International Bride: Hindu Wedding Ceremonies

by: Michael Kabel

The traditional Hindu wedding ceremony, practiced predominantly in the Northern provinces of India, is an incredibly elaborate affair that sometimes continues for days. Parts of the ceremony are spoken in Sanskrit, the ancient and holy Hindu language.

Indian marriage laws vary according to religion, but for practical purposes Buddhists, Jains and Sikhs are also considered Hindu, and can intermarry. Marriage between Hindus and non-Hindus is also allowed.

The pre-ceremony festivities

Hindu bride and grooms enter into engagement through a special ceremony called the vagdana, or "word-giving." The ceremony is official notice that the couple is engaged. A lagna-patra, or written contract, may also be displayed.

The groom's party often makes a formal procession to the bride's home, where they are greeted by the bride and her family, before heading on together to the ceremonial hall.

The ancient Hindu fire-sacrifice rite

While most modern Hinduism ceremony revolves around prayer, the wedding ceremony retains its roots to the Vedic Yajna, or “fire sacrifice.” Here the blessings of certain important deities are invoked in an ancient style, as a way of cementing the bonds of friendship and loyalty.

The primary witness of the Vedic Yajna is the fire spirit Agni. The bride and groom make seven steps around a ritual and sacred fire, sanctifying the marriage, in the ceremony called the Saptapadi. The groom helps to lift the bride's steps while invoking a special liturgy to the bride that calls for good fortune and loyalty to her husband, and that they will bear children together. It also invokes the arch-god Lord Vishnu for his blessing. Finally, the young couple prays for the peace of the entire universe.

Other Hindu marriage rites

Because India is an enormous land so rich with different cultures and dialects, many other wedding customs have become commonplace. In some instances where the bride and groom come from different traditions, two priests will officiate at the wedding ceremony, so that both traditions are respectfully represented.

Some of the more prominent wedding traditions include:

The bandhi bandhwana is performed fifteen days before the ceremony by a Hindu pandit, or holy scholar. The pandit prays to Lord Ganesh, the remover of obstacles, that the rest of the wedding preparations should happen without incident. A thread is tied to the wrist of the groom and his parents, who also pray every day thereafter until the wedding is completed.

In the Kanya Daan, the bride's father delivers her to the groom while a large assembly of friends and relatives looks on. As the bride and her father approach, the groom recites prayers and hyms to Kama, the Hindu love god, asking that love and devotion descend on the new marriage.

After the wedding ceremonies

Perhaps the most colorful ceremony after the wedding is the Griha Pravesh. Upon the bride's arrival at the home of the groom's family, the groom's mother will put her right foot into a bowl of milk mixed with vermilion powder. This symbolizes the hope for good fortune and purity. The groom’s mother will then kick over a jar of rice mixed with coins, in the hope for good fortune.

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