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A Hindu wedding is called vedas or vivaha (Hindi: विवाह), and the wedding ceremony is called vivaah sanskar. The wedding ceremony is traditionally conducted entirely, or at least partially in Sanskrit, considered by Hindus as the language of holy ceremonies. The local language of the people involved is also used. The Hindus attach a lot of importance to marriages, the ceremonies are very colourful, and celebrations may extend for several days. The bride's and groom's home - entrance, doors, wall, floor, roof - are sometimes decorated with colors, balloons and other decorations.
The rituals and process in a Hindu wedding vary widely. Nevertheless, there are a few key rituals common in Hindu weddings - Kanyadaan, Panigrahana, and Saptapadi, which are respectively, gifting away of daughter by the father, voluntarily holding hand near the fire to signify union, and taking seven steps with each step includes a vow/promise to each other before fire. The Hindu wedding ceremony at its core is essentially a Vedic yajna ritual. The primary witness of a Hindu marriage is the fire-deity (or the Sacred Fire) Agni, in the presence of family and friends.
The pre-wedding and post-wedding rituals and celebrations vary by region, preferences or the resources of the groom, bride and their families. They can range from one day to multi-day events. Pre-wedding ceremonies include engagement (involving vagdana or betrothal and lagna-patra written declaration), and arrival of the groom's party at the bride's residence, often in the form of a formal procession with dancing and music. The post-wedding ceremonies may include Abhishek, Anna Prashashan, Aashirvadah, and Grihapravesa - the welcoming of the bride to her new home.
In India, where most Hindus live, by law and tradition, no Hindu marriage is binding and complete unless the ritual of seven steps and vows in presence of fire (Saptapadi) is completed by the bride and the groom together. This requirement is under debate.
Eight types of marriage
- Brahma marriage - considered the religiously most appropriate marriage, where the father found an educated man, proposes the marriage of his daughter to him. The groom, bride and families willingly concur with the proposal. The two families and relatives meet, the girl is ceremoniously decorated, the father gifts away his daughter in betrothal, and a vedic marriage ceremony is conducted. This type of wedding is now most prevalent among Hindus in modern India.
- Daiva marriage - in this type of marriage, the father gives away his daughter along with ornaments to a priest as a sacrificial fee. This form of marriage occurred in ancient times when yajna sacrifices were prevalent.
- Arsha marriage - in this type of marriage, the groom gives a cow and a bull to the father of the bride and the father exchanges his daughter in marriage. The groom took a vow to fulfill his obligations to the bride and family life (Grihasthashram).
- Prajapatya marriage - in this type of marriage, a couple agree to get married by exchanging some Sanskrit mantras (vows to each other). This form of marriage was akin to a civil ceremony.
The above four types of marriages were considered prashasta marriages (proper, religiously appropriate under Hinduism). The other four were considered aprashasta (inappropriate). Among inappropriate weddings, two acceptable forms of marriages were:
- Gandharva marriage - in this type of marriage, the couple simply lived together out of love, by mutual consent, consensually consummated their relationship. This marriage was entered into without religious ceremonies, and was akin to civil union. Kama Sutra, as well as Rishi Kanva - the foster-father of Shakuntala - in the Mahabharata, claimed this kind of marriage to be an ideal one.
- Asura marriage - in this type of marriage, the groom offered a dowry to the father of the bride and the bride, both accepted the dowry out of free will, and he received the bride in exchange. This was akin to marrying off a daughter for money. This marriage was considered inappropriate by Hindu Smriti-writers because greed, not what is best for the girl, can corrupt the selection process.
The last two marriages were not only inappropriate, but religiously forbidden (the children, if any, from these forbidden types of consummation were considered legitimate, nevertheless).
- Rakshasa marriage - where the groom forcibly abducted the girl against her or her family's will. The word Rakshasa means devil. This was akin to kidnapping and rape. The epic Ramayana includes a war between good and evil, after a Rakshasa marriage.
- Paishacha marriage - where the man forces himself on a woman when she is insentient, that is drugged or drunken or unconscious.
James Lochtefeld finds that the last two forms of marriage were forbidden yet recognized in ancient Hindu societies, not to encourage these acts, but to provide the woman and any children with legal protection in the society.
There is no single standard Hindu marriage ceremony. Regional variations and considerable flexibility in the rituals are prevalent. The variations may be based on family traditions, local traditions, resources of the marrying families, and other factors. Some of the key rituals are performed in slightly different ways in different regions.
- Kanyadaan - the gifting away of daughter by the father
- Panigrahana - a ritual in presence of fire, where the groom takes the bride's hand as a sign of their union
- Saptapadi - is the most important ritual. It is called the seven step ritual, where each step corresponds to a vow groom makes to bride, and a vow the bride makes to groom. The vows are pronounced in Sanskrit in long form, or short quicker form, sometimes also in the language of the groom and bride. In many weddings, Saptapadi is performed near a fire; and after each of the seven oaths to each other, the groom and bride perform the ritual of agnipradakshinam - walk around the fire, with part of each other's clothing tied to each other. The fire is a form of yajna - a vedic ritual where fire is the divine witness (to the marriage). After Saptapadi, the couple are considered husband and wife.
The Kanyadaan ceremony is performed by the father. If father has passed away, a guardian of bride's choosing performs this ritual. The father brings the daughter, then takes the bride's hand and places it to the groom's. This marks the beginning of gifting the bride ceremony. The groom accepts the bride's hand, while the kama-sukta (hymn to love) is pronounced, in the presence of the father, the bride and the groom. The Kamasukta verse is:
Who offered this maiden?, to whom is she offered?
Kama (the god of love) gave her to me, that I may love her
Love is the giver, love is the acceptor
Enter thou, the bride, the ocean of love
With love then, I receive thee
May she remain thine, thine own, O god of love
Verily, thou art, prosperity itself
May the heaven bestow thee, may the earth receive thee
After this ritual recital, the father asks the groom to not fail the girl in his pursuit of dharma (righteousness), artha (wealth) and kama (love). The groom promises to the bride's father that he shall never fail her in his pursuit of dharma, artha and kama. The groom repeats the promise three times.
The groom's promises to bride's father marks the end of the kanyadaan ritual in Hindu wedding.
is the 'holding the hand' ritual as a symbol of their impending marital union, and the groom announcing his acceptance of responsibility to four deities: Bhaga signifying wealth, Aryama signifying heavens/milky way, Savita signifying radiance/new beginning, and Purandhi signifying wisdom. The groom faces west, while the bride sits in front of him with her face to the east, he holds her hand while the following Rg vedic mantra is recited:
I take thy hand in mine, yearning for happiness
I ask thee, to live with me, as thy husband
Till both of us, with age, grow old
Know this, as I declare, that the Gods
Bhaga, Aryama, Savita and Purandhi, have bestowed thy person, upon me
that I may fulfill, my Dharmas of the householder, with thee
This I am, That art thou
The Saaman as I, the Rk thou
The Heavens I, the Earth thou
Saptapadi - Short Form
The Saptapadi (Sanskrit for seven steps/feet), is the most important ritual of Vedic Hindu weddings, and represents the legal part of Hindu marriage. The couple conduct seven circuits of the Holy Fire (Agni), which is considered a witness to the vows they make to each other. In some regions, a piece of clothing or sashes worn by the bride and groom are tied together for this ceremony. Elsewhere, the groom holds the bride's right hand in his own right hand. Each circuit of the consecrated fire is led by either the bride or the groom, varying by community and region. Usually, the bride leads the groom in the first circuit. In North India, the first six circuits are led by the bride, and the final one by the groom. In Central India, the bride leads the first three or four circuits. With each circuit, the couple makes a specific vow to establish some aspect of a happy relationship and household for each other.
In South Indian weddings, after each saying a mantra at each of the seven steps, the couple say these words together:
- "Now let us make a vow together. We shall share love, share the same food, share our strengths, share the same tastes. We shall be of one mind, we shall observe the vows together. I shall be the Samaveda, you the Rigveda, I shall be the Upper World, you the Earth; I shall be the Sukhilam, you the Holder – together we shall live and beget children, and other riches; come thou, O beautiful girl!"
In North Indian weddings, the bride and the groom say the following words after completing the seven steps:
- "We have taken the Seven Steps. You have become mine forever. Yes, we have become partners. I have become yours. Hereafter, I cannot live without you. Do not live without me. Let us share the joys. We are word and meaning, united. You are thought and I am sound. May the night be honey-sweet for us. May the morning be honey-sweet for us. May the earth be honey-sweet for us. May the heavens be honey-sweet for us. May the plants be honey-sweet for us. May the sun be all honey for us. May the cows yield us honey-sweet milk. As the heavens are stable, as the earth is stable, as the mountains are stable, as the whole universe is stable, so may our union be permanently settled."
Saptapadi - Long Form
The long form of the key Hindu wedding ritual, Saptapadi, starts with preface announced by the priest, and thereafter followed by a series of vows the groom and bride make to each other. They are as follows:
Priest's preface: The world of men and women, united in the bond of marriage by Saptapadi, to further promote the joy of life, together listen with triumph
Step 1 Groom's vow: O!, you who feeds life-sustaining food, nourish my visitors, friends, parents and offsprings with food and drinks. O! beautiful lady, I, as a form of Vishnu, take this first step with you for food.
Step 1 Bride's vow: Yes, whatever food you earn with hard work, I will safeguard it, prepare it to nourish you. I promise to respect your wishes, and nourish your friends and family as well.
Step 2 Groom's vow: O!, thoughtful and beautiful lady, with a well managed home, with purity of behavior and thought, you will enable us to be strong, energetic and happy. O! beautiful lady, I, as Vishnu, take this second step with you for the strength of body, character and being.
Step 2 Bride's vow: Yes, I will manage the home according to my ability and reason. Together, I promise, to keep a home that is healthy, strength and energy giving.
Step 3 Groom's vow: O!, skillful and beautiful lady, I promise to devote myself to earning a livelihood by fair means, to discuss, and let you manage and preserve our wealth. O! dear lady, I, as Vishnu form, cover this third step with you to thus prosper in our wealth.
Step 3 Bride's vow: Yes, I join you in managing our income and expenses. I promise to seek your consent, as I manage our wealth, fairly earned, so it grows and sustains our family.
Step 4 Groom's vow: O!, dear lady, I promise to trust your decisions about the household and your choices; I promise to dedicate myself to help our community prosper, the matters outside the house. This shall bring us respect. O! my lady, I, as Vishnu, take this fourth step with you to participate in our world.
Step 4 Bride's vow: Yes, I promise to strive to make the best home for us, anticipate and provide necessary things for your worldly life, and for the happiness of our family.
Step 5 Groom's vow: O!, lady of skill and pure thoughts, I promise to consult with you and engage you in the keep of our cows, our agriculture and our source of income; I promise to contribute to our country. It shall win us future. O! my skilled lady, I, as Vishnu form, take this fifth step with you to together grow our farms and cattle.
Step 5 Bride's vow: Yes, I promise to participate and protect the cattle, our agriculture and business. They are a source of yoghurt, milk, ghee and income, all useful for our family, necessary for our happiness.
Step 6 Groom's vow: O!, lovely lady, I seek you and only you, to love, to have children, to raise a family, to experience all the seasons of life. O! my lovely lady, I, as Vishnu, take this sixth step with you to experience every season of life.
Step 6 Bride's vow: Feeling one with you, with your consent, I will be the means of your enjoyment of all the senses. Through life's seasons, I will cherish you in my heart. I will worship you and seek to complete you.
Step 7 Groom's vow: O friends!, allow us to cover the seventh step together, this promise, our Saptapad-friendship. Please be my constant wife.
Step 7 Bride's vow: Yes, today, I gained you, I secured the highest kind of friendship with you. I will remember the vows we just took and adore you forever sincerely with all my heart.
After the seventh step, the two become man and wife.
Many Hindu weddings start with the Milne (meeting) and Swagatam (welcome) ceremony. This ritual is where the Baraat (groom's procession party) arrives at the bride's home or the location where the bride is and marriage will be celebrated. The Baraat typically includes dancing and joyous members of groom's family, relatives and friends. On their arrival, there is a ritual where key persons from the groom's side and bride's side are introduced to each other. The introduction is typically followed by Jai mala (garland exchange between bride and groom) and a reception that serves food and drinks.
Other rituals sometimes found in Hindu weddings include ceremonies such as madhuparka, vivaha-homa, agni-parinayana, asmarohana, lajahoma, abhishek, anna-prashashan, and aashir-vadah. All these ceremonies are done at the wedding location, typically at or near the bride's home. These additional rituals include the participation of the brothers, or sisters, or maternal/paternal relatives, guardians or friends of the bride.
After the wedding is complete, the bride leaves for groom's home, where Hindu family members of the groom welcome the newly wedded couple in a ritual known as Grihapravesa (home coming/entry). This ceremony typically requires participation of the mother, father, brothers, and sisters, or other guardians of the groom.
Ancient literature suggests the Hindu couple spent time with each other, but delayed the consummation for at least three nights following the wedding. This rite, known as chaturthikarma - literally, "the rite performed on the fourth day of marriage" - has been claimed by some scholars as a possible basis for the validity of a marriage. Other scholars suggest Saptapadi and regionally customary wedding rituals, not consummation, defines legal validity of a Hindu marriage. The Hindu Marriage Act of 1955, Article 7, is consistent with the latter. Chaturthikarma is not a common practice in Hindu communities.
In modern Hindu families, the couple proceed to honeymoon after Grihapravesa.
Wedding and Married Life in Hinduism
While there are many rituals in Hinduism, such as those at birth and passing away of loved ones, the Hindu wedding is the most important and extensive personal ritual an adult Hindu undertakes in his or her life. Typical Hindu families spend significant effort and financial resources to prepare and celebrate weddings.
In 2008, Indian weddings market was estimated to be $31 billion a year. Various sources estimate India celebrates about 10 million weddings per year, and over 80% of these are Hindu weddings. The average expenditures exceed US$ 3,000 per wedding. Another $30 billion per year is spent on jewelry in India, with jewelry for weddings being the predominant market. In a nation with per capita annual income of $1,500, weddings are a major financial commitment for the typical Hindu family.
In India, where most Hindus live, the laws relating to marriage differ by religion. According to the Hindu Marriage Act of 1955, passed by the Parliament of India, for all legal purposes, all Hindus of any caste, creed or sect, Sikh, Buddhists and Jains are deemed Hindus and can intermarry. By the Special Marriage Act, 1954, a Hindu can marry a person who is not Hindu, employing any ceremony, provided specified legal conditions are fulfilled. By Section 7 of Hindu Marriage Act, and tradition, no Hindu marriage is binding and complete before the seventh step of the Saptapadi ritual in presence of fire, by the bride and the groom together. In some cases, such as South Indian Hindu marriages, this is not required.
- Married life
A Vedic sage emphasized that the basis of happy and fulfilling married life is the sense of unity, intimacy and love between husband and wife both physically, mentally and spiritually. Hence wife is considered to be the Ardhangani of husband as per Hindu tradition. Marriage is not for self-indulgence, but is considered a lifelong social and spiritual responsibility. Married life is considered an opportunity for two people to grow as life partners into soul mates.
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