V I V A H A M

Significance of marriages 

In Hindu dharma, marriage is viewed as a sacrament and not a contract. Hindu marriage is a life-long commitment of one wife and one husband, and is the strongest social bond that takes place between a man and a woman.

Grahastha Ashram (the householder stage), the second of the four stages of life begins when a man and a woman marry and start a household. For a Hindu marriage is the only way to continue the family and thereby repay his debt to his/her ancestors. In Hindu view, marriage is not a concession to human weakness, but a means for spiritual growth. Man and woman are soul mates who, through the institution of marriage, can direct the energy associated with their individual instincts and passion into the progress of their souls.

Eight types of marriages

Historians have documented eight different types of marriages in ancient India.  These eight types are described in this section.   The eight marriage types are :

Brahma Marriage

The father or guardian gave away his daughter, "decked with costly garments and jewels" to a carefully chosen bridegroom well versed in the Vedas and endowed in noble qualities

Daiva Marriage

Daugher "duly decked with ornaments", was given in gratitude to a priest for performing some important worship rituals. This was extremely rare

Arsha Marriage

Bride's father received a gift of milk cow and a breeding bull from the bridegroom. This was not considered dowry, but a token of respect

Prajaapaatya Marriage

Bride's father gave his daugher to the bridegroom with the traditional blessing "May both of you perform your duties together"

Gaandharva Marriage

Bridegroom and bride married secretly without the knowledge of their parents.  This was considered inferior because caused by lustful impulses


Asura Marriage

Bridegroom voluntarily gave as much wealth as he could afford to the bride's relatives, not in accordance with the injunctions of the scriptures because it was like buying the bride, which was prohibited


Raakshasa Marriage

Woman was forcibly taken away from her family and then persuaded to marry.  This was considered inferior because caused by lustful impulses


Paishacha Marriage

Person married a woman whom he had seduced while she was asleep, intoxicated or insane, this was prohibited

Not all of the types of marriages of ancient India had religious sanction.  So the list above does not represent "Hindu Marriages".

Clearly, the first four types listed below were accepted to varying degree and the later four were condemned.

 
Hindu Marriage ceremony

The Hindu marriage ceremony consists of several steps.   The following is a description of this colorful and unique ceremony. This is a generalized wedding ceremony, and there are regional and community variations.  Some of the steps may be omitted or added from the following list based on local and family customs.

In a mandapa - canopy or marriage stage decorated with flowers and and with a fire as witness the Hindu marriage ceremony begins.  It is a long and elaborate ceremony, with every step rooted in Vedic tradition, signifying various aspects of live that is to follow after the marriage. 

 

JANAVASAM (Mappillai Azhaippu)

The Bridegroom arrives for the wedding along with his family and friends in a procession. They are received by the bride's family and friends

The bride and grooms party less the bride assemble at a nearby temple where the groom is offered new dress befitting the occasion and then he is taken in a procession in an open car to the mandapam. This function is becoming extinct now-a-days.

Vratham

The groom has to perform certain religious rites relating to bramacharya asramam and for entering grahasthaasramam.

KASI YATHRAI

This is symbolic in that the groom from the brahmacharya aasramam moves into grahasthaasramam. Many things restricted to brahamchaaris are allowed in grahasthaasramam, like wearing footwear, use of an umbrella, using cosmetics (like eye liners, fragrances etc.). So, during Kaasi Yaathrai, the groom is allowed to use all the things that are not allowed during brahmacharyam. This is also called "Samaavarthanam".   

The groom is supposed to proceed on a long tour. On the way he is stopped by the bride's father, who requests the groom to abandon his tour and accept his daughter as his wife.

Exchange of garlands (Malaaimatruthal)

The groom accepts the proposal and he is brought to the mandapam where the bride awaits in brilliant clothes and ornaments, flowers. In addition to a big garland she will be wearing three garlands. The groom will be in two garlands besides the big one. The bride removes one of the three garlands and puts it around the neck of the groom. The groom in his turn removes one of his garlands and puts it round the bride's neck. This is done three times. In performing this both the bride and the groom are helped by their respective maternal uncles.

This function used to be full of fun and frolic in the olden days. The girl and the boys used to be young. The uncles lift them on their shoulders and it is the skill, how the garland is put around the neck of each other. Now-a-days it is enacted in a lack luster way. The awkwardness being felt by the couple especially the bride owing to their age stands out. This may also fade away as "Janavasams" did.

UUNJAL (SWING)

The chains that support the swing, coming down from the ceiling, represent symbolically that this human body we have got is due to our Karma in previous births. Similarly, the swing's motion forward and backward tells the couple that they have to be strong together in life at times of both upward and downward movement in life.

 

The priest commences the marriage under a canopy that is specially decorated for the ceremony.  The priest invokes blessings of God for the couple to be married.

The bride offers yogurt and honey to the groom as a token of purity and sweetness.  The bride greets the groom by placing a garland around his neck and the groom reciprocates.

Both are congratulated by guests.  The priest invokes the memory and blessings of forefathers of the bride and the groom for this auspicious occasion.

Kanya Danam (Giving away of the daughter)After the couple is led to the platform where preliminary religious rites are performed, the groom is referred to by the father of the bride as "maha vishnuswarupi" ie., resembling Lord Maha Vishnu- After washing his feet the groom is invited to accept the bride as " Kannika Dhanam" In this the bride sits on the lap of her father. Her hands twined upward are placed on the upward turned hands of the groom. A coconut, betel leaves, nuts are placed on the hands of the bride. In the olden days gold coins used to be placed. (This is because any Dhanam is to accompanied by some Sambavanai in cash.) This aspect no longer exists. It is possible that this " Sambavanai" turned into "dowry" which used to be taken in advance is not offered in kannika dhanam now-a-days. Water is poured on the bride' s hands by her mother. Then the father releases his hand from that of his daughter thus placing the hand of the bride over the hands of the groom who accepts the Dhanam The bride accepts her change of status from an unmarried woman to a wife by spreading turmeric powder on her hands.

Kana Danam is performed by the father (or uncle of guardian) of the bride in presence of a large gathering that is invited to witness the wedding.

The father pours out a libation of sacred water symbolizing the giving away of the daughter to the bride groom.  The groom recites Vedic hymns to Kama, the God of love, for pure love and blessings.

As a condition for offering his daughter for marriage, the father of the bride requests a promise from the groom for assisting the bride in realizing the three ends : dharma, artha, and kama.  The groom makes the promise by repeating three times that he will not fail the bride in realizing dharma, artha and kama.

Bridegroom face each other, and the priest ties their garments (the bride's saree to the groom's shirt) in a knot, symbolizing the sacred union.

The bride and the bridegroom garland each other and exchange the rings.

Next the nuptial fire, symbolizing the divine witness, and the sanctifier of the sacrament, is installed and worshipped.

Both the bride and the groom grasp their hands together and pray to God for His blessings.

Samagree, consisting of crushed sandalwood, herbs, sugar, rice, ghee (clarified butter), and twigs is offered into the sacred fire to seek God's blessings for the couple.

 

Paanigrahana or Hasta Milap (Holding the hand)

The bridegroom stands facing west and the bride sits in front of him facing east. 

He seizes her hand and recites Vedic hymns for happiness, long life, and a lifelong relationship

When the bridegroom takes the bride's hand he says :

O Sarasvati, gracious one,

rich in off spring,

you whom we hymm first of all the Gods,

may you prosper this marriage."

I seize your hand."

Laja (Laja) Homa : The Oblation of Parched Grain

Here the bride offers sacrifice of food (poured into her hands by her brother or someone acting in her brother's behalf) to the Gods for their blessings.

 

"This grain I spill. May it bring to me well-being and unite you to me. May Agni hear us."
He then causes the bride to spill the grain into the fire, saying:

"This woman scattering grain into the fire, prays: Blessings on my husband. May my relatives be prosperous.'Svaha!' "

HOMAM    

A particular sect of people perform Agni Hothram and Oupaasanam daily. Since these people do their daily ritual with the fire, homam (which is also done with the help of fire) also became part of the wedding rituals. They considered the fire (Agni) as one of the witnesses for the marriage.  Generally, fire as the witness symbolizes the heat in our body. As long as that body fire (heat) is alive, we should not separate from each other and the body heat is the witness for our vow. This is the whole idea of the homam.     Fire as a witness was adopted by Tamilians at a very latter date.    

 

Agni Parinayanam : The Circumambulation of the Fire
 

The bridegroom holds the bride by the hand and both walk three times around the nuptial fire.

Both offer oblations and recite appropriate Vedic hymns to Gods for prosperity, good fortune, and conjugal fidelity.

They touch each others heart and pray for union of their hearts and minds

While walking around the bridegroom repeats:

"First now they bring to you in bridal procession this Surya, guiding her steps in circular motion. Return her now, O Agni, to her husband as rightful wife, with hope of children to come."

Then the entire rite is repeated twice more, beginning with the rite of the fried grain.

At the fourth round she pours into the re all the fried grain from the mouth of the winnowing basket saying: "To Bhaga svaha!"

 

Asmaarohana or Shilarohana (Mounting the stone)

At the end of each round of nuptial fire, both the bride and the groom step on a stone and offer a prayer for their mutual love to be firm and steadfast like the stone. The bridegroom says the words while the bride stands up

:"Come, beautiful one." And lets her put the  tip of the right foot on the stone, saying: "Come, step on the stone; be strong like a stone. Resist the enemies; overcome those who attack you."

 
Saptha-padi (Seven Steps)

In this function the groom lifts the right foot of the bride and helps her to stand over a stone placed on the north side of the homa kundam to the recital of mantras. Then the couple comes round the homa kundam fire. This is performed seven times. The marriage is complete only after the performance of this Saptha Sathi.No one is expected to intervene from the tying of the magalyam and saptha sathi by shaking hands.

After pani grahanam the groom performs aupasanam for the first time. This recital is one every individual is required to perform daily in the morning and evening. To enable such performance the "agni" from this homam is placed inside a mud pot in which rice husks are already placed. The fire has to be rekindled every time aupasanam is performed and after the aupasanam the fire is again placed inside the pot. This is not being done since no one (perhaps a few) performs aupasanam these days. A pot is, however, carried when the groom leaves for his home.

This is the most important rite of the entire ceremony.  Here the bride and the bridegroom take seven steps together around teh nuptial fire (Agni) and make the following seven promises to each other :

As per the Vedic rituals, the bridegroom sings the following :

With God as our guide, let us take :

  1. the first step to nourish each other

  2. the second step to grow together in strength

  3. the third step to preserve our wealth

  4. the fourth step to share our joys and sorrows

  5. the fifth step to care for our children

  6. the sixth step to be together forever

  7. the seventh step to remain lifelong friends,

the perfect halves to make a perfect whole.

After the seventh step he makes her remain where she is and says: "With seven steps we become friends. Let me reach your friendship. Let me not be severed from your friendship. Let your friendship not be severed from me." The Saptha-padi ceremony ceremony concludes with a prayer that the union is indissoluble.  At the end of this ceremony, the bridegroom and bride become husband and wife. In some communities such as Gujarati, instead of seven, only four steps, signifying Artha, Dharma, Kama and Moksha are taken.

Hrudaya sparsh : Touching the Heart

The bridegroom then comes over bride's right shoulder touches her heart saying:

"I hold your heart in serving fellowship, your mind follows my mind. In my word you rejoice with all your heart. You are joined to me by the Lord of all creatures."

 
Mangalya Sutra Dharana

The Mangala suthra Dharana is the tying of the thread containing the marks of the Vishnu or Shiva in the neck of the bride by the groom.

The bride is offered new clothes by the groom, after his accepting her. While the bride is away changing the dress prayer is offered to the "Tiru mangalyam" before giving. It is taken around the hall to get the blessings of elders in the assembly. Now-a-days every individual touches these as their blessing. Actually the intention is the old couple has to bless the new ones to be.

As soon as the bride comes with the new dress, she sits on the lap of her father. The groom has to perform some religious rites and then he ties the Mangalyam around the neck of the bride. He puts one knot. His sister standing behind the bride completes the three knots. Flowers are showered on the couple. (supposedly, for these flowers normally lands o0n the heads and shoulders of those (relatives) who stand round and covering the couple.

There is a paradox in this. Although the mangalyam as well as tying it are considered sacred no Vedic mantras are recited for this. Only a sloham is recited.

There is a misconception these days that this tying of the mangalyam completes the marriage. They start dispersing and in doing so they go and shake the hands of the bride and groom. This prevents very important religious functions of the marriage. Immediately after tying of the mangalyam the couple sit beside the homa gundam. "Panigraharam" is then performed with the recital of mantras. this is an important function because the groom grasps the hand of the bride officially after accepting her as dhanam. In fact if one sees the invitations issued by the father of the groom the boy one will see that the invitation like anupasanam, lagya homam etc., are performed. Then Saptha pathi is performed.

LOOKING AT DHRUVA AND ARUNDHADHI STARS   

The groom is to take the bride now his wife outside the pandal/mandapam after night fall and show her arundhathi shining in the sky as a bright star. This is to show her the faithful devotion and "barlthu susrushai" as an example.

In the middle of the milky way (Saptha Rishi Mandalam), Arundhadhi is a subtle star. At the bottom of the milky way, the brightest star called Dhruva is located. In english, it is called the Pole Star. The Pole Star remains stationary at the same place irrespective of the earth's movement.    The saptha rishis representing the milky way are 1. Kasyapar, 2. Athri, 3. Bharadwaajar, 4. Viswaamitrar, 5. Gauthamar, 6. Jamathagni and 7.Vasishtar. The wives of saptha rishis are known as Krithika. The other six krithika consider Arundhadhi as the "Pathivrathaa Sironmani."thus by seeing the Arundhadhi star, it is believed that the bride will be as chaste as Arundhadhi. So, the groom is supposed to show the Star to the bride.    

MANGALA AARTHI    

At the conclusion of the marriage function, they take Mangala Aarthi for the wedded couple. In this they mix lime and turmeric powder in water and take it around the couple three times. This is supposed to ward off any evil cast on the couple.   This concludes the brief description of marriage rituals according to Vedaas under Braahmam system.    

 

TAMIL NADU WEDDINGS  ACCORDING TO MANU DHARMA SHAASTHRA 

1. Kaasi Yaathrai, 2. Kannikaadhanam (giving away the bride), 3. Maangalya Dhaaranam, 4. Maalai Matrudhal (exchanging garlands), 5. Sapthapadhi and 6. Poriyidal (offering of puffed rice in the homam) are all the part of our marriage function, according to Manu Dharma Shaasthraas) with certain changes in the vedic manthraas.     The function is normally conducted in a big Pandhal (an open air tent). For erecting this Pandhal, they install four bamboo poles at four corners of the Pandhal. Four Vedaas are symbolized in these four bamboo poles. 

The main priest who conducts the whole proceedings of the marriage rituals and formalities symbolizes Brahma, the creator. The various stages/steps in a wedding in Tamil Naadu is given briefly in the following paragraphs.    

1.   Sri Vigneswara Pooja - On any auspicious occasion, it is customary to pray Lord Ganesaa (Vigneswara , Maha Ganapathi, Vinayaka are the other names by which Lord Ganesaa is called) for a smooth and uninterrupted proceedings of the function.

2. Punyaahavaachanam  - Prayer to Lord Varuna to purify the water and other materials we use during the marriage celebration.

3. Arasaanikkaal Nadal - Five elderly married ladies offer prayer to a branch of the Arasu (Holy Fig tree) tree, and tie sacred raksha (protection from all evils) to the bride and the groom. The groom and the bride are also given new clothes to wear. 

4. Kaasi Yaathrai - As described earlier.  Some people prefer to pray Lord Vinayaka instead of Kaasi Yaathrai.    

                5. Mana Pongal - Offering Pongal (rice pudding) in five plantain (banana) leaves - In South India it is customary to eat on a banana leaf. In modern days, these leaves are substituted by the dinner plates.   

                6. Pooja to Sacred Waters - Five beautifully designed earthen ware pots are filled with water. The water in these pots are symbolic of the waters from the holy rivers in India. Prayer is offered to these waters.    

                7. Upaveetha Dhaaranam (wearing the sacred thread)- The groom and the father of the bride are inducted into wearing the sacred thread.  Any one who is doing an auspicious thing must wear the sacred thread first, irrespective of the caste. Then only they are entitled to partake in the rituals. Some follow the tradition of wearing a raksha (kaappu) after the upaveetha dhaaranam.    

                8. Kannikaadhaanam (Giving away the bride) - The person giving the bride away introduces the bride with a brief introduction of her genealogy (of three generations). Similarly, the person accepting the bride introduces the groom with his side of genealogy (of three generations). Then the father or the person giving the bride away hands over the bride (with three drops of water) to the groom. The water drops are symbolic of the transfer of total responsibility of the bride to the groom.    

                9. Paada Pooja - The groom does prayer at the feet of his parents (pranaams) to get their blessings for a happy and prosperous married life.    

                10. Kaappu Kattudhal (Raksha Bhandan) - The groom ties a Kaappu (Raksha - a sacred yellow thread) on the left hand of the bride. This is for the protection of the bride from all evils.    

                11. Maangalya Pooja - The Maangalyam is considered sequel to Goddess Lakshmi (Goddess of wealth). The Maangalyam is worshipped first with a small pooja and shown to the audience individually to get their blessings.    

                12. Maangalya Dhaaranam - As described earlier. 

                13. Homam - Described earlier

                14. Sapthapadhi - described earlier    

                15. Poriyidal - offering of puffed rice in the homam.    

                16. Aasirvaatham - People who are older than the groom sprinkle Akshadai (rice mixed with turmeric powder) on the couple and give their blessings.    

                17. The priest unties the Kaappu from the groom's hand and the groom unties from the bride's hand.    

                18. Mangala Aarthi - described earlier.  

 Aashirvaad

The groom's parents bless the couple and offer cloth or flower to the bride (now their daugher-in-law), symbolizing her joining of the groom's family.  

All those assembled shower flowers on the couple and bless them completing the marriage.

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