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The traditional Hindu wedding ceremony dates back over three thousand years.  It is performed in the ancient language of Sanskrit and in accordance with the rituals prescribed in the Hindu scriptures, the Vedas.  The wedding takes place in the ‘Kalyana Mandapam’ or wedding pavilion.  During the ceremony, the priest offers, into the fire, gifts of nature and fruits of human labor as he chants ancient hymns of praise, worship, and invocation.  Like the speech of God Himself, these hymns are said to bring forth the truths of which they speak, and therefore, the marriage is blessed not only by the loving pledge of the bride and groom and by the good wishes of family and friends, but also by the divine power that resides inside the hymns.

Each phase of the ceremony has a symbolic, philosophical, and spiritual meaning.  Essentially, the Hindu philosophy of marriage holds that the husband and wife compliment each other forming a single unit.

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Swagatam

(Welcoming of the Groom)

The bride’s family and friends greet Groom and his family as he arrives on a white horse. Bride’s mother asks Groom to crush an earthen pot, symbolizing his ability to overcome any obstacles he and the Bride may encounter in their married life.

Vara Puja

Bride’s mother then escorts Groom under a canopy known as a mandap. The remainder of the ceremony takes place under the mandap which represents the universe.

 

The four pillars signify the four parents and their roles in raising the bride and the groom.  In the mandap the groom’s feet are washed and he is offered honey and milk. It is at this time that the saalis (sister-in-law) will try to steal the groom’s shoes. Traditionally the groom must leave the wedding with the same pair of shoes that he enters with. If his shoes are stolen, he must offer the sisters money in order to get them back.

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Ganesha Puja

(Prayers to Lord Ganesha)

The ceremony begins with a Puja to invoke the presence of Lord Ganesha, the lovable elephant faced deity whose blessings avert obstacles, bringing good luck and wisdom to the couple.

Kanya Agamana

(Arrival of the Bride)

Escorted by her maternal uncles, Bhadresh Mama and Manish Mama, Bride will enter carrying a coconut given to her by her parents.  She will be preceded by her bridesmaids, who will enter carrying important articles to be used in the ceremony.  Prior to Bride’s arrival, her nieces, Yesha and Sanskruti Vyas, will serve as flower girls.  Groom’s nephews, Kiran and Kethan Menachery will serve as ring bearers and bring the wedding bands to the mandap. Before Bride enters, an antarapata, a white curtain, will be held in front of Groom to hide him from view, since the couple should not see one another until the most auspicious moment.

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Sumuhurtham

This is the most important step in the Hindu wedding ceremony.  At the designated auspicious time, Bride and Groom simultaneously place a mixture of cumin seeds and brown sugar on each other’s heads.  The cumin seeds symbolize many children and the brown sugar represents a harmonious mental union.  This step symbolizes the unification of two souls in thought, passion, and deed.  The antarapata is then lifted, allowing Bride and Groom to see each other.

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Kanyadanam

Bride’s parents offer her hand in marriage to Groom.  It is noted in Vedic scriptures that there is no gift or “Dana” greater than Kanyadanam.  Bride’s father entrusts his daughter to Groom and asks for his assurance that he will take care of her needs in all aspects of her life.

Hastamelapa

Bride’s right hand is placed on Groom’s right hand as sacred verses are chanted for the stability and longevity of the couple’s married life. This ceremony signifies that the couple is united and will live as though they are one body, mind, and soul. Bride and Groom exchange garlands which symbolizes their formal acceptance of each other in marriage.

Var Mala

(Red Sacred Thread)

Bride and Groom’s parents, grandparents, uncles, and aunts place a thread around the couple’s necks to protect them from evil influences from this day onwards.

 

Mangalasutra Dharana and Sindoor Dan

(Wearing of the sacred necklace)

The mangalasutra is passed among the guests for their blessings.  Carrying the good wishes of the assembled friends and family, it is then handed by the priest to Groom who, with the chanting of the appropriate hymns, ties it around Bride’s neck using three knots.  The three knots represent the “Trimurthis” or Holy Trinity.  By this act he tells her:

“As the two ends of this necklace are now united, so now are we united.

Your happiness is now my happiness.

Your fulfillment is my fulfillment.

May you live happily with me forever, always rejoicing in our union.”

Groom will then fill the part in Bride’s hair with sindoor (red powder).  Both the mangalasutra and sindoor are sacred symbols of the married woman.

Sthaalipaakam

In this sweet ceremony, Groom slips silver toe rings on Bride’s feet. Bride is also adorned with a string of black beads, to protect her from the evil eye.

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Talambralu

(Pouring of sacred rice)

Bride and Groom pour blessed turmeric mixed rice over each other’s heads and ask God to bless them with good children, wealth, comfort, harmony, and mutual understanding.

Panigrahanam and Brahma Mudi

(Holding of Hands)

Bride and Groom will join hands, declaring their wish to live together to a ripe old age, raising a family in an environment of harmony and prosperity with the blessings of the gods and ancestors.  Groom promises “to hold this hand until I am very old, both offering support and drawing strength from the one whose hand I hold.”  One end of Bride’s sari is then knotted tightly to Groom’s shawl to signify that the couple has united their souls.   For the rest of the ceremony they will remain literally tied together.

 

Agni Puja

A small holy fire is lit to symbolize knowledge, happiness, and illumination of the mind.  Prior to each Mangal Phera (see below), Bride with the help of her brothers, put grains into the fire.  They assist the couple during the Mangal Phera by providing the puff rice, thus symbolizing their willingness to provide support to their sister whenever needed.  The grain symbolizes the couple’s togetherness.

 

Mangal Pheras

Bride and Groom circle the sacred fire four times as the priest chants mantras, signifying the four basic human goals of Dharma- righteousness and moral duties, Artha- wealth and prosperity, Kama- personal desires and happiness, and Moksha- liberation and self-realization. The bride now stands for the first time on the left side of the groom, closer to his heart. A legendary myth suggests that the person who sits first at the end of the fourth round will be the dominating partner at home.

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Saptapadi (Taking seven steps together)

With God as a guide, Bride and Groom will take seven steps together.

During these steps they vow to each other:

Together we will

cherish each other in sickness and in health, in happiness and in sorrow.

Together we will

be lifelong friends.

Together we will

share each other’s ideals.

Together we will

nourish each others strengths, powers, and fortune.

Together we will

provide and care for our children.

Together we will

look forward to the mysteries of the future with awe and spiritual unity.

Together we will

be best friends and eternal partners.

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Kansara Bhojana

Bride and Groom feed each other their first meal.  The groom feeds the bride as he says, “I add breath to thy breath, bones to thy bones, flesh to thy flesh, and skin to thy skin”

Akhand Saubhagyavati

Several married women from Bride’s family bless her by whispering “Akhand saubhagyavati,” a blessing for unbroken and abiding marital happiness, in Bride’s ears.  The priest recites closing prayers as the couple seeks the blessings of their parents and grandparents.

Aeki-Beki

Yet another interesting ritual observed at the groom’s house. The newly wed couple is made to play a game called “Aeki-beki”. In this, several coins and a ring are placed in a pot of water covered by milk and vermilion. It is believed that the person, who finds the ring four times first, would be the ruler of the house.

Arundhati Dharshanam

The newlyweds are escorted outdoors by the priest where they pay homage to the star Arundhati, the symbol of love and devotion.

Ashirvad

The assembled family and friends bless the couple as the priest prays for blessings from all quarters, human and divine.

Vidaai

This ceremony sees the departure of the newly married couple and involves tears of joy and sadness.

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