Hindu Wedding Ceremonies and Vows
Hindu wedding ceremonies are several days long and they include many rituals, readings, and blessings which are said in Sanskrit. Sometimes the priest is the only one who understands the language being used. Americanized versions of Hindu wedding ceremonies are considerably shorter, and the language used is much easier to understand. However, Hindu wedding ceremonies are distinctly different from other types of wedding ceremonies.
A Hindu wedding party consists of the:
- Bride’s parents
- Groom’s parents
- Bride’s maternal uncle
- Bride’s brother, cousin, or male friend
- Best man
- A chorus that will perform traditional Indian slokas
- Flower girls
The bride usually wears either a red and white or solid red sari that at least partially covers her hair. The groom wears a tunic called a kafni and hose, called pijamo or a long loincloth, called a dhoti. He may or may not choose to wear a turban. Henna, known as Mehndi is used to decorate the bride’s hands and feet. This is traditionally applied by the groom’s family, although the bride can have it applied at a salon. The quality of the Mehndi designs and their staying power often demonstrates how well the bride’s in-laws are treating her. This is because Mehndi must wear off over time, and if applied well, it can stay on for months.
The wedding takes place outdoors, under a mandap, a type of canopy. The wedding party and guests should not wear black to the ceremony, and all should wear shoes that can easily be removed. That's because anyone who enters must remove his or her shoes. Cushions or mats can provide seating, or less traditional ceremonies may use chairs, but the sacred fire must be under the mandap. You should check with your local government about the use of outdoor fires during dry seasons to prevent any potential problems with the fire. You may want to use a pit for safety reasons.
Hindu weddings have two processionals. The groom’s party arrives first, with the groom carrying the bride’s garland. When he arrives, the bride’s mother greets him and applies kumkum, a red paste, to his forehead. In return, the groom gives the bride’s mother a coconut. The bride’s parents escort the groom and the best man to the mandap, and then the flower girls come in, followed by the bride who is being escorted by her maternal uncle. The priest then announces the purpose of the ceremony, naming the bride, groom, and their parents and stating the religious foundation upon which their marriage will be built.
Once the bride and groom are seated under the mandap, the following rituals are performed:
- Invocation to Lord Ganesha
- Invocation to Saraswati
- Prayer for harmony
- Bride garlands groom, and vice versa
- The Bride’s mother and the groom’s father wash their children’s hands and feet, give them flowers, and apply kumkum
- The bride’s parents announce their approval of the wedding
- The groom says his vows
- The bride says her vows
The priest then says “A circle is the symbol of the sun and the earth and the universe. It is a symbol of holiness and of perfection and of peace. In these rings it is the symbol of unity, in which your lives are now joined in one unbroken circle, in which, wherever you go, you will always return to one another and to your togetherness.” (Modern version/translation).
- The bride and groom exchange rings
- The priest puts the sacred rope, called varamala, around the bride and groom’s necks which officially marries them
- The couple moves to sit side by side and the Bride’s father joins their hands
- The bride and groom cup their joined hands, into which the Bride’s brother pours rice, which the couple then pours into the fire
- The couple walks around the fire four times, switching positions with each turn.
While they are walking around the fire, the priest says a prayer for each turn. The prayers are usually for happiness, health, and long life.
- The bride and groom sit down
- The groom presents a gift to the bride’s brother
- The priest confirms the marriage with the Seven Steps
A modern interpretation of Hindu Sanskrit wedding vows is:
“Let us take the first steps to provide for our household a nourishing diet, avoiding foods injurious to healthy living. Let us take the second step to develop physical, mental, and spiritual strength. Let us take the third step to increase our wealth by righteous means and proper use. Let us take the fourth step to acquire knowledge, happiness, and harmony by mutual love and trust. Let us take the fifth step so that we will be blessed with strong, virtuous children. Let us take the sixth step for self-restraint and longevity. Let us take the seventh step and be true companions and remain lifelong partners by this wedlock.”
Afterwards, the wedding vows traditionally include the following speech:
“We have taken the Seven Steps. You have become mine forever. Yes, we have become partners. I have become yours. Hereafter, I cannot live without you. Do not live without me. Let us share the joys. We are word and meaning, united. You are though and I am sound. May the night be honey-sweet for us and the heavens be honey-sweet for us. May the plants be honey-sweet for us; may the sun be all honey for us; may the cows yield us honey-sweet milk. As the heavens are stable, as the earth is stable, as the mountains are stable, as the whole universe is stable, so may our unions be permanently settled.”
The sacred fire represents the fire-deity Agni, and legally, the Hindu marriage ceremony cannot be recognized if the couple did not walk around it seven times.