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A Southern India Hindu Wedding
Hinduism and Hindu traditions and rituals are diverse and vary from region to region in India. This article describes wedding customs and rituals celebrated by Tamil Brahmin families in southern India. The article was penned by Laksmi Appachar, a former volunteer and present board member of The Worldview Project. The pictures shown are from her own wedding. Lakshmi says that writing this article enabled her to "relive a very important and pleasurable event of my life and it also gave me an opportunity to gain a fuller understanding of the significance of many of the rituals performed during my wedding ceremony."

By Lakshmi Appachar


A brief glimpse into Hindu Marriage Rituals

The Night Before
The Evening Before The Wedding
The following article describes wedding customs and rituals celebrated by Tamil Brahmin families in southern India. My name is Lakshmi Appachar and my family follows the Brahmin tradition. The pictures shown in this article are actually from my own wedding, which took place recently. Writing this article enabled me to relive a very important and pleasurable event of my life and it also gave me an opportunity to gain a fuller understanding of the significance of many of the rituals.

It is important to realize that India is a diverse country with many different religions and different understandings of Hinduism. The rituals described here are specific to the community I belong to, and the interpretation, significance, and practice of these rituals may vary from place to place in India. I also want to stress that only the most important rituals are highlighted in this article.

In the Hindu religion, marriage is considered to be a tremendously significant event in an individual's life, heralding the commencement of eternal companionship that extends beyond life and death. The Hindu marriage ceremony is performed through a variety of rituals invoking various deities to bear witness and shower their powerful blessings on the couple as they share their wedding vows.

Marriage is considered to be a period where an individual moves from one phase of life called the Brahmacharya to another phase called Grihasthashrama [1]. In South Indian Brahmin [2] families, marriages are performed according to the sacred Vedic rites. There are many rituals which focus on celebrating the different rites of passage in the Hindu religion. Some examples of such rituals are the Upanayam [3] and Namakaranam [4]. They are normally associated to religious functions, whereas the marriage ritual also has a social aspect.

In bygone times, marriages were performed at the bride's house and lasted a whole week. The entire community participated. With the passage of time, marriages ceremonies have become shorter and they now take only two days to complete. Nowadays, weddings are held in wedding halls and all the rituals are performed by a purohit (priest). The houses of the bride and the groom are decorated with a mantap built out of the leaves of plantain and coconut trees, indicating that a festive occasion is being celebrated.

The day before the wedding, the groom and his family are welcomed into the wedding hall. The bride's parents welcome the groom and his family by performing an Aarthi[5], a ritual which has two parts, namely washing the couple's feet and placing garlands on them as a mark of respect. A special musical instrument called the Nadaswaram[6] is played during the ritual. This day is viewed as a prelude to the wedding and an opportunity for the bride's and groom's families to interact and socialize with each other.



[1] In Hindu philosophy, ideally, every man undergoes four phases in life:

Brahmacharya or "bachelorhood."
Grihasta or "married life."
Vanaprastha or the renunciation of worldly commitments and the commencement of a life in the forest.
Sanyasa or "living the life of an ascetic."

[2] A division in the Hindu caste hierarchy.
[3] The initiation ceremony of a young boy.
[4] The naming ceremony where the new born infant is given a name.
[5] A traditional form of welcome and worship.
[6] A popular classical musical instrument of southern India.



The Grand Wedding

Naandi
Naandi - The Worship Of The Ancestors
On this day, both the bride and the groom, assisted by a priest, perform many rituals. The following series of pictures show the most significant of these rituals.

The rituals of the wedding commence with both parties separately offering prayers to the Gods. This is followed by the couple preparing themselves for the other sacred rites.

Naandi - The worship of ancestors
The Naandi ritual is performed to obtain the blessings of the Pithrus [forefathers] for a long and prosperous life.
After the worship of ancestors, the Vratham rite is performed separately by the bride and the groom. The ritual of Vratam signifies the change from one phase of life to another. The bride tries on the Kappu, a thread that is put around the bride's wrist to protect her from evil spirits. A string is also tied to the groom and it also creates a a protective armor. For the groom, the ritual begins with invocations to the various Gods, who will help him prepare himself for a new chapter and phase in his life as a Grihasta or householder.

Kashi Yaatra

Kashi Yaatra is the next important part of the marriage ceremony, symbolically portraying an important choice. Immediately after bachelorhood, the phase of the Brahmacharya, a young man has two options. He can either choose to enter the Grihastashrama or he may embrace Sanyasa. In the Kaashi Yaatra, the young bachelor first decides to choose the ascetic life and begins to proceed to Kashi[7]. The bride's father then intervenes, advises him on the importance of marriage, and promises to give his daughter to the young man as a companion for the journey of life. The groom is convinced that the purpose of living can be completed after experiencing the married life with his life's partner and then he proceeds back to the mantap.



[7] A sacred pilgrimage center in India called Varanasi



Kaashi
Kaashi Yaatra

Worship of the Ashwatha Tree

The bride and the women circumambulate the Ashwatha tree[8] and seek its blessings. The tree is considered to be a symbol of the Lord Vishnu.


[8] Also known as a peepal tree, which is considered sacred both by Hindus and Buddhists.



Ashwatha
Worship Of The Ashwatha Tree

Maalai Mathal - Exchange of Garlands

The bride and groom are lifted high in the air by their maternal uncles and place three garlands on each other. Some believe that this ritual was been created to lighten up the mood on the wedding day for both family members and, more importantly, for the bride and the groom. Some believe that the Maalai Mathal ritual developed in appreciation of the young ages of the bride and groom, with the intent of making the ceremony more lively and fun.

Garlands
Maalai Maathal - Exchange of Garlands

Oonjal - The Swing

In this ritual called the Oonjal, the bride and groom are seated on a swing. This is a moment for the bride and groom to enjoy each other's company in the presence of their families and relatives. The oscillation of the swing is a symbol of the joy and sorrow that will occur through life. As the groom and bride rock back and forth on the swing, the women sing to the couple and wish them a happy future.

The Swing
Oonjal - The Swing

Dhaarai or Kanya Dhanam

Kanya means a "young girl" and dhaanam means "offering". In this ritual, the bride sits in her father's lap and she is then given away as a gift to the groom. Coconut, betel leaves, and nuts are placed in the bride's palm between her father's and the groom's hands. Water is poured over the hands by the bride's mother. The father then releases his hand from that of his daughter's, thus placing the hand of the bride over the hands of the groom, who accepts the dhaanam. The bride is subsequently given a new sari[9] to be worn for the next ritual.


[9] Traditional dress of Indian women.



Dhaarai or Kanya Dhanam
Dhaarai or Kanya Dhanam

Maangalya Dhaaranam

At a specific time, previously determined to be an auspicious hour, the ritual of tying of the Mangala Sutra [10] occurs. While the bride is elsewhere changing her dress, the Mangala Sutra is carried around the hall to seek the blessings of the elders. The groom ties one knot in the thread and the groom's sister ties two knots, thus welcoming the bride as a member of their family. All the while, the Nadaswaram and drums are played loudly to ward off the bad spirits. This step of the ceremony is called Gatti Melam.

Then, the bride and the groom sit in front of the Sacred Fire for the next ritual Paanigrahanam[11], a sacred act in which the couple unites by holding each other's hands. The groom makes a solemn pledge that he will fulfill the expectations of a Grihasta and proclaims that the two of them shall never part from each other through the course of life.



[10] A sacred yellow thread tied around the bride's neck by the groom
[11] Holding the bride's hand.



Maangalya Dhaaranam
Maangalya Dhaaranam

Saptapadi - Walking Seven Steps

Saptapadi is the next rite performed and it is considered to be one of the culminating rituals of the marriage. The groom holds the bride's hands and walks seven steps with her. Hymns are chanted to reinforce the promises the bride and the groom make to each other. At each step, a Vedic hymn is recited, seeking the blessings of Lord Vishnu.

After the completion of the Saptapadi, the married couple performs the Laaja Homa ritual.

Saptapadi
Saptapadi - Walking Seven Steps

Laaja Homa - Offering To The Sacrificial Fire

Laja Homan
Laja Homan - Offering To The Sacrificial Fire
In this part of the wedding, one of the bride's brothers gives the bride parched rice grains which she and the groom feed into the fire. Through this offering, the bride wishes her husband a long life and the propagation of the family. The couple then circles the fire three times, feeding the fire with parched rice.

The groom then takes his wife outside the mantap and shows her the Arundhati star in the sky. Arundhati is the wife of Vashista, a revered Hindu sage. Arundhati is believed to be an exemplary wife and an embodiment of chastity. Brides are expected to view her as a role model. In the past, this ritual was performed in the evening; at present, it is performed in the morning.

Grihapravesham - Across the Threshold

The marriage is now completed. The bride holds the hand of the groom and together they enter the house of her in-laws, which becomes the bride's new home. Together the couple offer prayers to the Gods and additionaly the bride prays for the happiness and prosperity of her new family. This brings the wedding ceremony to its conclusion. All of these rituals are part of an ancient Vedic tradition that calls for the Lord Vishnu blessings to ensure the marriage is companionable and harmonious.


Lakshmi Appachar
Comments are welcome and can be addressed to [email protected]

Grihapravesham
Grihapravesham Across The Threshold

Additional Reading and References

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