom’s. What goes by the common name of arranged marriage is in fact a misnomer for what one may call a planned marriage. The plan is usually initiated by the parents of the bride, or of the bridegroom, or by a go-between well-wisher or, even by the bride or the bridegroom. But once the proposal of the plan is initiated, it needs also to be accepted by several close members of both the families, and, (certainly) by the bride and the groom, before it is finalised. Thereafter the execution of the plan is a collective project wherein a number of decisions by both the families is taken with a need for much give and take and compromise on either side. The ritual part of the execution, however, would usually go by the direction of  senior members of either family.  Because the family is the base unit of partnership, and not the individual, individual tastes and preferences do get overcome by the ‘family tastes, traditions and preferences’. Such compromises are usually ascribed to the myth of the ‘arranged marriage’ whereas, in fact, they can be appreciated, if one grants the conceptual difference between a two-families-partnership and a two-individuals-partnership.  

The rituals in a Hindu wedding, as any other ritual in Hinduism, will lean very heavily on the presence of fire and the use of water. Among the five elements, fire and water are the often-used purifiers. Besides this the Lord of Water-element, Varuna, and the Lord of the fire-element, Agni are considered as direct messengers to the heavens in all Hindu rituals. So a wedding is performed in the presence of Fire and all purifications are done by mantra-chanting invoking the presence of Varuna in a pot of water and using that water for all kinds of purifications. The five most important religious ceremonies of the wedding are as below:

  1. Welcoming of the bride, which is usually done in Tamil brahmin traditions, on the previous day, during the function named Nischayathartham. The welcoming of the bride into the family of the bridegroom is particularly done by the sisters of the bridegroom by assisting the bride in the wearing of the new saree.  The corresponding mantras at this welcoming are as old as the vedas and they mention this point about the sister promising to the bride that she will be the Queen of the house, once she becomes a member of this family.

 

#s 2,3,4 & 5 below  constitute the main wedding ceremonies on the wedding day. As a preliminary to all this is the worship of Lord Ganesa, the primal God of all worship; the tying of the rakshA ( strings tied round the wrists of the bride and the bridegroom) as a pledge and a saviour; These also get done on the previous day.  The morning of the previous day most often consists of two kinds of rituals one on the bride’s side and the other, on the groom’s side.  The one on the bride’s side is simple: just a recast and a replay of what rituals ought to have been done from the brith of the daughter in the family till now.  This includes for example, the jAtakaraNam, which is the ritual right on the first few days of birth; the nAmakaraNam, the naming of the child, annaprAshanam, the first feeding of solid rice food, and so forth.

 

The rituals on the side of the groom are more elaborate: the main purpose being the valedictory rituals for the ashrama of the brahmachari, whose life as a vedic student started years earlier when he was given the upanayanam.  These rituals formally conclude all the disciplinary obligations to the Rishis once undertaken by the student, so that hereafter he is free and ready to enter the ashrama of married life, to face the challenges, duties and blessings  of a different spiritual regimen. As an indication of the closing of the brahmacharya stage and the beginning of the preparation for a new life as a married person, the groom’s eyes are closed with a cloth while certain mantras are recited and to begin the new life his eyes are opened to first see certain divinely good things, like: the Fire, the Sun, the vessel with water, a stone of  Nature, a calf and gold.

In both the functions – on the bride’s side as also on the groom’s side – it is customary to have a function called nandi, which is a ritual where the family recalls and propitiates all the immediate ancestors who are no more and in their name offer specified presents of food and clothing to a specified number of vedic priests. There is also the important ritual of the ladies sowing seeds of grains with the simultaneous vedic recitations by the priests, the symbolism being the growth of the seeds into little plants standing for the growth of a happy married life.

 

On the day of the wedding, before one goes to #2, there is the kashi yaatraa of the groom, a symbolic journey to Kashi, the holy of holies. The assumption is that the groom is so full of the knowledge acquired in his brahmacharya stage that prompts him to seek the religious merit of a trip to Kashi.  The bride’s father and his family interrupt him and bring him back to the reality of a wedding and an ensuing married life. The groom now meets the bride, exchanges garlands with her and the ladies crowd around the seated couple on the swing and spend a good time singing, and going through certain elaborate family traditions of warding off evil forces.

 

  1. kanyaa – daana, the giving away of the bride, by the parents of the bride, to the bridegroom. The kanyA – dAna, the giving away of the bride is done meticulously mentioning three generations of  ancestors on either side and specifying the giving away as a final irrevocable act.  This process is supposed to bring great spiritual merit to the parents of the bride, because they are performing the greatest gift of all.

  2. the tirumangalya-dhaaraNam, which is the tying of the mangala-sUtra (the auspicious cord ) around the neck of the bride by the bridegroom; this, standing for an irrevocable wedlock, particularly in South Indian marriages; In the case of the tying of the tirumangalyam around the neck in a South Indian marriage, after  one knot is done by the bridegroom,  two other  knots are done by the sister of the bridegroom. This is another vindication of the fact that the whole process is a welcoming process by the bridegroom’s family of the bride into the family and the fact that this is a commitment between two families and not just between two individuals

  3. the seven steps that the bride and the bridegroom take together;

The seven steps are either taken by the bride and the bridegroom around the fire seven times or, in some traditions, the bridegroom leading the bride by holding her right toe and making her take seven steps in the presence of the fire. The corresponding mantrasgo as follows:

  1.  "O bride! take the first step for the sake of 'Ishaa', the food.  Follow me in my vows.  May God be your guide and may we get noble progeny who brings glory to our families."

  2.  "O bride! take the second step for the sake of 'Urjaa', the strength/power.  Follow me in my vows.  May God help us in our development and also in the development of all human beings”.

  3. "O bride! take the third step for the sake of 'Raayas', the wealth and prosperity. Follow me in my vows.  May God bless us with wealth earned from pious means."

  4.  "O bride! take the fourth step for the sake of 'Mayobhavayah', the happiness.  Follow me in my vows.  May God bless us with happiness."

  5.  "O bride! take the fifth step for the sake of 'paSubhya', technical wherewithal  for mobility and health.  Follow me in my vows.  May God bless us with excellent infrastructure for mobility and health.

  6.  "O bride! take the sixth step for the sake of 'Ruthubhya', the seasons.  Follow me in my vows.  May God bless us with good environment"

  7. "O bride! take the seventh step for the sake of 'sakhi', the friendship.  Follow me in my vows.  May we be good companions in intimacy and followers of each other."  

 

4. The vivaaha-homam, i.e. the  fire-offerings sanctifying the wedding. The fire-offering varies in length, depending on the interest paid to it by the families. Mostly it is an elaboprate prayer to the Fire-God to carry the message to the respective  lords of the heavens the wish of  the bride and bridegroom to lead a married life from now on and so all evil forces that may have sway over them should be pacified, and all the good forces in heaven and earth should combine to give them all the earthly benefits that a marriage commitment can bring.

 

Finally there is the Vedic blessing   (GO TO 27.4: Traditional Wedding Benediction) by the priests, pundits and elders  that are gathered. And then all the members of the audience bless the couple and their parents and their own prayers to the divines for a happy married life for the couple and a continuing relationship of the two families.

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© 2017 by V. Krishnamurthy

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