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The Spiritual Significance of an Indian Wedding Ceremony.




The Indian Hindu wedding is performed based on the age old Vedas. The Vedic marriage is thus characterized by a way of life geared towards certain values rooted in the Dharma. Dharma defines a law of life and a guide to social, ethical, and spiritual development.


Followers of the Vedic tradition seek the blessings of the Almighty Lord at the commencement of every new undertaking. It is also a common practice to commence a new beginning at an auspicious moment called Muhūrta, which is determined based on the most propitious configuration of the cosmic bodies. This Indian practice is rooted in the belief that an integral cosmic law governs all human and natural phenomena. Muhūrta is, therefore, an essential feature of the Vedic marriage ceremony.


Vivaha Samskara

Marriage is one of the sixteen main samskaras of the Hindus. The word samskara comes from Sanskrit and means life cycle ritual' or 'rite of passage', that is, purification rites or ceremonies for sanctifying the body, mind, and intellect of an individual, so that they may become a full-fledged member of the society. Vivaha or marriage is regarded as the best of all samskaras, without it one cannot repay their ancestors’ debt. Just as all creatures existence depends on food, so do all the Ashramas depend upon the householder. 


Vedic Marriage: The Rituals

The marriage hymns of the Rigveda and the Atharvaveda begin with the allegory of the marriage of Suryā, the daughter of the sun, with Soma or the moon. It is possible to derive the main rites of the marriage ceremony from these hymns. Though there have been many changes, regional and local, over the centuries a kernel of these original rites has remained intact. Below are some of the main rites and customs in the Hindu Vedic marriage ceremony.


Varyatra (Baraat)

The groom with his friends and relatives comes to the house of the bride on conveyance suited to his status. At the entrance of the house, the groom faces east and is welcomed by the mother of the bride and other women of the house bearing lamps and jars of water.


Varmala

Then garlands are exchanged by the bride and groom. This signifies their acceptance of each other as future husband and wife. The swayamvar of Sita in the Ramayana and Draupadi in the Mahabharata are classic cases in mythology mentioning this ceremony.

After this, the bridegroom takes his seat in the mandap and after regulating his breath with pranayam, and calling his mind to the auspicious time and place proposed as follows:

'I will perform the marriage sacrifice, panigrahana-homa, to win the grace of the Blessed One, the Supreme Lord, by setting up the Sacred fire with my spouse on the path of Dharma."


Madhuparka

Madhuparka is a honey mixture and its offering is reserved for honoring the most distinguished persons in society and the most respected relatives. The groom is

seated on a grass seat, his feet washed with water, followed by the offering of the Madhuparka by his father-in-law in a brass vessel with a brass cover.


Antahpat

The bride now enters the marriage mandap. A cloth antahpat is held between the bride and the groom. It signifies that both of them should glance at each other only at the muhurat or the auspicious moment so that their lives may be full of happiness, peace, and love. At that time the antahpat is removed and the bride's father says, 'Behold the bride’.


Samanjana

After the pair have been seated before the nuptial fire, the bride's father is required to anoint the pair, while the bridegroom recites the following verse: 'May the Vishvedevas, may the waters unite our hearts. May Matarishva, may Dhatri, may Deshtri join us.' The anointment is symbolic of sneha or love, of the uniting pair.


Gotrochara

Before the bride is given away to the bridegroom, the names of the ancestors of both the parties with Gotra and Pravara are announced to the assembled, so that they know that both come from good families, the pedigree of which can be traced to many generations.


Kanyadana

Then the Kanyadana or the ceremony of giving away the bride follows. Only the constituted authorities: the father or in the absence of the father, the grandfather, the brother, caste elders, or the mother - are authorized to give away the bride. The guardian of the bride utters the following samkalpa or determination: “For the obtainment of absolute happiness for our forefathers, for purifying my twelve preceding and twelve succeeding generations through the progeny born to this girl, and for the propitiation of Lakshmi and Naryayana, I make this gift."


Samkalpa

While giving away the girl, the guardian puts forward following conditions: 'In the attainment of Dharma or Piety, Artha or Wealth and Kama or Desire, she is not to be overruled.' To this, the groom replies: 'Overrule her I will not.' The promise is repeated thrice. Many suitable presents are given to the bride. No sacrificial act is considered complete without a fitting dakshina or gift.


Kankana-Bandhana

Then comes a ceremony very important in ancient times, the kankana-bandhana, the tying of the protective cord, which prevented any form of pollution before the samvesha or union could come about. It has a largely decorative function today; in some provinces it is still regarded as auspicious and is called mangalam sutra.


Rashtrabhrita and Other Homas

Several Homas follow, the chief among them being Rashtrabhrita, Jaya, Abhyatana, and Laja Homa. The first three contain prayers for victory and protection from hostile powers, known or unknown to the bridegroom. The last Homa is symbolic of fecundity and prosperity. The brother of the bride pours with his joined hands roasted grains mixed with Shami leaves into her joined hands. The bride then pours these grains into the fire.


Pani-grahana

The Bridegroom takes the right hand of the bride saying “I seize thy hand for the sake of happiness, that thou mayest live to old age with me, thy husband. Come let us marry. Loving bright, with genial minds, may we see a hundred autumns, may we hear a hundred autumns”.  The acceptance of such a responsibility is very sacred, as the girl is supposed to be given not only by her father but also by the guardian deities above, who are witnessing the very solemn contract. The prayer in the end is suggestive of a fruitful, prosperous, and happy married life.


Asmarshan

So that the wife is firm in her fidelity to him, the husband asks her to tread on a stone to the north of the fire, with her right foot, repeating the verse: 'Tread on this stone, like a stone be firm. Tread the foes down, turn away the enemies.' The stone represents firmness and strength.


Agni-Pradhakshina

The couple walks three times around the fire with the bride leading, symbolizing the leading role that the wife plays in the attainment of Dharma, Artha, and Kama. There is a fourth round in which the groom leads, symbolizing his leadership in the attainment of Moksha. The rites from the Laja Homa are repeated and the bride pours the remaining fried grains into the fire. By walking around the fire with their right side toward it, the couple, as the Vedas explain, pledge themselves to follow the Sun's course symbolic of devoting themselves to the Divine Will.


Sapta-padi

The husband takes the bride's hand and leads her to the north of the fire helping her to take seven steps repeating the following mantras :

  •  'Treading the first step, be thou conducive to nutrition. May we be devoted to each other. Let us obtain many children, and may they live to old age.'

  •  'Treading the second step, be thou conducive to strength. May we be devoted to each other. Let us obtain many children, and may they live to old age.'

  •  'Treading the third step, be thou conducive to the increase of wealth. May we be devoted to each other. Let us obtain many children, and may they live to old age.'

  •  'Treading the fourth step, be thou conducive to maintenance of health. May we be devoted to each other. Let us obtain many children, and may they live to old age.'

  •  'Treading the fifth step, be thou conducive to progeny. May we be devoted to each other. Let us obtain many children, and may they live to old age.'

  •  'Treading the sixth step, be thou conducive to good seasons. May we be devoted to each other. Let us obtain many children, and may they live to old age.'

  •  'Treading the seventh step, be my friend. May we be devoted to each other. Let us obtain many children, and may they live to old age.'


From this time forward, the bride and groom are considered married. This ceremony is very important from the Vedic legal point of view; marriage is regarded as legally complete only after this ceremony is performed.


Hrdyavamarshanam

Reaching over her right shoulder, the husband touches the heart of the bride with the words: 'Into my heart will I take thy heart; thy mind shall dwell in my mind; in my word, thou shall rejoice with all thy heart, may Prajapati join thee to me.'


Sindur-dana

Now the groom invites the assembled guests and relatives to bless the bride reciting the verses, 'Auspicious ornaments does this woman wear. Come to her and behold her. 

Sindur-dana or putting red vermillion in the parting of the bride's hair takes place now.



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