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 of the Hindu wedding rituals and traditions you should expect to see.
Before the wedding, an auspicious time (known as the muhurta) 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.
Prior to the actual the 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 a a few the mehendi ceremony that kicks off the wedding itself.
During the mehendi 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.
The wedding mandap 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.
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. This offering is known as a homam.
This is the part of the ceremony during which the bride and groom exchange floral garlands. This expresses the desire of the couple to marry each other. In the U.S., the ring ceremony usually follows.
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 father 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.
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.
Sindoor, a red-orange powder, is applied to the part of a woman's hair, symbolizes her new status as a married woman and is applied to her hair during the ceremony.
The bride's garments will also be red (also the case for Muslim brides). In Indian culture, red symbolizes the rising sun, prosperity and fertility.
The ceremony begins with a prayer to Ganesha, the god of beginnings and good fortune and the remover of obstacles. Salutations are offered so that Ganesha may pave the way for 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 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.