The South Indian Wedding
Introduction to Hinduism
Hindus believe in the existence of a Supreme Being. This Being is described in the Vedas (scripture) as “unmanifest, unthinkable, and unchanging.” The Supreme Being manifests in this world in different forms and at different times as Rama, Krishna, Vishnu, Shiva, etc. Hindus also believe that the soul is divine and eternal. It is neither created nor destroyed, but is reborn through many lifetimes in this world. When a soul has found release from this cycle of rebirth is it said to have achieved liberation (moksha).
Hindus also accepts all religions as true and valid paths to God. In theBhagavad Gita, Shri Krishna says, “Whenever there is a decline indharma (righteousness) and an increase in adharma (unrighteousness), at that time I manifest Myself.” In this way, all religions are seen as the manifestation of the Divine into this world.
The Hindu Wedding
The traditional Hindu wedding is a deeply meaningful and symbolic combination of rituals and traditions. It is a ceremony that is about 4000 years old. Each phase of the ceremony has a symbolic, philosophical, and spiritual meaning. The ceremony not only to joins the souls of the bride and groom, but also creates a strong tie between two families. The ceremony is traditionally performed in Sanskrit, which is the language of ancient India and Hinduism. Today the ceremony will be performed both in Sanskrit and English. The following sequence of rituals represents the highlights of the ceremony.
The Sanskrit word for marriage is vivaha, which literally means “what supports or carries.” The Vivaha ceremony is therefore a sacred ceremony meant to create a union that supports and carries a man and woman throughout their married life in the pursuit of righteousness (dharma).
In a separate location Ganesha puja and Gauri puja are performed in the presence of the bride. This puja is performed to remove obstacles and to bring good fortune to the bride. The bride offers prayers to the goddess Gauri seeking the blessings of prosperity and a long and happy married life. This puja also includes Raksha Bandhanam for the protection of the bride.
The groom and his family are greeted by the bride’s family and guests. The priest begins the wedding ceremony by invoking the presence of God and the divinities to witness the marriage and bless the occasion.
The wedding ceremony begins with the worship of Lord Ganesha, the remover of all obstacles and the provider of good luck. His presence is invoked to insure the successful completion of the wedding ceremony. Other pujas are also performed to invoke the presence of other forms God to preside over the wedding ceremony.
Punyaha-vachanam and Yagnopavitra Dharanam
Prayers are recited to sanctify the water used during the ceremony. Holy water is sprinkled to purify the location. The groom receives a sacred thread signifying the beginning of family life. (optional)
A red thread is tied to the groom’s right wrist to protect him from any evil influences during the ceremony.
For a higher spiritual purpose the groom is given a final opportunity to leave before the bride enters. He is asked if he would like to abandon worldly life and lead the life of an ascetic. The father of the bride requests the groom not to leave, but to stay and marry his daughter.
The groom is received with respect by the bride’s parents. The parents of the bride may wash the feet of the groom.
The bride enters the wedding hall while a cloth is held in front of the groom so that he cannot see her. During the bride’s entry auspicious music is played (usually nada-svaram).
After the bride enters she sits in the wedding mandapam facing the groom. The bride and groom each place a paste made of cumin seeds and jaggery on each other’s head with their right hands. After some prayers the cloth is removed and the bride and groom see each other for the first-time.
The bride and groom exchange garlands indicating their acceptance of each other.
Exchange of Gifts
The bride and groom now exchange gifts. Usually new clothes are offered to both the bride and groom. The bride may leave and get dressed in a new sari at this time while snacks are served to the guests. (optional)
Kanya Danam literally means the “giving of the bride”. The parents of the bride place hands of their daughter into the hands of the groom. The bride’s parents ask the groom to except their daughter as his equal partner throughout life.
The great messenger of the gods, Agnidevata (the fire god), is invoked to witness the proceedings. The priest lights a sacred fire in the presence of the bride and groom. Throughout the ceremony, the priest adds ghee, clarified butter, to the fire to keep it burning. Rice and other ingredients are also added to the fire at various times.
The bride and groom hold hands as a symbol of their union.
The bride and groom exchange seats so that the bride is now sitting to the left of the groom. One corner of groom’s shawl is tied to the end of the bride’s sari. This signifies the union of two souls.
The groom places offerings of ghee into the sacred fire, asking for the protection of the bride.
Ashma Kramana/ Laaja Homam
The bride places her right foot onto a stone and with the assistance of her brothers makes offerings of puffed rice into the sacred fire, asking for the protection of her husband. The stone symbolizes the earth. The act of placing the bride’s foot upon the stone means that she should become strong and fixed like the earth.
Druva and Arundhati Darshana
The bride and groom gaze up at the pole star (Druvaloka) and meditate on stability in the marriage union. Each night as the stars rotate in the sky, the pole star always remains fixed. In the same way as life is constantly changing the union of the bride and groom should remain fixed like the pole star, Druvaloka. Arundhati is the wife of the great sage Vashistha. Arundhati and Vashistha are stars in the big dipper (sapta rishi).
The bride and groom walk around the holy fire four times, symbolizing the walk of life. Human life is seen to have four great goals calledpurusharthas: dharma, artha, kama and moksha. The bride leads the groom through the first three rounds while the groom leads the bride through the last round. The first round represents the attainment ofdharma, or righteous conduct and the fulfillment of civic and religious responsibilities. The second round is for the attainment of artha, the accumulation of wealth and prosperity. This leads to the third round, which is for the attainment of kama, life’s enjoyments. Finally, the bride and groom exchange places and the groom leads the bride around the fire on the fourth round enacting the attainment of moksha, life’s spiritual values.
Mangalya Dharanam/Ring Exchange
The groom gives the bride a mangala sutra, a necklace made of gold that includes two talis or emblems representing each family. The mangala sutra identifies a lady as a married woman. The mangala sutra is the equivalent of the wedding rings, which may also be exchanged at this time.
The bride and groom take seven steps together, symbolizing the beginning of their journey through life as partners. These seven steps reflect their guiding principles in life. As they take each step, the bride and groom exchange the following vows:
|Together we will:
Share in the responsibility of the home
Fill our hearts with strength and courage
Prosper and share our worldly goods
Fill our hearts with love, peace, happiness, and spiritual values
Be blessed with loving children
Attain self-restraint and longevity
Be best friends and eternal partners
The bride and groom make an oath to each other declaring that they love each other and will remain devoted to each other through all times.
Upon the completion of the seven steps and the declaration, the bride and groom are officially considered husband and wife.
Purusha Sukta Homam
The priest chants an ancient hymn of praise to God while the couple places offerings of rice and ghee into the fire. This act of worship is the couple’s first act of dharma as husband and wife.
The bride and groom pour rice over each other’s head symbolizing prosperity.
The newly married couple feed each other sweets representing their first meal together.
The priest gives blessings to the couple. The newly married couple then seeks the blessings of the priest, family and friends. The family and friends bestow their blessings by showering them with flower petals.