India has many subcultures, and with them variations on wedding traditions, but one thing their weddings all have in common is that Indian weddings are more than a joining of the bride and groom as husband and wife. It’s a uniting of their families in a culture that stresses the importance of the community. Family plays an important role in making life decisions and they play a part in the various Indian weddings traditions and customs.
We already looked at the Mehndi Ceremony which takes place the night before the Vivaah (marriage) in a celebration for the bride’s side of the family, and in today’s post we are going to look at the wedding itself.
Baraat - Groom’s Procession
The wedding ceremony starts when the groom arrives. His family and friends accompany him with singing and dancing to music typically provided by a professional dhol player (large bass drum). The procession is met by the bride’s family at the entrance and is said to represent the happiness of the groom’s family in accepting the bride as part of their own family.
Milni - Meeting of the Two Families
As the two families come together like this the bride’s mother greets the groom in a welcoming ritual. This is followed by family members of both sides hugging and greeting one another with garlands. Then the bride’s family accompanies the groom to a canopied altar where the ceremony takes place. This canopy, known as a mandap, is said to represent the home that the bride and groom will work together to create.
Ganesh Puja – Prayer to Lord GaneshThe ceremony starts with the Ganesh Puja; a prayer to Lord Ganesh, the destroyer of all obstacles. The priest directs the parents of the bride and groom in this prayer while offering flowers and sweets to Lord Ganesh.
Kanya Aagaman - Arrival of the Bride
The bride arrives and is accompanied to the canopied altar by her maternal uncle and aunt, which indicates the bride’s maternal side of the family supports the union. In other parts of India, sisters of the bride, cousins, and close female friends accompany the bride. Once the bride reaches the altar, the bride and groom exchange floral garlands which signifies their acceptance of each other. This symbolic wedding tradition is known as Jai Mala (Exchange of Garlands).
Kanyadaan and Hasta Melap -Giving Away of the Bride
Following the Jai Mala, the bride’s father pours "sacred" water into his daughter’s hand and then places her hand in the groom’s hand. This gesture represents the official “giving away” of his most precious gift to the groom. At this point, the groom’s sister (or cousin) ties the end of the groom’s scarf to the bride’s wedding sari with betelnuts, copper coins and rice. This symbolic knot represents the eternal bond of marriage.
Vivah Havan - Lighting of the Sacred Fire
The priest lights the sacred fire or Agni. This signifies the divine presence as a witness of the marriage ceremony, so commitments made are made in the presence of God. The bride and groom walk around the sacred fire seven times while contemplating the four aspirations in life:
- Dharma: duty to each other, family, and God.
- Artha: prosperity
- Karma: energy and passion
- Moksha: salvation
While performing this circling of the sacred fire known as Mangal Phere, the bride represents divine energy as she leads the groom in the first three rounds. Then the groom takes the lead in the last four rounds symbolizing balance and completeness. This is performed a little differently in some subcultures but once the couple finishes the last four rounds it’s a race to see who can sit down first, because the one who does will rule the house!
Once they are seated, the bride moves to the groom’s left to be as close as possible to his heart. He places a sacred necklace crafted with black and gold beads (called a mangalsutra) around her neck and then applies sindoor (red vermillion) on the crown of her head. Both of these are symbols that she is a married woman.
Once these things are complete, they exchange rings and feed one another sweets. Blessings for the couple are shared by both families as they whisper words of blessing into the bride’s ear. The couple then bows to the priest, the parents, and elder relatives in order to receive their final blessings. The ceremony ends with the guests showering the couple with flowers and rice.
Bidaai -Bride Goes to the Groom’s House
The bride says her goodbyes to her family and the father of the bride gives his prized possession to the Groom’s father. The procession ends joyfully as the bride leaves her family and goes to the groom’s house.