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Modern Indian-Hindu weddings include ancient rituals

A celebration of life — and a test of stamina

Posted: May 19, 2008 7:54 p.m.
Updated: July 19, 2008 5:01 a.m.

The bride (center) leads her closest female relatives in the Varadh, which is performed shortly after the pillar ceremony. The Varadh is where the women carry buckets of holy water ontained from a well. As this is one of the first events, enough holy water has to be obtained to last the entire wedding.

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Athletes are not the only people who participate in marathons. Earlier last month, I endured a "marathon" of my own. No, I did not run 26.2 miles to cross a finish line and have my photo taken.

Okay, so I did not run a long distance, but I definitely felt exhausted. Spending six full days at an Indian wedding will have that effect.

Not too long ago, I took 10 days off from my duties here at The Signal. While most would welcome 10 days off from work, I was secretly dreading it. Where I was going was no vacation. Instead, it involved much more work - physically, mentally and emotionally - than I ever do on any given day at the office.

Where did I go? Not too far - only an hour south of here, to Anaheim, where my younger sister officially joined hands with the man of her dreams.

Indeed, a happy and joyous occasion. Yet for those directly involved in an Indian wedding, the entire ordeal can be rather consuming and, well, exhausting.

So what makes an Indian-Hindu wedding so exhausting? Well, unlike Western weddings, a Hindu wedding is several days long - in some instances, the first rituals may start 15 days before the actual wedding ceremony.

Naturally, I am asked what makes Hindu ceremonies so long. I sheepishly answer that there really is no real reason, except to discourage divorce. After all, who wants to jump through all the hurdles of a Hindu wedding only to have it come to an end a few months or years later? Better yet, who wants to go through the whole ordeal a second time?

Okay, so perhaps "ordeal" is not the best adjective to use for what is considered an auspicious and momentous event. That being said, allow me to give you a "brief" tour of what makes up a traditional, yet fun - and simultaneously taxing - Hindu wedding.

Pre-wedding Lagna vivah:
The official title of the Hindu marriage, lagna vivah means "the wedding to two families." The phrase is used from the second a man and a woman wish to join together.

Sagai (the engagement):
Once the man and woman decide to wed, the first step in the wedding process is the sagai, or engagement. For my sister, this happened last June.

The sagai is a two-step process. First, the future bride pays a visit - with family and close friends - to her future husband's home. This visit signifies the groom, and his family, accepting the bride into their home, and ultimately, approving of the engagement. A small ceremony is performed by a Maharaj, or Indian priest.
Second, usually within a week, the future groom will return the favor and visit his bride's home with family members. When he arrives at the home, the circle is completed when one of the bride's family members accepts them into their home.
At the first ceremony, the couple is asked for the first time if they wish to continue with the engagement, or break it if they feel they are not a perfect match for each other.

Beginning of the wedding
Mandap muhurat/pithi (beginning of wedding): Between the engagement and the wedding, nothing much happens (except planning).

Several days before the wedding, though, is the mandap muhurat, which symbolizes the beginning of the wedding. The bride and groom have these ceremonies separately at their respective homes.

The morning portion of the ceremony is performed strictly with family, either three or five days before the wedding day. Later in the evening, the ceremony - now called pithi - is continued as the groom's family and friends from both sides join in.

During the day, when the ceremony is performed individually, the bride and groom are smeared with a yellow paste, which is made from turmeric powder mixed in oil and perfume. This makes the skin smoother and more fair.

In the evening, when family and friends from both sides come together, everyone gathers in front of the house to sing festive songs and perform folk dances. Immediate family members exchange gifts and sweets.

Grah shanti or satak:
A brief ceremony, a grah shanti is a ritual where Lord Ganesh is invited to be present to remove all obstacles and provide the newlyweds with happiness and prosperity. The ceremony is often performed by the same priest who conducts the wedding, and involves the couple and their parents. However, the couple is not together - the ceremony is held simultaneously at the respective residences of the bride and groom, one or two days before the wedding.

Garba-raas:
Two traditional folkdances, garba and raas are generally held by Indians of Gujarati decent - such as myself. Both dances are religious in root, and are high-energy and festive. Garba is a circular-type dance, while raas is a line dance with a stick. This is generally the last event before the wedding.

Actual wedding
Several aspects make up the entire wedding ceremony, which may last several hours. In America, most Hindu ceremonies are abbreviated, as some of the events below are not essential for the "perfect" ceremony.

Hastamelap:
The groom, with the wedding procession, will be greeted by the bride's relatives at the entrance to the wedding hall, where both parties will exchange typical folk songs to lighten the occasion.

Anugyaa:
Requesting the consent and blessings of the guests to start the ceremony

Ganesha puja:
Similar to the grah shanti, Lord Ganesh's blessings are requested for a successful ceremony.

Pratisara bandham:
The couple resolves to perform the ceremony wholeheartedly, which is represented by a yellow thread tied around their wrists.

Ankur aarpanam:
A salutation to Mother Earth, the couple sows nine varieties of seed for the sake of their offspring.

Kasi yatra:
In exchange for the groom sacrificing "earthly pleasures," the bride's parents offer knowledge through married life by promising to give their daughter in holy matrimony.

Vara preshana:
The bride's father receives the groom and brings him to meet his new bride.

Madhuparka dhaanam:
The first time during the wedding that the bride and groom get to see each other, they usually sit on a swing and offer honey, milk and fruits to each other while married women in attendance sing for them. Floral garlands are also exchanged.

Vivaaha sankalpam:
A resolution to solemnize the marriage is made by the couple.

Pravaram:
The priest requests blessings from the ancestors of the bride and groom.

Vara puja kanya dhanam:
The bride's parents officially give their daughter away to the groom at this point.

Nutana vasthra:
Members of both families offer new, yet traditional, clothes to the couple. This is in addition to the traditional outfits they are already wearing. The bride's wedding dress is red, or red and white. Red is an auspicious color in Hinduism and represents good luck.

Agni prathista:
The priest requests the blessings of Agni, God of Fire. In Hindu tradition, Agni is a key witness to the marriage.

Mangalya pooja and mangalya fhaaranam:
A mangalyam, or bridal necklace, is blessed by the priest. This is the first step in finalizing the marriage. The groom receives the necklace from the priest, places it on the bride's neck and ties a holy not.

Paanigrahanam:
After the necklace is put on, the groom holds the bride's hands and makes the following vow: "I take your hands for happiness. May we grow old together. I take your heart into mine. May the Gods join us." The bride replies: "I accept you as my husband. We shall remain happy always and live a harmonious life."

Saptapadi:
The portion of the ceremony where the bride and groom make their vows. They do this while making three rounds around the fire. In the first round, seven steps are taken, with vows stated at the end. After the second, the bride places her right foot on a stone for strength in marriage. In the third round, the groom places a silver ring on one of his bride's little toes as a gesture of love. At this point, they are officially "husband and wife."

Udvaaha homa:
A sacrificial offering is made to the God of Fire.

Laaja homa:
The bride prays to the God of Fire for long life, prosperity and happiness.

Jayaadi homa and poornahuti:
A final offering is made by the priest to the God of Fire as a symbol of success and happiness for everyone.

Asirwadam:
Everyone in attendance officially blesses the couple as the priest chants blessings for them.

Recognition:
The new couple honors and recognizes the priest, relatives, friends and well-wishers.

Mangalam:
The grand finale, where everyone in attendance chants and sings in honor of the new couple.

The Farewell (vidaigiri)
While the ceremony is joyous and exciting, the ceremony ends with the vidaigiri, or farewell. This is the most emotional ceremony of the wedding, where the bride bids her final goodbyes to her family.

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