Your guide to the Hindu wedding ceremony and traditions
The Hindu marriage usually takes in the bride’s hometown or city. Traditionally, it is organised and paid for by the bride’s parents. For Orthodox Hindus, mixed marriage is considered inappropriate: for others, it is possible to marry someone of a different religion without either partner having to convert.
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What is a Hindu wedding?
- A Hindu wedding is a religious ceremony and one of the most important of the sixteen Hindu sanskars or sacraments. It is seen, not only as the bond between two people, but also the bond between two families.
- The ceremony lasts a minimum of one‐and‐a‐half‐hours, but the preparations and celebrations begin weeks before the actual ceremony and continue afterwards.
- The Hindu service is performed by a male Brahmin priest in accordance with the holy verses (mantras) from the Vedas ‐‐ the Hindu holy book.
- The ceremony takes place in a venue chosen by the bride’s family. This is normally a town hall or community hall, or a hotel, depending on the budget of the bride’s family. There are then blessings in the temple after the service.
- The Hindu wedding ceremony is not recognised by British law. It is therefore also necessary to marry in a civil register office and follow this with a Hindu ceremony.
Planning your Hindu wedding
Setting the date
- Astrological charts are consulted to choose a day for the wedding that’s considered auspicious. Some days are not permitted for weddings: the Hindu calendar is lunar based, and has a day in each month called Amas, for instance, when it is forbidden to marry. It is also impossible to marry during Shraaddh, a two‐week period during September, and 15 days before the festival of Holi. These periods are considered as unlucky for marriage. In each case the Hindu calendar must be consulted, as these dates change each year.
- The couple usually meet the Brahmin prior to the ceremony. This is so the priest can explain the significance of the ceremony and answer any questions the bride and groom might have.
The Hindu marriage ceremony
- The ceremony begins with the Hasta Melaap when the bride’s right hand is placed into the groom’s right hand and the priest chants the holy verses.
- The bride and groom are joined together by a piece of white cloth ‐‐ one end tied to the corner of the bride’s sari, the other to the groom’s scarf
- A fire is lit in the centre of the Mandap to invite the fire god to witness the union and the right hands of the couple are tied together with blessed thread, their palms filled with rice, oats and leaves to signify wealth, health, happiness and prosperity. These are then offered to the fire.
- The couple then perform the Lawan Phere, a ritual in which they walk around the fire four times. Each time round, the stop to touch a stone in their path that symbolises obstacles in life that they will overcome together.
- This symbolises the four human goals in Hinduism ‐‐ in the context of a wedding, these are: faith, financial stability, procreation and liberation of the soul.
- The ceremony itself follows a very strict pattern. It contains no readings, but does involve music, chosen by the bride and groom. This music is usually a mixture of the latest Bollywood film songs, and some older soundtracks, the lyrics of which are all very romantic.
- The most important part of the marriage ceremony is the Saptapadi. Facing north, the bride and groom take seven steps together. Each step calls upon God to bless the couple for strength, food, progeny, family, prosperity, happiness and life‐long bride comes to the groom’s left, which symbolically leaves his right side free to take on the world.
- Then follows Saubhagya Chinya when the groom places sindoor (holy red powder) on the bride’s forehead to welcome her into his life as his partner. He also gives her a necklace of black beads ‐‐ a mangalsutra ‐‐ as a symbol of his love, integrity and devotion towards her.
- The bride and groom then feed each other sweetmeats as a promise of fidelity and to love and cherish each other forever. This is known as Anna‐Prashana.
- The service ends with the Ashirwaad ‐‐ blessings from the priest, parents and close relatives. They are followed by friends who wish to add their congratulations. after the ceremony
- After the ceremony, the bridal party sits down to a lavish dinner, after which, the bride and groom play a number of games. During the ceremony, they will have had threads with knots tied to their wrists. They must attempt to untie these knots, which represent the importance of having patience with one another. Another game involves a large bowl filled with red‐coloured milk, in which a number of items have been placed, including a coin. The bride and groom attempt to find the coin and the finder is said to be the person who will be dominant in the marriage.
- After dinner, the bride says goodbye to her family and friends. This is a very emotional time, particularly if the bride is emigrating or moving far away from her childhood home. The groom leads the bride to the car, and once in the car, the bride’s brother or a male relative covers her with a shawl and wishes her well. The couple stop off at a temple to offer their prayers and seek blessings, before heading off to the groom’s home.
Hindu wedding traditions
- Traditionally, the Hindu wedding ceremony does not involve service sheets. However, if the couple have invited non‐Hindu guests, it is usual to have brief translations of the service itself and what it signifies.
- Guests can wear what they wish, though it is best to avoid black. Men dress in suits or traditional dress. Female guests wear suits, dresses or saris. It is no longer necessary for the women to cover their heads, though elderly and orthodox Hindus still tend to do so.
- The bride traditionally wears a fine, white sari with red and gold embroidery, traditionally given her by her maternal uncles. During the celebrations, she will put on a red sari, a gift from the groom’s family. The white sari represents purity, the red sari fertility. The bride wears ornaments in her hair, her arms are covered with bracelets and she wears a gold band around her waist and anklets of gold on her feet.
- The groom wears a lounge suit or traditional Indian dress, which consists of a Nehru jacket and traditional trousers in white or ivory.
The day before the wedding
- The day before the wedding, the bride has the palms of her hands and her feet painted with elaborate henna designs. This event is like a hen party, though without alcohol. The bride’s family and friends have their hands and feet painted too, though the focus is on celebration, rather than decoration.
- A canopy of flowers is put up at the venue for the wedding.
- The priest who will officiate at the service conducts the Ghari Puja on the eve of the wedding, in both bride and groom’s homes. This is a ritual of prayers to welcome in the new life together, to get rid of evil and to confer prosperity on the couple.
On the big day
- It is considered unlucky for the groom to see the bride on the wedding day. He arrives at the wedding venue in a cavalcade of cars, where a number of rituals are performed. When the groom gets out of his car, the bride’s mother and family welcome him. The bride’s mother places a small round red dot on his forehead and gives him a garland of flowers, to signify her approval of the wedding. In a traditional game, the bride’s female relatives and friends try to snatch the garland from his neck and to steal his shoes. They then demand a ‘ransom’ for their release.
- The bride’s mother then accompanies him to the Mancap or canopy where the ceremony is conducted. His sisters follow behind him shaking a metal pot covered by a white handkerchief containing rice and coins to ward off evil spirits.
- Before entering the venue, the groom steps on a small terracotta bowl, to signify his virility and strength. While he waits for the bride to arrive, his feet are washed by her mother and father.
- The bride is accompanied to the wedding venue by her maternal uncles. She is either carried by them or walks between them. She enters to music of her own choice.