Indian Wedding Traditions
Have you guys and girls ever wondered: “Why do Indian men and women have to go through the torment of fasting throughout their own wedding day, while others enjoy a lavish feast? Aren’t they supposed to be the center of the Universe for that particular day? Why do they have to dress a certain way, even though it might be slowly killing them from inside amidst all the chaos and heat that surrounds them?”
Well, even if you haven’t wondered, at least I have! Though the millennials have tweaked the Indian wedding traditions in a million different ways, the core beliefs behind the rituals remain the same. Call me cynical or westernized if you will, but the idea of indulging in elaborate rituals that would last up to a quarter of a month concluding with my D-day itself makes me feel nauseated.
I would rather have a quick hitch at a local court of law and be off with my new happily wedded life! However, since my best friend is getting married this year, and she is everything that I’m not; I just had to dig into the facts and facets of what evokes these ceremonials.
For all the other history junkies like myself, get your notepads ready! Because I’m going to spill the beans from my research RIGHT HERE!
Origin of Arranged Marriages:
As we all are acquainted, India, much like a few European countries, followed child marriage system, where the parents of the groom would embark on a sesquipedalian search for the perfect bride in his pre-adolescent years. Once they would find the right fit, they would approach the girl’s parents, and the catalyst or the in-between man would help both the families come to terms with the arrangements of this understanding. This is what we know as arranged marriage. Only today, we practice this system among a much more acceptable age-group. Arranged marriages have had their stronghold in the Indian wedding system for the longest time till date. And they’re not going away anytime soon!
Another factor that plays a significant role in determining if the bride and groom are perfect for one another is the compatibility of their birth charts. Yes! Indian parents are as superstitious as they can be, and this custom is followed even today, more dominantly in arranged marriages. The Holy Grail of all the Indian wedding traditions is the Vedas, which encompass the step-by-step recipes of the rituals to be conducted and why!
Polygamy and Love Marriages in Hinduism:
Contrary to the notions of Hinduism being a very conservative religion, Polygamy (being married to more than one partner at the same time) was sanctioned by the elders of the society! Though this was done strictly for political reasons, especially among the Kshatriyas or Kings, there were more than handful instances of Kings falling in love with princesses and marrying them for love. There were also instances where men abducted women for marriages, and so many others eloped together, because falling in love before marriage was considered sinful.
Though the Indian wedding traditions would vary slightly among the sub-sects of the Hindu religion, a few basic rituals are grounded in every wedding. The Kanyadaan, which literally means the ‘giving away of the daughter’, is a significant ritual of Indian weddings. Herein, the parents of the bride, along with a few mandatory things, give away their daughter’s hand in marriage to the groom.
The ingredients of this tradition involve a cow, a few utensils, and some eatables. In olden days, it was possible to give an actual cow. But today, parents have taken to gifting a miniature cow made of silver or gold. This tradition also imbues in the groom a feeling of gratefulness towards Lord Vishnu for gifting him a beautiful bride.
The embracing of Mangalsutra or Mangalaya Dharanam is a quintessential leg of any Indian wedding. It literally means an ‘auspicious thread’. This particular necklace is made up of black and gold beads. It is probably as important to the bride as are wedding bands in the western culture. It is adorned by the bride for the long life of her husband and is a sign of a married woman. That it is the most important ritual of the entire wedding ceremony is an understatement. The austerity and emphasis of this necklace have been echoed time and again in the Indian wedding traditions through the holy scriptures of Hinduism like Manusmriti and Soundarya Lahari.
Saat Pheras or The Seven Vows:
A discussion on the Indian wedding traditions is worthless without the mention of the seven wedding vows or ‘saat pheras’. Every vow that was written in the godly tongue of Sanskrit has a special significance for both the bride and the groom. These vows are recited as the bride and the groom walk in circles around the sacred fire.These vows are considered unbreakable.
The first phera is for the plentitude of good food throughout their wedded lives. The second one is for a healthy and affluent life. The third one stands for enough wealth all through their lives as a couple. The fourth phera is for the increment of love, respect, and understanding for one another. The fifth round is for blessings of wonderful children by the grace of god. The sixth pradakshina is for a peaceful and long life together. The seventh or the last phera is to signify the ceaseless bond of friendship and compatibility of a couple joined together by the holy union of matrimony! I must say that I personally find this part of the wedding the most beautiful and sanctimonious of all!
The ‘solah shringar,’ or the sixteen adornments that amplify the beauty of a bride have to be sported by the bride on her wedding day as imposed by Goddess Lakshmi.
These sixteen ornaments are Keshapacharachna- meaning hair adornments like strings of natural flowers, Mang-teeka- meaning the ornament of the forehead, sindoor, or vermillion which is yet another symbol of a married woman, bindi-which is usually a decorative sticker worn between the eyebrows, kajal or kohl to outline the eyelids, nath-which is an elaborate nose-ring to be worn on the left nostril and also signifies a married woman, kaan baalis or earrings, haar-meaning necklace, baaju-band- meaning armlet, and choodiyan or bangles, which are very important in a bridal attire.
Mehendi-meaning henna tattoos that sometimes also have the hidden name of the groom, haath-phool-meaning a special kind of bracelet that links to the five rings in five fingers, aarsi, which is a special bridal thumb ring, kamarband, which worn on the waist, payal-meaning delicate anklets embellished with little bells, bichuas or toe rings, that are not removed even after the wedding as they symbolize a married woman; and lastly mahur or alta, which is a natural red ink pasted around the feet of the bride to beautify the feet.
The Baraat is one of the most fun slices of a wedding. A baraat is a procession that initiates from the groom’s house and involves all the members, relatives, and friends of the groom. The groom, perched with great aplomb atop a horse, proceeds towards the bride’s home with much gung-ho. There is dancing, loud music, and great celebratory fervor.
In conclusion, I have to say that after reading and finding out so much on the connotations and origins of the Indian wedding traditions, I have instilled in my heart a new-found respect for them. Who knows, I might just get married the Hindu way!
And if you want to discover matrimony trends around the world, check out this simple, but the amazing article on the History of Matrimony!