Hindu wedding ceremonies are elaborate events, involving pre-wedding rituals, the wedding ceremony, and post-wedding rituals, with the wedding ceremony alone lasting three to four days. (Details of the Hindu wedding are described in the ancient scripture, “Manusmriti”). And the ceremonies and rituals surrounding the Hindu marriage are rife with symbolism and meaning.
-shagun ceremony: Once the young man and young lady have consented to the marriage, the elders of both families choose an auspicious date, oftentimes after consulting the astral calendar, for the shagun ceremony, a ceremony where the groom’s mother visits the bride’s home with gifts, clothing, betel nuts, rice, and incense. Jewelry and sweets may also be a part of the gift-giving. Acceptance by the bride of the shagun signifies her formal consent to be the daughter-in-law of the family.
–mangni ceremony (also called “sangaai ceremony” or “misri ceremony”): The engagement ceremony, where the young man and young lady exchange rings in the presence of elders and friends. It is an elaborate ceremony, celebrated with food, music, and dancing. Mangni marks the mutual agreement and consent for the marriage by both families.
–Mehndi ceremony: In a ceremony organized by the women of the to-be-bride’s house, the mother of the bride applies a small dot of henna onto the bride’s small finger. An expert Mehndi artist then decorates the bride’s hands and feet with intricate Indian and/or Arabic designs. Ladies in attendance may also decorate their hands and feet. The mother of the bride may also request that the Mehndi artist write the groom’s name amidst the designs, the groom, in one of the post-wedding rituals, being challenged with finding his name. Typically, Mehndi ceremonies occur in the evening and are followed by a sumptuous dinner. The ceremony is regarded as one of the most anticipated wedding rituals.
–sangeet ceremony: The bride celebrates her last days of single life. She is pampered; the bride’s friends take delight in teasing her about her future husband; and elders of the house sing traditional songs and bless the bride. (The churi ceremony may take place within the sangeet ceremony. In the churi ceremony, all the women present are presented with different bangles of their choice). Sangeet ceremonies are held in the house of the bride and groom separately.
–haldi ceremony: In a ceremony which takes place the day before the wedding, freshly ground turmeric, combined with extracts of jasmine and sandalwood, is applied to the body of the bride (at her home) and the body of the groom (at his home). (Turmeric is revered in Hindu culture). It is believed that the haldi ceremony (perhaps because of the golden hue of the spice blend) imparts a natural glow upon the bride and groom. After the haldi ceremony, neither the bride nor groom should leave the house until the day of the wedding.
–navagraha puja: Performed separately at the bride’s and groom’s homes by the family priest in order to seek blessings from the planets.
The Wedding Ceremony
–baraat: The wedding procession where the groom arrives at the wedding venue atop a white mare. The groom’s retinue is comprised of his family members and friends. Music is played, and members of the procession dance en route to the wedding venue.
–vara satkara: The ceremony in which the bride’s mother welcomes the groom by applying tilak and rice grains to his forehead. (“Var” refers to groom in Sanskrit). The groom is then seated in a special chair, where the bride’s brother or another relative washes the groom’s feet. Thereafter, the groom presents a gift to the bride’s brother (or to whoever washed the groom’s feet).
–madhuparka: The bride’s father welcomes the groom to the vivaah mandap (also spelled “vivah mandap”), the highly decorated canopied area where the actual wedding ceremony will take place. The priest then lights the holy fire (“vivaah homa”) and begins chanting Vedic verses, thereby signifying the commencement of the wedding ceremony. (The fire is typically contained in a decorative box). The priest then chants Vedic verses for the groom. After some time, the bride’s sister or future sister-in-law guides the bride to the vivaah mandap, the bride taking her seat next to the groom. The bride and groom then recite Vedic verses as directed by the priest.
–kanya daan: In the kanya daan ceremony, the father of the bride gives her away to the groom. The father places his daughter’s left hand into the groom’s right hand, the groom promising to be with and protect his wife in good times and in bad. Paani-graham refers to the point in the ceremony where the groom accepts the bride as his lawfully wedded wife.
–lojja homa: The couple offers oblations of puffed rice to the vivaah homa (the holy fire).
–shila arohan: The bride stands on a stone slab, marking her entrance into married life. She is then counseled by her mother about being a good wife and daughter-in-law.
–sapta-padi (also called “mangal phera”): In this ceremony, the bride and groom walk around the holy fire seven time, three times led by the bride, and four times led by the groom. Each revolution (phera) symbolizes a marriage vow. It is also believed that each revolution represents a birth.
–mangal aashirwad: The newlywed couples seeks blessings from the elders of both families.
–anna prashan: The newlyweds break their fast by feeding each other. Wedding guests are also served food.
–griha pravesh: The bride is welcomed into her new home by her mother-in-law, who applies tilak onto the forehead of the bride. (“Tilak” is a distinctive spot of colored powder or paste worn on the forehead by Hindu men and women as a religious symbol). The bride then seeks blessings from the elders in the family. Thereafter, the bride and groom engage in a series fun-filled games where the bride and groom are pitted against each other. The games are aimed at acclimating the bride to her new family. One such game is the ring game, where the bride and groom must race to first find his/her ring which has been immersed in a bowl of water mixed with milk, turmeric, kumkum, and rose petals. It is believed that whoever is first to find his/her ring will be the dominant spouse.
–path phera: The bride returns to her mother’s house on the fourth day after the wedding. On the fifth day, however, the groom and his family visit the home of the bride’s mother in order to take the new bride back to her marital abode. The bride’s family prepares a lavish feast to welcome the groom and his family to the path phera.