The Hindu seers of the ancient times invented a very ingenious method of tying the wedding knot. There is perhaps no other example of creating a bond that goes beyond the mortal life on this earth than with the Hindu man and his wife. According to Hindu scriptures, marriage is a duty. Non-performance renders the individual as incomplete. It is based on the principles of love, sacrifice, and service to build a good family and lay a strong foundation for noble society. Hindu marriage is often an elaborate affair. It is believed that a Hindu wedding is not just a relationship of two individuals; rather, it is a relationship of two families. Participation of the family members is very deliberate and vocal.
Even though the Vedic society was considered paternal in the beginning, it soon recognized the esteem of the woman and accorded the highest status to her, on par with the man. The wife was called ardhangini (half-body) or sahadharmini (partner in spiritual life). In the long voyage of the married life, the Hindu wife becomes her husband’s true and honored partner. There is no family occasion, religious ceremony, or a spiritual ritual where she is not a major participant. In the earliest Rig Veda, it is mentioned “O Bride, May your father-in-law treat you as a queen. May your mother-in-law treat you as Samrajni (queen). May the sisters and brothers of your husband treat you as a queen. (10.85.46) The high status, which a Hindu wife earned more than five thousand years ago, is way ahead of most women in other cultures of the world.
The parents generally arrange Hindu marriages. Even when the man and woman seek each other directly, the family usually endorses the wedding. Nowadays, the involvement and influence of the parents and elders has been reduced in the choice of selection, especially in the urban sector.
Traditionally, the wife comes to live in the husband’s home after the marriage, leaving her parent’s place. It is also expected that she would adapt to the religious and social customs of her new family. Hindus, therefore, prefer that their daughters be married in their own religion and sect so they may carry the spiritual disciplines smoothly and guide their own children evenly. The Vedas state, “United your resolve, united your hearts, may your spirits be one that you may long together dwell in unity and concord!” In present times, many weddings do take place outside the faith, entailing an extra sense of maturity and self-restraint from both spouses.
The dowry system is common in Hindu weddings, when the bride’s parents offer gifts and money to the bridegroom and his family. Even though the law now bans it, this custom nevertheless still prevails in Hindu society. In some cases, it takes an ugly and even tragic toll.
At the beginning of the ceremony, the bride’s family and guests welcome and receive the bridegroom and his family outside the place of the wedding. Traditional shehnai music is played to augur the auspicious event. This music is called the baraat, which signifies the arrival of the groom’s party. The bride’s mother greets the groom and performs aarti, a religious prayer of blessings. The priest invokes the divine mantras to herald the ceremony.
Even though the majority of Hindus do not understand the ancient Sanskrit language, the wedding ceremony is always performed in this dialect, even in foreign countries. Nowadays, the presiding priest usually renders a simultaneous translation in English or the local Indian language. The Sanskrit word for marriage is vivah, which literally means “what supports or carries” a man and woman throughout their married life, in pursuit of righteousness, the dharma.
As previously noted the bridegroom arrives at the bride’s place and is welcomed by the bride’s parents and relatives. This is known as Var Agaman. The bride customarily wears a red dress, signifying abundance and fertility. The bride and groom garland each other in a ritual called Jai Mala, to the accompaniment of loud applause by all the guests.
Ganpati Puja—Lord Ganesh—is worshipped. It is customary to say prayers to Lord Ganesh at important occasions to remove any obstacles that may come. This is often followed by an invocation to the Supreme Lord or to one’s own favorite god, the isht devta and the navagrah puja—invocations of the blessings of the nine planetary gods.
Havan—lighting of the sacred fire for the ceremony, the worship at the sacred fire, Agn kund, is an important ritual that is never missed.
Kanyadan—bestowing the bride’s hand in marriage to the groom by the bride’s parents is considered the most essential part of Hindu wedding.
Granthi bandhan—tying of the nuptial knot, symbolizing the eternal union, is performed soon after.
Parikrama (mangal pherra) —a ritual that marks the symbolic union of the bridegroom and the bride, when they both take four rounds together around the sacred fire: In the first three rounds, the bridegroom leads the bride. The first three rounds signify the three activities of a Hindu life—dharma, or religious duty; artha, or prosperity; and kama, or fulfillment of desires. In the fourth round, the bride leads the bridegroom. The fourth round signifies the last activity of a Hindu life, moksha, or salvation. Though the bride leads only in the last round, it is the most vital and sacred activity; hence, her position becomes elevated.
The bridal couple then takes satpadi—seven steps together for the seven vows:
Together we will share in the responsibility of the home.
Together we will fill our hearts with strength and courage.
Together we will prosper and share our worldly goods.
Together we will fill our hearts with love, peace, happiness, and spiritual values.
Together we will be blessed with loving children.
Together we will attain self-restraint and longevity.
Together we will be best friends and eternal partners.
In the seventh and the last step, the bridal couple point toward the star; the star is the virtuous Arundathi, who was never separated from her husband, Rishi Vasistha.
The bridegroom adorns the bride with Mangal Sutra, by putting the auspicious black-beaded ornament around her neck.
Panigrahan—holding hands to accept the vows and exchanging the places—is a ritual of sacred vows. The bridegroom applies sindoor, vermillion, in the parting of the bride’s hair as an auspicious symbol of her married status, followed by Shantipath—the peace invocations.
The bride and the bridegroom seek the ashirvad—the blessings—by touching the feet of all the elders. Serving of snacks, lunch, or dinner follows the wedding ceremony.
In recent times, ‘Destination Weddings’ in Hindu society have attracted the attention of Hotel industry. In Hawaii, instead of normal average of 30 guests in local weddings, Hindu destination weddings often invite hundreds of guests, even number of them from India, invoving expense hundreds of thousands dollars. Some destination weddings are economically planned to save large expenses by inviting only close relatives and friends; often asking the guests to pay for their own hotel stay etc. Such variations of course give enough room to the hosts to spend as per their budget and choice.
Hindu scriptures implore upon every man to love and care for his wife, despite any shortcomings. He is forbidden to strike or speak harshly to her or ignore her needs. Traditionally in the Hindu society, the responsibility of providing financially remains with the husband. He is expected to provide not only for the necessities of life but also for many fine things, such as a good house, decent clothes, jewelry, and many other things to make her feel comfortable and secure.
According to the Vedas, it is the duty of the husband—purusha dharma—to provide for the spiritual, economic, physical, mental, and emotional security of the entire household. The wife, in return, is expected to extend full cooperation and support to her husband and take care of the family and children. She is expected to present her husband with a serene corner where he can return after a day’s work and find the peace and joy of the household. A wife in the Hindu culture is expected to play her role with modesty and humility. She must let the husband be in the forefront and accept his final decision as the head of the family. Dominant and aggressive women are not regarded highly in Hindu society.
Hindu theology regards the ideal marriage as a spiritual journey, where the man and woman must complement and help one another toward divine realization. The path is often long and arduous; the spiritual awakening comes through many experiences on the physical plane.
Hindu society does not consider favorably at the recent new social arrangements. Shri Mahant Mai Uma Giri said, “The institute of marriage is a life-time bond between two people. Live-in development is not a good development. Extramarital affairs is also very damaging to the marriage. The most important role for woman is a mother and a wife. Absolute freedom is not available to anyone when we live in society.”
Often, weddings in Hindu families are a protracted affair, involving the participation of extended relatives and friends, over number of days with great festivity and fun! Even in foreign countries, a Hindu wedding often invites the attention of many locals, who marvel at the number of guests attending, and the high expense incurred on such events. Family members and close contacts freely dance vigorously with loud music on the open public road. The Punjabi Bhangra style dancing is now being adopted by many non-Punjabis also; Bollywood film styles are freely combined and fused.
Even as more and more weddings are being arranged directly by the would-be bride and the bride-groom, because of the ease provided by services available on the internet, the parents and families are usually the main task bearers. The heavy expenses involved are more often than not borne by the family even in foreign countries; this is in stark contrast to the system prevailing in the Western society.
The wedding ritual continues to be traditional, involving the “Fire Ceremony”, and all other routines. Even so Hindu weddings are also evolving on other fronts: the traditional “Horoscope Sharing”, “Caste Considerations”, and “Direct Dowry Deals” are now gradually becoming extinct. In foreign countries, inter-religious and inter-racial marriages are becoming commoner; often two sets of ceremonies are performed-one Hindu and the other non-Hindu. Probably time will tell whether this arrangement will be beneficial or otherwise for Hindu society.