(article by Shu Shu Costa from the feature
entitled: "Rituals of Bliss"; text & images courtesy
In the ancient Hindu wedding ceremony, the
whole family is involved, from young nieces to the bride's brothers.
The mothers of both bride and groom also play special roles throughout
the wedding festivities.
A few days before the wedding ceremony, the
priest visits the bride's home to recite prayers and readings, blessing
the wedding ceremony. On the evening before the wedding, the bride's
parents welcome the groom's family with another small ceremony.
Oftentimes, the bride's mother will give a special gift to the groom's
mother. During this time, the bride and groom are not allowed to
see each other. If they do, they will bring bad luck into the marriage.
Though the color and costume differ depending
on the village or state, the bride most often wears a red and white
sari, embroidered in gold. The white signifies purity;
the red symbolizes abundance and fertility. She is usually adorned
with lots of gold jewelry. In the northern part of India, she may
wear a headdress of flowers; in the southern region, her head is
usually bare. The groom also generally wears white. The loose, long-sleeved
shirt is untucked and embroidered with golden threads. Depending
again on the village, grooms may wear loose pants or a sarong-like
skirt. In northern India, elaborate headdresses with strings of
flowers almost covering the face adorn their heads. In the South,
the groom's head is generally bare. Around the necks of the bride
and groom are placed flower garlands of roses and marigolds that
hang almost to their knees.
The wedding ceremony is held under a four-pole
canopy called a mandap. The bride is escorted to the canopy
by her maternal uncle; the groom is accompanied by the best man
and a young girl, usually a sister, niece or cousin, whose job is
to keep the groom alert by shaking a metal pot filled with coins.
The ceremony consists of three parts: In the first, called kanyadaan,
the bride's parents wash the couple's feet with milk and water to
purify them for a new life. In the second, called hastamelap,
or the "joining of hands," the bride's right hand is placed
on the groom's right hand. After verses from the holy scripture
are chanted by the priest, a loop of white, raw cotton wound 24
times is placed around the shoulders of the bride and groom, symbolizing
their bond. Then, a small open fire is lit in the center. A white
cloth is tied to the bride's sari and placed around the
groom's shoulders. The bride's brothers--and sometimes her male
cousins--are called up to lead the bride and groom around the fire
a number of times. (How many times the couple walks around the fire
depends on the village where you come from. And in the southern
state of Kerala, there is no fire. Instead the couple walks around
coconut blossoms.) In the couple's hands are grains of rice, oats
and leaves, signifying the four blessings of wealth, good health,
prosperity and happiness. At the end, the groom's brothers may sprinkle
rose petals over the couple to ward off evil. When the ceremony
is over, the bride feeds her groom five mouthfuls of Indian sweets,
showing that it is her duty to cook and care for him and their family.
The groom then reciprocates, signifying that it is his duty to provide
for her and their family. Then relatives are invited under the canopy
to place a red dot on the couple's foreheads and sprinkle some rice
grains, wishes for a long, happy and prosperous life together.
The Hindu wedding feast is also an elaborate
event. No foods are favored over the others, but all must be well-fed.
When dinner is over, the departure of the wedding party begins.
Called viday, this is one of the emotional highlights of
the wedding, as the bride, with tears of joy and sorrow, leaves
her family for her new life.
* * *
Other Asian Wedding Cultures:
- Exploring a few Ethnic Wedding Traditions, The Gainesville
Sun (January 20, 2001)
- Adding Asian Elements and Traditions to Your Wedding, IMdiversity.com
- Married to Tradition, San Antonio Express-News (June