Hindu Marriage Customs
You must be aware that the Hindu marriage customs and traditions have been derived from the practices that have been enshrined in Vedic texts and have been handed down the generations.
The Hindu way of life is divided into four stages—Brahmacharya (bachelordom), grihasta (householder), vanaprastha (giving up possessions and devoting oneself to god as a couple), Sanyasa (giving up relationships and devoting oneself completely to god). The grihastashrama is initiated when the Hindu gets married.
The Hindu Marriage Act, you will note, also has a bearing on the legal aspects of the Hindu marriage.
Traditionally, Hindu marriages are arranged marriages and the bride and groom must belong to the same caste, community and state. However, you may find that modern Hindu marriages are sometimes love matches. Caste, community and even religions are sometimes overlooked in these matches.
Match Making and Horoscope
In Hindu marriage customs, the bride or groom is selected by the parents. You will therefore, appreciate that caste, community and social standing of the family are important considerations in the selection of the bride or groom. Of course, it follows that the education background, looks and ability to support a family are essential criteria in the selection of the groom.
In Hindu marriage customs, the elderly family members or relatives of the bride or groom may initiate the proposal of marriage or advertisements may be inserted by either party in the matrimonial columns of the newspaper.
Temples too have community centers where either party can register the horoscope of the son or daughter as a prospective marriage partner. The priests then pick up the matching horoscopes from among the registered brides and grooms and propose the match to the parents. The parents may thereafter approach the other party with a proposal if they are satisfied on other counts.
A number of Internet based matrimonial sites have also sprung up to provide the services that are being provided by the community centers in temples.
Engagement in Hindu Marriage Customs
The engagement is the first official declaration of the intended match between the bride and groom. The engagement ceremony is known by various names (Misri, Nichidartham, Sagayi etc), depending on the community and hometown of the bride and the groom. The engagement date and the auspicious time of the day (muhurat) are determined by a priest based on the reading of the horoscopes of the bride and the groom.
You will find that the process of engagement is similar across the country. The groom, his parents and close relatives visit the home of the bride with gifts of clothes and jewelry. The priest is invited to declare the engagement as official and the parents of the bride and the groom exchange tokens of the pact. This pact may be sealed with a gift of fruits, coconuts, betel leaves
and areca nuts along with clothes for the bride and the groom.
In some families the pact is sealed with an exchange of rings by the bride and the groom.
The lavishness of the party that is hosted by the bride’s family on this occasion will be incumbent upon the wealth and social position of the bride’s parents and the social customs prevalent in the groom’s family.
Interestingly, during this engagement ceremony, the dowry that will go with the bride from her parent’s home is also finalized. The dowry may include cash, jewelry, household items and vessels in silver.
The bride and the groom are allowed to meet each other in the presence of elders between the date of engagement and marriage. You will perhaps be surprised to know that in modern households, the bride is even allowed to go out with the groom for an evening so that they get to know each other.
Hindu Wedding Traditions
Before marriage the most important function in the Hindu wedding traditions is Mehendi or Henna ceremony. The date for this ceremony is also determined by a reading of the horoscope of the bride and the groom. This is largely a female function and all the female members of the bride’s and groom’s family gather under one roof and apply designs with henna on the hands of the bride and also on their own hands and feet. The color of Mehendi in Hindu wedding traditions, you will note, signifies undying love of the bride for the groom.
You will find that music and dance is an integral part of Hindu wedding traditions. The groom’s family or the bride’s family may arrange a number of Sangeet parties where the members of both families meet and sing together and interact. They have their meals together and bond with each other. In many communities, men and women dance without inhibition and enjoy themselves. The expenses of these functions can be borne by either party and these are optional.
The Hindu wedding traditions give a lot of importance to the Girija puja. This puja or worship of the Goddess is performed to invoke the blessing of the deity for the long and happy married life of the couple. This worship is normally performed on the day preceding, the wedding day.
The Pithi or the ceremonial Turmeric Wash
This function is performed to cleanse the bride and groom and make them look their best on their wedding day. You will find similar rituals exist in Jewish, Arabic and other wedding customs across the world. Both partners are elaborately rubbed over with turmeric and sandal wood paste.
Did you know that the turmeric is considered to be holy and essential for the protection of the skin and hence it plays a significant role in the life of a Hindu wife thereafter?
Finally, the priest determines the most auspicious date and time for the wedding on the basis of the reading of the horoscopes of the bride and the groom.
You will note that the wedding itself is a long drawn out affair with elaborate rituals that go on for about 6-8 hours. The wedding dais or Mandap is decorated with flowers. The bride and groom are richly attired in expensive clothes and jewels. You will note that the weddings in Southern India take place during the day and the weddings in the North of India are celebrated at night. Weddings in Bengal and Kerala are not very elaborate while wedding ceremonies in other parts of the country are very elaborate and can overlap a single day or even three days. However, the basic rituals and concepts are similar.In Hindu wedding traditions the ceremony includes a number of vedic rituals where the bride and groom pledge themselves to a partnership that is holy and supportive. The groom draws the attention of the bride to the steadfastness and love of Arundhati (daughter of the Sage Patañjali and wife of the sage (rishi) Vasishtha) for her husband and requests her to bear him a similar love. The couple makes a lifelong commitment to each other by taking the Saptapathi or the seven steps—representing the seven vows of Vedic marriage– round a fire–which is considered to be the witness to the sanctity of the ceremony and their intentions.
These ceremonies are interspersed with lighter moments where the bride and the groom are asked to compete against each other in a game or the brides sisters steal the shoes of the groom and demand money from him for their return and so on.
The Wedding Night in Bride’s Home
Interestingly, the nuptial night in Hindu wedding traditions is arranged in the bride’s home. The purpose is to make the bride feel comfortable among her own people while she steps out from girlhood and to womanhood. The bed is decorated with flowers and the bedposts are hung with strings of flowers. The bride and groom consume milk and fruits—which signify prosperity and everlasting health and happiness.