The Hindu Wedding Celebration
Get ready to get festive—Hindu weddings are a riot of color and creativity
Hinduism may dominate India's religious life, but weddings across the subcontinent are far from homogeneous. The food, language, and even climate vary from region to region, and wedding ceremonies are just as diverse.
In the U.S., Hindu priests have standardized the wedding ceremony to avoid conflicts when the families of the bride and groom are from different Indian regions. If the families wish, they can pick and choose from local traditions to enhance this basic format, says Dr. Anand Mohan, a professor of religion and philosophy at City College in Queens, NY, and a Hindu priest. "There's no stiff formula that's required," Dr. Mohan says, "and there's not that much hoo-ha about religion. Any amount of latitude is allowed." In other words, when it comes to a Hindu wedding, think festivity and creativity, not solemnity and rigidity.
What makes up the Hindu wedding
The Vedic ceremony, named after the Vedas, or ancient Hindu scriptures, is the typical ceremony performed in the U.S. It includes a general sequence of rites and rituals:
The ceremony begins with a prayer to Lord Ganesha. Salutations are offered so that Ganesha may remove all obstacles during the couple's married life.
Cords are tied to the wrists of both the bride and the groom. Marriage is considered to be an arduous stage in life, and the cords are meant as protection.
The offering of the bride is the purest form of marriage. During the ceremony, the father of the bride places his daughter's hands into the groom's hands as a gesture of giving her away. In the Hindu tradition, no man can claim a woman until she is offered.
Before the wedding, an auspicious time is fixed for the event. Using the bride and groom's dates of birth, astrologists calculate the position of planets and stars to reflect the celestial union of the couple. During the ceremony, the gautra of both bride and groom (going back at least three generations) are announced. A gautra is the ancestral lineage or the ancestor's original clan (this is not related to caste or religion). In Hindu law, marriages should not take place within the same clan.
The bride and groom exchange garlands. This expresses the desire of the couple to marry each other. In the U.S., the ring ceremony usually follows.
The groom places a necklace of black and gold beads on the bride, a custom that came about relatively recently. Traditionally, the goddess Laxmi is invoked in the mangal sutra and the bride is said to receive blessings throughout her marriage.
In the center of the mandap, or wedding altar, a fire is kindled. A Hindu marriage is a sacrament, not a contract. To signify the viability of the ceremony, fire is kept as a witness and offerings are made. The bride's brother gives three fistfuls of puffed rice to the bride as a wish for his sister's happy marriage. Each time, the bride offers the rice to the fire.