The Saptapadi, or Sath Phere {Hindu Wedding Rituals}

April 14, 2014 - by Nadya

The Saptapadi, also called the Sath Phere in many North Indian regions, is possibly the most important part of the Hindu Wedding.  According to Hindu law, a couple is not married until the Pheras have been completed.

In place of the vows typical to Western weddings, the Saptapadi acts as the symbolic forging of promises that will keep the bride and groom together for seven lifetimes.  It is the climax of the wedding and often the most dramatized in the movies, just like the "I do" bit of Western weddings.Delhi Indian Wedding Rahul Rana Photos 26 width=

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

The ceremony involves seven specific promises the bride and groom make to each other.  Saptapadi and Sath Phere both translate to "seven steps" or "seven vows" and with each step the couple make together they recite one vow.  Traditions vary from region to region - in South India, for instance, it is customary that the couple take seven steps due South while the groom holds the little finger of his bride.  They then walk around the havan together.  In North India and other regions, the groom takes his bride's hand, or family members tie the couple's scarves together, and walks seven times around the fire.

Different traditions may have the couple alternating at certain points - like six steps the groom leads then the bride leads the last, or the bride leads the last three laps around the havan.  Other traditions, as well, involve the bride touching seven beetlenuts in turn with her toe while her groom helps her keep her balance.

{photo by Preeti Mobery via Vijayeta & Chintan's Wedding}

The Saptapadi occurs after the groom has placed the mangalsutra around his bride's neck.  While the couple step or walk together, the priest recites Vedic prayers over the havan and the groom (or they both) repeats them:

  • For the first step or cycle, the couple pray to God and ask for an abundant household and prosperous life together.  Some cultures make distinct references to an abundance of food while others leave the point vaguer.
  • For the second step or cycle, the couple ask God for a healthy and happy life free from physical or mental ailments.
  • For the third step or cycle, can either be a promise the couple makes to each other to work together in honest work to make their household prosper OR it's a promise to do their spiritual duty by each other.
  • For the fourth step or cycle, they couple promise to remain together through happiness and sadness ('for better or for worse').
  • For the fifth step or cycle, the couple either pray for the health and happiness of their future children OR for that of all living creatures.
  • For the sixth step or cycle, the couple promise to be together always.
  • And, finally, with the seventh step or cycle, the couple either pray for universal peace OR to always be good to one another.

Sarin Wedding--0273 width=

{via A Gorgeous Indian Korean Wedding}

Among other cultures, like the Gujuratis and Sindhis, instead of seven steps, the couple walk together four times clockwise around the fire for their Mangal Pheras.  Each cycle represents one of the four promises: 1) to pursue life's religious and moral duty (Dharma), 2) to pursue prosperity (Artha), 3) to pursue earthy pleasures (Kama), and 4) to pursue spiritual salvation (Moksha).  The bride leads the first three walks around the fire and the groom takes over for the fourth.  After, the bride will also do the saptapadi and "kick" the seven beetlenuts, as mentioned above.

Evidently, there are many discrepancies between traditions as to what each step or cycle is for, but regardless of these nuances the poignancy of the ceremony remains.  With the Saptapadi, the couple tie themselves together for seven lifetimes before their friends, family, and the gods.

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