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Hindu Wedding Traditions Explained

June 29, 2012

The Hindu Wedding Ceremony

The Hindu Wedding ceremony is a long and elaborate ceremony, with every step rooted in Vedic tradition, signifying various aspects of life that is to follow after the wedding. The mandap-canopy or marriage stage is decorated with flowers and with a fire as witness, the Hindu wedding ceremony begins.

Bengali Wedding

Varaagman – The Groom’s Arrival

The groom arrives for the wedding with his family. They are all greeted by the bride’s family. The bride’s mother then performs a welcoming ritual and leads the groom to the Mandap.

Shri Ganeshaya hamah

Vighnharta

Ganesh Pooja – Worshipping Lord Ganesh

The wedding ceremony begins by offering a prayer to Lord Ganesh. Lord Ganesh is worshipped, so he may remove all obstacles and bless the couple.

Kanya Aagman – The Bride’s Arrival

The bride is escorted down the aisle to the Mandap by her maternal uncles.
Upon arrival, the bride’s father takes her hand and leads her into the Mandap.

Antar Patt

The Antar Patt (veil) is placed in front of Groom, signifying the separate lives of Bride and Groom, which will soon end with their union.The couple are separated by the Antarpat (curtain), which is lowered once the Maharaj (Priest) invokes a prayer for the couple.

Kanya Daan & Hastamilap – Giving Away the Bride

In the Hindu religion, the Kanya Daan is considered the most magnificent offering a Bride’s parents make. The Kanya Daan symbolizes the Bride in the form of Goddess Laxmi and groom as Lord Narayana. Here, the bride’s family displays the act of giving her to the groom and his family.

Jaimala – Exchanging of Garlands

At this time, the couple exchange fresh flower garlands, signifying the acceptance of one another and to pledge their respect for one another as partners in life.

Mangalpheras – Circling of the Holy Fire

During the Mangalpheras, the couple circles the holy fire four times with
their wedding scarves tied together. The bride’s brothers are also called in to participate in the ceremony. The four circles symbolize the four basic human goals of Dharma, Artha, Karma and Moksha.

Dharma – Religeon and Ethics
Artha – Wealth and Prosperity
Karma – Love, Fertility and Family
Moksha – Spiritual Liberation and Salvation

Saptapadi – Seven Steps

The bride and groom take seven steps together representing the vows and promises they are making to each other.

The first step to provide a nourishing and pure diet for our household and
avoid the things which are harmful to our healthy living.

The second step to develop physical, mental and spiritual powers.

The third step with the aim of increasing our wealth by righteous
means and proper use.

The fourth step to acquire knowledge, happiness and harmony by
mutual love and trust.

The fifth step to be blessed with strong and virtuous children.

The sixth step for accomplishing self-restraint and longevity.

The seventh step with the vow that we shall always be true to each other,
work together for prosperity and happiness and remain lifelong partners.

Kansar Bhakshan – First Meal Together

The bride’s mother brings the couple sweets (Kansar). Kansar Bhakshan is the couple’s first meal together. The couple offer Kansar to one another to
symbolize their union. Kansar is a sweet made from crushed wheat, sugar and ghee.

Mangal Sutra, Sindoor & Ring Exchange

The Mangal Sutra is a sacred necklace made from black beads that the groom ties around the bride’s neck. This symbolizes their marriage. The groom then applies Sindoor in the center parting of the bride’s hair as a promise to fulfill her every wish. Lastly, the couple exchange wedding rings.

Akhand Saubhagyavati – Blessings

Married women from the couple’s family come and bless the bride by whispering “Akhand Saubhagyavati”, in the bride’s ear, which means “Good luck, prosperity, and a long, happy life.”

Ashirvaad – First Blessing as Husband and Wife

The Wedding ceremony has now concluded and the Maharaj, along with parents and elders of the couple’s families offer them blessings for a long and happy married life. The couple bend down to touch the feet of the Maharaj and their family elders as a form of worship known in the Hindu ceremony.

Vidai – Farewell to the Bride

The Vidai is one of the most emotional parts of the ceremony. Now that the couple are married, she bids farewell to her family. She throws a fistful of rice behind her shoulder wishing her childhood home happiness and security.

Marwari Wedding

Vivaha Sanskara
Marriage

A traditional Hindu Wedding (Vivaha) is comprised of a series of religious ceremonies and rituals. Vivaha is one of the 16 sacraments (Sanskar) of Hindu life. It is meant to unite two persons so firmly that, although they retain two separate bodies, they become one in spirit. Vivaha is the sacred, spiritual partnership between two individuals in mind, body, spirit, and soul in this and their future lives.

No man or woman is so whole or fully rounded as to not need the other for completeness. Manu, The Great Sage and Lawmaker, gives expression of this idea:

Many of the rituals in the Hindu Wedding ceremony stem from the The Vedas, the oldest of Hindu Scriptures, and are chanted in Sanskrit. The ceremony takes place in the Mandap, a wedding pavilion (canopy built of four poles to represent the universe). Each of the five elements – fire, water, air, earth, and space – are represented within the Mandap. Agni (the Holy fire) exists as a divine witness to this sacred union and symbolizes the illumination of knowledge and happiness. Agni’s smoke, coupled with the recitation of Mantras, is believed to convey the message to God for a blessing of the spiritual union.

Baraat Swagat and Dwar Puja (Welcoming the Groom)

Groom arrives with his family and friends (Baraat procession) and is warmly greeted by Bride’s family and friends. Bride’s mother,  welcomes Groom and asks him if he is prepared to make the commitment of marriage to her daughter. She places kumkum (red vermilion powder), signifying good luck, on Groom’s forehead and he is then asked to break the sampat (earthen pot) filled with ghee (melted butter) and cottonseeds. The pot represents the world; the contents within symbolize the different experiences the couple will encounter in their life-journey together. Groom is then escorted to the mandap where he awaits Bride’s arrival.
Ganesh Puja and Var Pujan
At the mandap, the ceremony commences with a prayer to Lord Ganesh, who is the remover of obstacles and provider of good luck. He is also the symbol of peace, truth, friendship, brotherhood, and happiness. Groom, his parents,  and the rest of his family are invited to participate in the prayer. Groom’s feet are cleansed with milk and water to purify him for a new life ahead.

Kanya Aagman

This is the time to welcome the Kanya (bride) to the mandap. Bride’s maternal uncles (Mamas), escort her to the mandap. While the priest recites verses to bless Groom and Bride, the Antar Patt is removed, signifying commencement of their lives as unified souls.

Manglashtaka

Special prayers, Mangalashtaka, are recited at this time to wish the couple happiness, prosperity, and a peaceful marriage.

Exchanging the Garlands

Bride and Groom proclaim their mutual, love, respect, and acceptance of each other by bestowing a garland of fresh flowers on each other. The sweet scent of fresh flowers symbolizes happiness of married life.

Kanyadaan

Kanayadaan, giving away the bride, is a very sacred step in the wedding ceremony to be performed byBride’s parents. They summon the presence of God and give her hand in marriage to Groom. At this juncture, varmala – a loop of cotton thread wound 24 times signifying different characteristics and virtues of human life – is put around the shoulders of the bride and the groom, symbolizing the sacred union of the couple. The varmala does not contain a single knot to signify that there shall be no break in the union; it binds the two together to fulfill each other’s role sincerely.

Hastamelap

Hastamelap, a physical joining of Bride’s and Groom’s right palms, constitutes a very important aspect of the wedding ceremony. While chanting slokas (holy verses), the priest places sacred betel nut in Groom’s right palm, then places Bride’s right palm on top of Groom’s right palm, and finally covers the palms with a red cloth. The priest proclaims that the union has the approval of the families, and is conducted in the presence of family, friends and the community.

Vivaha Havan

The wedding ceremony continues in the mandap around the Holy fire, Agni, an eternal witness to the marriage. Agni, lighted by the priest, is a symbol of purity and signifies the presence of God at the ceremony. All commitments made in the presence of Agni are thus made in the presence of God.

Mangalphera

With Agni as a witness, the couple performs Mangalphera (walking around Agni) four times, which solidifies their marriage and makes them husband and wife. The four rounds symbolize their journey of life along the four paths of life:

1. Dharma (Obligations and Duty)
Duty to each other, family, and society
2. Aartha (Wealth and Prosperity)
Earning honorably and supporting each other
3. Karma (Deeds) Unconditional love
4. Moksha (Enlightenment)
Eternally uniting with God through prayers and meditation.

At the onset of each round, Bride’s brother fills the couple’s palms with rice, oats, and green leaves, signifying great health and bountiful wealth, prosperity and happiness. The grains are offered to the fire as a sign of giving up worldly possessions in order to receive rewarding blessings. Groom leads the first three rounds and Bride leads the fourth round. After the final round, both will step on a stone and offer a prayer for their mutual love to be firm and steadfast like the stone. The priest asks the couple to sit down and whoever sits first is believed to rule the household.

Saptapadi

Bride and Groom perform the Saptapadi (seven sacred steps) near the fire representing the seven vows and promises they make to each other:

1. Together we shall nourish each other, avoid what is harmful to healthy living, and cherish each other in sickness and in health.
2. Together we shall develop physical, mental, and spiritual powers to attain peace, happiness, and spirituality.
3. Together we shall aim to increase our wealth by righteous means, prosper and share worldly goods, and conquer all obstacles that we may encounter.
4. Together we shall acquire knowledge, courage, strength, happiness, and live in harmony with mutual love and respect.
5. Together we shall be blessed with strong and virtuous children and share responsibilities of home and children.
6. Together we shall always be true to each other, work together for prosperity and happiness, and cherish this world.
7. Together we shall strive for longevity and remain life-long partners forever.

Mangalsutra, Sindoor, Ring Exchange

Groom adorns Bride with a Mangalsutra, a necklace of gold and black beads, reflecting eternal respect and love for her. He then places sindoor (red vermilion powder) along the parting of Bride’s hair. The red color symbolizes the dawn’s redness as this is the first day of their journey together as Husband and Wife. Both Mangalsutra and sindoor constitute traditional signs of a married woman. Also, Groom and Bride exchange wedding rings as a symbol of eternal love for each other. 

Solah Shringar

Saubhagyawati Bhava

Kansaar Feeding

Bride’s mother provides Kansaar (Indian sweets) for the newly weds. Bride feeds Groom four times signifying that it is her duty to feed him and their family. Likewise, Groom feeds Bride four times indicating that he will fulfill his duty as a husband to provide for her and their family.

Akhanda Shobhagyawati

Married women from both sides bless the newly wed couple for eternal married life (akhanda), health, wealth, prosperity, happiness, peace, and children.

Jait-Chunri

A Chunri (sari or gharcholu) is draped on Bride’s head by elder members of Groom’s family. The groom’s brother-in-law and sister, shower the new bride with blessings and welcome her into her new family.


Chanted by the priest in Sanskrit verse, the prayers that compose the Hindu wedding ceremony are derived from Vedic scriptures that are over four thousand years old.

 Barat (Groom’s Parade)

The groom arrives on a decorated horse accompanied by his family and friends in the form of a parade.

 Milni (Greeting the Party)

The bride’s family receives the groom and his family.  It is very typical for each relative to embrace his counterpart – grooms and bride’s fathers, maternal uncles (mamas) and paternal uncles (chachas) –  in the other family at least 3 times each.

 Var Puja (The Welcoming of the Groom)

Accompanied by his family and his attendants, the groom arrives at the site of the ceremony, and is greeted by the bride’s parents.  The mother of the bride welcomes the groom with an aarti, or prayer, and welcomes him to the ceremony.  After receiving the blessings of his elders, the groom is escorted by the parents of the bride to the Mandap  accompanied by his parents and groomsmen.

 Ganesh Puja (Worship of Lord Ganesh)

To commence the Hindu wedding ceremony, a prayer is offered to Lord Ganesha, the elephant God, whose blessings will remove any major obstacles from the ceremony and from the couple’s new life together.  Ganesha is the Lord of all circumstances; therefore no Hindu ritual or auspicious occasion is ever undertaken without Him.  Jasmine garlands and the Mangalsutra (sacred wedding necklace) are placed at Ganesha’s feet to invoke his blessings.  His grace will overcome all obstacles, destroy all evils, and enable the ceremony to proceed with tranquility.

Kanya Daan (Giving Away Their Daughter)

The bride’s father joins the hands of his daughter and the groom, declaring to all gathered that he hands her to the care of the man of her heart.  The bride’s father seeks a pledge from the groom of his enduring love, fidelity, and security in caring for the bride.  Once the groom has agreed, the bride and groom both pledge to support each other in fulfilling the four goals of human life:  Dharma, the duty to lead a moral life; Artha, the duty to lead a joyous and fruitful life; Karma, the duty to lead a pleasant and productive life; Moksha, the duty to attain enlightenment.

Gath Bandhan & Phere (Circling the Fire)

The bride and the groom are joined together by tying a corner of their outer garments, symbolizing the bond of marriage.  After this a small open fire is lit in the center and the fire God is invited to witness the marriage.  Fire, a purifying agent, is also a source of energy.  Only fire can separate this bond of unity between bride and groom.  The couple walks around the sacred fire seven times, making it a witness of their union as husband and wife.

Saptapadi (Taking Seven Steps)

Saptapadi is translated in Sanskrit to mean “seven steps”.  These steps are representative of the marriage vows.  The priest then guides the bride and groom  to take seven steps hand in hand around the sacred fire.  The number seven refers to the earth, sun, moon, and the four planets visible to the naked eye all locked together in harmonious interrelationships governed by a single law.  The Saptapadi is the most important ritual of the wedding ceremony.

 The Priest recites the following hymms detailing their vows:
With God as a guide, let us take,
·  The first step to provide nourishment and pure food for our houehold,
·  The second step to develop our physical, mental and spiritual powers,
·  The third step to increase our wealth by righteous means and diligence
·  The fourth step to acquire knowledge, happiness and harmony by mutual love and trust,
·  The fifth step to be blessed with strong, virtuous and heroic children,
·  The sixth step to have self restraint and longetivity,
·  The seventh step to become true companions and remain lifelong partners by this wedlock.

Having taken these steps together, I assure you that I will not swerve from the path of my love and friendship with you.  Let our thoughts, decisions, and actions be one and in unison.  Let us be kind, loving, considerate, good and open-hearted to each other.  Let us share our food, possessions, strengths, and advantages together.  Let us be complementary to each other as thought and speech are to each other.  The sapta-padi ceremony concludes with a hymn signifying that the union is eternal.  The bride and groom are pronounced husband and wife.

 Mungalsutra & Sindoor Daan (Placing Red Powder on Bride’s Head and Necklace Around her Neck)

The groom now places sindhur, or red powder, on the crown of the bride’s forehead and welcomes her into his life.  The sindhur is indicative of a blood union, and it is the unmistakable mark of a married woman.  He then places a Mangalsutra (necklace) around her neck, symbolizing his enduring commitment to their marriage.

 Ashirvad (Prayer and Blessings)

Once the wedding rituals have been completed, the couple touches the feet of their parents and the priest, asking for their Aashirwaad, or blessings.

 Vidai (Departure of Bride and Groom)

Vidaai marks the departure of the bride from her parental house. She throws phulian or puffed rice over her head. She conveys her good wishes for her parents through this gesture. A beautifully decorated palanquin or car takes her to her new home.  The bride and groom leave as a married couple and receive blessings and shower of flower petals from all of their guests.

This is a compilation of different versions I found while searching for the sequence and meanings of the major rituals performed in a Hindu wedding ceremony. For a detailed customs and ritual chart click here.

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