Hindu Ceremonies

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hindu wedding ceremony

UK law allows for Hindu temples to be registered for marriage according to Hindu rites. The legal requirements are those that apply to civil marriages. The celebrant will explain the legal and religious requirements to the bride and groom to be. The different branches of Hinduism have their own customs and traditions, but wedding traditions also vary from family to family.

Hindu marriages are often arranged by both sets of parents but the bride and groom have the right to refuse. The celebrant visits the bride’s home a few days before the ceremony to offer prayers and readings, blessing the coming ceremony. The bride’s parents welcome the groom’s family on the evening before the wedding with another small ceremony. During this period the bride and groom are not permitted to see each other for fear of bringing back luck to the marriage.

A traditional Hindu bride most often wears a red and white wedding sari, symbolising fertility, wealth and purity. She wears lots of gold jewellery, and her hands and feet are painted by her family with henna in the mehendi ceremony, held either before or during the wedding ceremony. The groom wears a loose, un-tucked long-sleeved white shirt.

The universal Hindu wedding, the Vedic marriage, is named after the Vedas (holy book). Before the ceremony the priest blesses the bride’s bangles. It is considered unlucky if she removes them before 40 days have passed. The groom and his wedding party are then received by the bride and her family.

Everyone moves inside the temple where the celebrant calls for Ganesha’s blessing, followed by a prayer. The bride’s maternal uncle and sisters walk her to the wedding tent where her father performs the handing-over ceremony. By spreading turmeric on her hands the bride acknowledges her change in status from daughter and single woman, to wife. Her father places her dyed hand in her groom’s, and he holds it as a symbol of everlasting love. When the bride’s father pours out some of the sacred water he is ‘washing his hands’ of her, while the groom recites Vedic hymns to Kama, the god of love. Three times the groom promises the bride’s father that he will help the bride to realise enlightenment, wealth and true love.

The celebrant ties the bride’s veil to the groom’s shawl while they stand facing each other, symbolising their union. They then exchange garlands and rings. With the bride facing east and the groom west, the groom takes the bride’s hand again, reciting Vedic hymns for longevity, happiness and a lifetime of marriage.

Lighting the Marriage Fire represents the divine witness and sanctifies the ceremony, while the ‘sacrifice’ of grains signifies a male relative’s continuing support of the bride and the request for prosperity. Before the ritual of the Seven Steps, the bride and groom walk around the fire seven times offering a mix of sandalwood, herbs, sugar, rice, ghee and twigs, while they pray for the union of their hearts and minds. They also recite Vedic hymns to the gods, calling for wealth, good luck and fidelity. As bride and groom walk, the bride’s sister reads a passage from the Holy scriptures. As each circling of the fire is completed, the bride and groom stand on a stone and pray for their love to hold firm.

The ritual of the Seven Steps is the most important part of the Hindu ceremony. As the bride and groom walk seven steps together, either forwards or round the fire, they ask for an individual blessing at each step, for sustenance, strength, prosperity, bliss, children, longevity and finally, union, devotion and companionship. The ceremony is concluded with a prayer asking for the union to last for life. Once this is completed, the groom and bride are husband and wife. The husband then touches his new wife on the heart, and makes a further verbal vow. A gold chain with black beads is then tied around either the bride or groom’s neck and the husband puts the red powder known as sindhoor in his bride’s hair. Throughout the wedding, the different customs and traditions of each branch of Hinduism are apparent in the ceremony.

Once the groom’s parents have offered a blessing, they welcome their new daughter-in-law with a gift of cloth, or a flower, and the guests shower the newlyweds with flowers that ward off the evil eye and bless the union. The wedding feast is elaborate. Once it is over, the bride says an emotional farewell to her family and leaves to begin her new life.

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