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The Hindu Wedding Ceremony

Traditions, Symbolism, Blessings, Sacredness
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There are many samskāras (sacred rites of passage) within a Hindu’s life and one of the most important is that of vivāha samskāra (the marriage ceremony). This ceremony sees not only the union of two people but two families, two linages & two souls. It sees two persons jointly entering into the grihastha ashram (the householder stage of life); a stage in life baring the responsibility of service to the family and wider community.

Hindu weddings are as diverse as Hinduism itself. There are a many varieties of rituals performed during a Hindu wedding ceremony depending on individual family traditions and cultures. This can be confusing, not just for us photographers, but for many couples and their families planning a Hindu wedding ceremony. Therefore, I’m writing this page to help simplify & explain the ins and outs of a Hindu wedding ceremony by focusing on some of the more underlying principles that resonate through all Hindu wedding ceremonies. I will include popular customs that are involved in Gujarati, Rajasthani & Punjabi wedding ceremonies.

Vara Arcayam (welcoming & honouring the groom)

The groom represents Sri Narayan (Vishnu) and is welcomed into the mandap as a representative of God. He is thus treated with the upmost reverence and is greeted by the bride’s parents and immediate family who worship him with various arti paraphernalia. At this point in the spirit of fun and games, the mother of the bride may attempt to pinch the groom’s nose to show him who’s boss.

Indian Wedding Photographer

The groom represents Sri Narayan (Vishnu) and is welcomed into the mandap as a representative of God. He is thus treated with the upmost reverence and is greeted by the bride’s parents and immediate family who worship him with various arti paraphernalia. At this point in the spirit of fun and games, the mother of the bride may attempt to pinch the groom’s nose to show him who’s boss.

Indian Wedding Photographer
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Before the groom can enter the mandap, he must prove his worth by breaking a clay-pot with his right foot. Symbolically, by breaking this pot, the groom demonstrates his strength, resolve and ability to destroy all obstacles that the couple will undoubtedly face during married life. Spiritually the pot represents the bow of Lord Siva that Lord Rama broke to claim Sita’s hand in marriage.

Before the groom can enter the mandap, he must prove his worth by breaking a clay-pot with his right foot. Symbolically, by breaking this pot, the groom demonstrates his strength, resolve and ability to destroy all obstacles that the couple will undoubtedly face during married life. Spiritually the pot represents the bow of Lord Siva that Lord Rama broke to claim Sita’s hand in marriage.

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Culturally in India, if any guest enters your home, you must treat them as good as God by offering to wash their feet. In this instance the parents of the bride present the groom with the items to wash his own feet, this is because the groom is junior to the parents and so out of respect the groom does not permit them to touch his feet and instead takes the items to wash his own feet. (Many priests in the UK ask the parents to wash the groom’s feet and although technically this is not proper, it is what it is… and I guess the sentiment remains the same).

Copthorne Hotel Effingham Wedding Photographer

Culturally in India, if any guest enters your home, you must treat them as good as God by offering to wash their feet. In this instance the parents of the bride present the groom with the items to wash his own feet, this is because the groom is junior to the parents and so out of respect the groom does not permit them to touch his feet and instead takes the items to wash his own feet. (Many priests in the UK ask the parents to wash the groom’s feet and although technically this is not proper, it is what it is… and I guess the sentiment remains the same).

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Vadhū Āgamanam (entrance of the bride)
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Traditionally the bride will enter the mandap whilst covering her face with a veil or fan of auspicious pan leaves (betel-nut leaves), this is because the groom should be the first to take darshana (vision) of the bride before anybody else in his family. These days many couples choose not to follow this tradition, however I personally feel that it is a beautiful gesture to savour the first sight of the bride for the groom alone.

Traditionally the bride will enter the mandap whilst covering her face with a veil or fan of auspicious pan leaves (betel-nut leaves), this is because the groom should be the first to take darshana (vision) of the bride before anybody else in his family. These days many couples choose not to follow this tradition, however I personally feel that it is a beautiful gesture to savour the first sight of the bride for the groom alone.

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The bride enters the assembly to the sound of conch-shells being blown and led in by her entourage of bridesmaids, each carrying auspicious items such as flowers, incense and diya (ghee-lamps); this is representational of the worship of Sri Laksmi. The bride is accompanied by her maternal-uncles down the aisle, symbolising the mother’s family’s support and commitment to the bride and her family.

Bhaktivedanta Manor Hindu Wedding

The bride enters the assembly to the sound of conch-shells being blown and led in by her entourage of bridesmaids, each carrying auspicious items such as flowers, incense and diya (ghee-lamps); this is representational of the worship of Sri Laksmi. The bride is accompanied by her maternal-uncles down the aisle, symbolising the mother’s family’s support and commitment to the bride and her family.

Bhaktivedanta Manor Hindu Wedding
Oshwal Centre Wedding Photographer

The groom waits patiently under the mandap behind the antarpat (cloth) so that he does not see the bride until the priest has recited all the auspicious mantrasAfter which, the antarpat is lowered and the some of the best images of anticipation and happiness between the bride and groom are captured. The bride and groom then exchange jaya-mālās (garlands representing “victory”), by sweetly and lovingly placing fragrant flower garlands on each other to announce their personnel intent and consent to marry. The bride then takes her seat to the right-hand side of the groom.

The groom waits patiently under the mandap behind the antarpat (cloth) so that he does not see the bride until the priest has recited all the auspicious mantrasAfter which, the antarpat is lowered and the some of the best images of anticipation and happiness between the bride and groom are captured. The bride and groom then exchange jaya-mālās (garlands representing “victory”), by sweetly and lovingly placing fragrant flower garlands on each other to announce their personnel intent and consent to marry. The bride then takes her seat to the right-hand side of the groom.

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Kanyādānam (the sacred bestowal of the bride)

A married women who is a mother to a son, ties the bride’s right hand to the groom’s right hand with a small flower garland known as the varmala. After the priest acknowledges the names of three ancestral generations of the couples’ respective paternal-families, the father of the bride pours purifying ganga-gal  (sacred water) over the couple’s hands. This is the true meaning of “giving the bride’s hand in marriage”. It is important to understand that in Hinduism, the bride is never considered the property of either her father nor her husband, in fact she is considered the greatest jewel bestowed upon any family and is synonymous to Sri Lakshmi. Having a daughter is very fortunate as she brings with her happiness and prosperity to the family. Therefore, by giving her hand in marriage, the father is actually gifting his greatest treasure to the groom.

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A married women who is a mother to a son, ties the bride’s right hand to the groom’s right hand with a small flower garland known as the varmala. After the priest acknowledges the names of three ancestral generations of the couples’ respective paternal-families, the father of the bride pours purifying ganga-gal  (sacred water) over the couple’s hands. This is the true meaning of “giving the bride’s hand in marriage”. It is important to understand that in Hinduism, the bride is never considered the property of either her father nor her husband, in fact she is considered the greatest jewel bestowed upon any family and is synonymous to Sri Lakshmi. Having a daughter is very fortunate as she brings with her happiness and prosperity to the family. Therefore, by giving her hand in marriage, the father is actually gifting his greatest treasure to the groom.

London Wedding Photographer
Leicester Wedding Photographer

The groom will place his hand on the bride’s heart and recite the kāma stuti (prayer of love) “Who is giving what and to whom? Love is the Giver and Love the Receiver. Love has entered into the Ocean of Being. Through Love I receive you. O Love all this is for you.” (Atharva Veda 3:29:7). By reciting this mantra the groom acknowledges that the bride is the servant of God and that she is now in his care so that he can serve her. The father of the bride finally ties the brides chundri (veil) to the groom’s chadar (scarf), known as vastra-dhaaran or granthi-bandhan. The sacred knot containing auspicious items such as betel-nuts, gold, etc, is a symbol of the unbreakable union between the bride and groom. This is arguably where the saying “tying the knot” has been derived from.

The groom will place his hand on the bride’s heart and recite the kāma stuti (prayer of love) “Who is giving what and to whom? Love is the Giver and Love the Receiver. Love has entered into the Ocean of Being. Through Love I receive you. O Love all this is for you.” (Atharva Veda 3:29:7). By reciting this mantra the groom acknowledges that the bride is the servant of God and that she is now in his care so that he can serve her. The father of the bride finally ties the brides chundri (veil) to the groom’s chadar (scarf), known as vastra-dhaaran or granthi-bandhan. The sacred knot containing auspicious items such as betel-nuts, gold, etc, is a symbol of the unbreakable union between the bride and groom. This is arguably where the saying “tying the knot” has been derived from.

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The varmala (small flower garland) is then taken by the bride and thrown to an unmarried girl, with the blessing that she will be next to find a worthy husband. In Hinduism an unmarried girl is considered pure and therefore her blessings are very auspicious. I wouldn’t be surprised if this is where the tradition of “throwing of the wedding bouquet” originated. The young girl will then take the flower petals from this garland and save them for later in the ceremony, to shower the bride-groom, as they circumambulate the sacred fire.

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The varmala (small flower garland) is then taken by the bride and thrown to an unmarried girl, with the blessing that she will be next to find a worthy husband. In Hinduism an unmarried girl is considered pure and therefore her blessings are very auspicious. I wouldn’t be surprised if this is where the tradition of “throwing of the wedding bouquet” originated. The young girl will then take the flower petals from this garland and save them for later in the ceremony, to shower the bride-groom, as they circumambulate the sacred fire.

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Kuśandikā (establishing the sacred fire)
Hindu Wedding Photography

The divine Lord in His form as Yojaka-Agni is invited into the yajna-havan (sacrificial fire) to witness the couples union. The divine becomes the focus of worship as oblations of ghee, sesame seeds, samagri (sacred dried roots and leaves), sacred wood are made. These items represent an offering of surrender through nature’s natural gifts. This is all done as the priest chants ancient Vedic mantras melodiously. Ājya Homa (oblations for the bride’s welfare) is simultaneously performed, whereby the groom assists in the oblations by offering ghee and samagri as the priest recites svāhā at the end of each mantra; Svāhā is the the wife of Agni (the sacred fire) and is therefore the goddess of oblation, personified.

The divine Lord in His form as Yojaka-Agni is invited into the yajna-havan (sacrificial fire) to witness the couples union. The divine becomes the focus of worship as oblations of ghee, sesame seeds, samagri (sacred dried roots and leaves), sacred wood are made. These items represent an offering of surrender through nature’s natural gifts. This is all done as the priest chants ancient Vedic mantras melodiously. Ājya Homa (oblations for the bride’s welfare) is simultaneously performed, whereby the groom assists in the oblations by offering ghee and samagri as the priest recites svāhā at the end of each mantra; Svāhā is the the wife of Agni (the sacred fire) and is therefore the goddess of oblation, personified.

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Agni Pradakshina (circumambulation of the sacred fire)

This part of the ceremony is the exciting highlight for the guests, who witness the union of the bride and groom as they circumambulate God in the form of the sacred fire. Firstly the bride and groom perform aśmā krāmana or shilarohan, whereby the bride places her right foot on a sacred stone, whilst the groom prays that the bride remains fixed and strong in her devotion to God. It also symbolises her courage, determination and support in her married life to the groom.

London Wedding Photographer

This part of the ceremony is the exciting highlight for the guests, who witness the union of the bride and groom as they circumambulate God in the form of the sacred fire. Firstly the bride and groom perform aśmā krāmana or shilarohan, whereby the bride places her right foot on a sacred stone, whilst the groom prays that the bride remains fixed and strong in her devotion to God. It also symbolises her courage, determination and support in her married life to the groom.

London Wedding Photographer
London Wedding Photographer

Next, the bride’s brother(s) step forward to place grains into the bride’s cupped hands, whilst reciting the mantra “the bride is going from her parent’s house to the house of the groom, having done her duties well before her betrothal. O’ bride, help us to remove obstacles just like a  flood of water cleans the earth.” The bride will in turn then offer those grains the sacred fire. This is known as the lāja homa and is repeated four times. Each time is followed by the bride and groom doing agni- parikrama, also known as māngala-phera or lama (circumambulating of the sacred fire).

Next, the bride’s brother(s) step forward to place grains into the bride’s cupped hands, whilst reciting the mantra “the bride is going from her parent’s house to the house of the groom, having done her duties well before her betrothal. O’ bride, help us to remove obstacles just like a  flood of water cleans the earth.” The bride will in turn then offer those grains the sacred fire. This is known as the lāja homa and is repeated four times. Each time is followed by the bride and groom doing agni- parikrama, also known as māngala-phera or lama (circumambulating of the sacred fire).

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The bride leads the groom for the first three circumambulations, to show commitment to the first three goals of the ghrihastha ashram (married life) – namely;

  • Dharma (to uphold morality, righteousness and prescribed duties to the wider community including animal welfare.)
  • Artha (to pursue economical prosperity, in an ethical and truthful way)
  • Karma (to fulfil noble desires)

For the final circumambulation of the sacred fire, the groom leads the bride to show his commitment to help guide his bride and family in the final goal of married life;

  • Moksha (spiritual realisation and devotion to God)
London Wedding Photographer

The bride leads the groom for the first three circumambulations, to show commitment to the first three goals of the ghrihastha ashram (married life) – namely;

  • Dharma (to uphold morality, righteousness and prescribed duties to the wider community including animal welfare.)
  • Artha (to pursue economical prosperity, in an ethical and truthful way)
  • Karma (to fulfil noble desires)

For the final circumambulation of the sacred fire, the groom leads the bride to show his commitment to help guide his bride and family in the final goal of married life;

  • Moksha (spiritual realisation and devotion to God)
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Saptapadi Gamanam (seven steps and vows of commitment)
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The groom leads the bride through seven steps in the North-East direction towards the deity of Vishnu (if there is no deity present then they can take seven steps around the sacred fire), each time placing the brides right toe on a betel-nut, symbolising something that is unbreakable, just as the vows they that they are making to one another will be unbreakable.

The seven vows which are spoken are as follows (please note that I am paraphrasing and simplifying these vows, the actual words that are spoken are more elegant and poetic):

  • We will provide healthy and nourishing food.
  • We will maintain strength and good health.
  • We will strive for greater prosperity.
  • We will work towards mutual happiness.
  • We will manage our wealth.
  • We will give each other association through all the six seasons.
  • We will perform the seven weekly religious sacrifices and remain faithful to all of our marriage vows.

The groom leads the bride through seven steps in the North-East direction towards the deity of Vishnu (if there is no deity present then they can take seven steps around the sacred fire), each time placing the brides right toe on a betel-nut, symbolising something that is unbreakable, just as the vows they that they are making to one another will be unbreakable.

The seven vows which are spoken are as follows (please note that I am paraphrasing and simplifying these vows, the actual words that are spoken are more elegant and poetic):

  • We will provide healthy and nourishing food.
  • We will maintain strength and good health.
  • We will strive for greater prosperity.
  • We will work towards mutual happiness.
  • We will manage our wealth.
  • We will give each other association through all the six seasons.
  • We will perform the seven weekly religious sacrifices and remain faithful to all of our marriage vows.
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Sinduhra Dāna & Māngalya Dhārana (decorating the bride with auspicious items)

Sinduhra Dāna is the application of red vermillion powder to the parting of the bride’s hair. Historically the princely class would fight to the death in order to win the princess’s hand in marriage. The victorious prince would then take the blood of the fallen foe and apply it to the forehead of the princess, to proclaim his admiration and love. Of course these days, this tradition would probably land one in jail lol, therefore blood is replaced by sindhura (red vermillion powder).

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Sinduhra Dāna is the application of red vermillion powder to the parting of the bride’s hair. Historically the princely class would fight to the death in order to win the princess’s hand in marriage. The victorious prince would then take the blood of the fallen foe and apply it to the forehead of the princess, to proclaim his admiration and love. Of course these days, this tradition would probably land one in jail lol, therefore blood is replaced by sindhura (red vermillion powder).

London Wedding Photographer
London Wedding Photographer

Māngalya Dhārana – the gifting of the māngala-suta (sacred neckless); vastra paridhāpana sometimes known as gharchola (sanctified garment/dress); other decorative items such as gold and jewels. Whilst gifting these items to the bride, the groom prays to God to simultaneous gift her with a long life.

Application of sinduhra and the māngala-sutra on a daily basis is compared to the wearing of wedding rings as all these items indicate the signs of a married lady.

Māngalya Dhārana – the gifting of the māngala-suta (sacred neckless); vastra paridhāpana sometimes known as gharchola (sanctified garment/dress); other decorative items such as gold and jewels. Whilst gifting these items to the bride, the groom prays to God to simultaneous gift her with a long life.

Application of sinduhra and the māngala-sutra on a daily basis is compared to the wearing of wedding rings as all these items indicate the signs of a married lady.

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Exchange of seats

Up until this point the bride has sat on the right hand side of the groom, but now that they are officially married they exchange seats to symbolically show that they have now accepted one another and are now one, that she has joint his family and also now sits closer to his heart. Spiritually, the bride sits on the groom’s left as his shakti (power, energy or essence), just as Sita sits on the left of Rama, Radha on the left of Krsna, Parvati on the left of Shiva, and so on…

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Up until this point the bride has sat on the right hand side of the groom, but now that they are officially married they exchange seats to symbolically show that they have now accepted one another and are now one, that she has joint his family and also now sits closer to his heart. Spiritually, the bride sits on the groom’s left as his shakti (power, energy or essence), just as Sita sits on the left of Rama, Radha on the left of Krsna, Parvati on the left of Shiva, and so on…

Bhaktivedanta Manor Wedding Photography
London Wedding Photographer

Although this is not part of the traditional Hindu wedding ceremony, sometimes the bride and groom will have a friendly competition to see who can sit down first – the idea being that whoever sits down first will be the boss of the house. To be honest, it doesn’t really matter who sits down first, because the ruler will always be the bride regardless, because spiritually she is considered his better-half i.e. his shakti.

Although this is not part of the traditional Hindu wedding ceremony, sometimes the bride and groom will have a friendly competition to see who can sit down first – the idea being that whoever sits down first will be the boss of the house. To be honest, it doesn’t really matter who sits down first, because the ruler will always be the bride regardless, because spiritually she is considered his better-half i.e. his shakti.

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Akhanda Saubhagyawati (secret blessings)

Married ladies enter the mandap to give akhanda-saubhagyawati (secretly whisper blessings, ie. words of advice from those more experienced in married life) into the bride’s right ear.

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Married ladies enter the mandap to give akhanda-saubhagyawati (secretly whisper blessings, ie. words of advice from those more experienced in married life) into the bride’s right ear.

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Kansar (offering of sanctified sweets)
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Up until this point, due to the marriage ceremony being a religious sacrifice, the bride, groom, priest and bride’s parents have abstained from food since the previous day. They have observed this fast to maintain cleanliness and purity. Now that the yajna (sacrifice) has been completed, they may partake in breaking their fast. The groom first feeds some prashadam (sanctified food) to his bride and in turn she feeds him. Usually this is in the form of a mithaai (Indian sweet) & it marks the occasion of the first meal that the bride and groom share as a married couple. Symbolically it signifies that from this day onwards, they will only speak sweet words to one another. It also signifies that from this day on, the couple will share everything together.

Up until this point, due to the marriage ceremony being a religious sacrifice, the bride, groom, priest and bride’s parents have abstained from food since the previous day. They have observed this fast to maintain cleanliness and purity. Now that the yajna (sacrifice) has been completed, they may partake in breaking their fast. The groom first feeds some prashadam (sanctified food) to his bride and in turn she feeds him. Usually this is in the form of a mithaai (Indian sweet) & it marks the occasion of the first meal that the bride and groom share as a married couple. Symbolically it signifies that from this day onwards, they will only speak sweet words to one another. It also signifies that from this day on, the couple will share everything together.

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Aashirvaad (seeking blessings)

In front of God, the immediate family, guests and well-wishers the priest announces that the the marriage ceremony is now concluded and introduces the newly married couple. Flower petals are showered upon the couple, symbolising blessings and good wishes for their happiness, welfare and spiritual advancement.

Leicester Hindu Wedding Photographer

In front of God, the immediate family, guests and well-wishers the priest announces that the the marriage ceremony is now concluded and introduces the newly married couple. Flower petals are showered upon the couple, symbolising blessings and good wishes for their happiness, welfare and spiritual advancement.

Leicester Hindu Wedding Photographer
Keythorpe Manor Hindu Wedding

Finally, the couple, seek aashirvaad (blessings) from God, the brahmanas (priests), the elders, the parents and the ancestors. They do so by bowing down in humility and surrender; either by añjali mudrā (folding their hands as a sign of respect) or by praṇāma (touching the feet of their seniors).

Finally, the couple, seek aashirvaad (blessings) from God, the brahmanas (priests), the elders, the parents and the ancestors. They do so by bowing down in humility and surrender; either by añjali mudrā (folding their hands as a sign of respect) or by praṇāma (touching the feet of their seniors).

Keythorpe Manor Hindu Wedding

I hope that I have explained the vivāha samskāra (Hindu wedding ceremony) as clearly as possible and that it has been of some help to you and your family. If you have any questions, please feel free to send me a message and I will try my best to offer some guidance. If I don’t know, I will seek out the answer from a spiritual authority on your behalf.