Thursday, 30 May 2013

Hindu Marriage Rituals

Hindu sacraments are called 'sanskars' and the sacraments performed at the time of a wedding are called 'Vivah Sanskar'.
This sanskar marks the start of the second and the most important stage of life called the 'Grihistha Ashrama' which involves setting up of a new family unit.
Two individuals who are considered to be compatible form a lifelong partnership at this ceremony in which the responsibilities and duties of a householder are explained.
The precise details and rituals performed in a wedding ceremony vary from region to region and often take several hours to complete.
The main stages of a Hindu wedding are:
  • Jayamaala
    • Firstly, the bride's parents welcome the bridegroom and his family at the boundary of the house where the wedding is taking place. A red kum-kum (kind of powder) mark is applied to their forehead. Members from both families are formally introduced, marking the start of relationship between two families. The bride and the bridegroom then exchange garlands (jayamaala) and declare: "Let all the learned persons present here know, we are accepting each other willingly, voluntarily and pleasantly. Our hearts are concordant and united like waters."
  • Madhu-Parka
    • The bridegroom is brought to a specially decorated altar called 'mandap' and offered a seat and a welcoming drink - a mixture of milk, ghee, yoghurt, honey and sugar.
  • Gau Daan and Kanya Pratigrahan
    • 'Gau' means cow and 'Daan' means donation. Nowadays, the symbolic exchange of gifts, particularly clothes and ornaments takes place. The groom's mother gives an auspicious necklace (mangala sootra) to the bride. Mangla sootra is the emblem of marital status for a Hindu woman. 'Kanya' means the daughter and 'Pratigrahan' is an exchange with responsiveness on both sides. The bride's father declares that their daughter has accepted the bridegroom and requests them to accept her.
    • Vivaha-homa

      A sacred fire is lit and the Purohit (Priest) recites the sacred mantras in Sanskrit. Oblations are offered to the fire whilst saying the prayers. The words "Id na mama" meaning "it is not for me" are repeated after the offerings. This teaches the virtue of selflessness required to run a family.
      This is the ceremony of vows. The husband, holding his wife's hand, says "I hold your hand in the spirit of Dharma, we are both husband and wife".

      Shilarohan and Laaja Homa

      Shilarohan is climbing over a stone/rock by the bride which symbolises her willingness and strength to overcome difficulties in pursuit of her duties. Both gently walk around the sacred fire four times. The bride leads three times and the fourth time the groom leads. He is reminded of his responsibilities. The couple join their hands into which the bride's brothers pour some barley, which is offered to the fire, symbolising that they all will jointly work for the welfare of the society. The husband marks the parting in his wife's hair with red kumkum powder for the first time. This is called 'sindoor' and is a distinctive mark of a married Hindu woman.


      This is the main and the legal part of the ceremony. The couple walk seven steps reciting a prayer at each step. These are the seven vows which are exchanged. The first for food, the second for strength, the third for prosperity, the fourth for wisdom, the fifth for progeny, the sixth for health and the seventh for friendship. In some regions, in stead of walking the seven steps, the bride touches seven stones or nuts with her right toe. A symbolic matrimonial knot is tied after this ceremony.

      Surya Darshan and Dhruva Darshan

      The couple look at the Sun in order to be blessed with creative life. They look in the direction of the Dhruva (Polar star) and resolve to remain unshaken and steadfast like the Polar star.

      Ashirvada (Blessings)

      The couple are blessed by the elders and the priest for a long and prosperous married life.
      It is important to clarify two misconceptions about Hindu marriages: arranged marriages and child marriages.
      Hindu scriptures prohibit use of force or coercion in marriages.
      Arranged marriages are based on agreement from both the bride and the groom, and should not be confused with forced marriages.
      In the Vedic period, child marriages were strictly prohibited. Later, due to political and economical changes, some new social traditions started which deviated from the Vedic teachings.
      Child marriages and the associated tradition of dowry were some of the deviations which reformist movements in modern times have attempted to correct. Child marriages are now banned by law in India, although reports suggest that the practice has not been eradicated.
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