A Hindu wedding, one of the most sacred of rites, incorporates many timeless rituals and customs. In ages past, these traditions and rituals would extend over several days, but in the present hectic society, such a schedule is difficult to accommodate. Today, many of these traditions are performed during the eve of the wedding and the day of the ceremony. The Hindu ceremony centers not just on the bride but celebrates the coming together of two families. So families are a major part of these ceremonies.
Hinduism has Vedas at its core, they are the spiritual scriptures which can be called the heart of Indian culture.
The Vedas divide life into four distinct stages, or ashrams: studentship (brahmacharya ashram), householder (grihastha ashram), retirement (vanaprastha ashram), and self-realization (says ashram). Marriage considered a samskara, or sacrament, is the transition from studentship to householder, and as such it forms the very foundation for the remaining two stages of life. Three-quarters of human life, then, depends on the success of marriage.
The Hindu wedding is held inside a canopy called mandap. The bride puts elaborate mehndi or henna designs on her hands and feet before the ceremonies.
The ceremonies are meant to honour the couple’s love and to ensure the success of their marriage by invoking the blessings of various deities and joining the families in celebration.
Normally, Hindu ceremonies begin with an invocation to Lord Ganesha, the Hindu god of wisdom and salvation. By invoking him, he removes any obstacles from the wedding ceremony.
As the groom and his party arrive at the ceremony site amidst much singing and dancing, the bride’s parents, family, and friends greet them with akshat (a kind of rice), tilak (a dot on the forehead), arati (a plate carrying a lighted lamp), and a garland.
Before the wedding begins, the nine planets are invoked by name in a ceremony called grahashanti (peace with the planets). Blessings are received from each planet for the new couple's life together.
The bride is often led to the mandap by her father, where the groom waits. The bride's parents offer their daughter in marriage in a pious and solemn ritual called kanya daan. They wash the feet of the bride and groom with milk and water, purifying them for their new life together. The bride and groom hold their hands open, and the father of the bride holds his open palm over their hands. The mother of the bride then pours water over her husband's hand, which subsequently falls into the hands of the bride and groom.
This ceremony centers on the joining of the bride and groom's hands. The bride's right hand is placed on the right hand of the groom. Their hands are then tied together with a cotton thread wound several times, while the priest recites holy verses. Although a single thread can be easily broken, a thread wound many times creates an unbreakable bond; thus, the thread acts as a metaphor for the new marriage, bringing the couple together in an unbreakable bond.
The bride and groom are next seated in front of a holy fire, or Agni, as a priest recites various mantras from the Holy Scriptures. In Hinduism, fire is regarded as a purifier and a sustainer of life. In a ritual called mangalfera, the bride and groom walk around the fire four times (each a symbol of the four ashrams of life), praying and exchanging vows of duty, love, fidelity, and respect. The priest directs family members to make offerings into the fire. At the end of the ceremony, in a ritual called saptapadi, the bride and groom take seven vows, sealing the marriage forever. These vows are traditionally spoken in Sanskrit and are one of the most ancient aspects of the Hindu ceremony. The vows validate the marriage; no ceremony is complete without them.
At the conclusion of the ceremony, the priest directs the newly-weds' eyes to the pole star, which remains steadfast in the sky though the stars around it move across the sky. So shall their new marriage be steadfast, though others may change around them?
There are additional ceremonies, such as bidhai and vadhupravesh that centre on leaving the ceremony site and welcoming the bride to the groom's home. And certain regions and sects have their own variations on the basic Hindu ceremony. Jain, Punjabi, Marathi, Gujarati, Tamil, Kashmiri, and Bengali ceremonies will all have their own unique customs that make Hindu weddings so special.
(In India, wedding rituals are varied with respect to States)
Nair weddings have very fewer rituals. Distinguished as they are in their esteem, their wedding ceremony also bears the mark of being distinct in its various customs and rituals in a truly Keralite way.
The bride's family receives the groom's family at the entrance of the marriage venue, to the playing of the 'nadaswaram' (long wind instruments) and the 'thayil'. The groom stands on a wooden plank, while the bride's younger brother washes his feet. The bride's aunts perform 'aarti' for the groom with a 'thaali' (platter), on which are arranged a thousand wicks made the night before.
The groom is then escorted to the 'mandappam' (platform constructed to perform the wedding rites), by two rows of young girls. One girl carries the 'changala vatta' (sacred oil lamp), while another carries the 'ashtamangalya' (a small thali or platter containing brightly polished brass miniatures of a spoon, water container, sacred oil lamp, metal mirror, bell, 'kumkum' or vermilion box, and a 'kindi' or container with a spout). The girls following the first two carry the 'taalams’ (platters of rice, turmeric, and flowers on which oil lamps made out of coconut shells are placed).
With his parents flanking him, the groom follows the girls around the 'mandappam', and seats himself on the right side of the canopy, which is decorated with flowers. The bride is then escorted to the 'mandappam', to the rich sound of the 'nadaswaram' and the 'thayil'. At the precise moment set by the astrologer for the 'mahurtham', (the most auspicious time), the groom ties the 'thali’ around the bride's neck. For some communities, the traditional ‘thali' is a gold pendant strung on a yellow thread. The bride has to wear this for three days after the wedding ceremony, after which, it is replaced with a gold chain.
The groom gifts the bride a sari on a platter, conveying to her that he will now assume the responsibility of providing for her. The groom's mother also gifts her with some jewellery at this time.
The couple exchange garlands accepting each other as life partners. The bride's father places her hand in the grooms, thus handing over his daughter to him in holy matrimony. The couple is then blessed by the relatives.
The bride leaves the wedding venue for the groom's house wearing the saree given by the groom. The groom's mother and older female relatives receive them at the entrance. They would perform 'aarti' with an oil lamp, which rests on a platter heaped with rice mixed with turmeric. The bride is required to kick over a large measure containing rice, symbolizing prosperity. In the evening, a handful of people from the bride's family visits the groom’s house. A wedding reception will be held there with a sumptuous feast.