Weddings are a celebration of love and commitment, and can also be a celebration of the couple's religion and culture. One such ceremony that you might not be so familiar with? A Hindu wedding ceremony. Whether you're invited as a guest, attending as a member of the wedding party, or are simply curious, there are a few Hindu wedding rituals and traditions you should expect to see.
Wondering what else you need to know before attending a Hindu wedding? Here are some frequently asked questions:
- What should I wear to a Hindu wedding? It's common for guests to wear traditional Indian clothes like saris or lenghas for women and long-sleeved tunics and pants for men. If you decide to go with a more western option, remember that women should have their shoulders, legs, and occasionally arms covered. Men should wear long sleeves and long pants. Both men and women need to bring something to cover their heads during the ceremony. Bold, vibrant colors are heavily encouraged but be sure to stay away from white (associated with funerals), black (considered unlucky), and red as this is the color the bride wears.
- How long is a Hindu wedding? The events of a Hindu wedding normally take place over the span of three days with different events taking place on each day. The main ceremony and reception on the third day, as well as the sangeet during the second day are attended by most of the guests. The ganesh pooja ceremony that commences the wedding events on the first day is usually an intimate event with only close family in attendance.
- Will the newlyweds kiss? Traditionally there is no kiss at the end of a Hindu wedding ceremony as a result of the predominantly conservative culture. However, this varies greatly on the couples themselves, as well as their families, in which case a kiss exchange has been known to take place.
- Should I bring a gift? Gifts are usually not brought to a ceremony, though this can vary. If you intend to gift something to the couple, have it shipped to their home. The only exception is if you intend to present them with a monetary gift, in which case this would be given in an envelope at the wedding reception.
Read on to discover 14 wedding rituals you will encounter at a Hindu wedding and understand the meanings behind them.
The Wedding Date Is Determined in the Stars
Before the wedding, an auspicious time (known as the muhurta) is fixed for the event. Using the couple's dates of birth, astrologists calculate the position of planets and stars to reflect the celestial union of the couple. During the ceremony, the gotra of both to-be-weds' (going back at least three generations) are announced. A gotra 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.
There's a Pre-Party Called the Sangeet a Few Days Before the Wedding
Prior to the actual wedding, there's a pre-party called the sangeet where family comes together to sing, dance, and revel in the joy of the upcoming union. Family members even give performances. The bride's family sings a traditional folk song to the groom's family to welcome them. The sangeet, which translates to "sung together," takes place on the same day as the mehndi ceremony that kicks off the wedding itself.
The Bride's Hands and Feet Are Adorned With Henna Paint During a Mehndi Ceremony
During the mehndi ceremony, which also takes place in Muslim weddings, henna is used to apply intricate designs to the bride's hands and feet. The mehndi ceremony usually takes place one day before the marriage will be held, as the application can take hours. This event is traditionally only attended by the bride's close female friends and family members.
The Bride Wears a Red Dress
The bride's garments will be red (also the case for Muslim brides). In Indian culture, red symbolizes the rising sun, prosperity, and fertility.
The Groom's Arrival Is a Celebration in Itself
The arrival of the groom and his party to the ceremony site, called the vara yatra, is celebrated with great joy. They are greeted by the bride's parents, family, and friends amidst live music and dancing. The party is welcomed with a special rice toss, known as akshat, and the groom is presented with a plate carrying a lit lamp (or arati), and a garland. Sometimes a tilak, or dot on the forehead, is also administered.
The Father of the Bride Gives Her Away
The bride will be led to the ceremony by either her brothers or uncles. The moment the father gives the bride away is known as the kanyadaan. In the Hindu tradition, no man can claim a woman until she is offered. 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.
The mother of the bride may also pour water into the bride's hand, which will flow through her fingers and into the hand of her groom. Alternately the mother of the bride would pour water into her husband's hand, which would then flow into the hands of the newlyweds.
The Couple Weds Under a Mandap
The wedding mandap, or wedding altar, is a temporary structure constructed for the purpose of the marriage ceremony. It may appear on an elevated platform, and is decorated with anything from flowers and greenery to fabric and crystals. The couple is traditionally joined beneath the mandap by their parents and the ceremony officiant.
A Fire Burns in the Center of the Mandap
In the center of the mandap, 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. This offering is known as a homam.
The Groom Adorns the Bride With a Necklace Called the Mangala Sutra
The groom places a necklace of black and gold beads on the bride. Traditionally, Lakshmi, the Hindu goddess of wealth, fortune, and prosperity, is invoked in the mangala sutra and the bride is said to receive blessings throughout her marriage.
The Bride and Groom's Garments Are Tied Together as They Circle a Fire
The saptapadi is an important ritual in North Indian Hindu weddings. During the saptapadi, the bride and groom have their garments tied together. In South India, the couple walks seven steps together to signify their friendship. In North Indian tradition, they make seven circles around a ceremonial fire, each round signifying a specific blessing they request of the gods. The main significance of saptapadi is establishing friendship, which is the basis of a Hindu marriage.