- by S. G. V. Ramanan
Most of the Hindu marriages conducted in India and elsewhere are both social and religious functions. There is no uniformity on their social side. These are based on local customs and traditions. On the religious side, with minor variations, they follow some specific rituals as indicated in the Vedas. The wedding ceremony and the mantras chanted therein follow scrupulously the text of the Hymn 85, Mandala X, of the Rig Veda. The marriage ceremonies are called Vaidika ceremonies as they follow the Vedic Scripture.
The more important events in a Hindu marriage are broadly as follows:
Marriage ceremonies last two days, one day prior to the Muhurtha(m) day and the day on which the actual wedding ceremony according to Vedic rites is conducted.
On each day, the ceremony begins with Pooja invoking the blessings of Lord Ganesa, (Vigneswra), who is said to remove all obstacles and bless the peaceful and orderly conduct of ceremonies.
The day previous to the marriage, it is a customary practice to visit a nearby temple, offer prayers to the presiding deity and take the Bridegroom (hereafter referred to as BG) in a procession to the hall where the marriage is conducted.
The Lagna Patrika, (a document indicating the details of the BG & Bride (hereafter referred to as B) and the timing and place of marriage, duly signed by the parents of BG & B, is read out and signed by the two sets of parents. This takes the character of a contractual document without stamp paper. Though this does not take the character of a legal document, it serves the purpose of a formal agreement binding on both the parties. In many cases, this formality is completed much before the marriage in the form of Nichiyathaartham, which is done to commit the parties to the marriage indicating a specific date for the marriage.
The next day ceremonies start with Kasi Yatra, Malai Maatral (exchange of garlands) and Oonjal (Jhoola). These have no religious significance as such. Secondly, these rituals vary from community to community, depending on the established custom and traditions.
The Kasi Yatra ritual which is peculiar to Brahmin community is the one when the father of B symbolically weans away the BG from the pursuits of Brahmacharya(m), which is symbolically represented by his journey towards Kasi (Benares or Varanasi), the seat of Vedic culture and knowledge, and requests him to enter Grahasthasrama by marrying his daughter.
Author's note: This apparently counters the very ceremony conducted thereafter (Kanyavaranam), where the B's emissary is sent to seek the hand of an identified girl from a specific family. Even then, this is continued as essential part of a marriage. Probably, this incongruancy can be explained as follows. In the ancient period, it is the boys' side which took all the initiative and was searching for a suitable girl for the boy. This has reversed amongst the Brahmins now. It is the girls' parents who search for the boys and seek their alliance. In most other communities (example: Gounders family in Tamil Nadu), the ancient system still continues. I would appreciate, if any one who reads it can offer better and more authentic explanation for it.
Oonjal, is a ladies ceremony, where BG & B are made to sit in a swing and propitiation is done, to ward off the effect of "evil eyes" (bad peoples evil thoughts or curses) on the couple.
The real and important Vedic side of the ceremony starts only thereafter; the following paragraphs indicate briefly the meaning of some of the most important rituals and mantras recited at the time of the wedding ceremony. (No attempt has been made here to reproduce the mantras in original Sanskrit or Anglicised version, as it will only confuse readers who do not have knowledge of Sanskrit.)
The very first ritual is started with mantras soliciting the bride (Kanyavaran[am])
Sequence of events following this are:
(1) Seeking the bride from an identified family through the emissary of Brahmins (Kanyaavaranam);
(2) Promise from the brides side to offer the girl in marriage (Vakthaanam);
(3) Invoking the Holy waters to purify and protect the girl from evil forces. (Here a water pot Kalasa) is established and waters of the sacred rivers and all the gods and goddesses including, Thrimurthis and Varuna, are invoked in it. The girl takes a symbolic bath with this Holy water (Kalasa Pooja);
(4) Worship of the divine power that causes sprouting (ankuraparna);
(5) Worship of ancestors (Nandi);
(6) BG receives directives from the teacher (Sama vardhanam - Kasi yatra);
(7) B escorted by bride's maid enters the hall and stands facing the BG;
(8) Meeting of the eyes (Sameekshanam);
(9) BG & B garlands each other (varmaalaa).
Author's Note: The order in which 5 to 9 are performed has changed over a period of time and now Kasi Yatra and Maalai Matral are done before Oonjal.
Kanyaadhaanam (Giving away the bride):
This is an important ritual wherein the girl is gifted away to the BG's family; B loses her family identity completely. Even the Gothram to which B belongs till marriage is changed to that of the boy.
B's father makes BG sit in a seat and washes his feet of BG considering BG to be an incarnation of Lord Vishnu, the protector. At that time, BG recites a mantra which says:
"Let the holy water which is poured on my feet safeguard me against all enemies and let me glow in splendour equal to the Brahma. He then takes a mixed liquid made of honey and curd (and sometimes ghee is added to this)."
Then BG looks at B directly and prays to the gods (Devas) to protect B from all defects and deficiencies (in word, thought and deed) and recites mantras addressed to B by which he expects B to look beautiful, be loving to her husband and his family, be of good heart and do good things, be pious, protect the animals and the family of BG, and get good children. He then recites another mantra which removes (destroys) all bad qualities in her.
Placing Yoke on the Head of B:
B's father makes B to sit on his lap. BG places a rounded Dharbha(I) and on that places a small replica of a wooden yoke. This is expected to be witnessed by the sisters and mothers of both BG & B. When he places the right end of the yoke, he recites a mantra to indicate the following meaning. "As Apaalai was cleansed by you of all her sins and purified through the holes of a wheel, a rath(am), and a yoke, Oh, Lord Indra, cleanse this girl of all her illnesses and make her shine in splendour."
He then places gold coins on the holes of the yoke and pours Holy water in one of the holes reciting a mantra with this meaning:
"Let these gold coins bring you prosperity and happiness. Let the Holy water purify you and bring happiness to you. You can thereafter offer your body to your husband."
Thereafter, B is (symbolically) given a bath in Holy waters with 5 mantras which seek Gods blessings to give B purity, happiness, closeness and understanding with husband, and good company.
Koorai (Wedding) Saree:
The wedding saree is worn specially for the marriage ceremony. The type and colour of the saree depend upon family custom. It is usually in red (arakku) colour. It is given to B with a mantra by the priest. After B comes back wearing the saree, BG ties a rope made of Darbai around her waist with a mantra which says: "With a good heart and praying for good children, long life for the husband and good health, B is sitting near Agni. Tying this rope I take her to the sacred wedding ceremonies."
He, then, holds the right hand of B and takes her to a carpet spread near the Agni and recites mantras to indicate and acknowledge the boon given by Soman, Gandharvan and Agni in giving her strength, beauty, and youth to B for his enjoyment.
In South Indian Brahmin families, Mangalya Dhaaranam is considered to be the most important ceremony. Though there is no special mantra for this, the BG recites the following sloka:
Maangalyam thanthunaanaena mama jeevitha haethunaa /
kanttae bathnaami supahae sanjeeva sarasa satham:
The meaning is: "This yellow rope is managala suthram. This will help my longevity. I shall now tie this rope in your neck. I pray you live happily for a hundred years."
With this sloka, he ties the rope around B's neck and puts two knots in it. The third knot is usually made by BG's sister.
The next two rituals namely Panigrahanam and Sapthapathi are very important for all Hindu marriages:
After Mangalyadharanam, BG lowers his right hand and catches B's right hand with all the fingers together. Four mantras are recited at that time, to convey the following:
1. I hold your hand to keep you with me to raise good children and till you become old. Devatas including Indra have offered you to me to become the Lady in charge of the house.
2. Sun God/Lord Agni, who have been powerful when they were having their "Grahasthasrama" has given you to me.
3. Oh, Goddess Saraswathi, you should protect us well. We will offer our oblations to you before all the creatures of this world.
4. Let the Vayu God who cleanseth and pervades all directions and corners, and who holds Gold in his hand and is the counterpart of Agni, unite you with me in mind and thought.
After this, Sapthapathi is performed.
The bridegroom(BG) gets up from the seat holding the right hand of the bride(B). He then goes round the Holy Fire (Agni) from the right side, by lifting the right feet of B step by step. This is done for seven steps. With each step, he recites a mantra addressed to B, with the following meaning.
"Let Lord Maha Vishnu follow each one of your steps for the following specific purposes.
Step 1: To give you unlimited food.
Step 2. To give you excellent health and energy.
Step 3. To make you perform your vrithas (rituals) as ordained in Vedas, during your life time.
Step 4. To give you happiness in life.
Step 5. To make your cows and good animals to grow in strength and in numbers.
Step 6. To make all the seasons be beneficial to you.
Step 7. To make the homams (sacrifices to be done in Holy Fire) to be performed by you in your life as ordained in Vedas, successful and free from hindrances."
Obviously, the idea behind this is to pray to Lord Vishnu, the protector of life, for his blessings in marital life.
BG then recites a mantra to convey the following meaning:
"After crossing seven steps with me thus, you should become my friend. I too have become your friend now. I will never discord this friendship and you should not also do that. Let us be together always. Let us resolve to do things in life in the same manner and tread the same path. Let us lead a life by liking and loving each other, having good heart and thoughts, and enjoying the food and our strong points together. Let us have undivided opinions. We will perform the vrithas united. Let us have same and joint desires. I will be Sama (one of the vedas); you will be Rig (another Veda). Let me be the Heaven; you be the Earth. Let me be the Shukla (Moon) and you be its wearer. Let me be the mind and you its spokesman (Vak). With these qualities, you be my follower. You the sweet tongued, come to me to get good male children and wealth."
Author's note: These are pregnant with meaning and it would have a better effect, if the these mantras are explained to BG & B in advance; unfortunately it is not done now. In fact, both BG & B go through these rituals as a matter of routine. Even the visitors show least attention to the ceremonies that follow Mangalyadhaaranam.
Ashmarohanam (Treading the Stone):
BG then holds B's toe of the right leg and places it on a stone placed to the right side of Agni(fire). While doing so, he says through mantra:
"May you be steadfast as the stone; may you overcome those who intend to harm you and may you tolerate your enemies."
In this ritual, with a view to ensure long life to her husband, B offers puffed rice to Agni. The rice is poured into her hand by B's brother and with the recitation of mantras BG adds ghee to the rice and together they offer the rice to the Agni. BG goes round the Agni and once again keeps her right feet on the stone. This is done three times. The meaning of the mantras recited during the Lajahomam is summarised below:
"May my husband live long for a hundred years and may all my relatives prosper."
"Oh, Agni, bless me, my wife and children, as you blessed Savitri and Soma.
Oh, Agni, bless the couple with perfect mental accord.
Oh, Agni, leaving her parents, my bride who is going to set up home with me, has performed all the ordained rites. Please bless us with safe travel through a path of life free from misfortunes.
(Addressing B), May Heaven, wind, the Ashwins and all the divine forces protect you on all sides and the children you bring forth until they are old enough to take care of themselves."
BG then unties the Darbai rope from B's waist and promises a happy married life for her.
Grahapravesam (Establishing of the new household or entering BG's house):
Certain mantras are recited for the safe passage of BG & B up to BG's house to establish a new household. These have no significance in marriages conducted in marriage halls in cities. In most marriages, logistics do not permit BG to take bride to his house. The function is symbolically done in the room allotted to BG's family members. BG enters his house with B, carrying the Agni in a mud pot from the Homa Kunda(m) in the marriage hall. B places her right foot first while entering the allotted place.
BG then creates a homa kunda(m) on the north-east side and invokes Lord Agni in it. With B touching his shoulders through a Darbai, he then offer ghee in the Agni and recites certain mantras to convey the following:
"May the Lord creator grant us progeny.
May the Lord anoint us together for longevity.
The auspicious Lord has given you to me. Let us enter our home.
May you bring facility to all living beings.
May we both be together in our home and never be parted.
May we both attain long life."
B there after says:
"With full willingness, I enter this holy house having plenty of food and flowing ghee and resided by good minded and brave people with lot of good will and pure mind and thoughts."
Placing a Child on B's Lap:
So far, B has been sitting to the right of BG. Now she shifts and sits to his left side. A male child from a family in which no death of a child has taken place, is made to sit on the lap of B. ( The idea is B should get such healthy male children.) The child is given fruits with a mantras which convey the following meaning:
"Oh fruits, as you cause growth in those who eat you, bless this girl with good progeny."
"Let the children so born bring love and affection."
Addressing B, the mantra says:
"Be aware of your duties to your husband and guests; propagate good deeds to all those you have contacts."
"Let this pure girl be blessed with happiness and prosperity."
Other Rituals B looks at the Pole Star and says:
"Oh, Pole Star (Dhruva Nakshatram), as you are fixed for ever, let me be similarly fixed in this home; Protect me from my enemies."
BG and B looks at the Arundathi* Star in the constellation of Great Bears and BG says:
"Keeping Arundathi* star in view, let my wife be like Arundathi and grow to be the eighth of the (model) pathnis."
(* Arundathi was the most sacred amongst the wives of the Saptha rishis and a model to be followed by all the married women.) Wedding Vows BG and B look at each other and feed each other with curd and fruits. BG says:
"My wife, with bonds of the food that we eat together, with the many hued threads of life, may we bind our minds and heart with the knot of truth."
BG and B touch each other's heart and both pray as follows: B says:
"May our hearts be in harmony with our mutual aims and resolutions. May our minds be in accord. United in mind, may we be pleased with each other's words. May the Lord of wisdom wholly unite us both."
"This, which is your heart, may it my heart and this, which is my heart, may it be your heart."
"From that which makes the ocean holy, the air vital, all actions complete in cosmic order, may we derive harmonious thoughts and the power to realise them."
BG places kumkum in the middle portion of the hair at the top centre of the forehead and says:
"We are freed from all the bonds in our lives up to now, bonds which ordained by the Supreme Lord for our protection in our unmarried state. In this Universe of righteous order and righteous action, we have become each other's life partner."
Concluding the Agni worship, BG says:
"Oh Creator, cleanse us from all sins and confer on us what is auspicious."
Water is sprinkled around the Agni.
"Oh Lord Adithi, Anumathi, and Saraswathi, you gave us leave to do this worship. Oh Lord Creator, you bless us. Our Salutations to you Oh Supreme Lord."
BG and B fold hands in prayer and say:
"Oh Glorious Lord, lead us in the righteous path to enjoy the riches we earn. You know all our thoughts. Destroy the hidden tendencies that could lead us astray. We worship you with all our heart. with all the worshipful words, that we have at our command."
BG and B walk around the Agni three times and each time bow in reverence. Aseervath(am)-Blessings The priest and elders bless the couple with several mantras to convey the following:
"Let the mantras, the holy chants, uttered during this ceremony be true and bear fruit."
"Let this period of time when these two were married prove to be very auspicious period in their life. Let all the benefits that the celestial powers can confer be conferred on this couple."
"Let all the inauspicious planets confer benefits as if they are in auspicious position; let all the auspices planets yield manifold benefits."
"Let this couple who is setting up a household be blessed with long life, health, fame, vitality, material wealth, steadiness of purpose, fulfilment, blessedness, compassion, spiritual lustre, impeccable virtue and happiness and let this couple be ever engaged in celebration of happiness, ever filled with happiness and ever immersed in happiness."
"Let the people all over the world be free from illness and other distress, be followers of righteous conduct, be strong, be without jealousy and be compassionate."
Auspicious indeed is the bride. "Oh all of you assembled here come and see her. Bless her with all felicity before you all go to your respective homes." When these mantras are uttered by the priests, every one present says "Thathaastu," meaning "So it be."
After these, Mangala Aarthi is performed by ladies; this concludes the vedic rituals concerning Hindu marriages.
It is a practice now a days to get the wedding registered as per the provisions of the Hindu Law. Though the marriages conducted in the manner described above are conclusive evidence and are acceptable in a court of law, in most marriages registration is done as a matter of abundant precaution and to meet the requirements of law requiring proof of marriage.
Author's End Note: This material is intended to be circulated in the Internet for the benefit of Young people residing outside India and who may not have much knowledge of the wedding rituals and their significance in marital life. It might be worthwhile for young unmarried people to recall the meaning of the respective mantras so as to be fully involved with the rituals and derive the benefits of reciting these.
Before attempting to present the above, I have consulted authoritative books on the subject and people who are well versed in Sanskrit literature and Vedas. I shall appreciate suggestions to improve its contents.
1."Vivaaha Manthraartha Bhodhini" --published in Tamil by M/S The Little Flower Company, T.Nagar, Madras 600 017
2.Vedic books (English version)
3.Mahalinga Ganapatigal of Kanchi Kamakoti Math, Malleswaram, Bangalore and other vedic scholars.4. "Wedding Ceremony of Sowmya and Douglas" & "Indhu Matha Thirumana Chadangin Varalaaru" --handouts compiled and brought out in USA by Mr. R. Venkataraman, 1993.