Indian Marriages - Arranged or Love
The following article is totally unbiased. It is based on my personal experience - having attended over 50 weddings in the course of 10 years!!
Indian weddings can either be arranged (mostly) or love marriage. In India especially, arranged marriages are common.
How are arranged marriages "arranged"? For example, let's say my mother or my aunt hears of some other parents looking for a partner for their son or daughter. The word spreads around. Sometimes, there is a broker involved. The broker can have about 100 photos of either a girl or boy which he will show around to eager parents wanting their son or daughter to settle down. The photos are shown to the parents who select a few. The parents hen show them to the son/daughter who shortlist a few. Meetings are then arranged where the boy goes to see the girl.
On the day of, the girl is supposed to dress up and be prim and proper in her manners. Once the boy's family arrives, they are offered refreshments which are brought out by the girl. The boy takes a glance at the girl, nods his approval (or shows his rejection) to his parents. If it is approval, then the boy and girl meet somewhere in the house apart from where the parents are sitting and talk for about an hour or so where they express their needs and wants in a partner, likes and dislikes - more a compatibility test. They then come back to the room, the girl is demure and the boy is happily smiling which is an indication that "all is well."
After the above takes place, the families exchange sweets as acceptance. The boy and girl then start going out officially, sometimes on their own or sometimes chaperoned, especially the girl. Within a month or two of their initial meeting, the marriage ceremony takes place.
I have asked my friends who have mostly gone through an arranged marriage as to how do you get to love each other if you have met in an "arranged" manner. I have been told that the love comes after the marriage. What kind of love is this that comes after marriage? There is no jelly-leg or butterflies in the stomach feeling. I guess the love (more so affection) grows through familiarity. I myself cannot envisage spending my life with an individual with whom I have got married through the arranged scheme. But my peers vouch that these marriages are more successful than love marriages. I think any marriage can be successful as long as there is compatibility, respect, trust and understanding by each partner.
Indian marriages can have festivities ranging from four days to two weeks. They can be very expensive, especially if the weddings are in North America, depending on the wealth and status. Banquet hall and temple are booked a year in advance due to demand. The banquet hall is for the evening reception and the temple is booked for the actual ceremony; however, the trend is changing in that both the wedding ceremony and the reception take place in a banquet hall in the morning and evening respectively.
Both the families start preparations well in advance. Most of them go to India to shop for wedding attire and clothes and jewellery for the groom or bride and other family members too. Sweets and Indian snacks are either ordered or prepared at home a month in advance of the wedding. Hotel is booked for accommodation for overseas guests.
Hindu ceremonies are family oriented and place great emphasis on creativity and entertainment. The bride usually wears either a red, white and gold sari and the groom wears a "sherwani" and safa (turban). The red and white colours of the sari stand for fertifility and purity.
Flowers also play an important role in the form of garlands which are exchanged by the bride and groom that indicates their love for each other.
Food is an integral part of the Hindu wedding. It is provided free to family and close friends during the pre-wedding preparation days and is prepared either at home or catered.
The following main traditional ceremonies take place prior to and leading to the wedding day, especially in a Hindu Gujarati wedding:
1. Ganesh Sthapan
Lord Ganesha is always the first deity to be propitiated at any significant event. His blessings are invoked before the preparations begin for the wedding so that no obstacles present themselves and all goes well.
This 'puja' is attended by close family members and is performed in both homes simultaneously on an auspicious day. After the 'puja' a vegetarian meal sans onion and garlic is served along with a sweet called 'khansaar'.
2. The Mehndi Party - This is an intimate gathering of the bride's female relatives and close friends two days before the wedding. 'Mehendi' (henna) is ground into a paste and applied by professional 'mehendiwallis' (henna artists) in fine patterns on the palms and feet of the bride. Songs specific to the occasion are sung and food is served.
Mehendi, the Indian term for Henna, is not just a traditional form of body art, but herbs with mystical medicinal and beautification properties. These little olive colored leaves have been used for centuries to beautify women world over; by herbal doctors for their curative power and by cosmetic companies as natural hair conditioner.
This coloring herb is known by many names – mehendi in India, henna in Arabic, henne, Al-Khanna, Jamaica Mignonette, Egyptian Privet and Smooth Lawsonia, which only explains is popularity all over the globe. While its traditional use has a 5,000-year history, henna today has been found as a safer alternative to dyes used in tattooing. Henna grows in hot and dry climatic conditions.
3. Garba/Dandia Raas
On the evening of the 'mehendi' family and friends gather together dressed in traditional finery and sing and dance to the beat of the 'dhol' (drum). The women form a circle to dance the graceful 'garba' and the men join in later in an energetic 'dandia raas' (dandias are sticks).
4. Mandva Mahurat
A day before the wedding, Lord Ganesha is worshipped once again. This time his blessings are sought for the ground on which the wedding canopy will be installed. Though family and close friends attend the 'mandva mahurat', only the women of the household observe the 'puja'.
The 'pujari' performs a brief 'puja' at the shrine inside the house then puts 'tikka' on the foreheads of five men from the family. He goes on to give them a small stick with 'nada chari' (red thread) wrapped around it. The men link their hands and carry this to the site of the 'mandva' and embed it into the earth. This stick is symbolic of one of the poles of the 'mandva', which will support the canopy.
There are a multitude of ceremonies that take place on both the bride and groom's side before the actual wedding day. One of these is the pithi ceremony. This entails rubbing a paste made out of chickpea flour, turmeric, rose water, and other variable ingredients, on the bride and groom's skin. This takes place at the bride and groom's houses separately. Supposedly, the paste when rubbed on is excellent for the skin and evens out skin tone. Family members and friends often times have fun getting the bride and groom completely covered in the paste
6. Griha Shanti
This is a very important religious ceremony. Both sets of parents are the primary figures in the invocation. On behalf of the parents, the officiating priests ask the deities to ensure stellar harmony and peace during the period of their son and daughter's wedding.
The bride takes a coconut to her parents who are seated on 'patlas' (low stools) in front of the sacred fire and seats herself beside them. While the priest is performing the 'puja', which can take up to two hours - she hands this 'shriphal' (coconut) to her parents, who in turn hand it over to the priest for 'ahuti' (sacrifice). The coconut is consigned to flames, thus propagating peace and harmony between all the nine planets.
Similar ceremonies are conducted in the groom's home.
The custom of 'mameru' originated centuries ago when there were no legal rights existing for daughters. It was customary for the parents to start making provisions for their daughter by gifting her with things on occasions like 'rakshabandhan' or 'bhaibheej'. These gifts accumulated as 'streedhan' (daughter's wealth).
When the girl grows up and gets married, the 'mama' or maternal uncle comes with the 'mameru' consisting of clothes, jewellery and other gifts items including the traditional 'paanetar' (silk wedding sari - usually white with red border) and 'choodo' (ivory bangle - now replaced with acrylic or plastic). The 'mameru' ceremony takes place one day before the wedding.
On the evening of the wedding, the groom, dressed in all his finery and carrying a 'katar' (small dagger) prepares to leave for the wedding venue . The priest gives the groom's sister a small bowl wrapped in cloth and containing coins on which the Hindu Swastika has been etched. She rattles this over her brother's head to ward off the evil eye and also to warn him that even though he is getting married, he must not forget his sister!
The groom's father's sister-in-law garlands him and gives him a cluster of flowers. After being blessed by all he mounts a richly caparisoned mare and leaves for the wedding venue accompanied by his relatives and close friends.
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9. Var Ponke
The bride's mother receives the groom and his 'baraat' (procession) at the entrance of the wedding venue. She performs the traditional 'aarti' for the groom, applies the 'kumkum' (vermilion) and rice 'tikka' on his forehead.
Before the groom can enter the premises, he is made to step onto a 'bajat' (low stool) where the bride's mother performing the 'aarti' and applying the 'tikka' for him once again accords him a ceremonial welcome. The clusters of flowers given to him earlier by his aunt are now exchanged for a coconut decorated with red thread.
One of the groom's aunts goes inside to call on the bride who is worshipping at the shrine of Lord Ganesha and presents her with the 'kanya shelu' (a platter with a sari, some jewellery, pretty slippers, and a 'mangalsutra' made from black beads and strung on red thread). This is the last gift she receives as a maiden. The sari is draped around her shoulders, the 'mangalsutra' tied around her neck and she is led outside to receive her groom.
The bride garlands the groom signaling her acceptance of him as her husband and is led back inside the shrine to continue her worship of Lord Ganesha.
The bride's mother places two clay pots filled with rice on the ground and the groom breaks them before entering the wedding 'mandva'.
The bride's 'mama' (maternal uncle) escorts her to the 'mandva' where she garlands the groom and he reciprocates. She now sits facing him. The priest puts the 'tikka' on both their foreheads and blesses them.
The bride's parents apply 'tikka' on the couple and the bride's father performs the 'kanyadaan'.
This is done by tying the hands of the bride and groom together in a marital knot known as the 'hast medap'. The bride's right hand is placed in the groom's right hand and they both reach out over the unlit fire below. With this gesture the father of the bride symbolizes this promise; " I offer you this most precious gift of my daughter to take as your own, to cherish and to protect. "
The bride's mother connects the couple by tying the 'varmaala' (a length of sacred red thread) across them and looping it like a garland over their hands. After the ceremony the 'varmaala' is removed and put around the bride's neck like a garland.
12. Hasta Milap
In this ritual, the groom's scarf or shawl is tied to the bride's saree. This knot and the joined hands of the couple symbolise the union of two souls joined together in holy matrimony. The acharya chants mantras to invoke the blessings of Goddess Laxmi and Goddess Parvati for the saubhagyavrata or wife. The family and relatives present also come together to bless the couple and shower grains of rice and rose petals on them.
13. Mangal Phera
The couple hold each others hands and walk around the agni four times while the maharaj chants mantras. Each round, they offer grains to the agni, representing their sacrifice of material possessions for God's blessings.
- 1st round: Dharma (righteousness-moral values-duties)
- 2nd round: Artha (Prosperity-material possessions)
- 3rd round: Kama (Happiness in Family-desire to enjoy)
- 4th round: Moksha (Spiritual-toward the path of God)
Mangal Fera is a vow to carry out moral duties & responsibilities toward each other, family and society; and to balance a life of material possessions and worldly desires with the continual striving towards spiritual liberation. there is a small tussle to see who gets back to the seat first!
There are seven phera or steps in an Indian Hindu Marriage. Each step has its own importance and its own meaning. These pheras are to be taken around the holy fire called "Agni Devta". In each step there is a significant vow to be taken both by the bride and the groom. They vow to each other for the rest of their lives.
Vows to be taken by the groom
- We will share the responsibilities of the house, food and finance together. May God bless us with children and may they have long lives.
- You are only my beloved wife. I will love you and only you. I give commitment will provide strength and courage to you, my wife, always.
- The third step is for the growth of prosperity and wealth, and to educate their children
- In the fourth step he thanks his wife for bringing auspiciousness and sacredness in his life.
- In the fifth step may the Goddess Mahalaxmi (Deity of Prosperity) make us prosperous and God bless us.
- In the sixth step the groom promises the bride that he will fill her heart with great joy and peace, time and time again.
- This is the last and final step. Here the groom tells his bride that as you have walked seven steps with me you have made our love and friendship firm and inseparable. Now you have become mine and I offer my total self to you. May our marriage successfully last forever.
Vows to be taken by the bride
- In the first step the bride commits to her lord same as the groom that she will share the responsibility of the house, food and finance. She will discharge her share of responsibilities for the welfare of house and children.
- With the second step she vows to fill the heart of her husband with courage and strength and to rejoice in his happiness.
- While taking the third step the bride promises that I will love you with single-minded devotion as my husband. I will treat all other men as my brothers.
- O my lord, in all acts of righteousness (Dharma), in material prosperity (Artha), in every form of enjoyment, and in those divine acts such as fire sacrifice, worship and charity, I promise you that I shall participate and I will always be with you.
- From this day of life I will share both your joy and sorrow. Your love will make me very happy.
- May the blessings of God always be with you. I will be with you in any stage of life.
- In the seventh and the final step she says that now that I have been your wife in front of the holy fire. Whatever vows and pledges I have taken, are all taken with pure heart. I shall never deceive you nor shall I let you down. I shall love you forever and ever.
The bride bids a tearful farewell to her parents, family and friends. The 'pujari' performs a small 'puja' for the decorated car by applying 'tikka' to the hood. The bride's mother breaks a coconut in front of the car, invoking blessings for a safe journey for the couple. The bride and groom leave accompanied by at least three others (it is necessary to have a minimum of five people in the car). The bride's brother usually escorts her to her new home.
16. Wedding reception
This is an event borrowed from the West and is not mandatory. The reception can be as simple or as elaborate an affair as desired by the families. The purpose is to introduce the bride and groom as a married couple.
Let me tell you about my own personal experience. I was raised in a very conservative Muslim family. I fell in love with a boy from my own community but my parents refused for me to get married to him, let alone associate with him. My parents broke up our relationship. I decided there and then that I would marry someone from another community and that he would be a Hindu. God has his own way of carving someone's destiny. I met my husband who is Hindu. We had no choice but to elope. This created an uproar as I come from a small town. I was ex-communicated from my own community, I was not allowed to enter the mosque and all my other family members severed ties with me. Till to this day, my relatives from my father's side have not accepted my husband. This has had no effect on my marraige. I have been happily married for 29 years as I write this experience. I have never looked back. Of course, initially there were so many ups and downs that both my husband and I really got fed up but our love was strong enough to withstand all this and we "survived". I gave up everything of my past life to live my present life happily and with content. Such is life!
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