India consists of many different regions, with each region having its distinctive religion, traditions, rituals, foods, and of course, very special wedding rituals.
After the Pre-Wedding ceremonies, the actual marriage ceremonies take place, so I will briefly touch upon the general Hindu traditions in part I, followed by Assamese wedding day traditions, in part II.
The actual marriage ceremony begins in the evening, could be as late as 9 PM, and lasts for 6 – 7 hours.
Besides the bride and the groom, only family members and close friends attend this part of the wedding ceremony.
It is very spiritual, filled with numerous rituals performed by the priest, bride, groom, and family members.
Part I – Traditional Hindu Wedding Day Ceremonies
Vara Yatra – arrival of the groom and his party
When the groom and his party arrives at the wedding site, the bride’s parents, friends and family greet him by throwing handfuls of special rice (akshat) at him, and his party protects him with an open umbrella over him. He also is presented with Tilak, plate carrying lighted lamp (arati), and a garland.
Grahashanti – Peace with the planets
Nine planets are invoked by name, to provide blessing from each, for the bride and the groom’s life together.
Kanyadan – The parents of the bride are offering their daughter in marriage to the groom
The bride is lead by her brother or uncle, to the mandap, where the groom is waiting with her parents. Here the groom and the bride exchange garlands, and their feet are washed with milk and water to purify them.
The bride and the groom extend their hands with open palms towards each other, and the father of the bride places his open palms above their, then the mother of the bride pours water over his hands, and the water runs over the bride and the groom’s hands.
Hastamilop – Joining of the bride’s and the groom’s hands
The bride’s right hand is placed on the grooms right hand, and tied together with cotton thread, wound up around several times to signify a unbreakable bond between hem.
Magnalfera – Four ashrams of life
The bride and the groom are seated under the Mandap, facing each other, with the sacred fire setting placed between them. As the priest recites the different wedding mantras from the Holy Scriptures written in Sanskrit language (oldest language in India), the bride and the groom walk around the fire four times, and the family members make offerings into the fire.
Saptapadi –Seven vows
Seven vows exchanged by the bride and the groom, to seal the marriage forever, and to complete the wedding ceremony. The groom also fills the sindor in the center of the parting of the bride, and places Mangalsutra around her neck, which has a strong religious sacred symbol of a married woman.
Dhruvadarshan – symbol of steadfast marriage
The priest directs the bride and the groom to look up on the pole star which is steadfast in the sky, while all the other stars move across the sky. This should be an example for their marriage to remain steady, even though others might experience many changes.
Part II – Assamese Wedding Day Ceremonies
This section of the post has been prepared with assistance from my special guests, Rishi and Ria, based on their Assamese style wedding.
You will notice some similarities, and other quite distinct differences, between these two traditions ( Part I versus Part II) of the actual marriage ceremony.
Vivaaha – Wedding Ceremony
Mandap - The main area (altar) where the bride and groom sit during the whole marriage ceremony, surrounded by their family and very close friends, sitting around on a lower level.
The four principles that form the foundation of Assamese Hindu marriage are:
- Dharma - Path of Righteousness
- Artha - Pursuit of Prosperity
- Kama - Fulfillment of Worldly Pleasures
- Moksha - Salvation
Through Dharma, Artha and Kama, one may attain Moksha.
The priest begins the ceremony with an offering of prayers to God and all his representations.
The arrival of the groom calls for fun activities, after which the groom enters the wedding area, and is being greeted by the bride’s mother, who welcomes her future son-in-law.
The bride enters shortly after the groom comes in, while her siblings and close friends follow behind her.
The couple exchanges garlands (instead of wedding bands), as well as wedding vows, amidst the chanting of mantras.
Conch shells are blown, to mark the official tying of the wedding knot.
Kanya Daan – Giving away the bride
The Kanya Daan is the highest gift that you can offer to the Lord in the Hindu religion. This takes place next as the priest recalls the names of the bride and groom’s ancestors. The bride’s father offers the hand of his daughter to the groom, as he asks for assurance from the groom that he will be able to take care of his daughter.
The right hand of the bride is placed in the right hand of the groom, as the priest prays for stability and longevity in their married life. The joining of the bride and groom signifies that the couple is united, and will live as one body, mind and soul.
The Agni – Sacred Fire
The Agni is the witness in all Hindu weddings.
The brother of the bride helps the couple make offerings of puffed rice and ghee to Agni. The couple then circle the fire while family and friends of the bride and groom stand by.
The Sapta Padi – Seven Steps
The Sapta Padi is one of the most important rituals in the Hindu wedding ceremony, because it symbolizes the meaning of marriage and life as a couple.
This is the symbolic meaning of the seven steps:
Ashirvad – Blessings
Ashirvad is the final step of the wedding ceremony where the priest gives his formal blessing to the newly weds and asks them to follow the path of Dharma, as well as the remaining three ancient principles of marriage.
The couple concurs, and then receives the blessings of their elders.
After the marriage ceremony is over (remember it lasted 6-7 hours), the bride visits the groom’s house, her future home, and the Ghar Gosoka ceremony takes place.
The groom’s mother does not attend the wedding ceremony of her son, but rather remains at home, and awaits a visit by her son with his new wife.
The Ghar Gosoka – stepping to the new home
The bride visits the groom’s home for the first time after they’ve been married. The bride and groom go to the groom’s home accompanied by the bride’s brother, cousins, and close friends.
The bride participates in special ceremonial activities at the groom’s home, and plays traditional games with the groom’s immediate family.
After seeking blessing from the Lord, the bride along with her “entourage”, leaves the groom’s house, to return to her own home.
The groom remains in his own home that night.
The next day everyone stays at home and relaxes, and bids farewell to all the out of town guests, who will not be able to attend the wedding reception, as some are from far away and need to travel back, and others whowere not able to secure sufficient length of time to spend at the wedding.
I also came upon a slightly different version of this tradition, which here is called Datar.
Datar – Salt ceremony
After the actual marriage ceremony, the bride and the groom leave for the grooms house, the new home for the bride. As they arrive at the grooms house, his parents lift her feet, place a headdress over her head, and she sprinkles milk in all corners of their home, which signifies her respect towards her new family, her promise to diffuse any misunderstandings, and to maintain family unity.
The bride also picks up a handful of salt and places it in the groom’s hands, and he in turn returns the salt back to her hands, repeating the process three times, without spilling any of the salt.
The Datar is carried out with all the members of the bride’s new family.
This ritual of exchanging the salt, symbolizes the blending of the daughter-in-law to the groom’s family, just like salt
blends in food and flavors it.
Please stay tuned, as the final post will highlight the actual reception, and post-wedding ceremonies.