Hinduism lays down that sixteen sanskaras (sacraments) shall be performed to make the life of the individual noble and prosperous. The most important of these sanskaras is that of marriage. It is a ceremony whereby two souls are brought into union spiritually, mentally and physically in the scared bond of matrimony. Marriage enables man and woman to find their partners in life. The institution of marriage is essential for the procreation and continuation of life. The characteristic traits of two individuals are thereby transmitted to their progeny. Whilst disciplining one, marriage enables one to satisfy one's emotional and physical needs in a religious and socially acceptable way. The major stages of the Hindu Ceremony are :- Ganesh Puja All pujas begin by worshipping Lord Ganesh. He is the Lord that dispels the darkness of ignorance and removes obstacles. No other God will accept any offerings before Lord Ganesh has had his dues. Mandap Ropan (Vedi) Beginning of Mandap (canopy) making - ie four pillars (bamboos) are erected at each of the four corners and are blessed. In the ancient times it was a custom to perform all important ceremonies under a canopy, marriage being one of them. Pithi In their own homes, the bride and groom are anointed using a fragrant paste made out of turmeric powder, curds, sandal-wood, scented water etc. This used to be massaged all over the body for a month before the wedding. Apart from improving the appearance, it helps tone the skin and muscles and clears out the pores. As a remnant of that custom, now-a-days, bride and groom are anointed only a day or so before the wedding.
Now a days, heena is also applied to the bride's hands on this day. In some communities, this is an eleborate ritual in which all the freinds and family are invited.
the Groom's party
(Pokhana / Var Preksan / Parchhan)
The Bridegroom is welcomed by the bride's mother. The mother-in-law to be also offers him advise that marriage is a weighty matter and not to be lightly entered into. She presents to him various symbols such as the yoke used to tie bullocks to a cart to make her point. He is garlanded (sometimes by the bride, sometimes by the mother-in-law) and showered with rice and flowers before being escorted into the mandap by the family of his finance.
Ceremonies in the Mandap
Parent of the bride wash the right foot (or just the toe) of the bridegroom with the five auspicious liquids (viz milk, curd, ghee, sugar and honey).
At an auspicious hour, the Bride is ushered in by her maternal uncle.
During this ceremony, bride and groom are worshiped as the embodiment of Lord Vishnu (the Preserver) and Maha Lakshmi (the goddess of wealth).
Madhu Parka, a sweet mixture of yoghurt, honey and ghee, are offered to the couple. This honour is usually reserved for the Gods, Kings, saints and ones Guru.
The bride and groom exchange garlands and in the days of yore, this was the first time they may have actually met face to face!
This, along with the offerings to the Fire are central to the Hindu marriage ceremony.
The parents formally give away their daughter and consent is given for the marriage ceremonies to begin.
(Proffering of the bride's hand)
The parents of the bride proffer her hand in marriage to the groom and officially request him to accept her as his bride. At one time, this might have been the first time the couple may have physically "touched" each other.
The groom usually offers clothes and jewellery to welcome her to his home.
(invoking the sacred fire)
The sacred fire, central to all Hindu religious ceremony, is invoked and sacred oblations of wood, grains and ghee are poured in. Agni is considered to be the "mouth of the Gods" and the Gods obtain our offering through this medium.
The bride places her foot on a stone at the corner of the mandap. The bridegroom tells her to be as firm as the stone/ mountain so as to face the vagaries of the life ahead.
This is the central part of the marriage ceremony. The bride and groom circumbulate the sacred fire four times. (In some communities, this is done seven times.) Fire acts has a divine witness to this sacred contract of marriage between the couple.
The groom leads the first three circumbulations. The bride leads the final one.
In Hindu scriptures, we believe as humans we have four goals to achieve in our lives. Dharma (duty), Artha (wealth), Kama (pleasure) and Moksha (liberation from this continuous circle of life and death).
First three rounds represent the first three goals of life. Though these are the combined goals of the couple, according to custom, the husband leads and the wife promises to follow his lead. The final goal, that of liberation, is an individual goal and in that, she states her independence by leading the last round. No one can force anyone in matters of the soul, its liberation and its religious convictions.
The brother of the bride touches her right toe to the stone mentioned before. He advises her never to cross the threshold of her new household in anger or undue haste. The honour of both families is now in her hands.
Three oblations are offered to the sacred fire. Bride's brother places parched rice in the hands of the bride during the circumbulations. Bride and groom than offer this to the Gods via the sacred fire. They pray for a long life, health, happiness and prosperity.
The rice must be transplanted from the field of its germination to another in order for it to continue to grow and give an abundant harvest. The brother, in his silent manner, gives her advise that she too must now transplant her life from her own parent's family to her husband's in order to fulfil her own life's ambition and bear children for the future of the human race.
Bride and groom take seven steps together. This can be done around the sacred fire, or next to it. With each step they take a vow to be together, to grow together, to strengthen each other, support each other etc. and pray to the Gods that these vows will be fulfilled.
The groom adds a dash of vermilion to the parting in the bride's hair and places a dot of the red powder on her forehead. At this time, he also offers her an auspicious necklace - Mangalsutra - to signify their marriage. Usually this is made of gold and glass beads, though in essence, it can be made of anything auspicious including cotton and silk.
The brilliant red vermilion powder represents the life giving blood that flows in us all. By anointing the bride with the vermilion, the groom is promising to cherish her and protect her as if she were his own life. He also promises to protect her with his own life, if need be !
The bride and groom look at the Sun, Moon and stars and ask them to witness their wedding. They promise each other that their love and devotion will as steadfast as the stars in the firmament. They also take the relationships between such great couples as Arundhati and Vashistha as role models for themselves. These two form part of the star system known as the "seven sages". Arundhati is the only female who is allowed to sit in the council of the seven sages - due entirely to her wisdom and steadfast devotion to Vashistha.
If the marriage is performed in the day, or at times when the respective stars are not visible, the couple are asked to witness these later that day.
The couple touch each others' heart and promise "May my heart be thine and thy heart be mine. When I talk to thee, please listen to me with perfect attention. I promise to listen to thee with equal attention."
As with all religious ceremonies, the participants, viz the bride and groom, would have been fasting till this moment. This is the first time they will eat together as husband and wife.
Sweets are usually offered at this point and the couple feed each other in the mandap in the presence of their guests.
The marriage ceremony is completed by offering ghee in to the sacred fire. The priests bless the bride and groom and guests shower the couple with their own blessings, flowers and rice.
The bride and groom than pay their respects to the assembled guests before having their meal.
At an auspicious hour, the bride will leave her parents and friends to begin a new life with her husband.
Om Shanti !
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