The Essential Guide to Hindu Weddings: Wedding Traditions

March 30, 2014 - by Nadya

After all the mehndi and singing and poojas and pre-wedding jitters, we're on to the wedding ceremony.  The Hindu wedding ceremony can stretch to any length of time.  In some communities it's fairly quick while in others multiple rituals extend the hours it takes to come to the conclusive 'man and wife' (or 'wife and wife' or 'man and man') bit.

There are a bunch of traditions and ceremonies that we're going to run through real quick.  Feel free to stop now to top up your cup of chai or grab a few extra pillows because from here it's a non-stop shot to the end.

Note: The alternate or regional names for each tradition and ceremony is given in the parentheses.

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{photo by IQ Photography via Alok and Venu's Wedding}

Hindu Wedding: Introduction

Hindu Wedding Engagement

Hindu Pre-Wedding Traditions

Hindu Wedding Traditions - You're here!

Hindu Post-Wedding Traditions

Hindu Bridal Attire and Jewelry

Hindu Groom’s Attire

Hindu Wedding Food and Desserts

Hindu Wedding Shopping List

First, before everything else, the muhurta, or the auspicious date and time for the wedding, needs to be decided by the priest.  He'll determine, based on the horoscopes of the bride and groom, the best time of day for the rituals to being as well as the actual wedding day.

The wedding kicks off with the Baraat, the all-singing all-dancing wedding procession of the groom and his family.  The Baraat can and often does include luxury cars, booming music, and a horse.  This is primarily a North Indian Tradition.

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{photo by Nick Rose via Vanita and Tom's Wedding}

After the groom has made his way to the front of the house/hall/hotel with his Baraat to where the wedding is taking place, he is greeted by the bride's parents.  He and his family receive tikaas from the bride's mother who performs an Aarti over them.  They are then welcomed into the house.  This is considered the formal meeting of the two families (thought they've usually met long before the actual day of the ceremony).

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{photo by Cory Ryan via Soumya and Jesse's Wedding}

Once the groom has made his way to the entrance of the wedding hall or home, the bride, flanked by her sisters and bridesmaids, will be waiting with a garland for him. During the Jaymala (Varamala) that follows, the bride and groom exchange flower garlands and sometimes deliver a sort of vow in which they promise to be united forever.  Apparently, whoever can put the garland on their partner first will have the upper hand in the marriage.

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{photo by Cory Ryan via Soumya and Jesse's Wedding}

Next the groom is brought to the mandap, a sort of altar, where he is given a mixture of yogurt and honey by the bride's father.  Some families will then do a Gau Daan in which they give gifts to the groom's family - like jewelry, appliances, etc.  This originally came from dowery traditions but nowadays it's more of an exchange as the groom's family will also give the bride's family gifts.

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{photo by Jason Hales via Lauren and Sanjay's Wedding}

Following the Gau Daan or often combined with it is the Kanya Pratigrahan (Kanyadaan) where the groom's mother gives the bride a mangala sutra, a long necklace made of gold and black beads.  The father of the bride will then place his daughter's hand in the groom's.  He states that his family has accepted the groom and wishes for the groom's family to accept the bride.  These two traditions combined illustrate that the parents are facilitating the union of their children.

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{R&L Photography via Diana and Andrew's Wedding}

Phew! So many formalities.  Now on to the good stuff - the fire!  For the Vivaha-homa, the sacred fire, or the havan, is lit across from the bride and groom.  It is a direct invocation to the god Agni, who is supposed to be the official divine witness of the marriage.  The priest offers crushed sandalwood, ghee, herbs, and rice to the fire while reciting Vedic prayers over it.

The bride and groom both repeat the prayers spoken by the priest.  These are usually promises to be humble and faithful to God and each other.  In continuation from these prayers, the groom takes his bride's hand for the Paanigrahan and says something along the lines of "I hold your hand, and we are now husband and wife"

Following this is the Rajaham where the bride places her hands in the groom's and her brother pours rice into the cup of her hands. Together the bride and groom offer rice to the fire by throwing it in.

{photo by Preeti Moberg via Vijayeta and Chintan's Wedding}

In the Shilarohan, the bride symbolically climbs over a stone to demonstrate her fortitude, strength, and willingness to pursue all her duties as a bride and a future mother.  She will be the glue that holds her family together.

With the Gath Bandhan, the bride's chuney is tied to her groom's scarf as a symbol of their union.

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{photo by Rahul Rana via Chhavi and Saurabh's Wedding}

In the Sath Phere (or Saptapadi), the bride and groom take seven (or four) steps or make seven (or four) laps around the havan together while reciting a vow for each.  Among the Hindu communities in the world, each step may mean something different.  But simply put, the the first step is for respect and honor towards each other, the second for strength to weather their problems together, the third for prosperity for their household, the fourth for wisdom, the fifth for children, the sixth for health, and the seventh for affection and a lasting companionship.

In some regions, instead of taking seven steps together the bride touches seven beetlenuts or stones with her right toe.

{photo by Preeti Moberg via Vijayeta and Chintan's Wedding}

The Sath Phere is usually one of the most anticipated parts of the wedding and signals that the ceremony is winding down.  After the couple completes their Sath Phere, for the Surya Darshan and Dhruva Darshan they look to the sun to seek blessings for a creative and passionate life and to the polar star (the north star) to remain steadfast.

Following this the parents of both the bride and groom bless the couple and sprinkle them with rose water.  The groom then applies the sindoor, a red powder, to the parting in his bride's hair.  He also strings the mangalsutra around her neck.  This necklace made up of gold and black beads is meant to be worn always by the bride as a symbol of her marriage (like a wedding ring!).

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{photo by Jason Hales via Lauren and Sanjay's Wedding}

The couple together, in the Ashirvada,  seek blessings from their parents by touching the feet of their parents.

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{photo by Jason Hales via Lauren and Sanjay's Wedding}

And that's the end of the ceremony! On to the reception and the rest of it.

Sources: BBC , Wedding Details, and Rice University