Hindu wedding

Hindu wedding

A Hindu wedding is Vivaha (Sanskrit: विवाह[1]) and the wedding ceremony is called Vivaah Sanskar in North India and Kalyanam (generally) in South India.[2][3] Hindus attach a great deal of importance to marriage. The wedding ceremonies are very colourful, and celebrations may extend for several days. The bride's and groom's home—entrance, doors, wall, floor, roof—are sometimes decorated with colors, balloons, and other decorations.[4]

The rituals and process in a Hindu wedding vary widely. Nevertheless, the Hindu wedding ceremony at its core is essentially a Vedic yajna ritual and three key rituals are almost universal: Kanyadaan, Panigrahana, and Saptapadi—which are respectively, giving away of his daughter by the father, voluntarily holding hands near the fire to signify union, and taking seven ‘steps before fire’. (Each ‘step’ is a complete circuit of the fire.)

At each step promises are made by (in the long form—see below) each to the other.[5] The primary witness of a Hindu marriage is the fire-deity (or the Sacred Fire) Agni, in the presence of family and friends.[6] The ceremony is traditionally conducted entirely or at least partially in Sanskrit, considered by Hindus as the language of holy ceremonies. The local language of the bride and groom may also be used. The rituals are prescribed in the Gruhya sutra composed by various rishis such as Baudhayana and Ashvalayana.

The pre-wedding and post-wedding rituals and celebrations vary by region, preference and the resources of the groom, bride and their families. They can range from one day to multi-day events. Pre-wedding ceremonies include engagement, which involves vagdana (betrothal) and lagna-patra (written declaration),[3] and the arrival of the groom's party at the bride's residence, often as a formal procession with dancing and music. The post-wedding ceremonies may include Abhishek, Anna Prashashan, Aashirvadah, and Grihapravesa – the welcoming of the bride to her new home. The wedding marks the start of the Grihastha (householder) stage of life for the new couple.

In India, by law and tradition, no Hindu marriage is binding or complete unless the ritual of seven steps and vows in presence of fire (Saptapadi) is completed by the bride and the groom together.[7] This requirement is under debate, given that several Hindu communities (such as the Nayars of Kerala or Bunts of Tulu Nadu) do not observe these rites.[8]

Eight forms of marriage

A Hindu bride during her wedding.
A Hindu marriage ceremony.

Ancient Hindu literature, in for example the Asvalayana Grhyasutra and Atharvaveda, identifies eight forms of marriage.[3] They are traditionally presented, as here, in order of religious appropriateness (prashasta). They also differ very widely in social acceptability.[5][9] (Legal aspects are regulated mainly by the Hindu Marriage Act, 1955.)

  • Brahma marriage – considered the religiously most appropriate marriage, and the most prevalent among Hindus in modern India. The father finds an educated man and proposes the marriage of his daughter to him. The groom, bride and families freely concur with the proposal. The two families and relatives meet, the daughter is ceremonially decorated, the father gives away his daughter in betrothal, and a Vedic marriage ceremony is conducted. [5]
  • Daiva marriage – the father gives away his daughter along with ornaments to a priest as a sacrificial fee. This form of marriage occurred in ancient times when yajna sacrifices were prevalent.
  • Arsha marriage – the groom gives a cow and a bull to the father of the bride and the father exchanges his daughter in marriage. The groom takes a vow to fulfill his obligations to the bride and family life[clarification needed] (Grihasthashram).
  • Prajapatya[clarification needed]marriage – a couple agree to be married by exchanging some[clarification needed]Sanskrit mantras (vows to each other). This form of marriage is akin to a civil ceremony.

The above four forms of marriage were considered socially proper, and religiously appropriate – prashasta – under Hinduism, since the rituals include vows from Vedic scriptures. Both bride and groom commit to each other and share responsibilities to their families. The remaining four do not include vows and were considered aprashasta (inappropriate). [3][5] Among these, two were socially acceptable:

  • Gandharva marriage – the couple simply live together out of love, by mutual consent, consensually consummating their relationship. The marriage is entered into without religious ceremonies, and is akin to the Western concept of Common-law marriage. The Kama Sutra, and, in the Mahabharata, Rishi Kanva, the foster-father of Shakuntala, claim that this form of marriage is ideal.[3][9]
  • Asura marriage – the groom offers a dowry to the father of the bride and to the bride; both accept the dowry out of free will, and he receives the bride in exchange. This is akin to marrying off a daughter for money, and is considered inappropriate by Hindu Smriti-writers because greed, not what is best for the woman, can corrupt the selection process.[3]

The last two forms of marriage were not only inappropriate, but religiously forbidden:

  • Rakshasa marriage – where the groom forcibly abducts the bride against her will and her family's will. (The word Rakshasa means “devil”.)
  • Paishacha marriage – where the man forces himself on a woman when she is insentient: when she is drugged or drunken or unconscious.

James Lochtefeld comments that these last two forms were forbidden but the marriages themselves were still recognized in ancient Hindu societies, not to allow these acts but rather to provide the woman and any resulting children with legal protection in the society.[5]