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Powerful Rituals: The Meaning of Marriage


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Indian society has survived so many shocks and invasions, calamity and change, because we take marriage and family seriously. While the individual is important, in our scheme of things, no one is left to fend for themselves, figure out the meaning of their own life. There are always helpful hints from family, relatives, elders, guru like figures…Large scale loneliness like that witnessed in Western societies has still to hit us.If marriage and family and society are taken so seriously, the meaning and significance of marriage rituals is definitely a guiding and inspiring factor.

Weddings are joyous occasions that involve the whole family of both bride and groom. The song and dance, the celebratory feasts, the gaiety and festivities that surround a home where a wedding is being held are unmistakable. Even in the humblest of streets, a ‘shamiana’ announces the wedding venue. Neighbours and friends line up to catch a glimpse of the bride or the groom when she or he first arrives.

The fun and games around weddings are designed to help the families of bride and groom become more familiar with each other. Some games test the relative smartness of the bride and groom, such as the shallow pan of water into which a ring, or a coin is tossed. Whoever grabs it first is supposed to have more say in the married household, or so the assembled relatives tell each other amidst laughter and witty comments. When cousins of the bride steal the groom’s shoes in the North, it is a situation fraught with danger. For they may then cover the shoes with flowers and insist that the groom perform puja to this ‘family deity’, while all of them fall about laughing! At other times, this stealing is merely meant to extort hefty tips for the bride’s sister and cousins from the new brother-in-law, in return for the shoes’ return. All this is a lot of fun, and no wonder films like ‘Hum Aapke Hain Kaun’ have highlighted such sports.

Hindu weddings from across the country have many common features, coming down from Vedic times. Essentially, all these involve having the sacred fire, or ‘agni’ as witness of the nuptial tie, and offerings are made to this fire, even as Brahma, Vishnu, Indra, Brahaspati and other gods are invoked to bless the couple on the occasion. The priest does this through the chanting of appropriate mantras. There are many variations of this theme, depending on the community and place that the bride and groom belong to. For instance, Kerala weddings may not have a fire, and the tender shoots of paddy are given a sacred place, symbolizing the bounty and blessings of the earth.

Among the most significant rituals in a wedding ceremony, which truly seem to be cementing the tie between two individuals, meant to stay together for life, is ‘Pani-Grahana’ where the groom grasps the bride’s hand. At this time, the groom calls upon Saraswathi, calling her a goddess ‘rich in offspring’ and asking her to bless their union. Exchanging floral garlands is also an important step in the marriage ceremony, often shown as a shortcut route to getting married in films, almost from the beginning of Hindi cinema to the ‘Bunty Aur Babli’ present.

The Hindu wedding emphasizes, love, loyalty and mutual respect between partners, and the important role played by women in keeping a family steady. One part of the ceremony is the Asmarohana, where the bride stands upon a stone, and the groom asks her, through appropriate matras, to be ‘as firm as a rock …unperturbed by the trials and tribulations of life’. When puffed rice is poured by the brother of the bride, or in some cases, the bridegroom, into the bride’s palms, or her pallu, this part of the ceremony is the Lajahoma. The grains are then offered to Agni, and his blessings sought by the bride for her bridegroom and new family.

No Hindu wedding is complete without ‘parikrama’ or circumambulation. Traditionally, this is done seven times, called ‘saptapadi’ and completes the wedding rituals. The mantras uttered during this cement the promises that bride and groom are making to each other. In effect, the bride and groom are saying, ‘You who have walked these seven steps with me are my companion… to love, be a friend, share good times and bad, be of one mind, and tread the path of life together’. Each circumambulation has its significance in asking for one facet for the enrichment of the union. Vigour and vitality, having children, prosperity in terms of owning cattle, blessings of the seasons, all these are sought. The final, or seventh ‘parikrama’ is done to seal the friendship between bride and groom, asking God that this friendship not be severed or strained.

There is a tend in the West to renew marriage vows after partners have been married a long time, in order to give the marriage fresh life. If the vows we take during marriage continue to resonate in our lives, love and respect for our partners cannot be lost.

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Responses to Powerful Rituals: The Meaning of Marriage

  1. 1 Atul Mulay

    Hi Scharada Bailji,
    U published this article on March 7th, 2006.
    But there is no comment uptill date on this article is the tragedy of HINDUS.
    Everyone should read about the hindu marriage ritual & why they r performed before marriage.I brought a book in Marathi before my brother’s marriage ,but nither my brother nor my sister in law readout that book.
    If u r not ready to understand what is meaning of marriage then why unnessary waste the money & time in performing rituals?
    The books r easily available in the dharmik book salers store.
    Please read them before performing rituals.
    That may help u to keep long lasting bonds in your family & u may understand responsiblities u r going to take for each other according to hindu guidelines or law of marriage.

    Scharada Bail thanks for touching this important subject in this blog.
    But we should elabroate more on this subject.
    Thanks again.

    My Matrimony ID - (R208230)
    Atul Shreeram Mulay.

  2. 2 Atul Mulay

    Hi,
    Let me know anyone of u ,which god & godess r given to couple in Hindu wedding & why?
    I will express my openions afterword.
    I asked to 100’s of many old & young couples why Balkrushna is given to couples but no one answered me properly.
    Especially the krishna is scrolling (we call it in marathi rangnara balkrushana or langda balkrushna.)

    My thoughts r ready, which r not given in any book but after long thinking I have got those insite & will share with all of u but let me know if anyone can answer my question.

    My Matrimony ID - (R208230)
    Atul Shreeram Mulay.

  3. 3 Vijay

    The problem is that India is secular — India must be declared a HINDU nation and all the religious teachings of hindus , jains and Sikhs must be taught to School children -see -muslims have madrassas and christians have missionary schools –Where are the vedic Hindu schools ??????????????

  4. 4 Pankaj Sharma

    The article is interesting but not quite incisive.

    Mr. Atul Mulay’s query regarding gifting BalKrishna to the couple is interesting. My only guess is that it could be showering of a blessing or a wish to the couple that they too beget a child like Krishna. I have seen in Punjabi weddings that the newly married girl is often made to sit for a while with a small baby boy, since the families traditionally wish to have Male progency.

    Regards

    PANKAJ SHARMA

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